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  • Lisa Jevens

UMW helps students discover strengths, hone skills and explore passions

The University of Mary Washington, with its stately, century-old campus in Fredericksburg, Virginia, might not look like a 21st century hub of living and learning, but that’s exactly what it is.

Located about 50 miles equal distance from the nation’s capital and Richmond, Virginia, UMW is a public liberal arts university with the feel of a small private college. UMW has three colleges: Business, Education, and Arts and Sciences. The university’s mission is to help students discover their strengths, hone their skills and explore their passion for learning, in a supportive, hands-on environment.

“They graduate feeling fully prepared to thrive in a global, multicultural, digital world,” says UMW President Troy Paino, Ph.D., J.D.

Paino was hired in 2016 to retool the curriculum and refocus the culture at UMW. He enjoys talking about how a liberal arts education is not a thing of the past, but a key to the future.

UMW uses “Four Pillars” to illustrate the goals of the university’s mission. They are:

1. Adapt the liberal arts to an age of accelerations and a global digital environment

The pandemic has proven the importance of this statement. Even before 2020, technology fluency was required across all majors. In 2014 the university opened the Hurley Convergence Center, a one-of-a-kind “academic commons” where a variety of technology, information and teaching resources come together in an environment that is modern, energetic and vibrant. The Digital Knowledge Center, a hands-on help desk for the university community, is part of this as well.

“The Digital Knowledge Center and the infrastructure we've built to support digital fluency is probably one of the reasons that we adapted so well to the pandemic,” Paino says. “It offered the resources to help faculty transition a course to distance learning without losing the quality of those classes.”

One of UMW’s fastest growing majors is communication and digital studies.

2. Immerse students in applied, impactful learning experiences

“Simply put, undergraduates get to engage in the type of research with faculty that is normally reserved for graduate students,” Paino says. It is not uncommon for students to get their names on published papers or work on real-world local problems such as food waste or conduct research alongside their professors. UMW boasts a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio and beyond-the-classroom learning is required, not just a perk.

3. Promote the values of service and community and civic engagement

Paino describes a UMW education as “outward facing.” The Center for Community Engagement helps students fulfill the important requirement of connecting with life beyond campus through service.

One example, where students volunteer, is Loisann’s Hope House, a social services organization that helps local homeless children and families. “Our students volunteer there and spend time with kids in a state of homelessness, so they can keep up with their studies while going through this difficult and traumatic experience,” Paino says.

4. Create a diverse and inclusive community as an essential requirement for academic excellence and academic success

UMW has doubled down on the importance of diversity and inclusiveness on campus. With a relatively small student population of 4,000, the majority of students live on-campus in residence halls or just off-campus in the surrounding neighborhood, fostering an ideal environment for understanding and tolerance.

Paino emphasizes that inclusiveness at UMW goes beyond a person’s race or gender. Currently about 28% of students identify as a minority. “Individuality is really valued here, but not at the cost of community,” he says. “Curiosity is valued over passing judgment.”

“What we don’t have says as much about who we are as what we do have,” Paino says. “For example, we don’t have fraternities and sororities, which tend to segregate people. We don’t have Division I athletics. I’ve worked in higher education for three decades, and I’ve never seen a place that is more student centric and where fellow students are more supportive of one another.”

For more information about University of Mary Washington, visit or call 540.654.2000.

Originally published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on November 24, 2021.

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