April Community Update

Posted on May 12, 2021 by Meredith Woo

Dear Colleagues,

I want to thank all of you for your patience and good humor as we endured last week’s 48-hour (!) power outage during one of the busiest times of the academic year. I also want to give a special salute to Campus Safety and Physical Plant for the help and support they gave our community during the power outage, and to Grounds for cleaning up all the debris left by the storm.

But we’re a pretty tenacious and resilient bunch! Although Mother Nature complicated our arrangements, we held a proper send-off for the Class of 2021. The full range of Senior Week events culminated in Saturday’s Commencement, where we honored the achievements of our graduates, who have now joined the ranks of the College’s alumnae.

We have other accomplishments to celebrate, too! Our Vixen tennis players are a force of nature in their own right, and reached the ODAC finals for the first time in the program’s history, finishing as the ODAC runner-up to Washington & Lee on Sunday and ranked No. 15 in the Atlantic South Region by the NCAA. The dynamic doubles duo of Ruth de Souza and Allison Wandling won their ODAC final match 8-2 and we hope they will now be going to the NCAA Nationals.

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


We arrived at 190 deposits on May 1, which surpasses our goal of 180. This marks a 50 percent increase over deposits at this time in 2020, and a 70 percent increase from 2019. Admissions and Financial Aid added 53 admits in the month of April, which is high volume for this time of year, and exceeds our stretch goal by 3 percent.

Outreach and communication are already underway for fall 2022. We have launched our junior search campaign with Underscore to a pool of 101,000 prospective juniors and sophomores. Enrollment and Communications are partnering to market spring campus visits through digital advertising, newspaper ads, social media, and traditional channels.

I want to congratulate the Admissions team, along with the other departments and volunteers who have been working with them all year, on this excellent result. This is one of those times when a number is more than just a number – 190 deposits means that our mission to educate women leaders is resonating with students and their parents, and our recruiting success will also speak volumes with our alumnae and other friends and donors.

Academics, Student Life, Athletics:

Students participated in the Spring Fling, the Student Involvement Recognition awards, and other events; and seniors presented their capstone projects and enjoyed Senior Week festivities. Nine students were inducted into Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society. Classes for the three-week term ended May 3, final exams were on May 4, and the 112th Commencement was on May 8, in which 67 Sweet Briar women (62 undergraduates and 5 graduate students) received their respective Bachelor’s and Master of Teaching degrees. We also initiated six seniors into Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious academic honor society, and held the awards ceremony for the Class of 2021.

Members of the graduating class, as well as returning students, have exciting plans in store. Emma Hines ’21 will be working as a remote transcriber and intern with Insight Physicians. Caroline Potts ’21 is off to Scotland for a master’s in medieval history at the University of St. Andrews. In engineering student news, Sophia Keniston will be part of a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at MIT, Elizabeth Martin will intern at Southern Nuclear Company, Zelda Vasquez Ramirez will intern at GLAD, and Iris Wiliams will intern at TC Scott Incorporated. Ten students (Allison Wandling, Annika Kuleba, Ciara Kocik, Ellisa Garcia, Emma Leaseburg, Mary Katherine Baker, Ruth De Souza, Sarah Mihelic, Veronica Nelson, and Victoria Kaciuba) will conduct independent research projects in Sweet Briar’s Honors Summer Research Program (Annika and Emma are co-sponsored by fellowships from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges). Thanks to a generous grant from the Willits Foundation, Bijou Barry, Danielle Saunders, Ella Leichty, June Alomari, Kate Kotany, and Lily Terwilliger will comprise the inaugural class of the Willits Food Systems Fellows Summer Program. Jacquelyn Vari will intern at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts with the support of the College’s Friends of Art, and Erin Bell Nelson and Emma Winn will be interning in the Admissions Office, with support from an anonymous donor. Altogether, more than 30 students will be staying on campus this summer while engaged in research, classes, or jobs. Congratulations to all!

The housing lottery is completed and all returning students are assigned housing for next year. However, their end-of-semester move out took place during the power outage, which meant no air conditioning or elevators. Power outages and move outs each have their own challenges, and this was the first time we had to manage both simultaneously!

Dean of Student Life Kerry Greenstein, along with Luther Griffith, Jodi Canfield, and other members of Sweet Briar’s team, met with HealthWorks, our partner in the campus Health Center, to discuss the center’s future needs and ways to ensure our students are provided with the best possible health care. One topic under consideration is the creation of a more effective and streamlined process for the students’ medical records.

Onboarding for new students continues. We’ve mailed first-year advising materials to the incoming students in preparation for Zoom sessions this summer with their faculty advisors. New students will participate through Canvas in a summer activity planned around the 21/22 Common Read, Braiding Switchgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, with help from current students and faculty. We’re busy planning Orientation to welcome the class of 2025. We’ve selected our Student Orientation Leaders, and held their kickoff meeting. More than 50 people have signed up for our remote summer courses – there is still time to register and classes are open to current and new students, as well as alumnae.

