The Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good: Learning, Serving, Leading

Story posted September 17, 2008

Joseph McKeen, the first president of Bowdoin College, declared in 1802, "Literary institutions are founded and endowed for the common good and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education. It is not that they may be enabled to pass through life in an easy or reputable manner, but that their mental powers may be cultivated and improved for the benefit of society."

New McKeen Center Web Site
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Check out the new McKeen Center for the Common Good Web site, offering continuously updated content regarding community service opportunities, a schedule of events and other happenings.


Since then, countless Bowdoin students and alumni, as well as faculty and staff, have challenged themselves to live up to McKeen's vision.

Bowdoin is strengthening its commitment to this mission with the creation of the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good, dedicated Friday, September 26, 2008, following a week of events celebrating its opening.

The mission of the McKeen Center is to enable students to use their unique talents, passions and academic pursuits for the benefit of society through public engagement.

Service and Leadership

The McKeen Center will enhance student learning and leadership skills through reflective public engagement in the curriculum and co-curriculum while cultivating lifelong commitments to improving the well-being of society.

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Robby Halliday '09

"Through my work with the McKeen Center, I am able to gain experience working to solve problems at the local level by contributing in small ways now at Bowdoin and in the greater Brunswick community," says Robby Halliday '09, co-president of the Community Service Council and a mentor and former co-leader of the Mt. Ararat Middle School Mentoring Program.

"After all, any type of positive change starts small and then can grow to help many."

Led by Director Susan Dorn, the McKeen Center will create avenues for students to initiate and lead collaborative projects with community partners.

Currently Bowdoin students spend nearly 40,000 hours per year involved in student-led community service initiatives, ranging from one-time service events to internships with non-profits, week-long service trips, and consistent involvement in local schools as mentors and tutors.

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Solidaridad en Marcha (Solidarity in Action) welcomed Alternative Spring Break 2008 participants to Peru to work alongside local children to refurbish playgrounds in the shantytowns of Lima.

Expanding upon this, the Center will also assist faculty members in connecting their teaching, research and artistic endeavors to issues of the public good.

"The McKeen Center will offer students opportunities to explore themes of community responsibility, active citizenship, and informed leadership through service, community engagement and applied scholarship at the local, national and international levels," says Dorn.

Courses and Research

In addition to a wide array of service opportunities, Bowdoin offers community-based courses that integrate academic objectives with public engagement. The Center will help faculty to expand the number and reach of these offerings.

Recent examples include:

  • Architectural design — Students developed options for affordable and energy-efficient community housing.

  • Biology and chemistry — Students analyzed the impact of restoration activities on local salt marshes.

  • Environmental studies and history — Students conducted research on the Androscoggin River as part of an evolving online curriculum project for Maine middle school students.

  • Visual arts — Students worked creatively with community partners to design public artwork.

Students in other courses have conducted research on healthcare access in the Midcoast area, on public opinion and understanding of Androscoggin River restoration, and on water quality related to conservation in the state. In all cases students present their research to local or regional agencies for use in making decisions regarding Maine's future. As partnerships with local and regional organizations expand, students will also be more able to develop independent study and honors theses focused on community-based research.

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(L. to r.) Joelinda Coichy 11, Mary Ridley 12 and Krista Bahm 11 relax at a cookout at Farley Field House on the first night of the Community Immersion Pre-Orientation program. Coichy and Bahm were trip leaders; Ridley was a participant.

"Putting the skills and knowledge we teach in classrooms to work in projects such as these strengthens student learning and provides important resources to communities," says Craig McEwen, Daniel B. Fayerweather Professor of Political Economy and Sociology and Senior Faculty Fellow at the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good.

Tedford Housing, a non-profit provider of shelter and services to the homeless in midcoast Maine, has enjoyed a deep relationship with Bowdoin, going back to the agency's inception in 1987. Since that time, hundreds of Bowdoin students, faculty and staff have helped serve meals, maintain Tedford's buildings and research its clients' needs.

"It is a wonderful example of working together to meet the common good," says Tedford Housing Executive Director Don Kniseley. "Bowdoin is a true partner in helping us to end homelessness in Maine and improve the quality of life for our community."

Public Events

Another important role for the Center is to encourage and support learning and reflection about the meaning of the common good and promote exploration of major public issues.

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As part of Alternative Spring Break 2008, students traveled to Pontotoc, Miss., to help build affordable housing for a low-income family while learning about rural poverty, the housing crisis and Southern culture.

The McKeen Center serves as a central source of information, events and activities related to public engagement, providing connections between teaching, research and service that enhance both learning and community impact.

The Seeking the Common Good Series has been organized in celebration of the opening of the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good.

Fall events in this yearlong series of lectures, films, exhibitions and other activities will explore the relation of theater to public issues and examine the environmental crisis of waste disposal from a global perspective.

Innovations in addressing inequality of access to healthcare and higher education, and how post-Communist societies are redefining questions related to the common good, will be the topics in the spring semester.

McKeen Fellows for Community Engagement

While McEwen and other faculty fellows will help shape the Center's educational vision and foster connections to the academic program, student leaders — McKeen Center Fellows for Community Engagement — will align Center activities with issues that are most current and compelling to students.

