Barry Mills: The Ingredients of Bowdoin

As he waits for the snow to start melting, Barry Mills is thinking about Bowdoin’s future, and he wants to hear from you.

It is 5:00 p.m., and the sun is just beginning to set here in Maine. This is a huge improvement for us Mainers, as we are a sunlight-deprived lot from November through February. In fact, this is the biggest difference I find in the climate between New York and Maine. It gets dark early in the winter up here. Of course, winter is not yet behind us. We have a ton of snow, it is frigid outside, and there is ice everywhere. Just check out the Bowdoin webcam. We are a sea of white. But there is hope as I sit here watching this brilliant Maine sunset from my office in Hawthorne-Longfellow library (even if it’s not quite time to take out the golf clubs).

…in thinking about the future, we remember the success of the past and especially the recent past.

As you might imagine, I have been thinking a great deal about the future of the College, particularly the next five years and beyond. I have written extensively over the past few months about college economics and the near-term opportunities and challenges. Of course, in thinking about the future, we remember the success of the past and especially the recent past. Bowdoin is on a roll; we are very attractive to thousands of talented students who apply every year. We are nearly always able to recruit our first choice when we do faculty searches. Our faculty, in large measure, value their place at the College and the opportunities here. Our students are incredibly hard working, ambitious, and talented. Almost all of our students love the College. Their parents and families also love the College, with many coming to visit the campus often, and many to Parents Weekend all four years. Our staff is incredibly loyal and the very best. And, as I travel around the country, I am always asked about Bowdoin—the alumni of the College are the most proud alumni anywhere.

…in an environment of limited resources, we had better be sure that we don’t make decisions that detract from the trajectory we are on.

So, we have a good thing going. And as we think about the future and consider our options in an environment of limited resources, we had better be sure that we don’t make decisions that detract from the trajectory we are on.

Our current board chair, Steve Gormley ‘72, put it to me this way: “Let’s figure out what the ingredients are to ‘our secret sauce’.” I added that we also need to figure out the relative percentages of those ingredients. With this knowledge about ourselves as a College, we can then set out to think about the future.

I invite you to let us know by commenting on the BDS or by communicating with us more privately what you understand to be the “secret sauce” of Bowdoin. Unfortunately, it is not likely that I will be able to create a dialogue with each of you as you send in your ideas—I do have a College to lead. But your views as loyal readers of the BDS will be informative to us.

I will take the “low hanging fruit” ingredient: of course, it is the character and talent of the people associated with the College. Now, I want to hear from you. With this knowledge, we will have our formula and we can lock it away just like Coca Cola and Tootsie Roll.

All the very best from Maine, where the days are getting longer and the snow has begun to… (actually it hasn’t, but at least we can have hope!).


In the coming weeks, I will continue to offer my thoughts on subjects interesting to me or of importance to the College, but I want to hear your ideas too. If there is a subject you’d like me to address, send me an e-mail at

Previous Bowdoin Daily Sun columns by President Barry Mills are available on here or on the Bowdoin website.


  1. David Treadwell says:

    To the “character and quality of the people” ingredient I would add: at Bowdoin there exists a genuine concern about the welfare of the other person, an all too rare ingredient these days. That asset may spring from the character.It certainly reflects the Common Good philosophy.

  2. Bowdoin’s Secret Sauce:

    The campus is intimate – not too small and not too spread out.
    Having recently traveled to other local Maine colleges as a parent of a high schooler on a college search, I’ve found that Bowdoin’s campus size is perfect for the amount of students. Not too spread out and not too cluttered. This is a big deal and shouldn’t be undersold. It also adds to the first impressions of prospective students and their parents. I know that after my daughter, a current sophomore at Bowdoin, visited the campus Bowdoin became her number one choice and my wife and I concurred.

    The close proximity to Brunswick
    For a student to be able to walk to the town of Brunswick for a gelato or a coffee at the Little Dog Cafe, this is very definitly an added benefit that is not available at most colleges. This is another great aspect of Bowdoin College. Sometimes a student wants to leave the Bowdoin Bubble for a while and, even without wheels (as freshman cannot have cars), it is possible to take a walk and spend some time in town. Believe me, this is very important to my daughter and her fellow students and should be included in Bowdoin’s secret sauce.

    The food is number one!
    Rating highly every year (this year #1 by Princeton Review) when it comes to campus food is an extremely important factor for students and for us parents. Not only are our children eating well each day with nutritious, delicious meals but this also plays into their well-being and should allow them to deal more easily with the anxiety that all college students can face today. And Super Snacks, where snacks are offered on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights from 10PM – 1AM is a nice benefit for students.

    The students are respectful
    With a daughter as a current sophomore I have yet to meet one of her fellow students who isn’t well-spoken, friendly, and polite. The interview process and admissions process for bringing in well-rounded, intelligent, and mature students must be exemplary. Kudos to the admissions counselors.

    The faculty rocks
    When we first visited Bowdoin I checked out the resumes of some of the teachers in one of the manuals in the Admissions Office and was thoroughly impressed with their backgrounds. More often than not the faculty attended the top schools in the world which showed me that Bowdoin is attracting the best talent at the faculty level. And my daughter has let us know that her classes are being led by great teachers who are not only brilliant but caring. It is not unusual to see faculty attending college events such as theater and athletics and showing support of the students that they teach.

