Pivotal moment

3 students walk alongside a professor on a sunny day

The establishment of the Bonnie Forrer and John Harvey Rhodes School of Arts and Humanities, Bridgewater College’s first endowed, named school, recognizes the central role the arts and humanities play in the College’s liberal arts identity and represents a transformative step forward in strengthening our core mission of teaching and learning. A named, endowed School at any college or university signals an institutional commitment to excellence in teaching and scholarship and to student success.

“This is a pivotal moment for Bridgewater College,” says President David Bushman. “A gift of this magnitude—and for this purpose—enables us to implement programs and practices common to the very best and most well-respected institutions. It provides us with meaningful resources to benefit student learning and success as well as faculty development in perpetuity.”

The academic restructuring that created the College’s academic divisions took place more than five years ago. Working in close cooperation with the provost, the inaugural division heads made improvements to faculty governance, strengthened academic advising and led to the development of new undergraduate programs and the College’s first four graduate programs. This necessary work set the stage for a $5 million gift in the spring of 2021 from Bonnie ’62 and the late John Rhodes, combining the former Division of Communication Studies, Fine Arts, and Literature with the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences and creating the Rhodes School of Arts and Humanities.

The endowment supporting the Rhodes School will provide annual support to the students, faculty and educational programs of the School. Use of the endowment funds is targeted in these key areas:

Faculty development. The College invests in faculty professional development by providing funds to every faculty member annually, with the expressed purpose of strengthening their teaching and furthering their scholarship. Faculty development funding is a key component of overall faculty quality; such funds can be a determining factor in recruiting and retaining the best possible faculty in a competitive marketplace. “These funds help us nurture the development of the next generation of great teachers at BC. This is how we develop the next Doc Jopson or Prof Hueston,” says Provost and Executive Vice President Leona Sevick.

Teaching and learning/academic program enhancement. The classroom today is a markedly different place than it was even 10 years ago. While traditional lecture formats still have a role to play, an emphasis on engaged and collaborative learning has become a best practice. There exists a premium on using in-class time engaged in active learning techniques that improve outcomes and address diversity of student learning needs. Supporting this kind of active learning in the classroom requires ongoing investment in equipment, digital resources, specialized software and computer hardware.

Pre-tenure sabbatical and student research. Critical to the success of an institution whose primary mission is teaching is ensuring a commitment to excellence in the classroom. A principal guarantor of that excellence in the classroom is an active scholarly life outside the classroom. By pairing promising early-career faculty with students to engage in research, we foster professional development at a critical time in their careers. The direct benefits to the students can be a significant part of their success and make them more competitive for graduate schools and jobs after graduation.

The establishment of an endowed chair. An endowed chair is meant to attract faculty in a particular discipline who may be further along in their professional careers and can bring significant teaching and research contributions to the College. “An endowment allows you to look for someone to fill that chair in a way that will benefit not just the school but the institution as a whole,” Provost Sevick says.

Separately, each of these components would have a significant impact on the quality of teaching and learning at the College. Collectively, they create a dramatic synergy by strengthening simultaneously all aspects of the teacher-scholar model and student success.

“We are humbled by John and Bonnie’s generosity and their belief in the transformative power of a liberal arts education,” says Provost Sevick. “Strengthening our academic programs through endowed funding support is a key piece of the College’s commitment to student success, and we are grateful for the Rhodeses’ partnership as we work toward our vision for the future of Bridgewater College.”

The arts and humanities played a large part in the Rhodeses’ lives, who are the primary benefactors of the College’s John Kenny Forrer Learning Commons, a tribute to Bonnie’s father. John Rhodes passed away in January 2021, shortly after the couple committed to the Rhodes School gift.

“John’s world was that of business and finance. I grew up on a farm, and as a child I read voraciously, listened to classical music and tuned into Texaco Metropolitan Opera on the radio every Saturday night. This, along with my entire educational experience at BC, helped me understand how the whole world was connected,” says Bonnie Rhodes. “As a couple, our lives were so much richer because of our passion for literature, art, music and culture. I know John was proud, and I’m so pleased to be part of broadening students’ horizons through Bridgewater College’s Rhodes School of Arts and Humanities.”

Provost Sevick says first endowing its school of arts and humanities is perfectly in line with the mission of an institution like Bridgewater: “Our liberal arts curriculum is our common curriculum; it touches every student.”

“For this to be the first endowed school is so important to me. It says in a really bold way how important the liberal arts are,” says Rhodes School Dean Dr. Betsy Hayes, Associate Professor of Sociology and Lawrance S. and Carmen C. Miller Chair of Ethics. “As a dean, my goal is to take this gift and really move us forward as having one of the premier liberal arts experiences for the students who come to Bridgewater. We offer a quality liberal arts education that most students don’t even know they’re walking into, and then they’re here and they discover it, and it launches them. This will just move us further in that direction.”

Following the endowment of the Rhodes School of Arts and Humanities, the College is focusing on endowing its School of Natural Sciences (Departments of Biology and Environmental Science, Chemistry, Mathematics and Computer Science, Physics and Psychology) and School of Professional Studies (Departments of Economics and Business Administration, Health and Human Sciences and Teacher Education Program), to bring the same benefits to their students and faculty.

Dr. Phil Spickler, Dean of the School of Natural Sciences, believes an endowment would allow more nimbleness in terms of bringing additional technologies into the classroom and allowing new programs to be implemented at a faster pace. Additional opportunities for student research and presenting at conferences increases high-impact practices for students and allows for deeper faculty mentorship.

“We’re focused on providing experiences that set you up for the opportunities, successes and challenges that are ahead,” Spickler says.

Dr. Barbara Long, Dean of the School of Professional Studies, says an endowment would provide consistent resources to invest in both faculty and students. The main benefits for students would include additional research opportunities, attending conferences to present on topics and to network with professionals from their fields and engaging in practical applications of coursework through field experiences or internships. “The endowment would be paramount to helping us live the dreams that I’ve had in our academic departments since we moved to this new academic structure six years ago,” Long says.

“It is the rare opportunity when an institution’s greatest need matches up so closely with a donor’s greatest wish,” says President Bushman. “That rare opportunity became a reality with Bonnie and John. Their love for the liberal arts and for BC has resulted in a gift that will strengthen the teaching and scholarship of our faculty and the opportunities for our students and touch everyone connected to Bridgewater College.”

Dean: Dr. Betsy Hayes, Associate Professor of Sociology and Lawrance S. and Carmen C. Miller Chair of Ethics

Departments of: Art, Communication Studies and Theatre, English, History and Political Science, Music, Philosophy and Religion, Sociology, and World Languages and Cultures

Graduate program: Master of Arts in Digital Media Strategy