Each summer, Bryn Mawr provides forty summer science research stipends for students to do full-time research over the course of the summer with faculty members in the sciences. The Hanna Holborn Gray Undergraduate Research Fellowships fund fifteen independent research projects in the humanities or humanistic social sciences. Even more students are funded through the Undergraduate Dean’s Office or through faculty grants. Many students use their summer experiences as the basis for their senior thesis projects, so they’re already getting a head start on what’s coming up next. Another option during the school year is the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Program (MMUP), which seeks to increase the number of minority students pursuing graduate work in the arts and sciences. Each year, five juniors and five seniors receive stipends through MMUP, allowing them to conduct several hours of research each week. Dr. Tamara Davis, chair of the biology department, told us that the benefits of a research experience as student are “huge.” She explained, “In my opinion the most important thing a student can do with their undergraduate career is to get involved in some sort of research experience. . . . They are going to be drawing information from different courses and applying that knowledge to the practice of conducting research. I know that doing that kind of work forces our students to think in a more sophisticated way.”
Cara Petonic, the first young alumna appointed to Bryn Mawr’s Board of Trustees, currently works in higher education consulting in Philadelphia. She was impressed by how her professors went out of their way to prevent “this fear that there is only one right answer” and let students know that “there may be a number of different answers or a number of different ways to get to an answer.” Petonic’s research experiences, including a senior thesis on knot theory, gave her the opportunity “to stand side by side with my professor, face difficult questions, and tackle them together.” She felt that her entire liberal arts experience, including majoring in math and minoring in dance, helped her develop skills, such as analytical and critical thinking, logic, and reasoning, that equipped her to succeed in business school.
Bryn Mawr’s faculty consists of 212 full-time and part-time members, including 126 women, and thirty-five minorities. Among them, 189 hold a terminal degree in their field. The College has cultivated this large group of scholars to maintain an 8:1 student to faculty ratio, ensuring the amount of individualized attention each student receives on campus. Dr. Tamara Davis, chair of the biology department, said, “We engage such a large proportion of our students in research. That makes a huge difference because…we’re strategizing, and problem-solving and celebrating the research successes together. I feel personally that I’ve developed many close relationships with my students over the years.” Faculty members have ample opportunity to rethink and modernize Bryn Mawr’s educational goals. And this goes a long way toward reinvigorating the student experience overall. For example, a redesigned introductory biology lab curriculum expanded the number of majors “because the students found it so exciting. I think that the autonomy has allowed the faculty to be very fresh and forward thinking in the development of experiences that our students enjoy.”
Applicants should add this to their list of great Bryn Mawr attributes: The College has “an outstanding record in placing students in graduate and professional schools” in addition to connecting graduates with other promising career opportunities. Many of these leads come from hubs like the Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center (LILAC), which combines a range of options for students on campus through avenues such as civic engagement, career development, and the alumnae network. The result is “a completely integrated center, where students can get answers to their questions from a variety of different perspectives,” alumna Cara Petonic said. LILAC’s workshops and programming also emphasize exploration—these students aren’t just headed down one particular path. In fact, Dr. Tamara Davis, chair of the biology department, described some of the diverse career trajectories biology students in her department have taken—from medicine and law to the biotech industry. One former student worked on a dairy farm in Russia and is now in veterinary school. Another student wants to be a veterinarian for lab animals, and other students are pursuing professional degrees in public health and epidemiology. “In terms of alumnae networking and career offerings Bryn Mawr is a phenomenon,” Petonic added.
Drew Gilpin Faust (’68) is the 28th President of Harvard. Dorothy Klenke Nash (’22) was the first U.S. woman to become a neurosurgeon. Sari Horwitz (’79) won the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism (three times) and Katharine Hepburn, Academy Award-winning actress, graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1928. The Katharine Houghton Hepburn Medal is named after her mother, who also attended Bryn Mawr, Class of 1900. This year, the 2015 Katharine Houghton Hepburn Medal was awarded to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The honor “recognizes women who change their worlds. . . . Award recipients are chosen on the basis of their commitment and contributions to the Hepburn women’s greatest passions—civic engagement and the arts.” Graduates’ careers are also supported by a designated member of Bryn Mawr’s Alumnae Association via webinars as well as group sessions and coffee chats hosted at different cities.
As Bryn Mawr explained, the College connects women, “to ideas, to opportunities, to one another, and to the world.” When students get to the campus, they just know it’s a perfect fit. A current double major in biology and economics said, “Everything about it felt right. The people here, the classes, the professors, the social life, and the community all fit into my idea of an ideal college experience.”
In addition to a dedicated Writing Center, where students polish their skills in public speaking and written communication, Bryn Mawr houses a Q Center on campus as part of the Q Project, the College’s initiative to prepare students “to solve the complex challenges of our increasingly quantitative world.” The Q Center supports the development of “mathematical, logical, and statistical problem-solving skills” that are required across the curriculum. Trained mentors at the Center “[seek] to assess and address unintended gaps or weaknesses in a student’s preparation for introductory and more rigorous forms of math and science study,” according to the school. “The goal of the Q Center is to help to develop quantitative skills, competency and confidence in every student, making it possible for her to maximize her potential in whatever her field of study.” In fact, the Q Project is emblematic of Bryn Mawr’s mission to produce students who are more than capable of navigating the surprises of the working world. Alumna Cara Petonic offered an example from her own career trajectory: “I first went into finance right after college. I didn’t have any formal finance training. I had taken two economics courses, and I was a pure mathematician by training. However, I leveraged the lifelong skills I gained at Bryn Mawr to overcome the challenge of a steep learning curve.”