The Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good is approaching the conclusion of its long-term research on how the Center is perceived and utilized in the Bowdoin community.
The study consists of a series of student-led focus groups, which began this summer. The aim of the focus groups was to discover the "perceptions of the McKeen Center and the role it should play in campus and community life," said Director of the McKeen Center For the Common Good Susan Dorn.
The McKeen Center has been in operation for one year, replacing the College's Community Service Resource Center.
"After one year, we wanted to gauge student perceptions about our role," said Dorn.
Most of the questions posed to the focus groups related to how the students connect to the College's mission of promoting the Common Good. Those questions led to in-depth discussions of the language and rhetoric used in connection with community service and "public engagement," a central term in the Center's mission statement.
Senior Jessica Britt, this year's Common Good Day Fellow, helped start the focus group project over the summer along with junior Elyse Terry.
"We recruit student participants either by random selection or by focusing on a specific group of the student body: those who are very involved, those who are involved with only one McKeen Center activity, student activists, etc.," Britt wrote in an e-mail to the Orient.
The McKeen Center is still in the process of collecting and analyzing all of the data from the six focus groups, but initial results indicate that the student body is somewhat ignorant of the Center's function and accessibility.
According to the Center's Senior Faculty Fellow Craig McEwen, the results "certainly indicate that some students have a lot of experience with the McKeen Center, some have contact with it but don't know it, and some students are distanced from engagement."
"The Center has limited visibility," added McEwen.
McEwen cited the abstract language used to refer to the Common Good as a possible reason for why students have trouble connecting to the Center's resources.
"The language that we often use is not one that many students find accessible. We have to connect to where the students are, not using specialized language," said McEwen.
"Many students see the Center's main role on campus as the 'community service center'," said Britt. Indeed, the focus groups have revealed that students tend to use the narrower terminology of "community service" to refer to the McKeen Center's function as opposed to its more wide-ranging, official purpose of promoting "public engagement."
"Students don't yet understand the breadth of opportunities that the McKeen Center offers," said Dorn.
Part of the reason why students are somewhat disconnected from the McKeen Center is because "most work occurs in the community," said Dorn. Because the McKeen Center promotes student leadership off-campus, its role in facilitating student initiatives on-campus is relatively unknown.
Another part of the problem has to do with the tight schedules of Bowdoin students, according to Dorn.
"Some students have communicated a fear that it will take up too much time," she said.
However, the McKeen Center has made efforts to accommodate a variety of interests, ranging from long-term commitments to one-time service opportunities. According to Dorn, "everyone can find exactly what they're looking for" in the McKeen Center's offerings.
"The McKeen Center is there for your needs and your interests personally, not just the different student-run projects on the list," said Samantha Collins '11, who helped coordinate the administration of the focus groups.
"Some suggestions [from the focus groups] have already been implemented. One group discussed how students may be more likely to get involved if they knew where the Center was, who works there, and what it has to offer, said Britt. "Because of this, during the first few weeks of school, several first-year floors went to the Center with their proctors to see all of those things."
"The challenge of the Center is to reach out and get more students to connect to the community," said McEwen, adding that the Center's mission has to do with one of the "central goals of the College—to use education for the advancement of the Common Good."
The McKeen Center offers many community-based courses that integrate academics and community involvement. The courses span several academic departments, and have had success in getting students involved in the past.
"We have a whole range of classes at the College that connect students to the community in one way or another," said McEwen.
For McEwen, one of the primary outcomes of the focus group project has been to "reflect the sense that we need to understand where the students are, how they think about the connections between their lives inside and outside the classroom."
"The McKeen Center is [about] more than just community service, it's about encouraging students to become engaged in their community and help[ing] them find ways to do so," said Britt.
Anyone interested in participating in a focus group is encouraged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org for updates on when the next sessions will be held. Interested students are encouraged to explore the resources and meet the staff of the McKeen Center.