December 2021 Community Update

Posted on January 14, 2022 by Meredith Woo

Dear Colleagues,

I hope you all had a joyful holiday. I’m excited by the prospect of what we can accomplish together for Sweet Briar this year.  I am pleased to note at the outset that on January 1 the College’s contribution to employee retirement benefits went up from 2 to 4 percent. Be sure to check your first pay stub of the year in Paycom.

The year started with a storm that deposited more than five inches of snow at Sweet Briar. It complicated everyone’s return to campus after the break. Essential employees came in to cover operations such as removing snow, cleaning, caring for the horses, running the cashier’s window, and conducting COVID testing at the clinic; other employees worked remotely from home (if they had electricity!). I’m grateful for everyone’s efforts that day.

As you know, all employees and students are asked to provide evidence of a negative COVID test within 48 hours of returning to campus and to get a booster shot. We are offering testing to community members at the clinic, as it’s not always easy to find testing options. These precautions will enable learning and living at Sweet Briar to be as normal as possible in the midst of the pandemic; thank you for following them.

The twelve-week term of the spring semester began on January 11, with eight new students joining our community. Three of them are first-years (two of whom are from Bangladesh) and five are transfers.

Some students chose not to return. At the fall census on September 27, we had 451 undergraduate women. By January 10, we had 411 students. Our official spring census will take place on January 25; we expect some more attrition as we settle into the spring semester.

Much of this attrition is because first-year students comprise a large percentage of our student body, and it is usually in the first year that attrition takes place. The causes of departure are varied: COVID, academic performance, economic pressures, and mental health issues. On the last point, it is worth noting the Surgeon General’s concern that young people today face a mental health crisis as the result of prolonged pandemic-related isolation and school interruptions. Many are also less well-equipped academically and socially, having spent their last two years of high school taking classes remotely from home. We will continue to support our students amid challenges, and stay focused to ensure that all our students thrive and continue their education at Sweet Briar.

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


As of January 10, total applications are ahead of last year’s (1,068 vs. 1,053) and deposits are also ahead (94 vs. 83). However, the number of admitted students are lower (592 vs. 656) and we will try to move this number up.

Early Decision has helped generate deposits. The Early Action initiative with the December 5 deadline produced 60 applications; 33 of these students were offered admission and six have deposited so far. We are considering offering a second Early Action deadline.

To date, we have sent out 250 complete financial aid awards, compared to 200 at this time last year. These awards are key to yield. We also launched targeted marketing messages about three scholarships:  Wiley Engineering Scholarships and Dance Scholarships, each of which are renewable for four years, and the Girl Scout Gold Awards, a one-year scholarship.

Campus visits remain critical to our recruiting efforts. Due to the impending storm, we are forced to go virtual for the January 17 Open House event, but we will still hold the event in person on February 5.  Scholars Day events will take place on Saturday, January 22, and on Monday, February 21. They are for admitted seniors who have received the Presidential or Dean’s merit awards, given to those with the highest levels of academic achievement.

Academics, Student Life, Athletics

As we approached the last day of classes on December 14, the students enjoyed Sweet Briar holiday traditions, such as the tree lighting ceremony and the Vespers Service in Mills Chapel. They also enjoyed the End Procrastination event and the late night “breakfast” during finals, which are also favorite end-of-semester activities.

We are working with students who had not wrapped up their registration to finalize their schedules. Before classes began, we held an orientation for our eight new students, capped by a welcome dinner for them and their families on January 7.

We also welcomed seven new part-time faculty members (Mirgen Shametaj in Archaeology and Ancient Studies, Jill Lord in Art History, Larvail Jones in Education, McCormick Templeman in English and Creative Writing, Sally Eckhoff and Claire Stankus in Studio Art, and Loretta Wittman in Theatre); and one full time faculty member (Quill Camp in Theatre). Anna Johnson joins the Registrar’s Office as registrar specialist.

January 8 was faculty development day, in which the faculty worked on solidifying and affirming the student learning outcomes of our general education program (the Leadership Core), and discussed approaches to managing the students’ mental health needs, as well as their own.

