University of Mary Washington (visited 2/1/19)
This is the first campus I’ve seen where they will deliver food to students using bikes! (Maybe there are others out there; I’d love to know who they are, if so – and they should absolutely point that out on tours!)
I was last on UMW’s campus about 10 years ago with 34 students in tow. I could picture the main walkway – the “spine” – running through this long, skinny campus. On that trip, 3 former students met the group, took us to dinner, and showed us campus which was great for the students since they got didn’t get the “canned admission’s spiel.” However, I’m really glad I had this chance to come back, talk to a couple current students, remind myself about what was going on at the school, and see what had changed (and a lot tends to change on campuses in 10 years!).
This is a quintessentially pretty, traditional-looking campus full of brick buildings. I didn’t realize that it had functioned as a sister school to UVA (which didn’t accept females into undergraduate programs at the time); they went coed – and was fully independent of UVA – in 1972 and earned university status in 2004.
For a school this size (just under 4400 undergrads, making it the smallest public school in VA), they have some impressive choices for majors, and they seem to be thoughtful in their minors that allow students to build upon their interests and gain additional skills that will allow for better job procurement.
- The Historic Preservation major is one of the best in the country. A lot of students pair this with a minor in Arts Administration, Museum Studies, or Pre-Conservation in Fine Art.
- This is the first time I’ve seen Environmental Science: Social Science offered as an option. Students get trained in all the science and then choose from additional areas such as sociology, geography, and PoliSci to craft their own course of study. “A lot of EnviSci students also do the Climate Science or Environmental Sustainability minors,” said a student.
- They offer minors in Contemplative Studies (useful for areas like theater, psychology, philosophy, and more), Practical Ethics, and Business French, German, or Spanish.
- Their College of Education remains very strong (this started as a Normal School so that’s not a surprise).
One of the students said that she was surprised by how much teachers want them to succeed. Classes are relatively small, and both students I spoke with raved about their First-Year Seminars. The FYS teacher is the advisor for the first 2 years; then they get an advisor in their major. The FYS is one of the Gen Ed requirements (which are fairly typical compared to other schools). All students must complete 2 “Speaking Intensive” (which I rarely see) and 4 “Writing Intensive” (more than many colleges) classes as well as an Experiential Learning experience. This can be done in a variety of ways such as internships or study abroad. One of the students said that his Experiential Learning psychology class (many majors offer classes that will fulfill the EL requirement) – Mentoring Students at Risk – class was the best one he had taken. This is offered during the summer; students were in the classroom for a week, then they spent a week working at a camp for children with incarcerated parents.
Fredricksburg is a great college town. Although campus is just outside the city-center, things are accessible. Both DC and Richmond are an hour away, and students can hop on the Amtrak/VRE from the station located a 5-minute drive from campus. The students told me that some of their friends have done internships in those cities. They appreciate that there are so many additional social and academic opportunities because of the university’s location.
However, students aren’t running from campus, either; there’s plenty to do. One of the most popular student organizations is the Canine Companions for Independence club which allows students to raise and train service dogs. Students Helping Honduras (now a national organization that was co-founded by a UMW student) is another highly popular group. One of the students I spoke with, a sophomore, has already traveled to Honduras with the group to do work there.
UMW has a 2-year residency requirement, but about 15% of first-year students commute from home (about 90% of students are from Virginia). One of the students told me that 68% of students stay in campus housing all 4 years. For those who choose to move off, there are several apartment complexes within walking distance. They’re redoing the entire dining hall, and there are a few other smaller food options on campus. “Food is a 7, maybe an 8. I’m not sure you can get to a 10 when you’re cooking for 5000 people.”
UMW doesn’t recognize Greek Life although there are a couple unofficial chapters off campus as well as an on-campus community service organization that anyone can join. They have a trial every 10 years to hear student voices regarding whether they want to start officially recognizing Green organizations, and to date, they’ve never wanted to do so. The student telling me about this said that she appreciates that the college is responsive to students, cares about their opinions, and allows them input into decisions affecting campus life. Overall, she was very happy with her decision to come here and with UMW as a whole. “If anything, I would spend more money on internships and scholarships for study abroad, but it’s still pretty good the way it is.”