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McBride Scholars: “Finally it’s my turn and I want the best education I can have”

Sharaai's picture

“Finally it’s my turn and I want the best education I can have”

In thinking about Bryn Mawr’s campus, it becomes obvious that many small communities exist within our walled community. Communities consisting of students of color, international students or students from the same area. An important community within Bryn Mawr is the Katharine E. McBride Scholars Program or McBride Scholars for short. They are women, twenty four or older, who did not complete their college education after high school for one reason or another. Bryn Mawr looks for non-traditionally aged students that exemplify intelligence, talent and achievement. These traits may be displayed through volunteer work, their jobs or some form of formal study. What separates McBride scholars from many traditionally aged students are their life experiences. Many of the women have family commitments such as children and aging parents or full time jobs. Some have put their education on a hiatus due to financial reasons or simply because of life and the tribulations it can bring along.

The Katharine E. McBride Scholars program became official in 1985. Though there were students of non-traditional age attending Bryn Mawr College prior to the establishment of the scholars program, there was a significant increase after its establishment. For example, in 1999, 15 McBride Scholars graduated, and that was the largest number as of 2000. (Woy, 2000). In the program’s beginnings, it seemed that the college was recruiting local students from the Main Line area. This is exemplified through many news articles published in the Main Line Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1986 and as late as 1994.

One of these articles, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1990, focused on the first three McBride Scholars that graduated from Bryn Mawr. Their names were Charlotte Espy, Eleanor Fields and Nina Sprecher. All three women were from the area but all differed in the educational backgrounds. Espy, a mother of one and stepmother to two more children, was married and had previously attended Georgetown University. She did not complete her degree because she was unable to complete a requ8ired economic course. Fields and Sprecher were both secretaries prior to their attendance at Bryn Mawr. Fields worked for twenty years before deciding to take time off to figure out her future. When entering Bryn Mawr, Sprecher was a mother of three high school/college aged students. She had not attended a four year college but did attend secretary school prior to getting married.

Through this small group of initial McBride Scholars, one is able to see the diverse range of students that Bryn Mawr has welcomed into its own walled community. Bryn Mawr has diversified and improved its campus in an otherwise unconventional manner. Inviting and welcoming non-traditional students allows for the campus and classroom to be filled with thoughts and ideas from these experiences. Bryn Mawr asks potential scholars to share their stories before their arrival on campus through their application. Potential scholars are asked to write a number of essays explaining why they feel they are ready to continue their education and what has put this path on hiatus. One scholar, Joanne Bunch, recalls her decision to apply to Bryn Mawr to be affected by these essays. She said “You can fake one essay, but you can’t fake four.” (Reyes, 2009) Through this part of the application, Bunch believed that Bryn Mawr was looking for top students and this motivated her to focus her attention on her application to Bryn Mawr over other schools. Another unique asset of becoming a McBride Scholar is the flexibility scholars are given. Since upon admittance the college has a sense of what students will be dealing with outside of their schooling, they are able to attend Bryn Mawr on a part time basis. This allows for them to keep full time jobs, take care of children and family or any other commitment that may be present. This is one of the reasons why many McBride Scholars may take longer than the average Bryn Mawr student and the first scholar did not graduate until 5 years after the program was established.

But with their unique experiences to Bryn Mawr, McBrides seem to face similar trials and tribulations throughout their time at Bryn Mawr that feel incredibly parallel to those that any student may go through. For example, many students enter college without a proper knowledge of computer programs such as Microsoft Word or Excel. In a newsletter published by McBride scholars called The Purple Lantern, scholars write articles and editorials on their Bryn Mawr experience. One article speaks about a few students’ experience in a computing class during the early 90’s; on their anxieties of entering college during a time that technology was rapidly changing and evolving. Much to their relief, many of the students in the class had little ideas or knowledge on computing, easing their nerves and tension about the course. They were able to joke about their nervous feeling through this article, leading other students to feel more at ease with entering a course full of nerves. In The Purple Lantern, there were also articles regarding life after Bryn Mawr options such a graduate school options and life during Bryn Mawr outreach such as calls for used textbooks and scholarship information.

In these newsletters, traditions are also addressed. On the front cover of the first issue of The Purple Lantern, there is a photograph of the first McBrides to participate in Lantern Night, in the fall of 1988. Though they did not receive purple lanterns but rather light blue ones, the appropriate class year of the ceremony, the women spoke about the experience positively, many excited about the nights events. Traditions being such a large part of the culture at Bryn Mawr, McBride Scholars participation allows for the distanced between the two communities to disappear. Throughout generations of Bryn Mawr students, traditions are an event that have been constant events in the social climate and by having McBride participating, it breaks downs walls that could be potentially constructed through some of the obvious differences previously mentioned.  Though the history of the Katharine E. McBride Scholars Program is not completely explained in this essay, its traits that make it a community within the walls of Bryn Mawr have been highlighted. Along with these differences are the connections with the greater Bryn Mawr student body; connection that allows for walls to be broken down and for communities to build kinship within themselves. 



jccohen's picture

walls within walls and "walls broken down"


I appreciate your choice of this topic, and also your selective treatment of the topic in terms of the McBride Program as both a “walled community” within Bryn Mawr’s walls and “the connections (McBride students have made) with the greater Bryn Mawr student body.” 

Including brief bios of the first three McBride students to graduate from Bryn Mawr does some work toward increasing the visibility of the program via particular individuals, and, as you say, this gives us a sense of the range of women who have participated in this program.  In that regard, you might offer more about the shifts over time regarding who the program is attracting and supporting (as I understand it, this has changed quite a bit), and also the status and stability of the program itself; these elements seem to me significant in terms of the nature of this community in relation to the larger institutional community of the college.

Wonderful that you had access to The Purple Lantern as a source that offered a somewhat “insider” (if selective and public) representation of the experience of McBride students on Bryn Mawr campus, and the example of Lantern Night provides an instance of  “walls broken down” in what sounds like a community-building way for both McBrides and traditional students.



Erin's picture

McBrides are cool!

It's a great summary about McBride history. Very detailed and thorough introduction about McBrides Scholars. I am wondering if there is any statistics about their majors and their careers after Bryn Mawr?