Letter to the Community: February Update

Posted on February 21, 2020 by Meredith Woo

February 12, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

I received good feedback from you on my last update on the College. So, as I write you another one, let me share with you some splendid news about our indomitable class of 2020. Karlynn McCarthy will be joining the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, and Isabelle Joyner, Boeing. McKenna Snyder will be off to the University of Tennessee College of Law, Sophia Dessart to the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, and DaZané Cole to the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. There are but a few examples of our seniors’ marvelous outcomes, and I will share the rest of the good news another time.


Aaron Basko, our new VP for enrollment management, shares that we have 721 submitted applications and 503 admits. In comparison to where we were last year, we are respectively 14% and 17% ahead. We have 36 deposits.

In admissions, January had started our “yield” push to get admitted students to say yes. Admissions and Communications have partnered on a call-to-action blitz, targeting applications that remain incomplete as well as an additional 5,000 late test inquiries we want to convert to applications.

January 26th was the first Presidential Scholarship Competition. Attendance was 18% higher than last year, and feedback from participating students was strong. We received three commitments within 24 hours of the program and are continuing individual follow-up as we prepare to award the scholarships.

The Enrollment team launched individualized financial aid videos for admitted students with aid packages. SBC is first to market with this new tool through our partnership with a consultant, Ruffalo Noel Levitz. We have already received positive responses and will follow by texting/emailing the packages to parents.

Admissions is also engaging influencers. We sent a communication to all of our school counselor contacts introducing Aaron Basko, and highlighting the fly-in program, which continues to attract attention. We received several dozen positive responses, including this reply from a counselor in Vermont:

“I cannot thank you and your generous donor enough for the wonderful opportunity to bring students to campus through the ‘fly in’ program. One of my juniors just registered and she is very excited about her visit later this month. She met with me recently stating that she very much wants a smaller women’s college but did not know where to start.” This counselor added that the student will thrive in a smaller setting such as Sweet Briar’s with its supportive and caring faculty.

Academics, Athletics, Student Life

Last Thursday we had a townhall meeting with students on the farm initiative. Lisa Powell’s class on sustainable agriculture is obviously making an impact. Lisa just joined us in January as the new director of the Center for Human and Environmental Sustainability, and Associate Professor of Environmental Studies. Linda Fink, the Duberg Professor of Ecology, remarked that it was the most student energy she’d seen since 2015. Students were full of interesting ideas – and provocative questions. Assistant Professor August Hardy will be offering a course on the economics of wine. Stay tuned.

We are gearing up for the decadal re-accreditation review, which will occur in 2020-2021. This process is an opportunity to examine ourselves – who we are, what we do, and how well we do what we do. The re-accreditation, with external review committees visiting us at the beginning and the end of the process, will leave no stone unturned in scrutinizing our educational practice. Their focus is to make sure we are academically sound and financially viable, with good governance that is well documented, consistent and transparent.

Teresa Garrett has formed a working group to spearhead the re-accreditation process, with an additional focus on Quality Enhancement Program (QEP), which is a kind of litmus test for how we set important institutional goals and meet them. An effort is also underway to review the mission of the College, by first forming a committee with representation from the board, alumnae, faculty and staff.

Our equestrian program won their first outing over South Dakota State (4-3), and the tennis team is currently ranked 4th in the ODAC preseason poll. The highest we have placed in tennis in recent years was 3rd in 2010, and 5th in 2011. Go team!

Athletics continues to punch above its weight in admissions. 61.5 percent of the current “deposits” are recruited athletes, of whom 62.5 percent are equestrians.

Finally, we have made some small changes that are making a big difference in student life. Following a town hall meeting with students last fall, we now have Houston Bistro open for lunch five days a week. Daisy’s Café expanded its menu to include new deli sandwiches and Boar’s Head hot dogs. Lunchtime paninis returned to Prothro, along with rice bars and waffles. New programming at the FAC includes Due North, cycling, yoga, meditation, fusion dance and kickboxing. Other programs are Sign Language, Cooking with Cate, and a RAD (rape and defense) class.

Alumnae Relations, Development, Communications

Alumnae Relations and Development (AR & D) collaborates closely with Communications and Admissions, holding a weekly joint meeting to ensure Admissions is fully supported. It works hand and glove with Finance, as it accounts for a large portion of our revenue, and with Buildings and Grounds as it courts donors interested in supporting building projects, and philanthropic foundations that support historic preservation and agricultural initiatives. (Please note the recent press release on the collaboration between Sweet Briar and the American Farmland Trust, which was spearheaded by AR & D.) It also collaborates with the academic side of the house to bring in institutional grants, and it helped Athletics launch the new and fiercer Vixen logo. The reception to the new – additional – logo has been extremely positive.

The bread and butter, however, is fundraising. Thirty-two Sweet Briar days were completed in January with great success; our upcoming Reunion registration is posted and promoted; and collaboration continues with the Alumnae Alliance to increase both participation and dollars for all classes.

We also have launched the campaign, Sweet Briar Leads, which is currently in the “silent phase.” It is a campaign like no other, focusing squarely on the priority areas that will propel Sweet Briar toward greater excellence. On the heels of the December announcements of gifts for the Presidential Scholars, as well as the Leadership Core, January saw the announcement for the naming of two stables in the equestrian center. We have had a number of alumnae step forward to support the agricultural initiatives, and we expect to make an announcement of these gifts before long.

In January, Mary Pope Hutson and I travelled to New Orleans, Mobile, Jacksonville, Savannah, San Francisco and Denver to visit with alumnae and donors, and I hosted a number of donor luncheons and dinners at Sweet Briar House. We are working closely with lead and major gift donors, and track our own progress by meeting regularly with the campaign advisory committee.


With the audit of FY2019 out of the way – a clean audit with no material weaknesses – the finance team is hard at work with the main task of the season, which is the budget. The conversion to Banner 9 had delayed the financial reporting but we are in the process of recasting the budget for FY2020, which will bring us some savings; building the budget for FY2021; as well as producing a medium-term forecast. In the coming weeks, Luther Griffith, VP for Finance, Operations and Auxiliaries, will be working closely with all budget managers in the College to produce a budget that is smart and effective, allowing us to invest in promising areas and curtail expenses that spread us too thinly.

The greenhouse will be completed by the end of the month. Nathan Kluger, our Director of Agricultural Enterprises, has been working on a business plan for the greenhouse, with input from students, faculty and staff. We have formed an advisory board consisting of national experts on greenhouse production, purchasers of green produce, and members of co-ops and other food hubs. The plan for renovating two stables in the riding center is progressing apace, with bids and designs coming in.

Speaking of infrastructural projects, if you have not been in Pannell recently, please go visit. You will note the change – it has a new wood floor in the foyer leading up to the gallery. It serves as a pleasant entry to a great exhibit of silkscreen prints by Josef Albers, a series called “Interaction of Colors.” We are one of the only places with a complete set of the prints.

Please treat yourself to the mesmerizing play of shapes and colors, in preparation for the spring!

Meredith Woo
Sweet Briar College

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