STEPS ON THE WAY

By Elizabeth Kaplan Woy '57

There are several roads to a Bryn Mawr education. One of the most circuitous is the McBride Scholars Program, and it might also be described as one of the most rewarding.

The program offers an opportunity for motivated women, whose earlier paths to a college education met detours and obstacles along the way, to embark on the intellectually challenging and rigorous journey toward a Bryn Mawr degree.

There were occasional older students at the College before the program was formalized in 1985 and named for Bryn Mawr’s fourth president, Katharine E. McBride ’25, Ph.D. ’32. Most of these, however, were local residents who wanted to take a course or two or alumnae who had left Bryn Mawr to marry and returned later to complete their A.B. degrees.

Women selected as McBride Scholars have postponed or interrupted their schooling for a variety of reasons, including family demands, finances, illness, work or the pull of other interests. At a later stage of life, when many—but certainly not all—hindrances have been resolved, this program provides a route to new knowledge and achievement. As a group, McBrides have had extraordinary and diverse life

experiences. The 81 who have graduated since 1985 represent a wide variety of personal situations, previous academic progress and financial resources. They are single, married, mothers, daughters and grandmothers who have served in roles as varied as homemaker, chef, sheriff, actress, financial consultant, nurse, journalist—the list goes on.

"The 15 McBride Scholars that we graduated in 1999 were the largest number ever," says Dean of the College Karen M. Tidmarsh ’71. "This summer, one studied in our program in Avignon, another did research with Weecha Crawford in southeastern Alaska, another worked with Associate Professor of Sociology Mary Osirim in Zimbabwe. They do all this while juggling the care of children and aging parents, and provide a very inspiring and also sobering example for traditionally aged, less encumbered undergraduates. One, who gave birth to her third child midway through the first semester, but only missed a few classes, reported regarding the required geology field trip as a rest, since she decided not to bring the baby along. That’s especially helpful for sophomores who view the same trip as a heavy burden and an intrusion on their very busy schedules."

Making a leap
Becoming a McBride usually requires a huge shift in the focus of an already complex existence. Virtually all McBrides enter Bryn Mawr within the context of considerable family responsibilities, aging parents, a job and other commitments. For many, tuition costs come when funds for college-aged children are needed or a leaking roof requires repair, and a salary is essential. In addition to financial aid packages from the College, McBrides have financed their educations through their savings and inheritances, diverse settlements, Veterans Administration benefits, and taking leaves to earn money. Some also enter BrynMawr with up to 16 units of work completed elsewhere.

Their academic pace, determined in consultation with program director Rona Pietrzak, encompasses all of the traditional expectations and requirements intrinsic to Bryn Mawr, including the swimming test. Pietrzak says that because of the stringent admissions process, "We know they can do what’s expected and do it very well. A large part of our job, therefore, is to help McBrides see that they truly belong here."

Without going through standard testing procedures, an applicant submits a series of essays to explain the reasons for her interrupted education and her determination to start or resume work toward an .A.B. degree. In most cases, the essays demonstrate that difficult problems have been managed thoughtfully, revealing intelligence, intellectual alertness and curiosity about the world —all essential qualities at Bryn Mawr. Letters of recommendation for which rigorous evaluation is encouraged are a part of the admissions process.

"Sometimes, once admitted, McBrides don’t have a sense of their own intellectual capability, and we do a lot of boosting to help them see that they really do belong here," says Pietrzak. "This ranges from tutoring and testing to counseling to whatever helps develop an academic focus, build confidence and adapt to the demands of Bryn Mawr."

There is a required McBride section for the first semester of the College Seminars, which replace the Freshman English program. The second semester of the College Seminar may be taken anytime during a student’s first two years, although a section designated as McBride-preferential is offered in the spring should some of the McBrides want to continue on as a group.

Other workshops and seminars are offered to help prepare McBrides for specific coursework. For example, a math workshop is designed for students who took algebra and geometry years ago and need to refresh their skills before entering a college-level math course. In addition, McBrides can attend weekly seminars covering issues ranging from study skills to computer concerns.

Anne Dalke, senior lecturer in English and coordinator of the Feminist and Gender Studies Program, taught the McBride section of Freshman English for a number of years and resumed teaching McBrides in the College Seminar Program this semester.

