We were blessed with warm and sunny weather for the majority of the Virginia private colleges tour this fall, but unfortunately our luck ran out around the time we pulled onto the campus of Bridgewater College in (you guessed it!) Bridgewater, Virginia. Our bus arrived at the same time as the rain, but no one let an autumn downpour dampen their enthusiasm for this wonderful little school.
Founded in 1880, Bridgewater has the distinction of being the first private liberal arts college in the commonwealth of Virginia to admit women – in fact, it’s always been a coeducational institution and, as one of the few Church of the Brethren institutions in the U.S., it’s also a place that encourages all voices to be heard. Currently, the school is home to almost 1,800 undergraduate students and a campus that continues to expand to accommodate their needs. The athletic complex saw a full makeover two years ago (health and human sciences courses – some of the most popular programs of study – are also housed here) and the library is on track to see a facelift within the next three years.
Also in receipt of a recent renovation was Bridgewater’s academic programming, with the official dedication of the Center for Engaged Learning (CEL) just two weeks before our arrival on campus. The aim of the CEL is to connect students’ classroom learning to real world experiences, whether through off-campus study or working within a small local community to bring about larger change – or even just engaging in coursework and symposia to learn about what it means to become an ethical and responsible leader. The CEL is also responsible for bringing endowed lectures and convocations to campus, with well-known speakers in the most recent lineup including Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield, Scandal inspiration Judy Smith, and Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman. And because Bridgewater is a small school, students receive up close and personal access to these inspiring individuals so they can determine how they’d like to follow their own dreams.
Equestrians might already be familiar with the Bridgewater College name because of its long-established varsity IHSA equestrian team. Since the arrival of program director and head coach Jerry Schurink in 2010, the equestrian offerings at Bridgewater have expanded to include an intercollegiate (IDA) dressage team and a minor in equine studies to support students who wish to enter the industry as professionals. The Bridgewater College Equestrian Center spans 70 acres and is located near Weyers Cave, Virginia, which is just 15 minutes from main campus. Student boarding is allowed (there are 23 boarding stalls available) and turnout is heavily emphasized and available for all horses on the property thanks to 60 of the center’s acres being fenced into paddocks.