The Mary I. Bunting Program
- Douglass Residential College
- Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
By creating a community of mature women students who proudly identify themselves as unique among traditional college students, Douglass's Mary I. Bunting Program has tapped into the rich resource of women who recognize the importance of peer support in their quest to earn a college degree. "Buntings," who may be identified on campus by their "B" buttons, have a special lounge and study area, an active club, and Facebook page that encourages mature women students to know about and support each other. In addition, connecting Bunting Program alumnae to current Buntings adds a valuable dimension to the university experience of the current students. The Newcombe Foundation celebrates this unique approach to serving the needs of the mature women students at Douglass College.
What follows is an overview of the Bunting Program by Dr. Katherine Birckmayer, Assistant Dean at Douglass Residential College.
The Mary I. Bunting Program at Douglass Residential College exemplifies the long tradition at Douglass of fostering women's leadership and promoting higher education for women. This program began in 1958 when Douglass College Dean Mary Bunting recognized the lack of opportunities for adult women whose education had been interrupted by other responsibilities, and invited ten adult students to complete their degrees at Douglass. The returning women students were not treated any differently from traditional-age students other than having a dispensation that allowed them to go to school part-time. As the program increased in size over the years, the Douglass administration realized that these adult women had particular needs that required special academic and student life advising. In 1980, the program's status at Douglass was codified when it was named in honor of its founder, Mary I. Bunting.
While the program has undergone many changes over the years, most notably an increase in numbers, diversity, age range, and financial need, it has never lost sight of the mission of its founder, which was to provide a traditional college education to adult women undergraduate students. Unlike many continuing education programs, where there is a separate unit for adult students, Douglass seeks to integrate Bunting students into the Douglass community in every way possible. Bunting students are encouraged to take advantage of Douglass's special programs such as the Global Village special interest housing options, the Public Leadership Network Washington, D.C. seminars and the renowned Alumnae Extern Program, which provides students with the opportunity to have a mini-internship experience during the winter or spring break. At the same time, we recognize that adult women have unique needs, and therefore we provide them with a special advisor/program director as well as with peer advisors. They are eligible to apply for all general Douglass scholarships as well as for a number of scholarships designated specifically for Bunting students. In addition, they have their own student organization, called Sophia, which has a staff advisor. Currently serving 153 students, the Bunting Program attracts highly motivated women who provide each other with support and community, and who are also deeply committed to Douglass and its mission. The friendships formed and the commitment made to Douglass continue far beyond graduation.
In order to find ways to maintain their connection with Douglass after graduation, a group of Bunting alumnae formed an organization called Bunting Connections in 2001. Sponsored by the Associate Alumnae of Douglass College with an advisor from the Alumnae staff, Bunting Connections not only supports current students, but actively involves them in the programs and governance of the organization. Bunting Connections invites current students to all its events and co-sponsors additional events with Sophia, the current student organization. This collaboration between alumnae and current students was a natural development because there is frequently no age difference between Bunting students and alumnae. Bunting Connections members provide financial as well as social support for current students. They have also been significant contributors to the Newcombe challenge grants.
This tradition of Bunting alumnae involvement with Douglass culminated in an event held in September 2008 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Bunting Program. This event brought together over one hundred Bunting students, alumnae, and staff, and proved to be a wonderful celebration of our students' achievements. One highlight was a panel featuring Bunting alumnae speakers from each of the five decades since the program's inception. Bunting students are among the most academically successful of all our students, and we at Douglass are extremely proud of their achievements in college and of the contributions they make to society after graduation.
Medea Villere '05 offers a testament to the value of the Bunting Program in the following quote:
I feel very privileged to have been a Mary I. Bunting student. The structure of the Bunting Program, with its Sophia Club and other benefits, made my college experience as an adult student a truly inspiring and life-changing one. Returning to school is a second chance for most Bunting women, and I feel that having the support system the Bunting Program provides made a huge difference in my academic success and my emotional well-being. After graduating in 2005, I became President of Bunting Connections. Bunting Connections members can provide information, encouragement, networking, and friendship to current Bunting students. It is a way for Bunting alumnae like me to give back to a program that has meant so much to us, while still maintaining a connection to a program and a population that is very close to our hearts.
For more information, please see the Douglass Residential College website. The Bunting Program is listed under the Office of Mission Programs.