School Profile: Traditions of Bowdoin College

Bowdoin College, located in the coastal town of Brusnwick, Maine, is a small liberal arts college ranked #14 on the Veritas Prep Elite College Rankings.The exclusive school boasts famous alumni such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne. More recently, current assistant professor of computer science, Daniela Oliveira was awarded the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers by the White House for her research in computer security. This is an extraordinary honor for a small liberal arts college competing against large research universities.

Bowdoin was an all men’s college until 1971, and today offers the co-ed student body over 30 majors and eight interdisciplinary majors. The college’s philosophy is pushing students and faculty to take academic risks. Students are encouraged to make their educations a meaningful experience for themselves by integrating knowledge from disparate subjects and analyzing their connections. The focus is always forward-thinking and encouraging the individual to prepare to positively contribute to the world.

When you hear about the “living rooms” on campus, know they are referring to the eight houses that make up a portion of student campus residences. Incoming freshmen are all assigned to a house according to their floor in dormitories, a.k.a. the “bricks.” Houses offer freshmen outreach throughout the school year with small events like study breaks and dinners. They also sponsor film-screenings and other campus-wide activities. There is a selection process students must participate in to live in the houses that requires a commitment to the goals of the house. Off campus, students can go to Thomas Point Beach for an afternoon of frisbee or volleyball when the weather permits. As the weather turns cooler, a drive up the coast to check out the famed Maine lighthouses is a nice break from studies. During winter, bowling and ice skating are popular student activities.

Bowdoin is an NCAA Division III athletic program that plays in the New England Small College Athletic Conference. Within the conference, the real rivalry for Bowdoin is in football with Colby College and Bates College. The three colleges have played each other since the 1870s, which puts them among the ten oldest Division III college football rivalries in the nation. In 1965, they formed the CBB Championship. Playing each other one time during season, the team that beats the other two wins the championship. Although there have been a handful of three-way ties and one two-way tie, the Bowdoin Polar Bears are the winningest team in the CBB.

The Polar Bears, named after alumnus Robert Peary who was the first man to reach the North Pole, have another long-standing and arguably more intense rivalry with Colby College in hockey. This makes sense, since Maine is hockey country. The rivalry, which began in 1922, is so intense that it is listed among their college traditions, has been featured in a New York Times blog, and dictates what Bowdoin food services serve on game days to keep it from being thrown on the ice – no fish, for example.

On the women’s side of Polar Bear athletics, the women’s field hockey team are repeat national champions. By 2013, the team had claimed their fourth NCAA Division III title in seven years. Not only are they the winningest field hockey team in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, but they also boast a string of consecutive wins against non-conference teams that dates back to 2007. Female field hockey athletes looking for a great Division III liberal arts college will want to put Bowdoin at the top of their list.

Bowdoin College traditions are perhaps less spectacular and frequent than at some other colleges, but no less quirky. Ivies weekend began as Ivy Day in 1875 with the tradition of planting ivy accompanied by wacky student awards, music, and dancing. By 1975 all but the music and dancing had disappeared. During homecoming week, the social houses hold a wooden chair building competition where chairs are judged and a single winner is chosen; the losing chairs are thrown into a community bonfire. Senior Seven takes place during Senior Week and matches secret crushes anonymously on a website designed as the last chance to hook up with a fellow classmate before graduation. Bowdoin offers a great experience for those who favor a personalized approach in a small-town setting.

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By Colleen Hill