Jenny Rickard, Bryn Mawr College, Answers 5 Questions

Jenny Rickard, Chief Enrollment and Communications Officer at Bryn Mawr College, joins us this month to answer five questions about the private women's liberal arts college founded in 1885 "for the advanced education of females." Located in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, just ten miles west of Philadelphia, the 135-acre campus hosts approximately 1300 undergraduate women.  

With an 8-to-1 student faculty ratio, Bryn Mawr offers 36 majors, 38 minors, 8 concentrations, and the opportunity for students to develop independent courses of study. But Bryn Mawr students can choose from among more than 5,000 course offerings because of the cooperative relationship the school has with neighboring Haverford College and its ties to Swarthmore College and University of Pennsylvania.

Notable Bryn Mawr alumnae include Drew Gilpin Faust, the first woman president of Harvard University; Hanna Holborn Gray, the first woman president of a major research university (University of Chicago); poet Marianne Moore; Nobel Peace Prize winner Emily Greene Balch; and movie actress Katharine Hepburn.

Bryn Mawr is also known for its rich history of tradition.  In fact, two Traditions Mistresses are elected by the student body each year and charged with organizing and running traditions, which include Parade Night, Lantern Night, Hell Week and May Day. You can read more about Bryn Mawr's traditions here, including the ritual of making offerings to Athena, the patron goddess of the college, at the site of her statue in Thomas Great Hall. Students ask for her gifts of wisdom and strength when taking finals, writing papers, or for any reason at all.

Join Jenny Rickard here to learn more about Bryn Mawr, its students, admissions, and future, as well as the role of women's colleges today:

What is the future direction of Bryn Mawr? How do you see the role of women’s colleges in the future?

Bryn Mawr has just completed a very exciting comprehensive strategic plan that engaged our entire community -- students, faculty, staff, and alumnae/i. We have already begun piloting a number of the initiatives with great success.

Three major initiatives include:

  • Connecting today’s learning to tomorrow’s lives by creating a center for leadership, innovation, and the liberal arts and expanding our interdisciplinary offerings and experiential learning opportunities. The center will be a student-focused resource that integrates professional development strategies with Bryn Mawr’s world-class curriculum. The center, along with our successfully piloted 360° course clusters and non-credit workshops in management, entrepreneurship, and finance will provide our students with the critical thinking skills and practical experience that are fundamental preparation for careers in a rapidly changing world.
  • Empowering women to have a positive impact on the world by creating a network of global partnerships with colleges, universities and other organizations, hosting speakers, and mounting conferences dedicated to the research and practices best able to advance equity for girls and women. Our president Jane McAuliffe described the role that Bryn Mawr, as a women’s college, plays in this effort in this piece for the New York Times “The Choice” blog.
  • Advancing our leadership in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields by forging stronger connections between the study of science and majors in the humanities and social sciences, building new curricular pathways in premedical education and public health, and providing opportunities such as our new Four Plus One program in engineering. The Four Plus One program, for example, in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, affords our students majoring in math and science an opportunity to earn a master’s degree in engineering with only one additional year of study. Bryn Mawr is a leader among all colleges and universities in preparing women for successful careers in STEM fields as described by President McAuliffe for the New York Times Room for Debate blog.

What kind of student does well at Bryn Mawr? How would you describe the student body? 

Bryn Mawr students are driven, courageous, confident, insightful, and enthusiastic. They are young women who love to learn and are purposeful and intentional about what they study and what they do. They are intellectually engaged inside and outside of the classroom and relish the opportunity to engage with our world-class faculty.

They also take responsibility for and ownership of their community. Our student Self-Governance Association is the oldest in the United States and gives students responsibility not only for enforcing rules of behavior upon themselves, but also for deciding what those rules should be. As a result, our students respect and appreciate individual differences.

Our 1,300 undergraduate students (and 400 graduate students) come from all over the United States and from around the world. I know that all colleges say this, but we really do have an incredibly diverse community. In fact, of the top 25 liberal arts colleges in the US, Bryn Mawr ranks first for its percentage of international students, third for its socioeconomic diversity, and fifth for its racial and ethnic diversity. Our students are also diverse in their range of academic interests with a third majoring in the humanities, a third majoring in the social sciences, and a third majoring in the natural sciences and mathematics.

Because attending a women’s college is not necessarily a conventional choice, our students have a strength of character and independence that makes them really interesting people. As one of our faculty members said: “We have students who have dared to be different and that’s not a very fashionable decision. I think they’re way more cool, courageous, and insightful than I was at their age.”

How do you read applications? Does every application get read by the admission office at Bryn Mawr?

Every application to Bryn Mawr is reviewed by at least two different admissions officers. We take great care in our reading process because we know how critically important it is to make a good “match” for a student. Our first round of reading is by region so that the admissions counselor responsible for knowing the high schools in a particular geographic area can lay the groundwork for the second reader who may not be as familiar with the region. If the two readers do not agree with each other, the applications will be brought to a committee for discussion.  We take it seriously because we know how much effort students have put into their application and into their college search process.

I can tell you that reading applications is without question one of my favorite parts of the job. Despite the volume, I experience each student’s story as different and compelling and I learn something new with each application.

What is your favorite thing about Bryn Mawr?

I love this community. I’ve said it before, but it truly is a transformative place for the students as well as the faculty, staff, and alumnae/i. It is a place that accepts each student for who they are – and puts no limits on who they might become.

The College also has a sense of humor about itself that keeps it real. Some of my favorite humorous moments at Bryn Mawr include:

  • Our April Fool’s Day joke in 2011. What other College has a president who has the courage and humor to be featured on our home page with Princess Leia hair?
  • The creation of a cartoon character called Mean Peach that pokes fun at how absolutely nice our Associate Director of Admissions Peaches Valdes is. We celebrate a “Mean Peach Day” every year.
  • A spoof of the Plain White T’s “Hey there Delilah” (Delilah was actually an assistant track coach here!) by the Cool Grey Hoodies called “Hey there Admissions”.

Why is recruitment of international students a priority for a school like Bryn Mawr?

Bryn Mawr has a long history of enrolling students from all over the world. At a residential liberal arts college, the education is 24/7. Students collaborate and learn from our talented and dedicated faculty and they also collaborate and learn from their fellow students. We live in a globally networked world and a critical piece of a Bryn Mawr education is equipping our students to thrive in this rapidly changing environment. Interacting with faculty and students from different cultures and backgrounds is an enriching and life-changing experience. Not only do we recruit international students to study here, we also encourage all of our students to study abroad for a semester and we incorporate international travel into some of our curricular offerings like the 360° course clusters.


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