Grant to bolster Sweet Briar’s environmental programs

Posted on February 01, 2016 by Monica Dean

Emily Dallas Emily Dallas ’16 calibrates an array of light sensors for her senior research project on Sweet Briar College’s campus. Photo by Tom O’Halloran.

The family advisors of the Judith Haskell Brewer Fund of The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia have awarded Sweet Briar College a two-part gift for its environmental science program and community garden.

The grant provides first, a $500,000 outright gift over three years, and second, a $500,000 one-to-one challenge grant to be matched by other College donors, which will result in a $1.5 million gift. The grant will be used for equipment, faculty support and endowment for program operations.

“This grant speaks to one of the most pressing questions of our time: How can we protect and preserve our planet — given the challenges it faces from a changing climate, endangered resources and a soaring population — and learn to live sustainably?” said Sweet Briar president Phillip C. Stone in announcing the grant. “We believe education can help us find the answers, because solving these complex problems will require trained and informed leaders. This grant will help us train the next generation of women scientists who will be environmental and conservation leaders.”

Sweet Briar College has had a long and successful history of educating women in the sciences. Environmental science students have a unique asset at their disposal: the living laboratory of an environmentally and ecologically diverse 3,250-acre campus, which contains woods, lakes, streams, pools, nature sanctuaries, meadows and mountainsides, as well as many types of wildlife. This landscape is incorporated into many aspects of the environmental science curriculum.

Verena Joerger ’15 Verena Joerger ’15 and Tom O’Halloran adjust instruments at the top of the LARS tower. Aerial photography by Rob Alexander.

Sweet Briar offers a Bachelor of Science in environmental science and a Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies as well as a minor in environmental science. Both degree programs are highly interdisciplinary, grounded in the wide range of fields relevant to environmental science and studies, including ecology, chemistry, earth science, mathematics, economics and policy. Courses are taught with a contextual awareness of the social, ethical, historical, scientific and technological issues that affect environmental problems.

The programs emphasize hands-on experience, research and internships.  Majors have successfully presented results of their research at national and regional meetings of professional societies such as the American Geophysical Union; others have held internships with organizations including the National Audubon Society, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

One important project that will be supported by the grant is the Sweet Briar College Land-Atmosphere Research Station (SBC-LARS), the research facility founded by former Sweet Briar assistant professor Tom O’Halloran. SBC-LARS consists of a 120-foot research tower and an adjacent laboratory shed for the collection and analysis of atmospheric data, located in one of Sweet Briar’s forests.

The station is currently active with research in collaboration between Virginia Tech and Sweet Briar. SBC-LARS offers our students the unique opportunity to learn about and conduct original research in areas of air quality, meteorology and forestry — all fields in which women are underrepresented.

The grant also will provide $50,000 to revitalize Sweet Briar’s community garden. The 0.75-acre garden, originally founded in 2002, will become a place where students, faculty and staff come together to explore “garden-to-table” food production and will contribute to the sustainability efforts of the campus community.