BMC: Why do you give to Bryn Mawr?
SvW: Bryn Mawr was a far cry from the typical university experience in my native Germany. There was something systematically curious, even militaristic about the studying. While the sustained nature of the focus could close in on me, professors and fellow students could also open new intellectual and independent spaces. Each word could signify the extent of the gap between us, but also allow us to grasp our similarities and foster a more authentic and deeper connection.
During the itinerant fluidity of my twenties, I benefited from the meaningful downstream effects of my Bryn Mawr education and its reputation when applying to graduate schools and for jobs. I volunteered as Annual Fund class chair and gave money because giving back was important to the College and to me as well.
Still, I held out a modicum of unsentimental distance with Bryn Mawr for the two decades since graduation. So I was surprised during Alumnae Volunteer Summit and the Defy Expectation Campaign Launch in September 2016 that I felt like I had come home. Now in Taylor Hall, with Athena in sight, I started daydreaming about being a student again and I imagined my own daughter choosing Bryn Mawr down the line. I felt a far more emotional conviction and sense of belonging than I recognised before.
Students arrive at Bryn Mawr from many backgrounds, cultures and countries. To prepare them, Bryn Mawr now offers improved support for wellbeing (THRIVE), athletics and effective career planning (LILAC) in addition to our acclaimed curricular innovation. To champion these personal, academic and professional pathways for our students, I now step up and focus my philanthropy on Bryn Mawr.
This is why I support the Defy Expectation campaign. This campaign begins, like the movies, in the middle of things. It raises the curtain on many positive developments and initiatives on campus. As a new trustee, I now have the added perspective of seeing the College from the inside out. I can see close-up that Bryn Mawr has never been better in important ways. I can’t overstate how inspired I am by President Kim Cassidy and her team.
BMC: What difference do you hope to make at the College?
SvW: I would like Mawrters to have more fun. I would like us to keep learning, debating and listening, but more creatively, courageously and sociably so. I would like us to feel a real sense of belonging, no matter how ordinary or extraordinary we may perceive ourselves to be. I would like us to feel included, because Bryn Mawr is us and values us. And I would like us to inhabit and broadcast a pride in our accomplishments and our institution that eclipses groaning about impossible workloads.
Bryn Mawr shines as a beacon for women’s personal, academic and professional achievement in full technicolour. Results belie popular belief: there is pragmatism in choosing a liberal arts education and a women’s college. We are anything but average. Opportunities for women are a good thing in and of themselves, and this Seven Sister is a leader in providing them. Mawrters get the chance to do things they might not have been able to do anywhere else. But the competitive landscape is also daunting, and being able to attract the best students and engage Mawrters on campus and beyond are key.