YOUR HOMETOWN: ‘A Bigger Picture’

Unique BC Alumnus Helps Students To Navigate School, Life

Posted: January 22, 2014

Chip Studwell, who is legally blind, has been helping students navigate their college for the last 23 years as the director of academic support services at Bridgewater College. Studwell lost his vision due to complications with Type 1 diabetes in his college years. (Photo by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)
Chip Studwell, who lives on the Bridgewater College campus, walks to work each day with the help of his walking cane. (Photo by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)

A life-changing affliction hit Chip Studwell early on in his days as a student at Bridgewater College.

The Maryland native chose Bridgewater in part to join the school’s basketball team, but was able to play only one season after losing his eyesight to diabetes.

Optimistic and determined to finish school, Studwell adjusted to the changes, graduated from BC on time in 1977 and went on to earn his master’s from James Madison University and doctorate from West Virginia University.

It would seem an inspirational story for Studwell to tell as he helps guide students as Bridgewater College’s director of academic support services, a role he’s had for more than two decades.

But he actually doesn’t cite the struggles he endured as a means to motivate students to work through their problems.

“I don’t think that way. For that person, what they have going on, I want to give that regard,” he said. “I’m not this great altruistic person. I’m not saying that. I honestly …  just don’t think that way. My stuff is mine to deal with, and ... I want to give people their own regard.”

Studwell turns 59 this week and lives in a house on campus.

For 23 years, he has helped students to navigate their college career and, as he describes it, manage life’s highs and lows.

“It’s kind of my life mission, if you will. I want to be able to influence the lives of young people in a positive way,” he said. “And certainly, the years 18 to 22 are very significant in a person’s development, and they’re challenging for students at that point.”

Studwell, who attends Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Harrisonburg, also serves as the adviser to the college’s Catholic student group.

He’s a man of faith and family who says his guiding principles are important to him.

That’s not to say he’s a stiff.

Studwell likes to crack jokes and enjoys using humor as a way to bond with people.

“Even though I graduated in 1977, I am extremely young and good looking,” he drops deadpan into a conversation without missing a beat.

Studwell admits there were challenges to be going blind at such a young age, but it wasn’t until nine years later — when he had his first child — that he was “confronted with [his] own anger about the blindness.”

He’d always wanted children and to be able to play with them and be a significant part of their lives.

That the blindness changed what doing those things would mean brought on feelings of bitterness, he said, and he had to make a decision to move past his anger so as to not taint the lives of the people he loves.

“That’s my core of myself — I’m going to take a situation and I’m going to go with what I have,” he said.

Now, he spends his time trying to show Bridgewater College students the way to get meaning from their lives.

“This is [a] training ground, and I think it’s the most significant time in a person’s development,” he said. “This is, for me …  what I work from, a bigger picture, and that’s what really drives what I do.”

Contact Jeremy Hunt at 574-6273 or

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