December 2022 Community Update

Happy New Year! I hope your holidays were filled with cheer and companionship and that the sub-zero weather that blanketed the country did not wreak havoc with your plans.

Posted on January 19, 2023 by Lathan Goumas

Dear Colleagues,

Happy New Year! I hope your holidays were filled with cheer and companionship and that the sub-zero weather that blanketed the country did not wreak havoc with your plans. I enjoyed hosting you at Sweet Briar House for a holiday “Jingle and Mingle” before most of us scattered for the break. But not everyone was off over the entire period. I want to express my gratitude to those employees in departments ranging from Alumnae Relations and Development to the Riding Center and from Campus Safety to Physical Plant, Projects, and Agriculture for their dedication and hard work during this time.

The students returned to campus and classes for the 12-week term began on January 9. Seven new students have joined us this semester—one domestic first-year, four international first-years, and two transfers. We welcome them to our community!

Our target date to go “live” with the College’s new website is January 25. Our consultants, White Whale, who are designing the website’s architecture, and Foxhall, who are helping us develop content, are closely collaborating with the website task force and with faculty and staff from across the campus as we work together to prepare for the launch. I know that this has been a time-consuming project for all involved, and I want to thank everyone for their contributions to it. The resultant website will be terrific!

Let me share with you other College updates for December.


As of January 9, 688 domestic first-year students have submitted applications and 556 of them have been accepted. We have 66 first-year deposits (64 domestic and 2 international).

Prior to the semester break, we offered admitted students a special opportunity to file their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and learn of their complete financial aid award before December 25. We also offered any prospect who applied by December 22 the ability to learn of their admission decision and merit award by the 25th. We sent call-to-action emails to move prospects to apply and admitted students to deposit.

On December 2, 28 guidance counselors and independent educational consultants from six states (CT, FL, GA, MD, NY, OH) attended our Coffee with Counselors virtual event. Professor Jon Bender made a presentation on the engineering program.

We hosted the year’s first Scholar’s Event for admitted presidential and dean’s candidates on December 10. Twenty-eight students and their families attended the day’s presentations and activities (including a reception for dean’s scholars at the Deanery and for presidential scholars at Sweet Briar House), and each student received a certificate in recognition of her academic excellence.  We invited presidential and dean’s scholars, as well as other qualified students, to join the Honors program; to date, 42 admitted students have asked to reserve their spot.

By the end of December, we had received 18 applications from admitted students for the performing arts scholarships in dance, music, and theatre. Most of the applicants were qualified and were offered the scholarship. We also received 13 Wyllie Engineering scholarship applications from admitted students, have made three awards, and continue to review candidates. Both scholarship programs will have another application deadline before the end of January.

Academics, Student Life and Athletics

Students wrapped up the semester by registering for spring classes, finishing their coursework, and taking their final exams. They relieved their end-of semester and exam stress by participating in the End Procrastination event and Scream Night, and by joining Student Life staff for “Breakfast for Dinner,” featuring food, snacks, and holiday crafting such as decorating your own gingerbread house. The Dean’s Office helped everyone get through this busy time by hosting a donut bash (yummy!) and a holiday party.

Across the campus, students shared their achievements with the community. Daisy’s Harp held a concert. Engineering students showcased their design projects at the Engineering Design Expo in the Guion lobby. The Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) students presented their research in action projects. Budding playwrights Gracie Applewhite, Arin Armistead, Ashanti Brown, Mia Curling, Avery Lewis, Margaret Lewis, Sachiko Nopala, Bri Rabassa, Damarys Rodrigues, and Maddie Williams held readings of their plays at the Sweet Briar New Play Festival 2022 in the Pannell Gallery. Bri Rabassa presented her senior show, “Beautiful Lesson,” in the Black Box Theatre in Babcock.

We presented a teach-in with Mitra Rash about the protests in Iran. Studio art professor Shawn O’Connor received the Best in Show award at the Fifteenth Annual Cup Show: Form and Function, held at the Amelia Gallery at Gulf Coast State College, Panama City, Florida.  As part of our series Sweet Talks, biology professor Megan Kobiela presented “Toxic Tales: Integrative Ecotoxicology in Insects.”

Students and community members enjoyed a wide variety of holiday events. The Student Government Association (SGA) and the Riding Council put on the annual tree lighting ceremony, where carols, hot chocolate, cider, cookies, and the sight of our fabulous Sweet Briar horses decked out in antlers and holiday decorations were enjoyed by all. The Sweet Tones presented their winter concert, and Christmas Vespers were held in Mills Chapel, which was beautifully decorated by the first-year students. The international students held a holiday celebration, and the Bum Chums hosted their annual holiday Bum Bazaar with the proceeds benefitting The Meredith Haga Foundation and Hill City Pride.

We recognized and celebrated Disability Advocacy and Inclusion Week with a number of events, including a film screening, an ASL Language and Culture Table, and a Spoonie Challenge, which invites you to see what it takes to get through a day with a chronic illness.

