Two hundred and fifty-three students were honored as Sarah and James Bowdoin (SJB) scholars last weekend. Other than their superlative grades, these students have another similarity: none of them went abroad last year. Because those who study off-campus take courses at institutions other than Bowdoin, they are disqualified as possible recipients of the award, which goes to the students who earn GPAs ranking in the top 20 percent of their classes. The College's decision to exclude these students makes sense; there is no easy way to measure and compare other schools' grading standards. Though they studied abroad, the majority of these students also spent either the spring or fall at Bowdoin, where they took classes alongside eligible peers enrolled for the year. This begs the question: are the high GPAs earned in the semester that those students spent at Bowdoin not worth recognition?
Academic awards should not be determined under the time frame of one year in the first place. Bowdoin College, as most colleges and universities do, runs on a semester schedule. While Bowdoin recognizes the room for growth in student performance by awarding SJB scholars on annual—rather than cumulative career—performances, many other schools make similar dean's list awards every semester. A significant number of students don't spend both fall and spring semesters of one academic year at Bowdoin, or can have one "off" semester for a number of other personal reasons. Assessing student achievement within a framework of one continuous academic year arbitrarily associates these semesters, where grades reflect the varied academic work completed within one term. SJB scholar awards, and other annual academic awards, should be restructured to recognize the scholarly accomplishments of students on a semester-by-semester basis. Students leave and return to Bowdoin on varying schedules; that fact should not undermine the College's recognition of their academic achievement.