This July, the Geoffrey Canada Scholars (GCS) Summer Institute returned for its fourth year, offering 18 first year students the opportunity to acclimate to campus life and college-level coursework during the five weeks before the start of Orientation trips.
The program, which accepted its first cohort in 2018, is designed to support low-income students, first-generation students and students of color in their transition to college. In addition to taking a class, participants are given opportunities to learn about on-campus resources, explore Maine and bond as a group.
This year, for the first time, students had the opportunity to earn academic credit for the course they completed as part of the program. Until this year, students took several mini-courses that were not included in official college transcripts. This year, students took one course, “American Dreams” with Geoffrey Canada Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History Brian Purnell, and had the opportunity to earn a half credit.
“[It was] really nice because students [were] here doing the academic work, [and] they should get credit for the work they’re doing,” said THRIVE Director Jessica Perez. “So we’re glad that the faculty approved us to be able to do that. In the summertime, Bowdoin doesn’t normally award credit.”
Additionally, the program returned to an in-person format after being a fully virtual program in summer 2020.
GCS participants also receive financial support to live on campus during the summer and to cover for the loss of a summer job, as well as a $3,300 scholarship fund to be used for an enrichment project of their choice during their junior or senior year. The funds are contingent upon their participation in additional programming throughout their four years at the College.
Mario Mero ’25, a member of this year’s cohort, said he was initially hesitant to participate in the program but ended up gaining valuable experiences from it.
“I didn’t expect for a person like myself to quickly adapt to the [College]. But adapt to the place I did,” Mero said.
Similarly, Imani Myers ’25 said she felt more comfortable on campus during Orientation because of her participation in the program. She said she wished, however, there had been more free time built into the program schedule.
Students were expected to participate in an average of four to five hours of programming and classes a day, Monday through Saturday, Perez wrote in an email to the Orient.
“We introduced something like 25 different resources over last summer. And then of course they have classes too,” she said. “So, that is a fair amount to try to fit in.”
The programming included short trips around Maine on the weekends. Students saw a baseball game, went to the movie theater and explored Portland.
“We went out to socialize and had a good time,” program participant Miguel Pavon ’25 said. “I really think that that helped with the social aspects of coming here. Without that, just focusing on the class and on Bowdoin College wouldn’t help me with developing those relationships and friendships.”
One of the program’s primary goals is to foster community among the program’s participants, Perez said.
“They’re going to be experiencing some shared things as they navigate Bowdoin—maybe being the only person in the room who has a certain identity or having roommates talking about their vacation homes,” she said. “We’re trying to build a community so that students can lean on each other should they need to as they navigate the space [as well as] making sure that they know what resources are available so that they can achieve the most success.”
Mero said that, though he formed many friendships, he noticed others experiencing exclusion from the group.
“There was a majority of Hispanics in the group. So that kind of set this precedent that there was going to be some type of feelings, in terms of exclusion from other participants in the program,” he said. “I appreciate the effort that the THRIVE staff did in the program and I get what the purpose behind it was—they would give us these resources, and they would give us adventures to go on in order to relieve some of the stress of the workload. In some cases, it just didn’t function in the way they intended.”
Myers said that, although she gained many benefits from the program, the program staff was not as open to feedback as she would have liked.
“When a lot of us pointed out or expressed some discomfort with some of the things that were going on in the program, the approach, or the response that we would get from mentors, mainly was just, ‘Oh, well, this is an experience that you should feel like thankful for, so just kind of put up with it,’” Myers said.
Though he acknowledged the program’s flaws, Mero said that he appreciated the opportunity for academic growth.
“The workload in Purnell’s class was rigorous, but I feel, in my personal opinion, it helped me out a lot,” he said. “It really set me on the right track for furthering my education in liberal arts.”