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BPS Fellowships offer hands-on approach to the Common Good

September 3, 2021

For Justis Dixon ’23, the summer wasn’t spent going to the beach or relaxing in his home, rather, it was instead spent in an office in Topsham contributing to the Common Good. Over the summer, Dixon and a handful of other Bowdoin students participated in the Bowdoin Public Service (BPS) Maine Government Summer Fellowships which aim to give Bowdoin students hands-on government experience by pairing them with local governments in Maine.

The 10-week fellowships placed students with an interest in government into local internships located in the town offices in Brunswick and Topsham, along with a placement working for the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development in the state capital of Augusta.

“We were really excited to introduce students to what government looks like in this program, specifically local government, and how it might connect with what they are interested in doing in the future,” said Sarah Seames, the director of the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good.

Dixon, who participated in the fellowship in Topsham, was intrigued by the opportunity to work at the most basic and integral level of government. Dixon was previously a fellow in the BPS in Washington program and wanted to experience something different this summer while still working towards the common good.

“I wanted to get involved with working in government on the ground floor,” Dixon said. “I really wanted to get more involved in thinking about local government and this seemed like a great way to do it.”

The work at each of the three placement sites gave students a grassroots understanding of how government works. For each student fellow, the summer kicked off with a tour of their respective placement sites and ended in a meeting with the local governments.

“We got to present to the Board of Selectmen and engage directly with the political process of a small town,” Dixon said. “We learned more about the functions and roles of local government.”

While working in Topsham, Dixon’s main job was to analyze a survey intended to gauge interest in a new community center in Topsham. Dixon’s work culminated in a presentation of his findings to the town’s Board of Selectmen. Throughout the summer, Dixon also had the opportunity to broadcast live in Midcoast Maine and tour Topsham’s local government department.

The fellowship program, which is run by the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good and falls under the larger BPS fellowship program umbrella, began last year.

“President Rose wanted to place a bigger spotlight on how government service could be a way to serve the common good,” Seames said.

Seames leads the program along with Samantha Cogswell, the Interim Associate Director of the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good. Seames believes that the program is unique in its ability to give students a new perspective and in turn give them a new appreciation for the common good.

“It really allows our students to see Brunswick through a different lens; it’s really different to live here in the summer,” Seames said. “It’s also really different to look at the community from the perspective of being a community member, rather than being a Bowdoin student.”

Unlike the previous year’s program, the summer fellowships this year were not fully remote. Students were allocated a $5,000 stipend to cover housing and transportation costs. Although students, along with the staff at the McKeen Center, were excited for the fellowships to return to an in-person space, safety was still a concern.

“I think for students this summer, in general, people were really excited to be back to doing stuff in person,” Seames said. “Making sure that they … felt comfortable with the protocols in their offices and that the sites felt comfortable having them there was an important piece.”

Seames also emphasized that all students are encouraged to apply for BPS programs, regardless of their desire to go into government work.

“It’s nice for us to have a mix of students in the program, some who are very clear, and we want to help them get where they’re going and other students who are kind of broadly exploring the idea of what government and public service look like,” Seames said.

The McKeen Center has plans to continue the fellowship program into the future.

“I think [the placement sites] always have high expectations about the students, which our students meet,” Seames said. “Once they’ve had a student, they’re really excited to have other students come back in the future.”

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