Student Life interviewed candidates and selected Grace Brittain, Kate Campbell and June Alomari to serve as the 2023 Orientation Coordinators. Residence Life checked students out and closed the buildings for the break.

In Athletics, the swim team wound down the semester with a meet at Randolph Macon.

We will be expanding our cross country program to include indoor and outdoor track and field. This will become effective in Fall 2023 and we are currently in the midst of a search for a coach. The track and field team will utilize Amherst County High School for practices.

After a thorough and rigorous testing process, our new turf field, Thayer Field, was certified for quality by the International Federation for Hockey.

Director of Sports Medicine Devon Serrano has been selected to travel with the United States Paralympic Alpine Ski Team to their World Championships in Espot, Spain, and serve on the athletic training staff. The event takes place January 15-30. Congratulations Devon!

The Riding Program held the Elite Equestrian clinic and the Riding Council hosted its winter in-house show benefitting Miriam’s House.

Finance, Operations and Auxiliaries

The Bookshop ended the year with $37,698 in December sales, up 13 percent over last December.  The junior class ordered their class rings, which will be presented at the Junior Banquet in March. Hospitality hosted holiday gatherings for outside groups and supported the Scholar’s Event. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources brought their team to campus for training, with meetings in Wailes and housing in the Inn. Work has begun on housing arrangements for summer programs.

Campus Safety Officers patrolled the campus and kept the community safe and secure over the holidays. Officer Jack Morris retired, and Officer Olivia Couch joined the team.

Finance/Business Office supported Alumnae Relations and Development with the numerous fundraising deposits and stock gifts that poured in at the end of the calendar year and worked closely with Student Life on a policy regarding meal accommodation requests. They completed and filed the annual tax-exempt bond compliance report, and prepared an initial analysis regarding the setting of FY24 tuition and fee rates, working toward approval at the January board meeting. They generated and mailed spring semester student invoices, sent Nelnet payment plan invitations to all students, uploaded student meal plans to Transact, and continued to work with students on clearing account balances and releasing holds.

Information Technology created an archived version of the current website to be used by authorized users after the new website goes live. They installed 2022 tax forms on the Evisions server for Finance to test and added KnowBe4 PhisheER to our cybersecurity toolbox to quickly identify and respond to user-reported malicious messages. IT installed a new rack containing a new chassis and four new Dell Blade servers to replace the old virtual server infrastructure, updated the Stellic nightly file feed to include student holds, worked with Ellucian and Stellic on the implementation of Ellucian Ethos integration, and helped AR&D with restructuring campaigns in Banner and a revised gift tracking system. They created new student accounts, uploaded spring courses to Canvas, and enhanced our streaming services with additional equipment and classroom multimedia functionalities and tools.

We will soon have an Amazon package locker located by the Post Office and Bookshop, which will give our community 24/7 access to Amazon-purchased deliveries.

During the semester break, Physical Plant and Projects and Agriculture responded to water, power, and heat issues caused by the extremely cold weather. We appreciate our colleagues’ work during the holidays to keep the campus safe and warm!

We completed the rehabilitation of the Woodland Road sewer lift station with the installation of a second pump, new circuit board, and a text alert message system. We repaired a steam leak in the Library’s mechanical room, started repairs on the Prothro Kitchen boiler lines and steam kettle leaks (we are waiting on parts for final pump repair), and began the installation of a new instant hot water supply system for Grammer and Reid that will replace the old 500-gallon holding tank.

We also replaced approximately 50 fire extinguishers with expired dates, readied trucks and equipment for the winter season, and completed the initial preparatory work for a lighting upgrade in Babcock that will begin in mid-January. We installed a temporary “permanent” 110-volt electrical feed at Thayer Field to provide power to the sidewalk lights.

We have completed the owner inspections of our dams on the upper and lower lakes.

We are pruning and weeding the vineyards to prepare them for the 2023 season.

Alumnae Relations and Development

For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, in-person Sweet Briar Days are taking place around the country from early December through early February. The Alumnae Relations and Development Office began the successful implementation of 30 events in different cities that are bringing together alumnae and friends to reconnect with one another, hear College updates, and plan future in-person events for this spring and summer.

AR&D has been working with me, the Dean’s Office, and various faculty members to design additional lifelong learning activities following the 2023 reunion and to pilot what will be the beginning of a summer arts and music festival. Initial plans are underway and we hope to announce them by early March.

As we work toward the $5.25 million unrestricted goal for the Sweet Briar Fund in support of the College’s operating budget, the AR&D team maintained their cultivation of and reach out to alumnae and friends.  They continued to meet with lead donors during the quiet phase of the campaign and also held a successful meeting in Richmond with government officials from the Commonwealth and federal agencies working in higher education, the arts, historic preservation and agriculture. Representatives from both U.S. senators’ offices attended, as well as officers from important foundations in the Richmond area.

Outreach to all alumnae continued through the distribution of Sweet Briar Magazine and the December issue of the Briar Wire.

In closing, I want to thank you for everything you do for Sweet Briar, and for your good wishes and support regarding my announcement about the presidential transition. I’ll keep you up to date on the search process.

Meredith Woo