"The friendships that I have developed with many of the McBrides have been the most satisfying aspect of my teaching career, if also the source of some of its most demanding challenge," Dalke says. "I have found it exhilarating, and exhausting, to work with these women, who come to Bryn Mawr so certain that the education we offer here is important. The McBrides stretch and challenge themselves, one another and me, in ways none of us have been challenged before, and I am deeply, often difficultly, entangled in the dynamics of their absorption with learning."

The next stage
"Now that the McBrides have shown themselves to be a good match for this College, the institution needs to extend its commitment," says Professor of English Susan Dean. "Attending the College over a longer period of years than the traditional undergraduates, McBrides are more likely to need financial aid for all, or for some unforeseen part, of this period. They shouldn’t have to compete with traditional undergraduates for financial aid, or to fit into the same guidelines."

McBride alumnae are working to endow a scholarship fund (see box below). College administrators explain that Bryn Mawr currently returns 36 cents of every tuition dollar to financial aid, which is high. To spend more would not only court financial instability, but weaken the very positions and programs that make Bryn Mawr attractive to students. If the College is able to endow financial aid funds, money in the operating budget that must now go to financial aid could go to other critical needs; this would not, however, mean a higher percentage of students on financial aid.

The College has made efforts to see that McBrides who hold full-time jobs off campus will be able to pack into one day on campus the workshops and courses they need to make a successful transition. Dean hopes that some day it will be possible to offer the introductory lab science and languages courses that are required of all candidates for the A.B. on Friday afternoons, evenings and Saturdays for students who work and cannot take off enough time from their jobs.

"What opened 15 years ago as an educational experiment has proved its worth, and more, in our community and beyond," says Dean. "Financial and logistical initiatives will enable more McBrides to enjoy the liberal arts education we offer. If we can extend ourselves in these directions, we will be living out our commitment to developing the potential of women—women of all ages and at all stages of their lives—and living up to the Bryn Mawr tradition."

‘College’s most loyal citizens’

"McBrides as individuals have made impressive strides," says Professor of English Susan Dean, who began to teach a separate Freshman English class for McBrides in the third year of the program and has "hung on to them one way or another, ever since. I love them, what they do for my day, my mind, for the College.

"McBrides do surprisingly well in retention, in grade point averages, in exchanges with their professors, in making a mark," Dean observes. "They have enough life experience to know when to give up and when not to—they either drop out early or persevere to a degree that I don’t think I would have been able to do as a 17-year-old. They’re good examples for the students who don’t want to look foolish or silly or to ask a naïve question in class, down to whether a certain book has been put on reserve.

"By all the usual figures that measure ‘post-graduate satisfaction’—graduating, graduating with distinction, progress into advanced degree-programs and rewarding jobs—their rate of success in their work for their A.B. degrees is at least as high, relative to the number of McBrides in study, as is that of our traditional-aged undergraduates.

"By the less tangible measure of community opinion, there too the program has been a success," Dean maintains. "The Bryn Mawr faculty, wary at first of watering down our traditional standards, has come to expect that one or more McBrides in a class will raise, not lower, the level and liveliness of discussion. McBrides present needs and requests and challenges to long-prevailing assumptions, but at the same time they show a discerning love of the College’s oldest values and are among its most loyal citizens. And to prospective candidates applying for positions in the College, the program has become a point of interest—even a selling point. Undergraduates and staff, too, have come to appreciate the extra dimension of experience and perspective that McBrides bring, as each semester’s early informal exchanges develop into long-lasting friendships."


McBride Endowed Scholarship Fund

In 1998, several McBride alumnae in the Philadelphia area believed their number had increased sufficiently to identify ways they might consistently support the program after graduation. Encouraged by the Alumnae Association, they met and agreed that financial aid specifically for McBride Scholars was a high priority. One McBride alumna offered a generous $25,000 challenge grant toward establishing a permanent endowment fund. The Katharine E. McBride Endowed Scholarship Fund fundraising effort was organized through the Resources Office with an initial goal of $100,000 by May 31, 2000, the minimum required by the College’s Board of Trustees to endow a scholarship fund. The challenge grant was quickly matched by another devoted McBride alumna. Last spring, an initial fundraising appeal letter was sent to McBride alumnae and current McBride students. This mailing yielded gifts and pledges from $10 to $10,000.

Nearly $75,000 has been raised toward the endowment’s establishment. Having proved its support among McBrides, the McBride Scholarship Committee is reaching out to the larger community. The Committee does not intend to stop at $100,000, but hopes to bring the endowment to a level that can provide full scholarship support. A fundraising auction organized by McBride alumnae along with the Bryn Mawr Club of Philadelphia will be held in Thomas Great Hall on April 29, 2000, from 7-10 p.m. (Please see page 23 for more information about the auction.)

