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Students at heart: Auditors offer fresh perspectives with years of lived experiences

November 3, 2023

Bowdoin’s 60 auditors this semester range from Brunswick High School students to octogenarians. They include alumni returning to the Quad and first-time visitors to campus. Across departments, professors are given individual choice over whether to allow auditors into their courses, and many find that welcoming an auditor can bring new and valuable perspectives into the classroom.

When Janet Galle and Jeanne Bruno-Joyce decided to audit Italian classes at Bowdoin, they expected to improve their listening and grammar. Years later, the two have built community along with their language skills. Now, they sit in Italian class with two other close friends they made through their classes, study together and attend Bowdoin events to support their classmates.

Senior Lecturer Anna Rein has always loved having auditors join her language classes, whether it’s because they have family in the region, want to practice the language, have exciting travel plans or are just looking to learn something new. This semester Rein has four auditors in her Intermediate Italian I course.

Auditing is free for all who are interested and obtain professor consent, and auditors may take up to two classes per semester. Auditors have long been frequenters of Bowdoin classes, Registrar Martina Duncan wrote in an email to the Orient.

“Auditing classes has been an option longer than I have been working at Bowdoin—so decades. The number has been relatively stable over my time here,” Duncan wrote.

For Bruno-Joyce, what started as a suggestion from her husband, who worked as the boat captain at the Schiller Coastal Studies Center, has become a passion. Bruno-Joyce, who resides in Topsham, but now holds Italian citizenship, often travels to Italy and is a self-proclaimed “lover of everything Italian.”

“If it wasn’t for the Bowdoin class, I don’t think I would be where I am now. So it’s really changed my life in that regard,” Bruno-Joyce said.

Galle and Bruno-Joyce plan to practice after class in upcoming weeks to improve their language skills and make up for the lab component of the course reserved for Bowdoin students.

Rein is always a big fan of having auditors join her classroom and sees it as beneficial to Bowdoin students as well.

“[Auditors] talk to students and they’re able to create relationships,” Rein said. “It’s nice to see that the students see that there is a community beyond Bowdoin…. The students see that there are people like 80 years old, that they’re still interested in learning, that learning doesn’t end when you get a degree, but you keep learning all life long.”

Professor of History and Chair of Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies Page Herrlinger has also welcomed a number of auditors into her classes. Some of her lectures have had as many as nine auditors, who she notes may fill the entire back row and form their own sort of community.

Some auditors have even lived the history Herrlinger teaches. Years ago, Herrlinger had an auditor visit a Nazi Germany class and share papers and memories from his Jewish upbringing in Nazi Berlin.

“His life basically mirrored what the reading had been telling us, and he showed up on that very day [with] his papers …, and it made everything so real,” she said. “In terms of how they see the material and the kinds of observations they make, that’s one of the best reasons to include auditors.”

During the pandemic, auditing was suspended, with many classes only opening up to auditors this semester. Herrlinger has welcomed auditors back for the first time since the pandemic with four auditors in her World War I lecture course this semester.

During their three-year hiatus from the classroom, Galle, Bruno-Joyce and their auditing classmates found a solution to continue their learning.

“We continued to meet once or twice a week or every two weeks, and we continued our studies consistently over the three years. So we’re still friends, and they’re still in the same class with me. So that’s been a great experience, too. I would have never met them otherwise,” Bruno-Joyce said. “There’s a big age difference, but we managed to keep the spark going even during Covid.”

24-year-old Brunswick resident Karter Whitman has found auditing to be a chance to take classes in subjects he has a long time passion in. This semester, Whitman is auditing Cognitive Neuroscience at Bowdoin, while taking three courses in computer science and math at University of Southern Maine.

“Maybe it’s not advertised, I suppose, but I think people who want to audit classes will find out about it or know about it anyway,” Whitman said.

Now that the program has returned in full swing, community members and long-time auditors have no plans of leaving the Bowdoin classroom any time soon.

“I would definitely audit another class. I would be auditing more now if there weren’t limits imposed on auditors,” Whitman said. “I just wish I could take more classes is all.”

As far as future plans, Bruno-Joyce hopes to continue auditing classes, maybe even branching out beyond Italian.

“I was a pharmacist when [I was] in my career. I would love to go back and take Intro to Biology or Chemistry again and just see how things have changed,” Bruno-Joyce said.

Galle hopes to continue focusing on Italian, which she began taking at Bowdoin eight years ago, acting on a lifelong dream. At 81 years old, she has enjoyed building friendships with Bowdoin students in her classes.

“There are a couple of women who are auditing with me, and we have stuck with it. I suppose one of the best things has been getting to know the kids in the classes. This particular group right now is really lots of fun,” Galle said.

Herrlinger encourages auditors to embrace both sharing their own unique stories and listening to student perspectives.

“I like to let the class dynamic develop before I really let the auditors into the discussion. It also depends on the auditors. Some prefer to participate and others just to observe,” Herrlinger said. “I love opening up the classroom, and there’s some auditors I’ve actually developed nice relationships with.”

Galle noted that she aims to sit back and let the students speak up in class. She often finds herself impressed with students’ language skills.

“I’ve noticed how quickly they can respond to and be funny in a language that is really difficult,” Galle said. “I like hearing the kids talk about their lives. We talk about slang and the words kids use and the words I knew when I was a kid. That sort of thing is fun.”

Alongside sharing laughs with students, Galle has made an effort to support their endeavors outside of the classroom and even attends games to cheer them on.

“I said to my husband earlier, ‘We have to go to the rugby game!’ That was an unexpected consequence of being with students, with young minds,” Galle said. “I’m interested in what they do and how smart they are.”


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