Ask Sayre Weir, ’11 what her most memorable moment has been her past 4 years at Middlebury College and it might surprise you to hear… silence. Finally! A question that stopped her cold and made her dig deep to find an answer. But once she starts answering, the familiar Sayre quickly surfaces and all sorts of interesting things pop out. Things you might not typically hear from ordinary 21-year-olds. But then again, Sayre is anything but ordinary.
She begins with her most recent internship as an interpreter for a clinic in Middlebury, Vermont. She tells how it really opened her eyes. “The Middlebury bubble is real,” admits Sayre. “Once you step off campus — outside its immediate 5-mile radius — you see people living in barns … on top of cows! They milk these same cows with their hands for 12 hours a day.”
Sayre worked as an interpreter for these clinics helping bridge the language barrier. “It actually prompted me to investigate furthering my education in Public Health,” says Sayre. “I had a real connection to what I was doing there.” As part of her senior project, she helped compile an illustrated book of 15 stories that will be used as a tool to help these migrant workers deal with loneliness and depression. “It might surprise you to learn that this is the number one reason for most of their visits to the clinic — their loneliness,” says Sayre. The book is set to be published in about a year’s time.
If you spend just a short amount of time with Sayre, you’ll quickly see a pattern evolve: she’s interested in all sorts of ways to help others — everything from starting the yoga club at Middlebury (she’s the president) to putting on a large event addressing the concerns of body image. “It’s important to me to make a difference,” says Sayre. “I wanted to accomplish something significant outside of the classroom (while at Middlebury).” Sayre was also responsible for bringing author Rosie Molinary (of Davidson) to campus to talk about self-acceptance. “The college told me I could do it if I could raise the funds and so I raised about $8,000,” says Sayre. “Three hundred people turned out for the event and it was a really big deal to me!”
Sayre will begin her transition from college life into the working world in a couple of months. “Davidson will sort of be my home base for awhile as I travel.” She talks about her connection to Davidson and how “it’s freeing to be able to pick up and go.” She catches herself with that last statement and begins to laugh, “I know! I know! I used to be so uptight! No wonder my brothers didn’t like me!” She credits her semester study abroad in Argentina with transforming what she self-decribes as “uptight Sayre” into “relaxed Sayre”. “That’s when the shift happened for me,” she admits. “I’d show up for a scheduled meeting and about an hour later, everyone else would show up! Argentinians were not very punctual and they were perfectly content with that. It’s where I learned to relax.”
Sayre is set to graduate May 24th from Middlebury College with a BA in Latin American Studies. She is quick to point out that she will miss her college friendships and being able “to make anything happen” but that she also is ready for the next phase. “I want to be somewhere new doing something different,” says Sayre. “I’ve gotten myself to this place and I feel equipped.” With several options in the works, she adds, “My three priorities are: 1) to be in a multicultural environment, 2) be speaking Spanish, and 3) be working with students and kids. I’m confident something will work.”
Favorite Woodlawn Memory: Walking into Woods Hall the first day of 9th grade and knowing that it was the beginning of a new era because I was in high school and it was the first day that Woods Hall was ever in use for classes!
Best Thing Woodlawn Taught You: Woodlawn taught me innumerable lessons, most important of which is to be myself, be confident, and stand up for what I believe in.
Happy Place: Sitting around the dinner table with good food and family and friends.
Favorite Book (of the moment): Down the Mean Streets by Piri Thomas
Favorite Movie: Pretty Woman
Favorite Pastime: Yoga
Best Lesson Learned: “They’re two!,” she laughs. You pick your friends (in college) and you design how to spend your time. Second: Prioritize sleep! You cannot function without it. Wait… isn’t that three?
Back in the day it wasn’t unusual to see this alum skipping through Woods Hall humming some made-up tune about Sissy Jupe in Dickens’ Hard Times while wearing a bright red t-shirt with the phrase, “It’s Gonna Be Fantastic!” written across the chest. Four years later Sawyer Bowman ’11 still has plenty to skip and hum about. With graduation from Bowdoin College just a semester off, he recently received word that a research paper he co-authored with a Bowdoin professor has been published in the technical journal Big Data and Society. “It’s not something people typically associate with a small liberal arts school like Bowdoin,” Sawyer admits. “We’re not a research school, and we’re not even really known for Computer Science (his declared major).” But in the spring of his sophomore year, a sociology professor approached him and asked if he’d be interested in a research fellowship in the “Social Innovation” lab. His job would be to bring big data-ready technology to fields that normally don’t use technology. “The professor leading the research was interested in behaviors of people online (such as users of Facebook and Twitter),” explains Sawyer. “There’s so much data out there, and it can be very difficult for people (like sociologists) to manage it and draw conclusions from it.” Sawyer, along with two other research fellows, built a system to capture five million tweets a day, equivalent to one percent of the complete Twitter feed. “The part of the paper/research that is revolutionary is that we demonstrated to non-tech fields that "big data" is feasible for their research purposes and can be used to gain meaningful insights,” explains Bowman. “This is the future!” Bowman has another paper pending publication as well. “The paper in review is more of an empirical study whereas the one already published is a methods paper.”
So what’s life like for a college senior with just a semester left? Any room for a senior slide? “I’m actually finishing stronger than I started,” says Bowman. “I’m ready to go do something different, but at the same time, I’m still very excited about what I’m learning.” Sawyer also spends his time at Bowdoin giving admission tours and working as a TA in the computer science department. “On top of that, I had this crazy idea with my roommate to bypass cross country season this fall and train for a marathon. I needed a switch-up and thought ‘Why not race 26.2 miles?’”, says Bowman. Little did he take into account that he’d be training the long miles through the winter… in Maine… where it gets dark at four in the afternoon…and it’s freezing cold. “I didn’t plan that one out too well,” Bowman laughs. “Terrible idea! We ran the LL Bean Challenge for an 18-miler one day in late November,” he says with a hint on anguish on his face. “It was great coming into the town of Freeport on foot vs. a car but then Henry (his roommate) and I looked at each other and said, 'We have to go all the way back!' Around mile 15 we fell apart."