Letter to the Community: January Update

Posted on January 16, 2020 by Meredith Woo

January 16, 2020

Dear members of the Sweet Briar community,

Every month I write a brief memo to the Board of Directors on a few essential areas of the College’s operations: academics, admissions, finance and operations, and development. The viability of Sweet Briar depends in part on how these areas work seamlessly together and perform at the highest level. I want to be sure you are updated as well. So, here is what transpired in December. (And I ask you for forgiveness in advance, for the overly administrative tone of this letter.)


The students have returned to campus – in larger numbers, proportionally, than before. At the end of the fall semester, the total retention figure was 99.7 percent. In the first two weeks of January, the number changed as the decisions were made on academic eligibility. I am happy to report that the new student orientation, held this past Sunday, had eleven new students joining the College, with another eight returning after an absence. Even after accounting for student withdrawals and departures through ineligibility, the College has added students.

The Dean’s Office and Student Life continue to work around the clock to ensure student success. The students on academic warning and probation are required to meet with Jenny Carlos (Student Success Librarian), as well as Teresa Garrett (Dean of the College) and sometimes Marcia Thom-Kaley (Dean of Students). The results show: at the end of Fall 2018, the number of first-year students who were declared ineligible were seven. At the end of Fall 2019, it was down to four. Most felicitously, two students were removed from academic probation, having had a very successful fall semester, with each earning GPAs above 3.0.

The academic unit is gearing up for our spring 2021 reaffirmation by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC). Teresa Garrett and Luther Griffith attended the annual meeting of SACSCOC to begin developing the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which is an essential institutional bell-weather for how serious and smart we are in supporting our students, as well as the Compliance Report.

Sweet Briar’s National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) team finished the fall in 9th place over fences. We are incredibly proud of their accomplishments. Our team’s new season opens on January 30 against South Carolina and South Dakota State. We are targeting equestrians as one of the “low hanging fruits” for recruitment, and it appears we are on track. Thus far, equestrian recruiting is about 30 percent toward the deposit target for fall 2020. An important event for equestrian recruiting is the CPI (College Preparatory Invitational) taking place in West Palm Beach January 17-19.

Athletics and riding are accounting for 63 percent of the current overall deposits.


December’s focus was application generation, completion, and initial yield work through phone and email campaigns. December is traditionally a slow time of year for visitors. But it was also an excellent time to reach out to students, as they spend time discussing college choices with their families. I made a round of calls to the legacy prospects, as well as those interested in Political Science, and plan to get the faculty involved in the coming months in making calls.

The admissions team is concentrating on the upcoming Presidential events and fly-in opportunities, the forthcoming “Apply Now” campaign, which is spearheaded by communications, and packaging students with financial aid offers.

Finance and Operations

The business office completed the A133 audit and it received board approval. Luther Griffith moved the gold that had been bequeathed to us by a donor in 2018 to a dealer for sale. Timber harvesting started in the Dairy Lane to Monument Hill area, and it will take a month to complete. I am pleased to report that deer hunt season is now completed, with 47 deer culled – and above all, without incident. Since we still have too many deer per the State’s wildlife biologists, we will be using an additional permit in the spring for further culling.

We have issued contracts for electrical and mechanical work for the greenhouse to be done over the next two months as it nears completion and the start of operations.

Housing assignments were accomplished, satisfying, mirabile dictu, various constituency interests.

Alumnae Relations, Development, Communication

Just as my tour through 16 cities was completed in December, we opened January with 32 Sweet Briar Days. Many faculty and staff members participated in these events as the heralds of the College, and both alumnae and prospective students enjoyed hearing from them.

The highlights of December include the Day of Giving, which netted $419,000 with 545 donors participating, which is a 35 percent increase over last year. There were a series of announcements on major gifts as well: $5 million (pledged over five years) for presidential scholarships; $3 million (again over five years) to improve and defray the cost of the “leadership” core. Last week saw the announcement for $1 million to renovate the stables in the riding center. I am pleased to say that you can anticipate additional good news in the next week or so.

Alumnae Relations and Development (AR&D) is in the midst of full-court press on several fronts: the “priority campaign” targeting $130 million, our annual fund campaign with a $6 million goal, planned giving, grants, and corporate and foundation relations.

On top of that, AR&D has been leading the admissions “pipelines” effort, focusing on Sweet Briar “legacy” prospects, women leaders through the Girl Scouts, and students interested in sustainable agriculture, who are members for instance, of The Future Farmers of America and/or 4H.

In December, AR&D and communications worked with Lipman Hearne of Chicago on the next stage of brand messaging, with greater emphasis on areas of distinction – engineering, women leadership, and sustainability. The two units also compiled handsome and compelling cases for support for the priority campaign, refreshed the website comprehensively, and of course, released a series of communications on philanthropic success.

I hope you are enjoying the students, as I am. I am teaching Core 300 this semester, and am full of anticipation and trepidation! Now I am off to the unveiling of the new vixen logo!


Meredith Woo