Since the 1990s, Bridgewater State College has reshaped its image from a small teaching college to the flagship of the state college system, emerging as a leader in science, business and graduate studies.
Brian Agbor-Etang, a biomedical major and chemistry minor at Bridgewater State College, is entering medical school this summer to become a heart surgeon.
When he graduated from BSC on May 17, Agbor-Etang, of Brockton, represented something greater than his accomplishments.
He reflected the changing face of Bridgewater State College.
Founded in 1840 by Horace Mann as the Bridgewater Normal School, it was one of America’s first teacher preparation institutions. Later renamed Bridgewater State College, it remained known for that role over many decades.
But since the 1990s, BSC has reshaped its image from a teaching college to the flagship of the state college system, schooling future scientists and business leaders as well as educators.
The percentage of students drawn to BSC for its teaching program has been dropping as other degree offerings expanded:
In the 1989-90 academic year, 36.2 percent of undergraduates received an education-related degree.The rate dropped to 20.7 percent of under grads in the 2006-07 school year, with the biggest drop in elementary education majors.Meanwhile, the college is seeing double-digit percentage increases in science majors.
“Ten years ago, BSC was looked upon as that college that teaches teachers,” said Jeffery A. Bowen, of East Taunton, an associate biology professor who worked with Agbor-Etang.
“While that is still a major function of what we do here, people and other institutions are now seeing us as much more,” he added. “The faculty are highly invested in the welfare of our students, and this is starting to show.”
But improvements are needed as the college evolves.
For example, faculty and administrators bemoan the 40-year-old science building — which may be getting a $90 million makeover — as woefully behind the times.
“We designed this building when the mission was to educate teachers of high school (science), so the labs are designed with that goal in mind,” said Tom Kling, an associate professor of physics.
The building now educates future scientists, and it’s not the only thing undergoing change on campus.
There are now four schools within the college, 35 undergraduate majors, 11 graduate programs and 300 full-time faculty.
The college has also been adding dormitory space as demand for campus housing grew along with the student body.
The first building, the 400-student Crimson Hall on the east side of campus, opened last year. College officials were hoping to open a second new dorm in 2009.
“The evolution of the institution from a teacher’s college to a comprehensive institution mirrors the natural course of development that has occurred throughout the country,” said college President Dana Mohler-Faria.
In the 2007 undergraduate class, one science student went straight from her bachelor’s degree to a doctorate program at the California Institute of Technology. She turned down Harvard and skipped her master’s.
Agbor-Etang, a native of Cameroon, enrolls this summer in Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., the “largest private, comprehensive historically black institution” for medical professionals; the college only admits 80 med students annually, according to its Web site.
As a prospective heart surgeon, Agbor-Etang knows the value of staying focused. “There’s no magic about it,” he said. “You just go to school and you train.”
He calls it time management. His mentors say it doesn’t hurt that he has a “a mind like a steel trap” and unflappable dedication. He graduated with a 3.7 out of a possible 4.0 grade point average.
“It is a dynamic combination of ability and drive,” said Bowery, his former professor.
Coming Wednesday: The college plans a major overhaul of its outdated science center.
Jessica Scarpati can be reached at email@example.com.