If you would like to make a gift or pledge to the McBride Endowed Scholarship Fund, or would like further information, please contact Anne Diaz-Barriga in the Resources Office at (610) 526-7380, or by e-mail. Gifts may be made by check, credit card (MasterCard, Discover or Visa) or securities.


Risks on the path
By Jeanne-Rachel Salomon ’00
Soul afloat
By Minna Canton Duchovnay ’98, M.A. ’99
The exam room
By Andréa Miller
Regaining a community: Myra Reichel ’95
By Lynn Litterine ’96
'The process never stops'
By Grace Fonda ’98



Risks on the path

By Jeanne-Rachel Salomon ’00

If I were to give myself one piece of advice, it would be to allow neither fear nor pain to corrupt me. Life cannot be lived timidly. Life demands courage, and it will shrink or expand in proportion to this courage. Everything great involves great risks.

In shamanic understanding, risk is a dis-memberment, great suffering, a dying to the old Self, followed by re-memberment and re-surrection into new self-awareness. The dis-memberment can be brought on by a life-threatening illness, the loss of a loved one, a Near-Death-Experience—in any case it will mean a caesura in the life of the individual. My own dis-memberment came with the death of my husband in July 1993. I went through a dark time of grief, depression and despair, longing for death myself. A Near-Death-Experience during the birth of my first child had gifted me with the knowledge that death is nothing to be afraid of, that it is the gateway into another dimension of existence, one filled with total bliss. After the loss of my husband, I just wanted to leave emotional pain and gain that bliss. From the vantage point of the Now, I can say that pain is a blessing in disguise. It is the royal path to a state of grace.

During my childhood and teenage years in Europe, emotional pain and material scarceness were part of my daily experience. Yet I had an inner knowing that nature was in essence benign and benevolent; it was society that was lacking. Institutionalized religion did not satisfy me spiritually. I rejected the materialism, cynicism, false sentimentality and unabashed Eurocentrism all around me. I decided to become an artist, the fool, who lives in the gap of the worlds. I married and lived a wonderful life with a kind and generous husband who had grown up in Israel. We raised two children, and I worked as an artist and designer. In my spare time I made myself knowledgeable about literature, philosophy and the history of art, and travelled extensively throughout Europe and Israel. In my search for meaning I came across the Kabbalah and its mysticism, and learned about Sufism, the Islamic mystic tradition. I read Carlos Castaneda. In his tales about Don Juan Matus, the Mexican sorcerer, he addressed some of my own experiences, like seeing the aura of people or having premonitions, and he was concerned with the same phenomenon that I was interested in: the mysterious spiritual aspect of being. My interest was roused.

In 1985 my family and I moved to the United States. Although I missed many things European, I was happier here in the U.S. and enjoyed living in Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland and Tennessee. My world fell apart when my husband suddenly fell ill and was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Despite major brain surgery and chemo- and radio-therapy, Yoram, the center of my life, my soulmate and the father of my children, died six months later. Shortly after his death I was diagnosed with cancer myself.

Now my survival instinct kicked in. I attended a workshop in shamanism at Esalen Institute in California and became submerged in the teachings. I learned quickly because my life depended on it. In true shamanic fashion, on the eve of my scheduled surgery, I removed the illness from my body. The next day, the doctors found no trace of cancer.

Surprised and intrigued, I signed up for a three-year intensive study program in core shamanism. I moved my family back to Washington, D.C., where my husband is buried and where my son was attending Georgetown University. To give my shamanic studies a scientific base, I decided to study anthropology and applied to Bryn Mawr.

Shamanism as a methodology affords its practitioners to live fully in the everyday, ordinary reality of life, and at the same time access non-ordinary states of consciousness at will for the purposes of healing, advice or gaining understanding. In indigenous cultures, the shaman acts as the psychological and medical healer of his community. Non-ordinary states of consciousness induced by the steady beat of a drum, physical deprivations such as fasting or ingestion of entheogens have been employed by nearly all mystical wisdom traditions; they allow practitioners to discover how to live a richer, more meaningful life. Shamanism, together with quantum physics and chaos theory, which I encountered during my studies at Bryn Mawr, gave me answers to the questions I had asked since childhood: Who are we? Whence do we come from? Where do we go? My travels to Ecuador, Nepal and Peru and my studies there with powerful shamans provided additional answers to these perennial questions. All my teachers, in ordinary and non-ordinary reality, assist me in developing and shaping my intellectual, spiritual, intuitive and psychic faculties. At this point in my life I feel so capable to participate joyfully in the universal dance of life. One physical expression of this joy is the labyrinth I created on campus.

