Joseph McKeen
Center for the Common Good

Encouraging College Aspirations in Maine

Story posted November 26, 2012

At the beginning of November, various groups of high school students visited campus as part of ongoing McKeen Center programming to encourage college aspirations among Maine high school students.  College Students for College, a Bowdoin Volunteer Corps group, works primarily with two local high schools – Brunswick High School and Mt. Ararat High School – to bring small groups of high school students to campus for visit days.  Each semester, there are approximately three visit days held that bring students from BHS to Bowdoin for a half day.  Caroline Blake ’14, a Government and Legal Studies major, leads College Students for College and coordinates the high school visit days.  Aspirations in Maine brings high school freshman from high schools throughout the state to campus for one visit day in the fall and another in the spring.  Molly Porcher ’13, a History major and Teaching minor, is now in her third year of coordinating the Aspirations in Maine days.

According to a report published by the Mitchell Institute in November 2011 and revised in January 2012, “High school graduation, first-year college persistence, and community college graduation rates in Maine exceed the national averages. Maine trails the rest of the nation in college-going—both among recent high school graduates and adults—and four-year college graduation rates.”  Providing information and advice about the college admissions process and college life is an important first step in supporting high school students’ pursuit of higher education.

On Friday, November 2, twelve students from Brunswick High School visited campus as part of the College Students for College program.  The high school students were paired with Bowdoin hosts and attended an info session with an Admissions officer and several Bowdoin students, had lunch in Thorne, and then took a campus tour.  The hope for the day is that high school students will leave campus feeling better informed about the college admissions process, more interested in pursuing higher education, and excited about the prospect of going to college. 

Surveys submitted after the most recent visit days seem to suggest that these goals were met.  One student wrote, “Thank you very much for taking [the] time out of your day to give us a great tour!  I learned a lot about the college life at Bowdoin and how the school and financial aid work…This experience was important to prep me for college and answer any questions I have for my future.”  Some mentioned that it was the first time they had heard about the possibility of applying Early Decision to colleges, while others noted that they learned more about how important the personal essay is for their application.  One student wrote, “[The Bowdoin students] told us some things that I never even thought about and helped me to understand more from their perspective,” while another commented “This experience was important because I was very curious about college life when this opportunity was given to me and now I have a better understanding of college.”   All seemed to come away with some new insight into the admissions process and college life (and many seemed thrilled by Bowdoin Dining!). 

A week later, fifty high school students visited campus for the fall Aspirations in Maine Day.  These ninth graders came from five high schools in the state: Lisbon High School, Poland Regional High School, Lewiston High School, Edward Little High School, and Gardiner Area High School.  Once placed in small groups with a Bowdoin host, the students dispersed across campus.  Many participated in the two “mini-classes” organized specifically for their visit by generous Bowdoin faculty members.  The first mini-class was a Photography Workshop with Professor Michael Kolster.  Professor Kolster challenged the students to take risks, to find their passion, and to capture the world in a frame as they see it and, in so doing, share their perspective with others.  After 40 minutes of discussion, the group had the opportunity to tour the darkroom and learn a bit more about the technical aspects of film photography.  The second class was a “Mindfulness Workshop” taught by Professor Katie Byrnes.  The students learned about neuroplasticity (the idea that the brain is malleable and can change) before attempting various tasks, including balancing an egg on one end.  The session wrapped up with students receiving a quote related to mindfulness, sharing that quote with a partner, and then listening to five students read the quotes they had received.  Lunch at Thorne was a highlight and gave students the energy to attend two more sessions – one led by Associate Dean of Admissions Emily Birchby ’07 and the second a panel of Bowdoin students from Maine who shared their insight on everything from living in a dorm and time management to finding your passion in high school and transitioning successfully to college.

In addition to supporting high school students’ college aspirations, these visit days also provide an opportunity for Bowdoin students to learn more about their community by engaging with local students.  Seeing Maine through high school students’ eyes can provide an important perspective, especially for Bowdoin students who grew up outside of Maine.  Having the opportunity to find common interests, while also learning about aspects of life in Maine that differ from their hometowns, can help Bowdoin students gain a greater connection to Brunswick and Maine. 

If you are a student and would like to help host high school students on visit days through College Students for College, please email Caroline Blake.  If you are interested in being an Aspirations in Maine host in the spring, please email Molly Porcher.

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"This experience was important because I was very curious about college life when this opportunity was given to me and now I have a better understanding of college." -a visiting high school student

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