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Bora Chhun

Bora Chhun , Philosophy

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“UMass Lowell has made me a well-rounded person.”

On recycling days, it can get ugly out there.

Once a week, early in the morning, Bora Chhun checks recycling bins in Lowell’s Acre or Centralville neighborhood for non-recyclables. If he finds them, he hangs notices in English, Spanish and Khmer reminding people to break down their cardboard boxes and recycle plastic bags at the grocery store.

If someone violates the rules repeatedly, he marks the bin – and city workers won’t empty it. Then he returns to the office and waits for the calls.

“Some residents are nice about it,” he says. “Other people call and complain. They aren’t very happy when they have to wait another two weeks to get their recycling picked up.”

It’s a front-line experience in community relations for Chhun, a senior majoring in philosophy with a concentration in communications and critical thinking, and minoring in English. It’s also a paying, part-time job, which he got while doing a service-learning internship with the city’s Solid Waste & Recycling Office. His boss is already talking about finding him a full-time position, in part because Chhun speaks English, Khmer and Spanish.

Chhun, a native of Lowell whose parents arrived as Cambodian refugees, started his education at Middlesex Community College. He transferred to UMass Lowell because several cousins had graduated here in fields as diverse as nursing, teaching, criminal justice and business.

“They all recommended it, so I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to follow the family line and finish here, too,’” he says. “UMass Lowell has made me a well-rounded person.”

Chhun wanted to get professional writing experience, so he worked with Assoc. Prof. Diana Archibald, the English Department’s internship coordinator, on finding a good placement. He was taking Archibald’s grant-writing class at the same time, working on a proposal for the Grace Race Foundation, an organization that supports a school and orphanage in Kenya.

When his Solid Waste & Recycling internship supervisor heard about Chhun’s grant-writing experience, he asked him to work on a grant to overhaul the recycling program for city schools – and two months later, offered him a job. Chhun is also working part-time at Market Basket while he finishes his last Spanish class and hunts for a full-time job in technical writing.

Chhun says he’s learned important skills as a philosophy major, too – life skills that help him empathize when dealing with cranky customers and residents.

“Philosophy gave me more insight into human nature,” he says, philosophically. “It made me like people more and become more forgiving.”