Student Profiles

Matt Spooner '05

Matt Spooner

Matt Spooner '05

Hometown: Rochester, New York
Major: History and Philosophy

Why did you come to Bowdoin?
There wasn't any real method, to be honest. I didn't know much about colleges when I was applying. I had gone to a small high school, and I knew that I wanted to go to a small liberal arts college because I really liked the community. When I visited Bowdoin, I had a great tour guide, and I loved all the people and the fact that they basically let you into a random freshman dorm. I was [also] struck by openness of the professors and the community, and of course the fact that it's in Maine. So I ended up coming here and it's worked out pretty well.

How did you decide on your major?
Well, I thought when I came that I was going to be an English major. I liked history a lot in high school but I never thought it would be something I'd major in. But second semester freshman year, I took [Associate Professor] Patrick Rael's History 142, which was called War and Society, and I loved it. I took English classes and I liked them a lot, too, but that [history class] just really struck me. A similar thing happened first semester with Professor Scott Sehon's Philosophy of Religion class. With both classes, I truly enjoyed doing the work. Freshman year I made an effort to take different classes in different subjects, and these are the two that [made a particular impression].

What has been your favorite class at Bowdoin?
Well, those two, obviously - the Philosophy of Religion and War and Society. I also took a really, really, really great class with [Associate Professor of History] Paul Friedland sophomore year called Modernity and Its Critics. It was one of those classes with a ton of work, very hard reading - having to read a book of Foucault in a day, or something like that. I think it was the only time when a professor assigned a heinous amount of work and I enjoyed doing it. It was a great group of kids in the class, and it was definitely a class that challenged perceptions. It changed my thinking about everything.

I also loved Professor Scott Sehon's senior seminar, which I took last year, called the Philosophy of Science and God. It was basically me and four or five other majors and a couple of auditors sitting around a table at night discussing whether or not God exists.

Have you done any independent studies?
I did an independent study my sophomore year on the Civil War with Professor Rael. Then this year I did an honors project on the American Colonization Society, which is this group [that was] actually around until about 1910, but was really strong in the early antebellum years. I looked at [the years between] 1816-1838 both to try to reinterpret a historical understanding of colonization and to reexamine the relationship between the Colonization Society and radical abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and Theodore Weld.

What extracurricular activities do you participate in? Do you have an on campus job?
I've got a couple of on-campus jobs. I work at the Information Desk, and I'm a Writing Assistant for the Writing Project. I've always really enjoyed writing, it's something I've worked very hard at, and there's something very satisfying about helping other people. Especially with the ESL [English as a Second Language] students, there's something very gratifying about helping them learn something that I think is so important - not only in college but throughout your entire life. If you do a good job, and I generally try to, it's nice to get the sense that you've actually made some sort of small difference.

As far as extracurriculars go, I've been involved, since freshman year, with WBOR [the College radio station]. I've had a show for a long time, even during the summer. It's a really good way to discover new music and meet new people.

I've also been involved in debate and I write a column for [the student newspaper], the Orient. And I've been involved in bringing various speakers [to campus].

The last two summers I've worked with Professor Rael to create a GIS database of historical census data. We have access to census data from about 1790 to 1880. What we did was take a lot of the data and manipulate it, so using geographical information software, you can put in a query. For example, you can examine the relationship between voting for the Democratic Party and land value to see if particularly land-wealthy counties tended to vote Democratic or Republican. It allows you to look at history in a new way and also to visualize raw numbers. When you're faced with a trend visually, certain things will pop out at you that you wouldn't otherwise [see].

Have you studied abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
I spent six months at Cambridge University in England. It was pretty cool. The way classes are structured, instead of having one big class, you meet one-on-one with a professor, so you do just one subject in-depth. I took a class on political philosophy and one on perceptions of death, which was amazing. Being able to go with a tutor to the Cambridge University archives and look at 1,200-1,400 year-old documents from the very early middle ages - the entire Cambridge University experience was marked by having a tactile sense of history. Definitely for a history geek like me, it was a very cool experience.

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
Freshman year, my roommates and I and my friend Ashley Cusick ['05] went down to Boston for the day. We were supposedly participating in this scavenger hunt, but after about five seconds, we realized we didn't really want to do the scavenger hunt - we just wanted an excuse to go down to Boston. So we drove down for the day and hung out in the city. We had these special scavenger hunt bracelets, so we went to all these different stores and parks and [we'd say], "We really need to do this for the scavenger hunt." Matt wanted to play a Steinway piano, [so] we went to the factory store [even though it was closed] and we banged on the window: "We have these scavenger hunt bracelets, we're on a scavenger hunt, we need to take a picture of him playing a Steinway piano." [And] it was just beautiful, hanging out on the Boston Common. It was a really random and wonderful day.

What are your plans after graduation?
I'm going to be a research analyst for McKinsey and Company in Boston. I don't know how long that will last. It's a chance to keep my brain engaged in lots of dynamic work. The coolest thing about the job is that they have - I'm working at this thing called a Knowledge Center - and they have Knowledge Centers all around the world, and if you want, it's very easy to spend a couple of weeks or a month at various knowledge centers, be it in New Delhi or Belgium or Shanghai. So there's a lot of opportunity for travel and to explore different areas. Eventually, you specialize. Hopefully, I'll get to do a lot of non-profit and public sector work, but for the first six months, you really do everything until you and they get a feel for what you enjoy doing. Then after two years, if I want, I can move up into consulting, which I might do; but more likely, I'll go to grad school. I definitely need to take a couple of years off to pay off loans and reenergize my brain.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first year about the Bowdoin experience?
I would just say, come in with a very open mind. Don't come in like I did, set on a particular major. The distribution requirements [allow] you the freedom to explore various things. For your first semester or first year, take a lot of different classes in a lot of different fields [and] try a ton of different activities. Don't stick with all of them, but Bowdoin's a place where you really have the opportunity to get involved in an incredible variety of things - don't waste the opportunity.

Story posted on August 22, 2005

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