Community Immersion

Published by Tom Porter

No sooner had the Class of 2023 arrived on campus than it was time for many of them to leave again on more than fifty orientation trips, most of them organized by the Bowdoin Outing Club. Some students, however, opted to stay put and learn more about the community that is their home for the next four years.


Volunteering at Partners for World Health. Back row: Molly Henderson, Ibrahim Saleh, Peter Zhang, Bobby Pearl, Alec Perez-Albuerne, Emily Pan (student leader), Zachary Kaplan (student leader). Front row: Salina Chin, Hafsa Hossain, Kenya Mathieu, Khushi Patel.

For nine of them, this meant spending more than three days learning about public health. It also involved lending a helping hand. On the morning of Friday, August 30, they could be found working outdoors at the Mid Coast Senior Health Center, less than two miles from the Bowdoin campus.

“We’re doing brush clearing and debris removal,” said Zachary Kaplan ’21, one of the two student leaders on the trip. The Center is a residential long-term healthcare facility for seniors, and on this day the students are cleaning up the outdoor garden, which is being landscaped. “Even clearing brush can be public health work. I love it!”

It’s one of four community immersion trips organized by the McKeen Center for incoming students wanting to learn more about the corner of Maine where Bowdoin resides. The other trips looked at homelessness and hunger, sustainability and the environment, and immigrants and refugees.

It’s been a busy few days for the public health cohort. They started with a trip to Lewiston to visit Healthy Androscoggin, an affiliate of Central Maine Healthcare that promotes healthy lifestyle choices and does a lot of work with immigrant communities. They worked with Harpswell Aging at Home, a community organization that helps seniors live independently. Students helped out there by cooking lasagna for the residents. They also did some volunteer work at Partners for World Health, a Portland-based nonprofit that recycles medical supplies and promotes global health.

“This trip was my number one choice,” said Khushi Patel ’23, who aims to go to medical school after Bowdoin. “I value being in a tight-knit community like this, and I’m also very interested in public health.” Alec Perez-Albuerne ’23 admits he hadn’t given much consideration to public health issues before, but now sees it as an important part of the healthcare system. “Instead of treating immediate problems, like in hospital, it’s about preventing them in the wider community.”

International student Peter Zhang ’23 is from China. “I have some previous experience as a volunteer medical worker, but it’s been interesting to learn about the demographics of Maine,” he said. Furthermore, he adds, the trip has also been a great bonding experience, providing plenty of downtime to hang out with fellow first-years and make new friends.