Sarah Wissler '08

Sarah Wissler

Sarah Wissler '08

Major: History, with a minor in Biology
Hometown: Windham, Maine

Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
I initially thought that I would want to travel a bit farther away from my home in southern Maine, but after looking at several New England liberal arts colleges, I felt that Bowdoin was the perfect fit. I knew that I wanted to go to school in a small, lively, easily accessible town like Brunswick. In addition, I was drawn to the small class sizes and top-notch science lab facilities. After visiting the campus and sitting in on a couple of classes, I was able to see how welcoming and down-to-earth the students and faculty are. I also felt really safe and comfortable both in Brunswick and on the Bowdoin campus, which definitely factored into my decision. Good food was another major consideration, and after eating a meal here, my decision was made! Ultimately, though, I wanted to attend a college where I could learn and grow while still having time for fun. Bowdoin has allowed me to do just that.

Why did you choose your major?
I took a first-year history seminar on utopian communities during my first semester at Bowdoin and was quickly hooked. Professor Sarah McMahon was so kind and encouraging, and I found the subject matter really interesting. We studied the progression of these societies over time, from Maine's own Shakers to the Jonestown settlement. Though I entered Bowdoin as a prospective biology major, I realized that I was truly passionate about writing, and I was eager to hone my reading, writing and analytical skills. The history professors at Bowdoin are outstanding and engaging; all are incredibly enthusiastic about their respective concentrations. Also, by majoring in history, I have been able to take classes in a wide range of sub-topics, including the history of medieval Europe and the intersection of science and race in modern America.

What has been a course you especially enjoyed at Bowdoin?
Professor Amy Johnson's Biology of Marine Organisms class was one of my favorite biology courses. Nearly all of the labs took place at local beaches or at the Coastal Studies Center, and the hands-on nature of the course made it especially enjoyable. I'll never forget the time we went to the Coastal Studies Center to dig in the mud for worms, and my boots got stuck. When I went to take a step, I fell backwards, right into the mud. Even though my pants were dirty and a little smelly, it was one of those moments that reminded me why I'd chosen to study at Bowdoin. Where else can you study at the coast on a weekly basis?

Professor Rachel Sturman's Writing the Self in Modern India seminar was also a wonderful class. We analyzed both ancient and modern texts in order to better understand the Indian perception of the self, and at the end of the semester, Professor Sturman invited us all to her home for a homemade Indian dinner! I developed a love of Gandhi from the course (as my roommates can attest to), and ended up taking another class on the history of India.

Although I had never taken an art history class, I was intrigued by the course description of Women and Art, which stated that the class focused on the role of women as both producers and objects of art. Taking the class was a great decision, as Professor Pamela Fletcher was fascinating; I didn't want her lectures to end! I wish now that I hadn't waited so long to take a course in the art history department, as the class sparked a new area of interest.

I am currently enrolled in Introductory Dance Technique/Repertory and Performance taught by the infectiously energetic Gwyneth Jones. We just finished our run of spring performances, where we incorporated sculpture with wooden I-beams into the dances. It was such a unique and fun experience, and it was so gratifying to show my friends and family what we had been working on for the past several weeks. I would definitely recommend taking a dance class if your schedule allows it; you'll have a blast!

What professor or professors have especially inspired you during your time at Bowdoin?
Again, it's too difficult for me to pick just one. My advisor, Professor Sarah McMahon, has provided me with so much guidance and encouragement over the years. Whenever I walk into her office, I know I will be greeted with her cheerful demeanor, which always brightens my day. I also thoroughly enjoyed having Scott MacEachern of the Anthropology department as a professor. His enthusiastic lectures were infused with discussions of his own research in Chad and Cameroon, which really brought the material to life.

What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
During my first couple of years at Bowdoin, I was involved in a variety of extracurricular activities, from intramural soccer to the Meditation Club. Currently, I am the co-President of Bowdoin Students for Peace (co-founded by fellow profiler and all-around awesome person Sara Schlotterbeck '08). Even though it's a relatively small group, the members are really active and involved. In the coming weeks, we will be attending a rally against the genocide in Darfur and are working to establish a meditation/reflection room on campus. Before coming to college, I never would have imagined that I would be involved in an activist group to this extent, but I am very fortunate to be a part of it.