    Bowdoin goes the extra mile in financial aid
    Before we even received the financial aid and acceptance package from Bowdoin, my daughter had received acceptance letters and financial aid packages from other top notch colleges. Bowdoin, while being her first choice, still went that extra mile and gave significantly more than the other colleges as far as aid was concerned. As it turned out, it was a no-brainer for my daughter to enroll at Bowdoin. And, for those of you who do not know, Barry Mills was able to attend Bowdoin after he and his father met with then Director of Student Aid Walter Moulton (yes, the same Moulton that the dining hall is named after) and they were able to, through Bowdoin financial support and Walter Moulton’s advice, figure out a way for Barry to attend Bowdoin. So it is no wonder to me that Bowdoin will do what it takes to attract the students that they want at their school with a dynamic leader like Barry Mills leading the way.

    I know that there are many more ingredients to Bowdoin’s Secret Sauce but these are the ones that I feel make Bowdoin the cream of the crop (no pun intended). Thank you Barry Mills for your great leadership and vision.

  3. Patty G says:

    Bowdoin offers a very special – ‘secret sauce’….the key ingredient is making everyone feel special and welcomed. From the first day we toured the campus, to the many other visits we’ve had since then – we have felt welcomed. We are thrilled when our first-year son texts us to tell us about his day. He is enthusiastic about his courses and the attention given to him and other classmates by faculty. One day he submitted a draft at 2:30am and the professor’s comments were in his email inbox by 8:30am – that totally blew us away! We remember sitting in the union on the morning of accepted student’s day last April and getting a nice welcome and handshake by Barry. What other college president would take the time or the interest to walk through the rows and personally introduce and meet each student and parent?? Bowdoin is a class act and we are thrilled and proud that our son is there and we brag about that ‘secret ingredient’ to just about anyone who will listen! Thank you Bowdoin for being such a special place.

  4. Calanthe Wilson-Pant says:

    I remember the acceptance letters from my two top choices. The Bowdoin one read, “HI! You’re in!” The other I read three times and then decided that perhaps I was in. The secret sauce is that Bowdoin is selective and exclusive–yet, each student is treated as an ordinary human being and accepted warts and all. The lack of pretension coupled with such excellence is unique to Bowdoin. There is a standard set for us–Bowdoin from birth the nurturer of MEN! (and WOMEN!)and there are mentors and heroes to emulate. There is good food, nice living spaces,and lots of exercise that lead to healthy bodies and brains. And last, but not least, is the rich tapestry of stimulating knowledge, with the flexibility to follow the strand that catches your imagination, leading to real joy of learning. This sets the stage for the best four years of your life and the direction for a lifetime of growth.

  5. Missy Holland says:

    Sorry to interrupt the real discussion with a small matter. I have enjoyed each and every one of President Mills’s columns, admire them and him immensely. But I do find the new formatting very distracting. The writing is so good it shouldn’t have its flow broken up. And the columns aren’t so long that readers need that kind of sign posting!

  6. Tony Antolini '63 says:

    For me the secret ingredient isn’t really so secret. You notice less at Bowdoin than when you visit other institutions of higher learning or read their materials. Bowdoin is generally modest. Of course we trumpet scholastic, artistic and athletic achievements. We’d be silly not to. But Bowdoin isn’t obsessed with its high station in the educational world. Some will say that’s a yankee trait. But Bowdoin mingles the attitudes and abilities of people from all over the world and still maintains a sense of itself without puffery. The items in the BDS give us plenty to brag about but somehow they’re not presented as the pinnacle of the ivory tower. Barry sets a good example of this and it’s evident to me in every aspect of my Bowdoin relationships both on campus and off. If we’re on a roll I hope we can stay modest about it.

  7. John Stone says:

    The lack of pretention and friendliness of those associated with the college

  8. Frank apeseche says:

    Bowdoin has a few truly differentiating characteristics. It’s students are independent thinkers who who care about their comrades and their surroundings. It exudes excellence but with a sence of modesty. Its culture embraces life’s balance (environment, art, science, math, an appreciation of ones place in nature, and the strength of friendship). It offers a safe and warm place for people to explore their curiosities without ridicule, resistance, or lack od support.

  9. Madeline Pruett says:

    Bowdoin is committed to growing the whole person, and that commitment is embraced by every member of the institution. As a student I remember feeling truly cared for by the members of the Bowdoin community. My first year proctor oriented me to life at college, the Res Life office gave me my first job and invested in me as a person while faculty invested in me as a scholar. Even dining staff took my suggestions (and seemed to implement ideas immediately) and shared their time–Patty knew everyone by first name. Our housekeeper took his breaks playing Mario-cart with my housemates in Ladd. Every person on campus was and is dedicating themselves personally and professionally to the success, personally and professionally, of the students who are lucky enough to join the Bowdoin family.

    Additionally, that sense of community solidifies in the first year experience. While keeping first years together may sound like a minor detail, creating that sense of shared experience from the outset comes to have greater and greater meaning as students leave Bowdoin and alumni becomes first modest and then significant supporters of the College. Alumni support has made Bowdoin great, and the College will always need that support to remain great.

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