Nicole Melas '07

Nicole Melas

Nicole Melas '07

Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Major: Urban Studies and the Built Environment

Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
I was looking for a change of pace from Los Angeles and city life in general. And I figured that if I were to be out of the city, I would like to be some place that takes advantage of its setting. I thought that the Outing Club and Coastal Studies Center were signs that Bowdoin makes use of its location in Maine and on the coast and offers its students opportunities to get off campus.

Then, on the more instinctive side: I really enjoyed my visit during the spring of my senior year of high school. It was my first time in Maine. It must have been one of the first days of spring weather because everyone on campus was running around and dancing outside in tank tops while I was clutching to a fleece. But the excitement and energy of those students rubbed off on me. I bought a sweatshirt and—driving out of town—said, "Mom, I think I'll be coming back here in the fall." And that was it.

Why did you choose your major?
I had heard of other students designing a similar major and my advisor-to-be, Professor Jill Pearlman, encouraged me to do the same. In other words, indecision and an interest in many things led me to create my major, Urban Studies and the Built Environment, which includes a smattering of courses from various departments including Environmental Studies, Sociology, Visual Arts, History, and Art History.

What courses and professors have you especially enjoyed at Bowdoin?
A few courses stand out for me, and the smaller classes, such as the seminars, have been the best overall. Most recently, I took The City as American History, a 200-level historiography seminar taught by History and Environmental Studies professor Matt Klingle. The professor carried the class and led discussions so well that it felt like one of those great academic exchanges of which I typically just dream. It was also refreshing and humbling to take such an engaging and challenging seminar my senior year.

Sophomore year, I took a seminar with Environmental Studies professor Jill Pearlman on Home: History, Culture and Design of Housing in North America. Her enthusiasm for the subject—the houses, their styles/designs and the architects—was contagious and made me glad to have chosen my major.

Earlier on at Bowdoin, Professor Genie Wheelwright taught my Spanish 102 class so enthusiastically and with so much interaction and involvement from the students that it was one of my first favorites.

Also, I've taken an art class each semester for the past couple years. They have been so well taught, formative and a great change of pace from my other classes. Painting I with Professor Jim Mullen was an especially memorable experience thanks to his great jokes and tips, and to the class, who bonded over a semester together in our studio spaces.

Have you engaged in any independent research while at Bowdoin?
I'm doing my first independent study right now. I definitely wish I had started to do these before now! I'm interested in how people respond to their architectural environments and to each other within them. I'm building off of William H. Whyte's research on the use of public plazas in New York City in the 1970s. This research sought to determine why some places were popular while others weren't. As it is winter, rather than observe outdoor spaces, I hope to examine the coffee shops in Brunswick. Currently, I'm reading up on the notion of "the third place," a phrase coined by Ramon Oldenburg and meaning someplace other than work and home, where people go regularly and are known—and will eventually start passing hours, sipping tea, watching and talking to people in the coffee shops. It's exciting to create and reformulate my focus—with much help from my advisor!

What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
I work as a Writing Assistant for the Writing Project, which has been a great learning experience for me. The position has given me confidence working with other writers; and a fringe benefit of the job has been reading papers from courses I wish I could have taken.

I have also played for the Women's Rugby Team and was especially involved with the team during my first few years at Bowdoin. Now, although I'm increasingly involved with the Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC), I still hold the rugby team close to my heart as those teammates were my first Bowdoin family.

My most memorable extracurricular time has become that spent with the BOC—leading Pre-Orientation trips, doing Leadership Training, sea kayaking in the rain, learning to whitewater canoe, repair a bike and telemark ski, and just going off campus somewhere on the weekend to see a little more of Maine. This year, I'm one of the elected officers and have an excuse to spend much time at the Schwartz Outdoor Leadership Center; it has been educational and fun to see more behind-the-scenes, but going on trips is still the best! The BOC—with its fabulous directors and leaders—has made my college experience.

Did you study abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
During the Spring 2006 semester, I went on a program called International Honors Program (IHP) on Cities in the 21st Century. Twenty-nine students and four faculty traveled to many cities, using them as case studies for global urban issues. We began in New York City with a 10-day introduction, then were off to Brazil (three weeks in Rio de Janeiro; two weeks in Curitiba), South Africa (four weeks in Cape Town) and France (five weeks in Paris). I hoped the program would quench my travel bug, but instead it made me want to explore more. We lived with host families and had city coordinators, locals who put us in touch with local professors, professionals and programs of interest. I saw and experienced so much! I'm still processing that semester and am so glad to have done it.

What have you done during your summers?
Each summer has been different. My first, I lived at home and did clerical work at a nearby private beach club. My second, I worked for Overland (a company that leads community service, language, hiking and biking trips), based in Williamstown, Massachusetts, supporting and occasionally leading trips. Last summer, after finishing my abroad program, I traveled in Europe on a Faculty Scholars Grant I received from Bowdoin. I'm thinking of spending this summer in Maine to round off a great year back at Bowdoin.

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
One of my favorite memories is a sendoff party two senior members of the rugby team threw for a group of us juniors last year before we parted ways to study abroad. We got together for food and games. We played Mad Libs and ended up creating a story that described a battle, which we decided to act out. As it was December, we bundled up and rushed out onto the quad at Brunswick Apartments and began to tackle each other randomly in the snow. Because I grew up in Southern California, playing in the snow with friends is still quite novel and I have fond memories of that "battle."

What are your plans for after graduation?
I really don't know. Time will tell!

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
I have two things. Talk to as many people as you can, whenever you can, to get additional perspectives and ideas. And: Do what you like to do. The resources are here, but it is up to you to find and use them.

What quirky or fun thing did you wish you knew before you came to Bowdoin?
I wish I knew how much people at Bowdoin are into theme parties. Had I known, I could have brought costumes from home. But, then again, I have really enjoyed exploring the secondhand shops in Brunswick with friends. There is nothing like walking into town with a couple friends and trying on ridiculous combinations of clothes the day before Halloween! And you really can't plan for that.

Story posted on February 22, 2007

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