Students recognize Lauren Sweetman as the person who smiles graciously when she signs them up for an appointment in the Career Planning Center, but few ever guess Sweetman is the same person who for 20 years sang in barbershop choruses and repaired boats. Sweetman's professional career has introduced her to many lines of work, culminating in her post at the Career Planning Center.
"I'm a very upbeat person, I smile a lot," said Sweetman, shrugging her shoulders innocently.
As an administrative assistant, Sweetman does "everything," from answering e-mails to troubleshooting computer problems to setting up appointments to dealing with machines to "whatever anyone else in the office asks me to do," she said.
Sweetman said the rewarding part of her job is "the teaching part"—not surprising, because Sweetman was a teacher for a number of years before coming to Bowdoin.
Originally from Rochester, New York, Sweetman graduated from the State University of New York at Potsdam with a masters in English. Sweetman then taught second grade at Russell Elementary School in Rumney, New Hampshire for three years.
"I loved it," said Sweetman. "Teaching is what I always wanted to do."
Sweetman's experience at Russell Elementary gave her a taste of rural life she did not expect.
"I grew up as a city person, this was very rural," she said. "I didn't know about rural."
Unlike the cities she was used to, the rural area had water from a well and was lacking a public sewer system. Instead, the town had a 500 gallon tank and plastic piping to remove sewage. She recalled teaching her students to flush after using the class bathroom.
"It's the first time I had heard of such a thing," she said. "So I felt it was important [to teach my students] that if you use the bathroom, you have to flush."
After meeting her husband at Volvo Automobile headquarters, where she worked as a secretary, she built a log home with him in New Hampshire from a kit.
The kit included a variety of numbered and lettered logs as well as instructions for assembly and pictures which corresponded with the logs. Sweetman lived in this home for 10 years.
"That was my first home as an adult, my first not-an-apartment," said Sweetman.
Sweetman's teaching career took her to Upper Elementary School in Goffstown, where she taught fifth grade at the dawn of the computer age.
"This was at a time when computers were becoming something to be in classrooms," she said. "In my school, I was on the cutting-edge for that."
As the only person in the school with adequate computer skills, Sweetman was called upon for everything computer-related.
"It was 'Laurie, can you come and look at this?'" explained Sweetman, who could set up classroom computers, make suggestions for free software, create spreadsheets to help teachers average grades and even train teachers who wanted to learn about computers.
Sweetman noted that, at the time, only four of the 16 school teachers were interested in learning computer skills.
The school's lone computer was placed in the teachers' room and did not draw much attention at first.
In the 1970s, state funding for computers in classrooms was high, explained Sweetman. But the bigger question was how to get both students and teachers interested in learning to use and appreciate the computer.
Sweetman's skills and talents extend beyond the keyboard and monitor screen. She is also a passionate singer and sang in the barbershop style for seven years in a New Hampshire chorus called Profile.
Profile is one of the many choruses of the organization Sweet Adelines International, which coordinates female singers worldwide.
Sweetman participated in and won many international championships with her quartet.
"It was really cool because you have people from all over the world coming [to these competitions]," said Sweetman. "And thousands of women, everyone [would be] wearing sequins, false fingernails and long eyelashes."
Sweetman continued singing barbershop for another 20 years in Maine, where she joined the Royal River Chorus, also part of the Sweet Adelines International.
"To do it for that many years—I really, really liked it," said Sweetman. "It was absolutely the most important thing and the best group of people."
When she moved to Maine in 1987, Sweetman tried on a new line of work. She and her husband owned and operated a marine engine business in Brunswick called the Orrs Island Boat Works for 20 years.
"It was very different from teaching," said Sweetman.
Much of the work at Orrs Island Boat Works entailed installing new engines or repairing new ones. Sweetman remembers fixing engines using blown-up diagrams and compared the work to solving a puzzle.
Being a female entrepreneur and worker in a heavily male-dominated business was not easy, however. Sweetman recalled sexist sentiments toward her.
"Being a woman was an iffy thing," she said. "They naturally wouldn't ask me a question if I was standing next to a man."
"That bothered me," she added. "I knew why they weren't asking...it was because I was a woman, and they made it very obvious."
Sweetman also remembers being asked whether she planned to begin a family before getting hired to be a teacher.
"When I got my first teaching job out of college as a woman, they wanted to know if I planned to have children," she said. "They don't ask that anymore."
Somewhere "along the lines here and there," Sweetman worked for the U.S. Postal Service as a mailwoman. She chuckled as she shared that her fifth grade "how-to-open-a-lock" skill came in handy here.
Before arriving at Bowdoin, Sweetman's adventurous career path took her from teaching to singing, to owning and running a business, to opening locks and sorting mail.
And the best part about it all?
"Being in front and being in charge, being in command of the situation, even if the situation is just making an appointment," she said. "No matter what I've done, it's had that teaching influence."