Many events enlivened and enriched campus life in April. The Senior Art Majors Exhibit, featuring works by Nora Florio and Lily Peterson, opened April 5. The dance students showcased their own choreography in filmed dances for the Spring Dance Concert on April 15 and 16, and Orange Grove Dance performed the innovative site-specific dance, Still Standing, on campus on May 1. We celebrated April 22, Earth Day, with a week’s worth of engaging educational and social events co-organized by student organizations and the academic program, capped off by an outdoor dinner with live music on the 22nd.  One of the highlights of Earth Week was the April 19 dialogue and Q & A with Elizabeth Kolbert, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Sixth Extinction, selected for this year’s Common Read. On April 20, we enjoyed a conversation and Q & A with composer Ellen Reid, whose opera p r i s m earned the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2019. So, over a two-day period, we featured talks with two Pulitzer Prize winners – how many colleges can say that?

Athletics and Riding have had a phenomenal year!  As the tennis team reached historic heights, the Vixen equestrians ended an incredible season by capturing the first ever National Collegiate Equestrian Association Single Discipline National Championship. It also makes me proud to say that Sweet Briar’s Vixens are true scholar-athletes, like Katie Balding, who earned the College’s top athletic honor as recipient of the Crysler Award. Katie, along with fellow riders Lily Peterson and Britt Larson-Jackson, received NCEA All Academic Honors, and 15 riders were named by the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association as recipients of the IHSA National All-Academic Award. Five Vixens (Britt Larson-Jackson, Ingrid Kalwitz Blanco, Kaytee Reynolds, Ruth de Souza, and Kate Kotany) were named Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholars. Annika Kuleba was named the ODAC Golf Sportswoman of the Year.

Finance, Operations & Auxiliaries

Finance and the Business Office worked on preliminary FY22 capital and operating budgets for the May Board meeting, coordinated with other departments to collect student accounts, and distributed more than $136,000 from the second phase of the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) to eligible students, with one-third of the recipients opting to apply the funds to their bill.

Campus Safety worked with Amherst County to coordinate appointments and transportation for the students to receive COVID vaccinations and they helped students and their families with the move out.

Auxiliary Services are starting to recover from the COVID-induced curtailment of travel and special programs, as we all look forward to a return to normalcy. Hospitality hosted prospective students and their families at the Inn, conducted site tours for event bookings in summer and fall 2021, and communicated with 2021 summer camp directors on current COVID guidelines. We will be welcoming tennis, volleyball, engineering, and two soccer camps to campus from early June through late July. The Book Shop has had big increases in both online and in-person sales. Check out their new inventory and get yourself some Sweet Briar swag!

Information Technology completed Banner eTranscript, which will provide a better level of student service, and continued to rollout cybersecurity training for employees and students. Various technology projects and upgrades continue, and IT supported the live streams during Commencement.

Physical Plant completed the Wailes Kitchen renovation project, in conjunction with Cathy Mays and with input from Meriwether Godsey, and their work on the #5 Woodland residence is almost finished. Dew residence hall will get its fire alarms upgraded, with an anticipated mid-June completion date.

Work began on the new roof and other exterior stabilization for the Boathouse, and the Outing Cabin’s new roof was installed. The Grounds team is working on many landscape improvements and they made certain that the campus looked its best for Commencement. We are starting the plans for this summer’s honey harvest, and we hope that our vineyards, now in their third growing season (or “leaf”) will escape any frost damage.

Alumnae Relations, Development & Communications

The Communications office promotes the College at every turn – they work behind the scenes with the press, design materials for prospective students and donors, photograph events, and prepare videos – and they’ve risen to new challenges during the pandemic. I am delighted to announce that Communications won three Collegiate Advertising Awards for their work: the “Close to Home” ads, placed in magazines and newspapers across Virginia last summer, received a gold award. The new Vixen logo also won a gold award, and the Viewbook, which showcases the College to prospective students, won a silver award. Congratulations!

The Alumnae Relations and Development Office focused their April activities on significant outreach to alumnae clubs and regional groups around America by holding 27 events that engaged over 250 alumnae. From April through June, the Alumnae Relations Office and all of our team will continue to work on recruitment of students in the areas of legacies, engage parents, and actively greet and entertain families when they tour the campus. Reunion for the classes of 0’s and 5’s and 1’s and 6’s will now be held on July 22 – 25, to enable in-person events with fewer restrictions. We are requiring that alumnae will either have been vaccinated or take a COVID test and present negative results prior to arrival.

Fundraising activities continue to reach a stretch goal of $7.75 million dollars in unrestricted funds. We are currently at $6.3 million in gifts and pledges. Our goal is to increase the current 20 percent participation rate to 30 percent by June 30, by adding another 1,200 donors. (Last year’s participation rate was 24.5 percent, the highest since 2016.)

We are in close touch with policy makers to follow up on CARES Act funding, and we are planning for local, state and federal officials to visit campus this summer. Priorities Campaign planning and cultivation continues with meetings and visits planned for the summer and fall.

In closing, let me thank you again for all you do for the College. I know we’re all looking forward to the summer.

Meredith Woo