If one has travelled long enough and the distance between the onset of the journey and the moment of reflection is sufficient, one gains understanding of the journey’s meaning. I have been re-membered, I have been re-surrected into new self-awareness; I see now the interconnectedness and interdependency of all life forms. I am a part of all this. I am blessed. I am on my path.

The eternal labyrinth

As a place of learning, Bryn Mawr speaks of Being and Becoming. The labyrinth, invented by prehistoric cultures more in tune with the mysteries of Life, addresses Being and Becoming as the related aspects of reality. In the daily reality of student life, being and becoming translate into existence and transformation in time. While college education emphasizes the analytical and rational mode of consciousness and the importance of linear time, it tends to neglect the intuitive, spiritual level of human awareness.

The labyrinth offers suspension of time and its inherent directionality and thus allows for contemplation and meditation. We are prompted to slow down, to follow the path as it turns in and out to lead us into the center and out again. On the way we can muse, contemplate, dream, ask questions, provide answers, breathe, quiet the chatter inside, become silent and amazed.

The labyrinth is an ancient symbol which engages the eye and the mind. The classical design, consisting of seven rings of paths within eight concentric walls, is the most common and universal throughout history. We find it in petroglyphs around the world: It decorates clay shards in Syria and appears as graffiti on pillars in Pompeii and on Roman pavements. We see it in South American line drawings as well as in turf labyrinths in Northern Europe.

Through the millennia labyrinths have served many needs; the earliest appear to be mystical, symbolizing the riddle of life, birth, death and reincarnation. Today at this crucial time in history when we are in desperate need of a symbol for wholeness, the human conscious remembers the archetypal labyrinth as a way of knowing.

Bringing the labyrinth to the Bryn Mawr campus involved many steps: first a suitable site had to be found along with a low-maintenance and low-cost design. Campus horticulturist Robert Burton and I looked at three possible sites. The knoll between Canaday Library and Rhoads dormitory overlooking the Jen Shillingford Sports Field proved not only beautiful and suitable, but perfect: When I checked the site with my dowsing rods, the knoll itself and the majestic trees surrounding it gave permission for the labyrinth to come into existence. The next step concerned the right location of the labyrinth, and by dowsing the area, I found energy leys and a water dome with incoming and outgoing veins, a characteristic of many ancient sacred sites. The center of the labyrinth is situated where energy leys and a water dome converge.

In April of 1998 I spray-painted a temporary, classical seven circle labyrinth design on the grass. That summer Mr. Burton and I observed the setting and contemplated the dimensions for the final design and the materials to be used. When the McBride Scholars accepted my suggestion to offer the labyrinth as a gift to the College, I went ahead and, assisted by Mr. Burton, implemented the plan for the permanent labyrinth. In early September I marked out the final 66 foot diameter design. In late November, in a combined effort of McBride Scholars, traditional students, a worker from the Grounds department and Mr. Burton with his daughters, we cut the labyrinth’s path, removed the grass sod, and covered the path with wood chips. In the grassy area between the circles of the meandering path we planted thousands of crocus and tulip bulbs for a colorful Spring display. The labyrinth complements and completes the inventory of walled, sunken and woodland gardens on campus.

On May Day, 1999, President Nancy J. Vickers accepted the labyrinth as a gift from the McBride Scholars to Bryn Mawr College. The labyrinth was spontaneously incorporated into the College’s traditions and put to use in a newly invented sacred ritual for graduating McBride Scholars. It is registered with The Labyrinth Society, Inc. in New Canaan, Connecticut, an international organization and resource.

Many students have already discovered the labyrinth’s value for meditation, and they use it, especially before exams and final papers, to calm down and center themselves. The labyrinth proves itself as an ancient tool to connect with a wisdom beyond and within ourselves. We are made aware of the process of Being and Becoming, and with this awareness we may stride creatively and compassionately into life and into the 21st century.

—Jeanne-Rachel Salomon ’00


Risks on the path
By Jeanne-Rachel Salomon ’00
Soul afloat
By Minna Canton Duchovnay ’98, M.A. ’99
The exam room
By Andréa Miller
Regaining a community: Myra Reichel ’95
By Lynn Litterine ’96
'The process never stops'
By Grace Fonda ’98

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