Letter to the Community: July Update

Posted on August 13, 2020 by Meredith Woo

Dear Colleagues,

New students began moving in last Wednesday and classes started on August 11. The phased move-in and the new student orientation went smoothly. The success was in no small measure owing to the remarkable campus-wide integration of all stakeholders. It also showcased a novel practice invented by our students, called “COVID Captains.” Along with resident advisors and orientation leaders, these captains are trained and steeped in COVID-19 protocols, tutoring and reminding students on how best to protect themselves and others against the virus.

After extensive discussion with physicians at Centra and the executive team at Quest Diagnostics on testing asymptomatic cases, the College decided not to change the course, and stay with the current symptomatic testing, nestled within the regime that prioritizes physical distancing and facial masks. However, the conversation will continue on the COVID-19 task force, searching for more reliable diagnostic methods coming on line.

The College has created a “dashboard” to inform the community in real-time of active COVID-19 cases. It is on our COVID-19 website. The dashboard is continuously updated as the affected individuals move in and out of isolation or quarantine. We are grateful to Jodi Canfield, Marcia Thom Kaley, the Human Resources team and everyone who is meeting the needs of the quarantined individuals, from the delivery of boxed meals to meeting their learning needs while in isolation.

We reserved Patteson House, and portions of the Elston Inn and Green Village for quarantine and isolation.


Deposits remain close to the 150 goal. It is at 146 this week, and the number continues to fluctuate.

We are now fully engaged with recruiting the Class of 2025. The level of inquiry from prospective students more than doubled from last year. We have seen 140 total applications, of which 48 are completed and submitted. This situation compares favorably with 80 applications last year, of which 11 were completed and submitted.

Visits have picked up. I meet with every prospective student who visits campus, and encourage early application and decision. Faculty have offered virtual classes to prospective students interested in political science, psychology, and history. Similar classes are planned for engineering and archaeology.

Academics, Athletics, Student Life

We are still anticipating 80% retention of the class of 2023, which is built into the FY 2021 budget. This is the highest retention we have had in a decade, with the last peak being 74.6% in 2013.

Although the census will not be reliable for a couple of weeks, we believe 88 of the class of 2022 are here (the class started with 76 last year and we added 12 transfer students). The entire class of 2021, consisting of 60 students, have returned. So, retention overall looks remarkably good.

Dean Garrett has worked with each and every faculty member to determine appropriate modes of delivery for each of the fall courses. She has also accommodated students and their needs, giving some temporary accommodations to learn remotely, others exemptions from the three-week term. Miraculously, Dean Garrett reports no substantial problems (yet!) The reasons for temporary accommodations are legion, including travel restrictions, family situation, and isolation and quarantine. So far, 21 students have been given temporary accommodations, four returning students full semester remote accommodation, and four international students are remote-learning, taking a set of four courses.

Finance, Operations, Auxiliaries

The new medical clinic will be finished by the end of August. A temporary location has been created at Reid Pit, off the lower quad. The clinical service is provided by a unit of Centra Health known as HealthWorks. It began the operation on August 10. The hours are 11 AM to 2 PM this week, and the hours will increase as we get a better feel for student demands. Also available are consultation through telehealth and the services of Centra Amherst Medical Center near campus, and Lynchburg General Hospital.

Horses are back from Vermont, and some are housed in the newly renovated western wing of the two stables. I may not be able to read the horses, but I can read our students – they are thrilled! The overall feel of the renovated stables, and the Bailey Room, is understated and dignified, while being functional. Such a combination can be powerful and even awe-inspiring.

Our crews in grounds keeping, housekeeping, IT, carpenter shop, dining service, and campus security have worked around the clock, often through weekends, to ensure the campus community’s safety. They have installed self-cleaning touchpoints on elevator buttons and door handles, plexiglass protective barriers where needed, and reconfigured labs and classrooms. They have ordered and distributed face masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, face shields, thermometers, and signages – and they have come to work every day, without the option to work from home. We extend our sincere gratitude to them.

Alumnae Relations, Development, and Communications

Even in the summer of COVID-19, the alumnae returned to the College to ready it for the fall. Between July 24 and August 3, 44 alumnae returned in total, working 1,000 hours. They painted all the laundry rooms in Vixen Den, Meta Glass, and Dew. They painted the post office lobby and the hallways that branch off to the book shop and at the request of Cheryl Warnock, faculty in performing arts, the theatre in Babcock. They look magnificent – and I hope you will be able to visit soon. The alumnae also power-washed the train station, sidewalks, and staircases. They stained benches at the riding center, cleaned up the outing cabin, and made a woodpile holder. They also weeded around the quad and elsewhere on campus, and created beautiful flower gardens on the landing of Grammer and the lower quad, outside the book shop. The alumnae who were not comfortable traveling to campus wrote cards for our career services.

Amid hosting the alumnae for the work weeks, the staff of AR & D still ran the analytics and evaluated the results of FY 2020, and developed metrics for its FY 2021 goals. On top of the $5.5 million goal for annual funds, AR & D is focused on increasing engagement and participation of alumnae, friends and supporters; executing the “priority campaign”; building auxiliary revenues; building out a robust corporate and foundation program; and promoting “one sweet briar,” with all stakeholders well-informed and rowing in the same direction.

Hot off the press is the long-awaited alumnae directory, which has been distributed to all alumnae. I have received many calls from grateful alumnae who can now look up the whereabouts of their classmates.

We also had a streak of communications home-runs. Starting with the one-page article on Sweet Briar on the Washington Post, the month of July saw favorable op-eds in Roanoke Times, Richmond Times-Dispatch, and Virginian-Pilot. That accounts for all four most widely circulating papers. These op-eds were also reprinted in various regional and local newspapers.

The communications team continues to collaborate with admissions on the yield campaign, preparing new print materials. It also surveyed the staff and faculty on the efficacy of our internal communications. As the result of this survey, I now know that some 70 percent of you actually read my monthly update, and appreciate it. Thank you.

The chief complaint is the wordiness of my updates: you prefer more bullet points, not paragraphs. Having been a humanities scholar all my professional career, I am still uncomfortable with bullet points, but I promise to try.

New members of the Sweet Briar family

We added four full time visiting faculty this coming year, one full-time faculty member who started in January, and one adjunct faculty. The full-time visitors are in biology and chemistry; engineering; biology and environmental science; and dance. The faculty who started in January is our Lisa Powell, an associate professor of environmental science who also directs the Center for Human and Environmental Sustainability. The adjunct faculty to teach accounting is Gary Canfield, who also helps with our endowment accounting and manages the grounds crew.

The most remarkable feature of the new hires is the growing depth in “sustainability.” Following a sizable investment in agricultural infrastructure, we are now investing in human capital. In addition to the existing faculty like Linda Fink, an entomologist, and Bethany Brinkman, who is an environmental engineer, we have added Lisa Powell, an environmental scientist, Lili Lei, a soil forestry expert, and John Herlihy who is a plant pathologist.

We also added new colleagues in riding (Rachael Fulop), business office (Jenni Sauer, Michael Gott, Rosa Townes), campus safety (Elaine Jackson), registrar’s office (Shanika Johnson), communications (Abigail May, Dana Poleski), human resources (Amber Lawson, Kari Sprouse), athletics (Rebekah Ricksecker, Olivia Walters), and office of the Dean (Sabrina Shelton).

That’s it. July was a good month, but I am glad it is over and we have our students back. I hope you will have a good rest of the week.

Meredith Woo

August 13, 2020