The Mary Baldwin College for Women: Enhancing our Women-Centered Legacy

November 28, 2017

Mary Baldwin University is confirming its commitment to women’s education, leadership, and empowerment as it highlights existing programs and unveils new and reinvigorated experiences through the Mary Baldwin College for Women (MBCW). There are three components to this commitment: the naming of a new dean for the College for Women; five new programming initiatives; and the announcement of new support to assist in recruiting women for MBCW for the Fall of 2018.

Over the past 175 years, Mary Baldwin has provided a unique learning environment for women that has in turn developed thousands of accomplished graduates serving their countries, communities, and families. Mary Baldwin’s renowned reputation is known across the globe for its ability to empower women as leaders in all aspects of society. Our distinctive liberal arts curriculum has prepared leaders across the broadest spectrum of careers and professions. The personalized, holistic approach to our women-centered education is the cornerstone of success for our graduates and to the future of our institution.

The design of the MBCW seeks to reassert our commitment to women’s education and to build on the college’s existing strengths — those programs and experiences from which yesterday and today’s students already benefit. Beginning in the Fall of 2018, women applying for admission will have the option of being part of the Mary Baldwin College for Women or the coeducational University College. Academic majors and minors are open to all residential students.

The new dean will oversee a leadership council of faculty fellows and student leaders to help guide the ongoing development of the College for Women, advocating for women-centered education on and off campus to current and future members of the community. The Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (under the leadership of Brigadier General Terry Djuric) and the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (under the leadership of Carla VanDevander) will continue to be a focal point of growth and recruitment for the College for Women. All-female residence halls will be available for students in the College for Women.

“Some of what we were able to take for granted before, those experiences that happened by default — are what needs to be more explicitly programmed now within the Mary Baldwin College for Women” said Provost Ty Buckman. “As we evolve, it’s important to not abandon what has been a strength, a distinction for us within the larger context of higher education. The new College for Women will enable us to continue to excel in offering a women-centered residential educational experience, and also to make many of those programs and resources available to women who would not have chosen a single-gender institution.”

The effort began with a working group that President Pamela Fox convened over the summer and will continue to evolve with the dedication and support of the entire MBU community. The provost has carried forward concepts developed by the summer group, gathering additional feedback at sessions with faculty, staff, students, and the Board of Trustees. Moving ahead, upper class students will have input into the design of the college’s programming, and alumnae also will be extended similar opportunities to help shape and support the College for Women. Invitations to engage in this discussion will begin in January with on-campus dialogues with upper class students. Alumnae of the College for Women will receive a survey request for input and engagement from the new dean in February and a special discussion session will be part of Reunion Weekend April 26–29.

The model for the Mary Baldwin College for Women is based upon other similar programs, including Douglass Residential College at Rutgers University; Hobart House Women’s Residential College at Northwestern University; and Grace College, a women’s residential community within the University of Queensland.  These colleges have successfully promoted women-centered education while also retaining the culture and environment that develops strong women leaders under the umbrella of a larger university.

We are grateful to the generosity of Angela Corley ’67, who has pledged funds to create experiential learning grants to 25 highly qualified women accepted to MBU who plan to join the Mary Baldwin College for Women in Fall 2018. Each awardee who matriculates at the university will receive the funds to use toward an approved experiential learning opportunity of the student’s choice in the first three years of study, including support for summer research, study abroad fees, and internship support. These grants will assist us in recruiting talented students into the new programs as they launch next August.

Following an internal search process, Provost Buckman and President Fox are very pleased to announce that Dr. Carey Usher has been named the inaugural Dean of the Mary Baldwin College for Women.

“I am a women’s college graduate, and was driven to return to one,” said Usher, a tenured associate professor of sociology, “and my primary passion has always been student success in a women-centered environment. My work with women in the classroom and outside of the classroom to intentionally speak to overcoming societal expectations and gendered norms in education, in the family, and in the workforce has consistently fueled my passion for women-centered work.”

Usher has held progressive positions of leadership in her 15 years on the faculty, including as associate dean, co-director of the First-Year Experience, and recently as associate provost — a title she will continue to hold in conjunction with the deanship.

The College for Women will be enhanced by five new programming initiatives that have emerged to help define the Mary Baldwin College for Women today and moving forward. Please send your comments and questions directly to Carey Usher at


  1. A distinctive first-year experience: Academic and student affairs will partner to help students focus on self-efficacy and self-awareness and invest personally in the College for Women experience. Key programming in the first year will lay a foundation for career development and leadership within MBCW.
  2. A leadership portfolio: Resources will be made available for development of leadership profiles and career portfolios for all College for Women students to prepare for leadership roles on campus and after graduation.
  3. A mentorship program: In addition to the dean and faculty fellows, selected upper-class peers will serve as mentors within the College for Women. A network of alumnae mentors will also be nurtured to foster professional mentorship opportunities.
  4. A signature service project: Mary Baldwin is also developing an exciting partnership with the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center’s “See the Girl” empowerment training for students to better understand themselves and how to work effectively with others, and to learn research and advocacy. College for Women students will have the opportunity to participate in community outreach with local at-risk K–12 girls in partnership with area schools and agencies. The Jessie Ball DuPont Foundation has provided a generous grant to seed funding of this project; a pilot begins this spring. The signature projects will be supported also through the collaboration of the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement.
  5. An annual collaborative leadership symposium: The symposium will highlight students’ leadership experiences, much like the annual Capstone Festival, which highlights student academic achievement with the support and participation of faculty, student, and alumnae mentors.

Recruiting for MBCW takes place against a backdrop of growing student interest in Mary Baldwin University. The university has undertaken a significant national recruiting program this fall and has received, to date, 4,000 applications.  This is a promising indicator at this point in the year, and results from the complete revamping of our recruiting materials and messages, our admissions team, and greatly expanded print and digital outreach.

“The promise of the Mary Baldwin College for Women,” according to Provost Buckman, “lies in the dynamism and creativity of the Mary Baldwin community, all of the campus and alumnae stakeholders who are committed not only to furthering the education and leadership prospects for women, but also empowering and equipping students regardless of gender to become ambassadors for equality.”