Two hundred and eighty-five miles southwest of Charlottesville lies a University of Virginia outpost, the College at Wise. A residential liberal arts college established in 1954 in Wise County, it enrolls more than 2,000 students, some of whom are taking advantage of a new state law that affords in-state tuition rates to students from out-of-state regions of Appalachia.

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A photographer from UVA Today spent four days at UVA-Wise recently and documented life at the school. What he found was a welcoming, vibrant community where there were no strangers.

Day One: Wednesday, Sept. 18

UVA wise campus building as the sun comes up

6:25 p.m. Our group arrived at UVA-Wise just as the sun was setting behind the new library on campus. The six-story building was completed in 2016 and is the center of student life at this hilly residential college. When it opened, hundreds of current and former students lined the sidewalks to pass books from the old library to the new one. That teamwork is emblematic of the community feeling we would experience over the next three days.

Day Two: Thursday, Sept 19

Student sitting on her bed working on a tablet

9:15 a.m. Savannah Addair checks her email in her dorm room. This year, UVA-Wise issued every student and faculty member an iPad with a keyboard, helping bridge the computing gap that exists in Appalachia.

UVA Wise professor helping a pottery student

10:41 a.m. Art professor Suzanne Adams-Ramsey instructs students in a ceramics class. UVA-Wise offers majors and minors in art, music and theater, with a wide variety of courses to support these majors.

Students walking in a food court on campus

11:19 a.m. Time for a mid-morning coffee break. In the library, students stop at the Books and Brew coffeeshop to get their Starbucks fix. The tables were full of students studying, hanging out or meeting with professors. 

Four people in a cave looking into a big hole

2:25 p.m.: Geology professor Bob VanGundy takes his students on a field trip deep inside the Earth. A short drive from UVA-Wise, the group descended into a hidden cave at Natural Tunnel State Park. VanGundy and his students are tracking and mapping where streams emerge from the caves. VanGundy remarked that the kind of educational experience he offers is possible only because of Wise’s unique location amid the Appalachian region’s ecological riches.

Students looking at what they caught out of the UVA Wise lake

3:42 p.m. Students in a biology class catch dragonflies at the pond on campus. They’re photographing them and trying to identify as many species as possible.

UVA Wise softball player swinging the bat

4:26 p.m. Athletics is central to the college experience at Wise. The Highland Cavaliers play on six men’s and seven women’s teams. On this afternoon, the UVA-Wise softball team take batting practice on Cavalier Field.

UVA Wise tennis player playing on the court

5:02 p.m. Across the way at the Jim and Betty Humphreys Tennis Complex, Cleve Packer, a freshman from Charlottesville, takes part in drills with his teammates.

Aerial view of the UVA wise football field

6:57 p.m. With all these sports, it takes a dedicated marching band to cheer them on. The Highland Cavalier Marching Band practiced formations on the Beaty-Richmond Field at Carl Smith Stadium for Saturday’s football game.

UVA Wise students roasting marshmellows in a firepit

7:43 p.m. The campus provided a scenic setting for some students to gather next to the pond for a bonfire and some after-dinner s’mores. The higher altitude and chilly evenings in the fall at UVA-Wise make the firepits popular places for students.

Day Three: Friday, Sept 20

UVA wise students stand together after a hike to a lookout tower

7:06 a.m. A group of students wakes up every Friday to watch the sun rise from High Knob Tower, located just the next town over, in Norton. They were all smiles after their ascent.

UVA Wise students siting in a dining hall talking and eating

11:45 a.m. The Smith Dining Commons is humming during the lunch hour. It’s where friends catch up and athletes have team lunches; even Chancellor Donna Price Henry is known to eat there frequently. Here, three students enjoy a lunch break in the middle of their day.

UVA Lacrosse players playing during a practice

2:41 p.m. Afternoons are all about sports practice at UVA-Wise if you’re an athlete. Here, the women’s lacrosse team runs some drills.

Group of students sitting in a lounge talking

4:07 p.m. A group of students meets in the top floor lounge in Commonwealth Hall, one of the dorms, for a study break. At UVA-Wise, it is said that every dorm room has either a water view or a mountain view. It’s true.

Aerial view Buildings on UVA Wises' campus

7:19 p.m. The sun sets on the campus. At UVA-Wise, there are stunning views no matter where you stand. The C. Bascom Slemp Student Center, midground to the right, anchors the hilly campus. Fraternities and sororities feature their letters on the terraced steps to encourage recruitment.

Day Four: Saturday, Sept. 21

UVA Wise fans tailgating
Groups of people talking at UVA wise near the pond


10:20 a.m. UVA-Wise football fans arrive early to tailgate for the game against Mars Hill University. These fans had complete tailgate setups and were cooking a huge lunch. The game day excitement at Wise is fantastic, and these fans had a view of the field from their spot.

10:58 a.m. Back at the pond, UVA-Wise admissions staff held a tailgate for prospective and incoming students and their families. They shared tables with UVA-Wise faculty, staff and students, and then headed to the stadium to experience the game-day excitement.

UVA Wise marching band walking

11:28 a.m. The Highland Cavalier Marching Band leads prospective students and their families to Carl Smith Stadium for the start of the game.

UVA drum major resting on their scepter

11:34 a.m. The reflection of the marching band is seen on this drum major’s mace

UVA Wise football player walking on the field during a game

11:55 a.m. The Highland Cavaliers take the field for the game against Mars Hill University. The stands were full of fans sporting UVA-Wise’s school colors, red and grey.

UVA Wise football team players avoiding a tackle during a game

2:44 p.m. UVA-Wise sophomore Garrett Cropp completes a six-yard touchdown run. The Cavaliers would end up losing the game, but school spirit filled the air.

Media Contact

Sanjay Suchak

Photographer Office of University Communications