I also work part-time at the Office of Communications as a publications assistant. It has been both enjoyable and eye-opening, and I have been given the opportunity to work on a variety of projects. Some days, I conduct photo research for Admissions or other departments; other times, I type up programs or posters for various events. One of my favorite projects was making the first-year Facebook and Orientation packet for the incoming class. It was exciting to work on a publishing project from start to finish and seeing the final printed product was rewarding. In addition, the staff at the Office of Communications is so friendly, which makes working there even better.

Did you study abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
I spent the spring 2007 semester in Melbourne, Australia, which was just incredible! Living with a host family in a foreign country provided an opportunity for growth and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them. Having lived in Maine almost all of my life, it was refreshing to live in a vibrant city and have a change of pace. In addition, I was able to attain a more international perspective and see the ways in which Australians view the world. My program culminated with a five-week research project on a topic of our choice and I had the chance to discuss Aboriginal affairs with several local leaders, an experience that truly would not have been possible in the U.S. Plus, I was introduced to these amazing cookies called "Tim Tams" that I still find myself craving.

As much as I love Bowdoin, deciding to study abroad was one of the best decisions I have made during my time here. I would highly recommend studying abroad to any student; it is an excellent way to gain independence and will make your remaining time at college even more satisfying.

What have you done during your summers?
I worked in the microbiology lab at Poland Spring Bottling after freshman and sophomore year, assisting with water testing on both the sensory and microbiological levels. Working in the lab environment was quite rewarding, as I was able to connect with a small group of people, one of whom was a Bowdoin alum. I also learned practical lab techniques and gained a better understanding of the quality assurance component of the company.

Last summer, I stayed on campus and began working at the Office of Communications. I was so lucky to get the job (particularly because it involved scheduling a phone interview while I was in Australia!). I'm very glad I had the chance to be at Bowdoin during the summer. My roommates were fantastic and we shared many great times, like going to the farmer's market in town and watching the Fourth of July fireworks in Freeport.

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
I have so many; it's tough to pick just one! Some of my favorites are stargazing with my roommates, seeing the newly refurbished Museum of Art, taking late night trips to L.L. Bean, and going to concerts in Boston. I think my favorite, though, is learning a choreographed dance with my roommate and close friends sophomore year (have you seen OK Go's "A Million Ways" video? Yes, we learned that dance). We spent many weekend hours trying to get the moves just right and even performed it for our parents.

All of my best Bowdoin memories have involved my friends, who have made my four years here wonderful. At the end of the day, after all of the papers and exams, they're the ones who are there to laugh with while you're brushing your teeth.

What are your plans for after graduation?
Everyone's favorite question! I am still looking for a job, ideally in the publishing industry. In the meantime, I am hoping to travel and will be training for a couple of 10K road races and a half-marathon in the fall. Eventually, I would like to attend graduate school and study science journalism. As I was saying to a good friend the other day, the thought of graduation is a little scary, but I'm excited and optimistic about the opportunities to come.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
Don't hesitate to try different things and become involved in activities! It can be a little intimidating to be in a new place with unfamiliar faces, but the Bowdoin community is very friendly and accepting. Join the club you always thought sounded intriguing, or sign up for that intramural sport. You never know what you might end up loving! Also, don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. That's the nice thing about a small school; professors are usually more than willing to meet with you to discuss questions, or just to talk. Finally, find the thing that makes you happiest, whether it's running in the woods behind Farley Field House or reading The New York Times at breakfast, and find time to squeeze it into your day.

What quirky or fun thing did you wish you knew before you came to Bowdoin?
There are so many eclectic places to go on Maine Street — Frontier Café is the perfect place to grab a cup of tea, and Grand City Variety is, well, you'll just have to go there and experience it for yourself. Also, I wish I'd known to bring my skates after Thanksgiving break! During the winter, part of the Quad is turned into a skating rink and it is great fun to slide around on the ice. And, as a final note, the view from the top of Cole's Tower is just beautiful. I'm lucky enough to be living on the fifteenth floor this year, and I can't tell you how calming it is to watch the sunset.

Story posted on May 01, 2008

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