While some students spent winter break hitting the ski slopes or catching up on much-needed sleep, Kate McKee ’22 explored Bologna, Italy to learn about spiritual breadmaking. McKee was one of many students who immersed themselves in research or volunteer work thanks to Bowdoin fellowships and grants provided by Bowdoin’s Center for Cocurricular Opportunities.
“We offer a number of awards throughout the academic year to support student research projects,” Associate Director of the Center for Cocurricular Opportunities Corey Colwill said. “We have the Grua/O’Connell Research Awards … [Each award] is up to $2,000 to support student research and travel.”
In the fall, Bowdoin granted 15 of these awards totalling $25,000 in funding thanks to sponsorship by alumni Peter Grua and Mary O’Connell ’76. McKee used the grant to fund her research about Saint Catherine of Alexandria, an Italian nun who lived during the thirteenth century.
“I was [in Italy] for 10 days. I went to see Saint Catherine’s tomb in her chapel, and I was able to get a lot of information there,” McKee said. “I was also able to visit the convent that she lived in for about 30 years.”
McKee learned the most from the locals she encountered, including a caretaker of the tomb, a bookseller and a professor from the University of Bologna.
“All of these little encounters were very serendipitous and pointed me in some really interesting directions in terms of my thesis,” she said. “I mean, you’re there and having those experiences after not being able to go abroad because of the pandemic. I was able to use my Italian major constantly, go to all these different museums and see a ton of different materials.”
The College also offers mini grants throughout the academic year, which each provide up to $800 for research expenses. Last year only around five students applied for mini grants, which Colwill attributes to COVID-19 restrictions. This year, the Center for Cocurricular Opportunities has already awarded 13 mini grants totalling $10,000. The office expects to fund another four to five thousand dollars’ worth of research by May.
Francesca Mauro ’22, who is working on an honors project about the reception of Italian poet Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” partially funded her research trip to Madrid, Spain using the mini grant she was awarded in December.
“I ended up finding this monastery about an hour outside of Madrid that has an original 1429 translation of the ‘Divine Comedy,’” Mauro said. “It’s in this old library built in the 1600s. It was a really cool opportunity to look firsthand at [the translation] because it’s not digitized.”
The trip pointed her research in directions she had not previously imagined.
“I also got to go to the Prado, which is Madrid’s huge national museum. I had some unexpected discoveries there,” Mauro said. “It changed what I’m going to do with my next two chapters [of my honors project].”
Arlenys Soler ’25 was able to use the Winter Break Community Engagement Fund to explore her interests closer to home. The McKeen Center for the Common Good provided 19 students with $750 each to complete 50 hours of community service over the duration of break.
“I’m from Naples, Florida, so I went back there for winter break, and I volunteered with Champions For Learning, an educational nonprofit,” Soler said. “I helped run lab sessions. For high school juniors, I assisted with test prep and for seniors, we had networking events.”
Soler participated in these programs when she was in high school, so working with the current students was her way of giving back.
“There’s so many different opportunities here at Bowdoin, especially for students in multiple academic disciplines,” Colwill said. “My door’s always open, and I’m more than happy to talk to students about the different funding options here.”