Bridget Kathleen Smith ’00 felt like a number at a larger college, and her rigorous schedule playing Division I basketball was affecting her studies. That all changed when she found Virginia Wesleyan. She felt more at home as part of VWC’s close-knit community and felt a greater sense of encouragement from faculty and staff. She became very involved, playing soccer, basketball and tennis, and joining the College’s Army ROTC program. Today, the criminal justice graduate lives and works in her hometown of Annapolis, Maryland as a digital forensics analyst. When she’s not busy learning about the latest tech gadgets, she likes to “unplug” by heading outside to hike or bicycle. She is married to her wife, Angela, and they are expecting a new puppy in their home in the very near future.
How did your time at Virginia Wesleyan College shape the person you are today?
Virginia Wesleyan was the perfect fit for me to find my authentic self in a safe and supportive environment. I was able to learn how to balance my sports, academics, and personal life by learning from the role models and mentors available on campus. I was able to develop my natural leadership skills further on the basketball court and soccer field as team captain. That experience helped me as an Army officer and as a federal government civilian. At VWC, I always felt that I had the resources and support to accomplish anything. Having that love and support built a foundation for me to grow the rest of my life.
What are some of your favorite memories of professors, mentors or friends at VWC?
There were two people at VWC that encouraged and supported me as a unique individual. They were able to see things in me that I didn’t know I had and helped bring them out. My basketball coach/best friend Joanne Renn and my dearly missed art teacher/mentor Barclay Sheaks.
I met Joanne during a time in my life when I did not know which way to turn. I gave up a Division I scholarship back in Maryland to find myself again. While playing Division I basketball had always been my dream since I was 10 years old, the hectic schedule and large campus life drowned out parts of me that I needed to be a complete, healthy person.
My parents were born in the Coastal Virginia area and they had heard of a beautiful small campus close to Virginia Beach. We drove one day from Annapolis, Maryland and first I wanted to talk to whoever the basketball coach was. I found Coach Renn’s office and asked her if I would be able to play at VWC. I can still hear her today with the excitement in her voice, “Well, sure you can, we would love to have you!” She reminded me that there would not be a full athletic scholarship like my previous school, but to me, it did not matter. I just wanted to be happy and find myself again. I knew right then that I’d found an amazing coach, mentor, role model, and friend in Joanne Renn for life.
The tuition was getting expensive for me, so one day I saw flyer advertising an Army ROTC scholarship. I ran to Joanne’s office and told her I wanted to do it and she drove me to the ODU Army ROTC office to apply. She always had faith in me and encouraged me to go for it all. I got the scholarship after being evaluated for five weeks at Fort Knox. Two years later, I was the first commissioned ROTC cadet in VWC history. Joanne was at my commissioning ceremony and pinned on my second lieutenant rank.
Fifteen years have passed since I left VWC and there hasn’t been one time that I haven’t caught up with Joanne when I’m in town, or maybe meeting somewhere on the Appalachian Trail, and of course I have to let her know every time I spot the #22.
When I signed up for Painting with Professor Sheaks, I had never painted before. I used to draw, but I was afraid of the colors and the size of paintings. I had always kept my drawings to myself, because I felt that they only had meaning to me, and they were personal. Professor Sheaks taught me to not be afraid of how I see the world and how I paint it. How I see it is what makes it unique. When I would turn in a project he would show excitement and understanding of what I was seeing and help me develop my artistic eye by explaining techniques. He made me feel comfortable creating artwork for others to see and to see objects and life as a picture or painting. I knew that being taught by Professor Sheaks was an honor, and even to this day I keep a signed copy of his book with my artwork. I don’t get to paint as often today, but I do take a lot of pictures of nature or things at different times of day to see how they change from the light. I learned from him that you have to pause and see all the beauty around us. Life is living art every day for us to see and he captured that in his paintings and passed it on to all his students. I can still hear his laugh and see his beautiful smile.
Share your thoughts about the “small college difference.”
I graduated from a small private high school in Annapolis and then went to a large college for two years. I felt lost and I didn’t feel that the professors were approachable. I wasn’t engaged in my studies, because the classes were so large. When I transferred to VWC, I was able to be more engaged and enjoy every class I took. That reflected in my grades as well. I was able to get the help I needed, and since the campus was smaller, I did not have to travel far between the residence halls, Hofheimer Library, Boyd Dining Center, etc. It gave me more time for my studies. At VWC, I was also able to take part in the social activities on campus. Everyone was welcome and I felt like I knew most of the students because of the smaller environment. I liked that, compared to bigger schools where you never see the same face twice.