April 2022 Community Update

Posted on May 10, 2022 by Meredith Woo

Dear Colleagues,

The three-week spring semester session ended this week, to be followed by final exams, days honoring our seniors, and Commencement on Saturday, May 14. You are all busy with the preparations for these events, and look forward, as I do, to congratulating the Class of 2022 for their achievements.

The Sweet Briar Board of Directors met on Friday, May 6. At the meeting, the Board approved the College’s five-year strategic plan, “Our Sustainable Future,” and the FY23 preliminary operations and capital budget. On Friday evening, we announced the naming of The Kelley and C. T. Fitzpatrick Center for Creativity, Design and the Arts, and we heard the premiere of Professor Josh Harris’ composition, May Day Suite 2022, commissioned for the occasion in Kelley’s honor and performed by violinist and Sweet Briar faculty member Kay Rooney, accompanied by Josh.

The Board also decided it would hold the upcoming elections for board officers during its July meeting. Georgene Vairo stepped down as the chair of the Board and Vice-chair Mason Bennett Rummel ’83 has stepped up to preside over the Board and shepherd the election process.

Georgene Vairo led the Sweet Briar Board of Directors for the last seven years, first as secretary, then as vice-chair, and since 2018, as chair. Her wise and able guidance helped enable Sweet Briar’s transition from an institution recovering from a closure attempt to one that is stable, thriving, and nationally recognized for its innovative programs. In recognition and appreciation of her service, the Board approved a resolution in Georgene’s honor—a most fitting tribute. As president, I benefitted from Georgene’s leadership and her friendship. I ask all of you to join me and the Board in thanking Georgene Vairo for her extraordinary efforts on behalf of Sweet Briar.

Let me share with you other College updates for the month of April.


As of May 9, we have 182 total deposits: 151 first-year domestic students, 16 international students, and 15 transfer students. We will continue to actively and intentionally recruit students until the start of the school in August, and work to prevent deposit melt (a concern on a national scale). We are confident that the number of deposits will continue to grow.

The preliminary profile of the incoming class is as follows. The average GPA of the first-year domestic students is 3.7, compared with 3.67 last year, and 71 percent of the class is comprised of Presidential and Dean’s Scholars. The fact that so many of the deposits come from the top two tiers of recruited students bodes well for their “fit” with Sweet Briar and their likelihood of being retained. The first-year deposits hail from 29 states (with Virginia, Maryland, Texas, California, Delaware, Georgia, and New York being the most represented) and from several foreign countries. The transfer students are coming to Sweet Briar from both community colleges and four-year institutions.

Academics, Student Life, Athletics

Two of our courses in the three-week session boldly took students to Europe; they were the College’s first study abroad courses since the onset of the pandemic. Professor Susannah Nevison’s class, The Writer Abroad, was at Moulin à Nef, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts’ residence in Auvillar, France.  Professor Kimberly Morse Jones’ class, Nineteenth-Century European Art, visited museums and other sites in London and Paris.

In another first since the pandemic, we held our academic recognition dinner to recognize students who were named to the First-Year Honors List and the Dean’s List and to award the 2022 Presidential Medal to Annika Kuleba.

The month’s art and culture events began with the Spring Dance Concert. Mills Chapel resounded with music, as Daisy’s Harp Ensemble held their spring concert, “Get in the Groove,” the music students gave recitals, and cellist Julia Goudimova and pianist Anna Billias presented the concert, “Anima e Grazia - From Vienna with Love.” Tania L. Yager, founder and creative director of Twisted Heart Puppetworks, and Rebecca Morgan Frank, poet and cofounder and editor of Memorious, discussed their work with the community at the VCCA Salon. The Aura Curiatlas Physical Theatre performed “Dream Logic” and “The Fool & The World,” as the final event of this year’s Babcock Season.  “Out of the Blue,” the Studio Art Senior Exhibition, opened in the Benedict Gallery and runs through May 14.

We sponsored a professional development lunch for faculty and staff on “Whiteness and Anti-Racism: Fostering Belonging and Inclusion,” with speaker Dr. LeeRay Costa. Afterwards, Dr. Costa conducted a workshop with faculty and staff on “Gender Identity and Expression on a Diverse and Inclusive Campus.”

We held a follow-up community meeting for further discussion of the results of the Campus Climate Study.

We are pushing on with registration for the fall semester and are working on onboarding all incoming students. Student Life completed the housing assignment process and selected the Orientation Leaders.

The students conducted SGA elections for the coming year. Many seniors played the Senior Scroll Game to celebrate the outcomes of their job and graduate school applications. Other student activities included the Spring Fling, End Procrastination, and a Take Back the Night Walk, where one of our students shared their story of sexual assault and its impact. After two years of pandemic-altered events, Lantern Bearing returned to its traditional walk.

We recognized Sustainability Week with a full spate of events and programs, the highlight of which was the Earth Day community lunch.

We held the Student Involvement Recognition Ceremony to recognize Sweet Briar’s multifaceted values: leadership, a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and community service. The awards also included categories for faculty and staff advisors, student supporters, best club events, and club and organization of the year.

We held the first annual Leap into Leadership Conference for rising student leaders. I gave the keynote address, followed by a variety of panels led by faculty and staff. Let me share with you some representative student feedback from the event: “Leadership looks different than I thought it did, and I’m more capable than I expected” and “The event was filled with guidance and encouragement. It helped me understand myself and helped me gain confidence for my next academic year and my future career after Sweet Briar.”

In Athletics and Riding news, lacrosse had its best season since 2015. They missed out on making the Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAC) playoffs by just one goal, but many of its players were named to All-CSAC teams.

