The number of students participating in Bowdoin Advising Program to Support Academic Excellence (BASE) increased by 50 percent from last year, due to a change in the structure of the faculty stipends associated with the program. In 2015-2016, the program had 30 students, while this year’s class has 45.

BASE is an intensive advising program for first-year students who may experience more difficulties adjusting to the academic and social life at Bowdoin. According to Professor of Anthropology and Faculty Liaison for Advising Sara Dickey, the program targets students who come from under-resourced high schools or cultural environments that differ substantially from Bowdoin and New England, as well as first-generation students and students who have faced certain academic or personal challenges.

“[The challenges they might face] are not because of them,” said Interim Dean of First Year Students Melissa Quinby, who runs the program with Dickey. “We don’t think the students can’t do it, but we know the students may come from backgrounds where they’re not resourced the way some Bowdoin students were in high school.”
This year, Dickey and Quinby invited 86 students in the class of 2020 to apply for the program. Of these students, 57 applied and 45 were accepted.

Unlike typical pre-major advisors who advise four students, BASE advisors only advise three, which historically has limited the program to 30 students. Last year, over 20 students who applied to the program were denied; this year, that number dropped to 12.

In previous years, one goal of the program was to train as many faculty as possible, with the intention that faculty who were trained as BASE advisors would become better advisors overall. Therefore, faculty who served as BASE advisors did so for one year, and each new school year, there would be ten new BASE advisors. Faculty members who are BASE advisors receive a stipend.

Interim Dean for Academic Affairs Jennifer Scanlon devised a new system to increase the number of advisors without significantly affecting the College’s budget. This year, advisors commit to the program for two to three non-sequential years, receive the standard stipend the first year, half of the stipend the second year and no payment thereafter.

First years in the program attend group meetings and respond to weekly journal prompts. They are also required to meet with their pre-major advisors, who have been trained to be BASE advisors, at least once every two weeks.

While many pre-major advisors meet with students to discuss a variety of topics, such as courses, studying strategies and career planning, Dickey said that BASE advisors also focus on helping students adjust to life at Bowdoin.

“Going into college, I was afraid of coming in and being like, ‘Now what? How do I orient myself? What do I do?’” said Saidou Camara ’19, who enrolled in the program last year. “This was a great way for me to come in and know that there are people who understand what my struggles might be coming to college and going through it with them step by step.

John Sledge ’18 participated in the BASE program during his first year, and now works as one of two student liaisons. He plans events, like dinners and study sessions, for its students in the program. The liaisons also spread news about upcoming events to BASE students and help schedule workshops.

“I really benefitted from the program because it taught me that it was OK to ask and receive help,” Sledge said. “The folks here at Bowdoin are committed to help you succeed if you just ask. It’s definitely shaped how I perform as a student and how I now approach my relationships with folks who are older than me.”

According to Dickey, tenure-track professors and long-term lecturers train to become pre-major advisors in the spring of their first year at the College. Any faculty member who has been a pre-major advisor for two years is eligible to become a BASE advisor. Faculty planning to mentor a BASE student undergo a two-day training workshop in the summer in order to prepare for the new role.

“We talk about the differences in ways first-generation students navigate college and the challenges that they face, and we talk about the challenges low-income students face across the country, especially students of color,” Dickey said. “We also talk about this very intentional form of advising. Instead of having a hands-off approach, you really push your advisees to let you know how they’re doing.”

With the increase in advisors and students this year, the program has added a second student liaison. Diamond Walker ’17 and Sledge work together to help first-year students.

“BASE my first year was a very strong advisory and mentorship program, but there was not really a lot of interaction between the students themselves,” Sledge said. “We were not a cohort, and that is something that both me and [Walker] have brought up. We want to make BASE a program that’s more than just advising. It’s also building a community of folks that you know, that you can get along with, that you can meet with regularly.”