Student Profiles

Fariha Mahmud '06


Fariha Mahmud '06

Hometown: Nashua, N.H.
Major: Government and Legal Studies and Gender and Women's Studies, with an Education minor

Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
I was drawn to Bowdoin when I visited the campus in the spring of my senior year, after being accepted. I had the kindest host student, Alissa Waite '05, a first-year at the time. She introduced me to all of her friends, took me to a lot of great campus events like the annual ASA (Asian Students Association) Fashion Show, a dance performance and an Improv show. We talked for hours about her experiences at Bowdoin and she also made a conscious effort to find out what my interests were and to tell me what I could expect from Bowdoin.

The Asian Students Association 2005 Fashion Show. (L. to r.) Jemima Fernandez '06, Ponnila Samuel '07, Fariha, Keerthi Sugumaran '06.

I also sat in on a few classes and thought the professors I observed were phenomenal. The students were particularly engaged in the class discussions and showed interest in what their professors had to say. I knew I belonged at Bowdoin, a school that was academically competitive, had small-sized classes and great professors, yet offered students the opportunity to have an active social life.

Why did you choose your major?
My majors are Government and Legal Studies and Gender and Women's Studies with a minor in Education. Before attending Bowdoin, I had strong interests in political science and education. In high school, my favorite class was AP Government and since elementary school I have known that I want to teach at some point in my life. Once at Bowdoin, I immediately began taking courses in the Government and Legal Studies and Education departments, falling in love with both programs and the dedicated faculty. From the Government Department, I will never forget former professors Marc Hetherington, Suzanne Globetti, and Mingus Mapps. Retired Education professor Penny Martin and Associate Professor of Education and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Nancy Jennings got me hooked on the Education minor through their passion for teaching and sometimes unorthodox, yet effective methods. I will never forget Penny making us get up in the middle of a lecture and instruct us to run around the room when we looked too tired. Any professor who is able to have his or her students arrive on time, capture their attention and keep them excited at 8:00 in the morning must be doing something right!

My interest in Gender and Women's Studies came more as a happy accident and now might be where my greatest passion lies. A graduating senior told me about her positive experience in Introduction to Women's Studies with Kristen Ghodsee and encouraged me to take the course. The course had a profound effect on me. It exposed me to issues that I had never given much thought to before and made me think critically. I immediately knew that I also wanted to pursue Gender and Women's Studies and began taking more courses in the department with professors Jen Scanlon and Kirsten Ghodsee.

What has been your favorite course at Bowdoin?
I have had so much freedom here to choose courses in different disciplines that I have been able to take a variety of courses that I have enjoyed. Consequently, picking a favorite class is very difficult for me to do. Some memorable courses I have taken are Existentialism, Introduction to Psychology, Lawn Boys Meets Valley Girl (a course on the history and development of the American suburbs), History of Sexuality, Gender and the Body in South Asia, and Mass Media in American Politics. The class that transformed my way of thinking about the world around me the most is Women and World Development. It developed my interest in rural economic development in third-world nations, especially the effects that third world development has specifically had on women.

Two other favorite courses of mine are Research and Social Change and American Political Parties. Research and Social Change was my senior seminar in Gender and Women's Studies. The course challenged students to design their own research study on an aspect of Bowdoin that interested them. I chose to do research on body image at the institution through the female perspective using instrument-based surveys, personal interviews and focus groups. My favorite government course is American Political Parties taught by Marc Hetherington. His enthusiasm for U.S. politics and the election process really rubbed off on me. I took his course prior to the 2004 Election and afterwards became very involved in the election as well as in local activism.

Have you engaged in any independent research while at Bowdoin?
The spring of my junior year I engaged in independent research with Professor Mingus Mapps in the Government and Legal Studies department. The research was conducted in an attempt to understand the relationship between civic engagement and America's college youth. Political scientists generally define civic engagement as participation in both political activities and community service. Paradoxically, most college students do not recognize this relationship. They volunteer for community services to create positive changes in their communities, yet do not participate in local or national politics in the same way. Our work was inspired by the political scientist David King's work on civic engagement. My partner, Alex Cornell du Houx '06, and I utilized King and other scholars' previous research and asked similar questions to Bowdoin students to see if Bowdoin mirrored the same youth pattern. We were able to use Bowdoin students as a case study and incorporate their perspective into our research to understand the issue better. The process was very exciting and we revealed some interesting findings.

The 2004 Get Out the Vote Election Campaign. (L. to r.) Charlie Ticotsky '07 and Fariha.

What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
I have been heavily involved in extracurricular activities since coming to Bowdoin. People that don't know me personally probably still know my name because I'm constantly sending out digest ads with crazy subject headings about events happening on campus. Since my first year at Bowdoin, I have been active in the Campus Activities Board and Asian Students Association. I was Co-Chair for Concerts and Comedy events on the A-Board for two years and am currently an advisor to the organization. I was a Publicity Co-Chair for ASA for two years and elected as Co-President with Keerthi Sugumaran '06. I have also been a radio DJ for WBOR for the last two years. This semester I am doing a radio show with two good friends of mine every Sunday evening from 4:30-5:30 p.m. I have also done some work with the College Democrats in the past. This year I sit on the Gender and Women's Studies Recording Committee and am a member of YALP (Young Alumni Leadership Program). I also lived in Quinby House, part of the College House System, for two years.

Bear AIDS 2004 during Ivies Weekend, hosted by the Campus Activities Board. (L. to r.) Ferd Convery '06, Fariha, Tauwan Patterson '06.

My work experience on campus has consisted of working as an advisor for the Student Activities Department and as an assistant at the David Saul Smith Union Information Desk. This past summer I transcribed and edited a book for a theology professor in Harpswell, Maine.

Did you study abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
Although I intended to study abroad, when the time came to apply, I ended up deciding against it. My active involvement in on-campus organizations and interest in taking courses with a professor who was soon to leave persuaded me to stay. As much as I would have loved to study abroad, I don't regret my decision. I'm planning to do a lot of traveling after college, which I hope will compensate for my junior year.

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
There are so many! I couldn't possibly choose one. Some of the best memories have been at the load-ins and load-outs for Campus Activities Board events. It's amazing how much fun you can have and learn about people you "work" with at 2:00 in the morning while lugging heavy stage equipment into a loading truck. The dining halls have also produced a lot of great memories for me. So many times my friends and I got together for a meal and made it a two-hour event. I think most students here consider lunch and dinner the best time to unwind and catch up with good friends.

What are your plans for after graduation?
Ah, the dreaded question that many seniors are avoiding at any cost right now.... For me, like many liberal arts students who have many interests and are less confined to one field, I am having a hard time focusing on one area. In the immediate future I see myself moving to a city like New York, Washington or Boston and working at a non-profit or non-governmental organization related to minority/women's issues or education. In a year or two after that, I'd like to attend a public policy school and further my passion for working for minority and women's rights and better public education.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
If you are interested in knowing what the Bowdoin experience is like, do not take just the Admissions tour. I think that the best way to figure out what an institution is like is to talk to students and faculty and to sit in on a few classes. If you can, take a tour when classes are in session or take advantage of Bowdoin's many ways of contacting current students, such as through live chats or e-mails. Once you get here, take advantage of the liberal arts experience fully. Although you may come to school knowing what you want to do, it never hurts to try a course in a new discipline or join a club that you are just curious about. You may discover a hidden interest that turns into a life-long passion.

Story posted on February 15, 2006

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