After advancing to the ODAC Championships, tennis fell to No. 1 seeded Washington & Lee. It was the close of a phenomenal tennis season that featured dominating 9-0 routs over most of their competitors. Other season highlights included the breaking of five program records and both Ruth de Souza and Allison Wandling hitting 100 career wins.

The Sweet Briar IHSA team, the Zone 4 Reserve Champions, rode to its best finish at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) National Championship, finishing third as a team. Emmy Longest became the team’s first-ever individual champion at nationals, winning the individual open flat competition.

The NCEA riding team was runner-up to University of Lynchburg at the NCEA Single Discipline National Championship finals in Ocala, Florida.

Athletics and AR&D hosted the groundbreaking ceremony for Thayer Field.  It was a wonderful day celebrating the future of field sports and the contributions of our alumnae and friends, most notably, Mildred “Bee” Thayer Newman ’61.  If you missed the celebration, you can watch the video of the event here: https://vixensportsnetwork.com/?B=387083.

Finance, Operations & Auxiliaries

The Book Shop has been busy with graduation regalia rentals and purchases, sales of diploma frames and class rings, and stocking up for Reunion weekend. Hospitality placed microwaves/refrigerators in most of the Inn’s rooms. The Conference Center hosted three weddings, three birthday parties, and numerous outside groups, including the visiting movie crew.

Campus Safety “Call of the Month” recognition went to Officer Andrew Hill, who took apart a drain to assist a student whose class ring fell off in the sink. They found the ring and the student is happy! It’s an example of how much our officers do to fulfill their motto “To Serve and Protect.” An outside Emergency Planner began a review of our Emergency Management Plan.

Finance/Business Office worked on the FY23 preliminary operating budget for approval by the Board, and worked with BDO’s tax department to finalize our 2020 990 tax return. The FY21 federal funds single audit was completed in good standing and presented to the Board’s audit committee. Student Accounts reached out to all graduating students with balances due, assisted with the 2021 annual report on the College’s HEERF grants, and coordinated in turning over defaulted Perkins loan files for 38 students to the Department of Education.

Information Technology continued to create mysbc accounts for all incoming students. They also audited phone lines, developed plans to replace network switches in Guion, joined selected computers lab to the domain utilizing roaming profile, tested the WealthEngine Banner data feed, and worked with Registrar and Marist on a compilation of the e-transcript project.

Physical Plant completed the Babcock Lobby refresh. They painted the Reid parlors and are working on the flooring, which they expect to complete in June. They coordinated with Student Life to plan trash removal and cleaning for residence halls, and worked with Sweet Work Week volunteers to paint the second floor of Patteson House. Progress continues on the Student Commons lower quad project: the knee wall is completed with a capstone, the turf installation is underway, the trench drains are installed and garden areas are being planted.

Projects/Agriculture spent considerable time in the vineyards, pruning, selecting and tying canes, and trunk stripping. Our own grounds staff will be mowing the vineyards this season. The vines survived the winter in great shape and are showing significant spring growth; hopefully any frost danger is now behind us. The apiary also stood the test of winter; survival was high, yielding 20 producing hives to start the spring.  If Mother Nature cooperates, we should have another banner honey harvest this year.

The greenhouse contractor was on campus to replace the roof and resolve the leaks issue. With the repair completed, we are in full sprint to plant the whole hydroponic area. The nursery area is on target for full finish channel occupancy by mid-May, and 10-foot-high tomato plants, as well as cucumbers and peppers, are flourishing in the Dutch Bucket system.

The assessments of the boathouse foundation and the upper and lower dams are completed; we are currently awaiting quotations on the recommended repairs.

The finishing touches have been put on the reclamation of the softball field; dugouts, the batting cage, and the bullpens have been upgraded. Grounds employees have planted 25 new trees and shrubs, including a new Centennial Newman Fletcher Oak in front of Fletcher Hall. It replaces the previous tree, which had unfortunately become diseased.

Alumnae Relations, Development & Communications

The alumnae’s continued confidence in the College is evidenced by reaching a total of $6.3 million in unrestricted operating gifts by the end of April. Sixty-six percent of our 635 major donor prospects have now made gifts and our fundraising team will be following up with visits and outreach to solicit additional contributions before the end of the fiscal year. We are working with the class leaders to encourage gifts from all alumnae and to drive participation up to thirty percent. We have also raised significant Campaign funds this year, including $1.2 million in restricted gifts, $900,000 in endowment gifts, and $3.3 million in capital gifts for the turf field and the residence hall refurbishments (the latter project turbo-charged by $2.1 million from the Class of 1972).

We are meeting with foundations and other donors about Sweet Briar’s historic preservation projects, equestrian activities, and Campaign priorities, and are working with Senator Warner’s office on a congressional earmark for agriculture. We completed a review of the gift acceptance policies and the Campaign counting guidelines, which now await Board approval.

We continue to develop activities to encourage alumnae engagement. As the pandemic wanes and social gatherings are on the upswing, alumnae are participating in Admissions yield events in key geographic areas and alumnae clubs in various cities are holding events. We are planning Sweet Work Weeks and eagerly anticipate Reunion in June. Special events hosted on campus, in addition to the Board meeting, included the groundbreaking for the new turf field, the meeting of the Preservation Task Force, and the board meeting of the Friends of Art.

Work by Communications encompassed a wide array of admissions marketing efforts to drive deposits. They managed the website redesign process, produced the spring issue of Sweet Briar magazine, and started implementing phase one of the “Wayfinding” project, which will result in new and improved campus signage. They also reviewed this year’s data analytics in preparation for launching next year’s communications and marketing strategy for admissions.

In closing, thank you again for all you do on behalf of Sweet Briar. I hope you can get outside and enjoy the spring!

Meredith Wo0