When she was deciding which college she would attend, a Bowdoin program called Geoffrey Canada Scholars caught the eye of Lynn Nguyen ’22. The program, which began this year under a new initiative called THRIVE, offered 15 incoming first-year students, who identified as first-generation, low-income or students of color, the opportunity to live on campus and participate in summer classes for six weeks before orientation began. Participants also received continual support throughout the year.
“I would not have committed here [without the THRIVE program],” Nguyen said. “I wanted that resource and that extra push in the beginning so that I would feel more comfortable coming here, transitioning from high school to college.”
While some students—especially those whose parents went to four-year colleges—come to Bowdoin equipped with much of the knowledge they need to navigate the institution, for others the transition is more of a learning process. Learning how to ask for help, communicate with professors and find necessary resources to excel at Bowdoin sometimes requires support, and THRIVE works hard to provide that.
“I don’t think I would [have] reach[ed] out to my advisors. I wouldn’t [have] talk[ed] to my professors,” said Marc Muro ’22 on what he would do if he hadn’t participated in THRIVE this year. “I don’t know what I would do.”
THRIVE unifies several campus organizations and department initiatives aimed at serving traditionally underrepresented students, some of which are new and some of which have existed at Bowdoin for years. The Geoffrey Canada Scholars program, Bowdoin Advising in Support of academic Excellence (BASE) and THRIVE-specific peer mentoring are all included. But the program was not organized into a singular unit and given a space until the summer of 2018, when the first cohort of THRIVE students arrived.
The creation of THRIVE was announced in September 2017 in conjunction with a $5 million donation from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings ’83 to support the initiative.
Jessica Perez, the director of THRIVE, explained that by bringing different campus initiatives with the same goal into a singular program, THRIVE has been able to foster a community among students more effectively than in previous years.
“If we want students to really thrive at Bowdoin, they need to feel like this is their home and they have a community and that they’re not the only one who’s experiencing the things that sometimes students of color or first-generation students or low-income students experience,” Perez said.
Beyond providing students with an academic head-start through summer classes and year-round programming, THRIVE and Geoffrey Canada Scholars have been invaluable for many first-year participants in helping them to navigate a smooth transition to campus socially. For some who came to Bowdoin in July to partake in the summer classes offered through Geoffrey Canada Scholars, the journey to campus was their first, but the six weeks on campus allowed them to feel comfortable and build a support system before the academic year began.
“Even though I’m from Portland, Maine, it was actually the first time being on campus for me,” said Nasteho Youssouf ’22, a Geoffrey Canada Scholar. “I was able to create this connection with people before the semester actually started so that I had a group of people that can support me through whatever happened.”
This year’s program has been a resounding success, but, for THRIVE staff, it represents the starting point for many years to come. The planning process is already well under way for next year’s cohort, which will include 18 Geoffrey Canada Scholars instead of 15, and implementation of student feedback from this year is promising to make the programming for next year even better.
Members of the Class of 2022 who participated will have first-hand knowledge about the transition process between high school and college and will be able to use their knowledge to provide unique insights to incoming students. When this year’s cohort becomes juniors and seniors in years to come, they will step into a mentorship role for the underclassmen.
“THRIVE is an institutional commitment,” Perez said. “THRIVE is going to be there.”