McKeen Fellows: At Your Service
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Suzanne Heller '09

McKeen Fellow Suzanne Heller '09 is this year's McKeen Center Student Coordinator, a role through which she helps to connect students with service organizations that match their interests and assist with other programs.

"I'm excited to see the vision of the McKeen Center come to fruition because I hope it will make service a central part of more students' lives at Bowdoin and will enable them to access positive and unique experiences in the community that develop and enrich their personal interests," Heller says.

A psychology major and teaching minor from Laguna Hills, Calif., Heller has been involved in service throughout her Bowdoin career — volunteering and mentoring in local schools, helping allocate grants to local non-profits as a member of the Common Good Grant Committee and, for the last two summers, serving as the student coordinator of the Community Immersion Pre-Orientation program for incoming first-year students.

Heller will lead an Alternative Spring Break trip to Safe Passage in Guatemala this spring, providing her peers the opportunity to learn about and address issues of poverty through an intensive service experience in a diverse community.

"Becoming involved in service at Bowdoin has been very important to me," says Heller. "I've become well acquainted with the wonderful community of Brunswick, have met other interested and engaged students, faculty and staff, and most of all, have found that I want to pursue a career that advances the common good through education."


Nine McKeen fellows for the 2008-2009 academic year will take the pulse of the campus and serve as the Center's student advisory group.

McKeen fellows will hold regular office hours assisting students, faculty and staff in making community connections and will lead programs such as Alternative Spring Break, America Reads and Counts, Aspirations in Maine, Common Good Grant and Community Service Council.

Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good Dedication Week Events

Friday, September 19

Common Hour with Senator George J. Mitchell '54
Celebratory Common Hour with the former Senate Majority Leader, architect of the Northern Ireland peace accord, leader of the investigation into illegal steroid use in Major League Baseball, chancellor of Queen's University of Belfast and former chairman of The Walt Disney Company. Tickets required.
12:30-1:30 p.m., Pickard Theater, Memorial Hall

Tapas: A Taste of Spindleworks
This inaugural installation of the McKeen Center's Community Art Wall features pieces created by clients of Spindleworks, an Independence Association affiliate, and runs through November 19.
McKeen Center for the Common Good, Banister Hall

Saturday, September 20

The 10th Annual Common Good Day
Some 500 students, faculty and staff will volunteer for an afternoon of service projects in the Midcoast region, ranging from gardening and trail maintenance to grant research and spending time with the elderly. In addition, alumni will convene in cities throughout the country for projects of their own. Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols, a former major with the Maine State Police, will speak at the event's lunch gathering. Advance registration required.
Noon-4 p.m., Cleaveland Quad and in the community

Thursday, September 25

Narmada: A Valley Rises
This film follows 6,000 farmers and tribal people as they embark on an epic march to draw national and international attention to human rights abuses and to pressure the Indian government into conducting a comprehensive review of a dam project. The march is modeled on Gandhi's famous Salt March against British Imperial rule. Introduced by Mellon Global Scholar Ashish Kothari. Co-sponsored by the Environmental Studies program, this event is part of the yearlong series Seeking the Common Good.
7:30 p.m., Smith Auditorium, Sills Hall

Tuesday, September 23

Faculty Seminar: "Waiting for Section 8"
How do families on the list for Section 8 rental housing vouchers manage during the 12-18 months they must wait before vouchers become available? Student-faculty research with the Brunswick Housing Authority provides the answer. Daniel B. Fayerweather Professor of Political Economy and Sociology Craig McEwen, the senior faculty fellow for the McKeen Center, will speak.
Noon-1 p.m., Main Lounge, Moulton Union

Friday, September 26

Open House and Reception for the McKeen Center for the Common Good
Featuring the exhibition Bowdoin and the Common Good, which highlights what "serving for the common good" has meant to different members of the Bowdoin community during the past 200 years; profiles of the public engagement activities of students, faculty, staff and alumni; and opportunities for all to share personal and collective commitments to advancing the common good together. The event features Maine grown and prepared food, and performances by student musicians.
3-5 p.m., Morrell Lounge, David Saul Smith Union

McKeen Center Support
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Support for the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good is a key component of The Bowdoin Campaign, which ends in 2009. This will enable students to use their unique talents, passions and academic pursuits for the benefit of society through public engagement.



Dedication with Keynote Address by Adam Weinberg 87
President Barry Mills will formally dedicate the McKeen Center and introduce keynote speaker, Adam Weinberg. A former professor of sociology and dean of the college at Colgate University, Weinberg is currently executive vice president and SIT provost of World Learning. Weinberg has garnered national attention from major foundations for his work on civic education and promoting youth political engagement, and will give an address titled "Educating for Democracy."
7:30 p.m., Studzinski Recital Hall, Kanbar Auditorium

Saturday, September 27

Visions of Industrial Spaces: Drawings and Photographs by Cotton Estes '07
Watson Fellow Cotton Estes' drawings and photographs capture life in reclaimed industrial sites from London to Istanbul and express the social role and shear beauty found there. This exhibition is part of the yearlong series Seeking the Common Good and runs through October 11.
Opening Reception 5-7 p.m., Fishbowl Gallery, Visual Arts Center

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