Story posted March 09, 2006
Bowdoin College's Community Service Resource Center and Volunteers of America Northern New England have been awarded a grant from Maine Campus Compact and the Morgan Family Foundation to fund a new program that places students in positions that cultivate connections between the campus and the community.
The Community Action Fellowship provides organizations with extra support to complete projects that benefit the community. At the same time, it allows students to apply their academic skills while learning about the workings of non-profits under the guidance of a community mentor.
This comes as Bowdoin begins to institutionalize in tangible ways its mission of an education "for the common good" by expanding public service programs and more formally linking community engagement to the academic program.
"We will see more and more students coming together with faculty and staff to work with community partners on projects that have real-life implications right here in Maine," says Susie Dorn, director of Bowdoin's Community Service Resource Center. "It's very exciting."
A small model of this vision is exemplified in the new fellowship program. Six fellows are working in the community this semester: four directly with community organizations, and two serving as assistants to Bowdoin faculty members completing community projects with their students through service learning courses. Organizations benefiting from this pilot project include Midcoast REACH, People Plus, Independence Association, Volunteers of America, SAD 75, and the Tedford Shelter.
"Through my work as a Community Action Fellow, we are building relationships between Bowdoin and the greater community, as well as bridging community organizations," says Mary Vargo, a senior majoring in environmental studies and French, who is working at Midcoast REACH. "The more time I spend at Midcoast REACH, the more I realize the extent of the region's artistic community, and can see more opportunities for making connections. I'm hoping my work will help develop a network between artist, Bowdoin, and the creative community that will evolve into lasting relationships."
Jennifer Goldman '87, director of community engagement at Volunteers of America, notes the value of work like that of Bowdoin senior Lindsey Parsons, who is applying her interest in sociology and gender issues to research elder abuse statistics as part of a Volunteers of America project.
"Like most non-profits in the state, we have few resources to devote to research and special projects," says Goldman. "This relationship provides invaluable assistance, not to mention exciting, new, youthful energy in the office. As a Bowdoin alumna, I feel strongly that students need to see that Maine, and especially the non-profit community, offers exciting, fulfilling job opportunities for graduates."
Through their volunteer projects, Bowdoin students gain a greater sense of belonging and responsibility to the community in which they study. They also make connections with organizations with which there might not otherwise be an intrinsic link.
Lisa Peterson, a junior psychology major, works with Independence Association. "The staff has been incredibly welcoming and supportive and I look forward to learning from them," she says. "The chance to work in a non-profit and see its inner-workings has been amazing so far, and I hope to apply what I've learned to my own possible future in the non-profit sector."
Junior Larissa Curlik, an environmental design major, has undertaken an urban planning project at People Plus. "I love that my project is constantly evolving as a consequence of the interactions I have with a wide range of community members who, although they often have different interests, are uniting under a common commitment to make the community stronger and healthier."
Eliza Hutchinson, a senior sociology major, and Betsy Bradford, a senior French major, are tackling the goals of the Community Action Fellowship from the campus side. In their roles as Service Learning Teaching Assistants for professors Joe Bandy (Sociology: "Class, Labor and Power") and Katherine Dauge-Roth (French: "Living, Learning, Language"), the students are working to support multiple community projects that also meet course objectives through community engagement.
Students in Bandy's course are conducting research for the Tedford Shelter to help the agency determine what they are doing most effectively, and what areas they need to focus on in the future. Hutchinson serves as a liaison between the students and the organization, helps students coordinate and conduct interviews with former shelter residents, and compiles information to communicate their findings effectively to the Tedford Shelter.
In partnership with teachers from SAD 75, students in Dauge-Roth's French course travel every Friday morning to Mt. Ararat High School to participate in a "Language Café" with the high school students.
All the stakeholders in the fellowship program -- students, community partners and faculty members -- will gather at the end of the semester to share information and lessons learned, and determine larger issues to be addressed through future collaborations.