A liberal arts and sciences education is more valuable than ever.
That’s what University of Mary Washington President Troy Paino confirmed to an auditorium full of faculty and staff during the annual welcome-back presentation ushering in the 2023-24 academic year. The state-of-the-university address, held August 21, 2023, in George Washington Hall’s Dodd Auditorium, covered record-setting fundraising efforts, campus construction, the student experience, life after Mary Washington and more.
“We have alumni, we have friends, we have donors who are so invested in the work we are doing here at Mary Washington,” said Paino, referencing record-breaking fundraising efforts, with more than $21.3 million in gifts and pledges raised during the 2022-23 fiscal year. That number was bolstered by a portion – $6 million – of a transformational $30 million gift from alumna Irene Piscopo Rodgers ’59, the largest donation in UMW’s 115-year history.
The funding will help ensure continued student success, Paino said. Among recent accolades, UMW students have received two prestigious Goldwater awards within the past three years and claimed last year’s honor scholar of the year award for both Virginia and West Virginia. The incoming fall 2023 class – numbering just over 1,000 with transfer students included, and boasting an average GPA of 3.75 and SAT score of 1244, and more honors students than ever before – promises to be just as successful.
Mary Washington’s retention rate also rose throughout the pandemic. Paino highlighted recent changes in UMW’s core curriculum and its QEP, which focuses on “Life After Mary Washington.” These measures, he said, ensure students don’t have to choose between the liberal arts and career preparation. “We do exceedingly well – and you do exceedingly well – working with our students to prepare them for success after graduation.”
Paino pointed to initiatives for enhancing campus safety and mental health services. Additional blue “emergency” lights are being installed, new safety videos are available online, and students have access to TimelyCare, a 24/7 online service for mental health support.
The year ahead will be busy, said Paino, who plans to meet individually with departments across campus, while leaning into his external role, attending alumni events and seeking opportunities to connect within and beyond the fast-growing Fredericksburg region. He also will set into motion a master facilities plan process to envision what the University of Mary Washington might look like over the course of the next 10 years.
Campus construction has been constant, at least during the last three summers, as the Underground Utilities Project replaced aging waterlines and steam pipes, temporarily closing sections of Ball Circle and Campus Walk, which are now back open for welcoming events. The project nears completion, along with recent renovations in James Farmer Hall. Design work for UMW’s new theatre progresses too, with the corner of campus at William Street and Sunken Road taking center stage in the next few years.
More recently in the spotlight is UMW Athletics, which added field lighting at the Battleground Athletics Complex over the summer to host additional game opportunities. Already a powerhouse in the Coast-to-Coast Conference, the Eagles earned recognition in the top 10% of more than 400 Division III schools in the Learfield Cup standings last year.
As the stories of UMW stack up, so does the media attention, with StoryCorps scheduled to bring its One Small Step program to record on campus in October. The initiative brings individuals with different political views together to record 50-minute conversations – not to debate politics, but to learn who we are as people. Paino echoed that sentiment in his remarks.
“I challenge all of you to think about how we envision the future while remaining true to what we believe in,” he said. Those beliefs include some of UMW’s most closely held values – collected under the acronym of ASPIRE and dedicated to providing a diverse, accepting and supportive environment that holds all of its members to the highest standards of conduct, scholarship, integrity, inclusiveness, respect and engagement.
Despite current challenges in higher education, he said, UMW remains “true to who we are,” committed to delivering an exceptional liberal arts and sciences education that prepares students for successful, fulfilling careers and instills them with a sense of community and kindness. It’s evident even in the early days of move-in for the fall semester.
“I hear the same thing over and over again, and that is the kindness… the genuine care and concern that people have for one another. I, on many occasions, have been the recipient of that kindness. I couldn’t be more grateful to be part of a community that genuinely cares for one another and cares for our students, and is there for our students, both in times of need and to celebrate in times of success. Their success begins with a sense of belonging, where they feel engaged and a part of this community.”