We have planned events and activities for the Martin Luther King Day of Service. The semester’s cultural events kick off with the exhibition in the Benedict Gallery of student artwork from two fall photography classes (VART 109: Smartphone Photography and VART 117: Intro to Digital Photography).

In swimming, Acadia ElzHowe continued her record-breaking season by establishing a new school and pool record in the 1500-meter freestyle. Swimming also ended the semester with a solid victory over Hollins. Swimming has four more meets in January with the ODAC championships in February.

In field hockey, Brynna Hughes was named the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Rookie of the Year, and Avery Jones was named to the All ECAC team.

In riding, our IHSA and NCEA teams will be training at the start of the semester, with competitions beginning in February.

Finance, Operations & Auxiliaries

Finance/Business Office mailed the initial spring semester student invoices and provided support to families financing their payments, and the Book Shop enlarged its “health and beauty” section with more essential items for student needs. With the upcoming spring Junior Banquet, 52 juniors have purchased a class ring. The Elston Inn saw an increase in occupancy for the Christmas season over previous years. Several groups hosted parties and dinners at the Wailes Conference Center, enjoying its holiday decor and working fireplaces.

Campus Safety kept the campus secure over the break. Congratulations to Officers Spradley and Giambrone for completing the one-week special Crisis Intervention Team training to help our responses to on-campus mental health emergencies.

Information Technology updated the software on the Byte fridge in Daisy’s Café, the micro-market is now operational 24/7. They are also updating the ID card database, working with the registrar on the e-transcript project, and creating new email accounts for incoming spring 2022 and fall 2022 students.

Physical Plant staff is renovating the Babcock lobby to make it more welcoming and functional. They have thus far demolished the ceiling, wall carpet, and the old ticket box office.  The rehabilitation of 3 Woodland Road is finished and the boathouse refresh is now complete with the installation of the three backordered windows. We are replacing the light fixtures in the Riding Center arena. The Prothro Kitchen was painted over the break, and we will install its new LED light fixtures this month.

Several dangerous and/or dead trees were taken down over the break and the boxwoods at Sweet Briar House and the Wailes Conference Center were treated and fertilized. The buildout of the remaining greenhouse hydroponic equipment is ongoing, with completion expected by mid-February, including the half bay for the Bato Bucket vine crop system.

Alumnae Relations, Development & Communications

After holding three of the Sweet Briar Days events in person, we postponed the remaining twenty-two due to COVID. In the meantime, I provided a virtual update on the College (a “national” Sweet Briar Day) for the alumnae on January 8. Other future events include additional Sweet Briar Days, Sweet Work Weeks in March and July, in-person events for accepted students in March and/or April, and Reunion in June. There may be lifelong learning opportunities for alumnae this summer, such as lectures and enrichment events on campus as well as travel programs.

The results from Giving Tuesday (Nov. 30, 2021) are as follows:  $190,000 from 507 donors, the largest number of Giving Tuesday donors we’ve had. Our planned giving outreach included a letter from me as well as additional materials, asking alumnae to join the Williams Associates by including Sweet Briar in their estate plans. It has so far resulted in 28 new bequest intentions, with more arriving each week. Giving in December exceeded $3,000,000 from unrestricted, restricted, and campaign gifts, as well as bequests and gifts to the endowment.

Currently, unrestricted cash in hand is $3,304,236 toward the $5 million goal. Our work over the next two months will focus on encouraging alumnae classes and other friends of the College to contribute during the March Days of Giving, with the goal of raising at least $1 million more in unrestricted gifts.

Communications has selected the website design firm, White Whale, to assess our website. In addition to producing admissions messaging, Communications worked on alumnae outreach, including a podcast “present” (the podcast series packaged together), holiday videos, and two issues of the Briar Wire.

Finally, in closing, I wish you success in fulfilling your New Year’s resolutions. Thanks again for your many contributions to Sweet Briar.

Meredith Woo