March Community Update

Posted on April 07, 2021 by Meredith Woo

Dear Colleagues,

Anyone walking or driving along Dairy Road last week would have seen the dramatic sights of creativity in action at the Ceramics Studio. The spring skies were lit up with flame and smoke as visual arts professor Shawn O’Connor and students in his ceramics courses conducted their first ceramics firing in our new wood-fired kiln. About 150 ceramic pieces were loaded in the kiln on March 30 and were fired in a process that lasted from 6 a.m. on April 1 through 10 p.m. on April 2, during which the internal kiln temperature reached 2345°F and 2.5 cords of wood were consumed. Students and Professor O’Connor monitored the firing in teams of two working four-hour shifts around the clock. They checked the kiln’s interior temperature with a digital pyrometer and pyrometric cones that melt at specific temperatures, peered into the red hot kiln through spy holes while wearing protective glasses, and added wood to the fire box as needed. The kiln was unloaded on April 6 and everyone admired the resultant artworks. The students were happy and excited and can’t wait to do it again!

These activities were an amazing opportunity for our students, who were involved in every step of the process, from creating ceramic pieces, to helping construct the kiln, to chopping wood, to loading, firing, and unloading the kiln. It’s just one example of the incredible opportunities for hands-on, immersive learning at Sweet Briar that our students can’t get anywhere else.

Let me now share with you College updates from the month of March.


This month we passed our original goals of 1,130 submitted applications and 862 admits. We set new stretch goals (respectively 1,248 and 951) and are close to achieving them. We hit 150 deposits (last year’s all time high water mark) on April 1 and are making progress toward our stretch goal of 200 deposits.

The Enrollment Task Force has designed a final push strategy of coordinated efforts across campus to impact our student yield – this includes phone calls, letters, postcards, texts, social media, digital advertising, and emails to all of our admitted students who have not yet deposited.

Nearly 100 families participated in either the in-person or virtual Accepted Students Day programs on March 27 and 28, and we’re now planning for the Spring Open House on April 17.

Academics, Student Life, Athletics

We are in the midst of the (virtual) visit by the SACSCOC On-Site Review Committee from April 6-8. Many thanks to Dean Teresa Garrett, her team, and Dawn Gatewood for organizing the visit, and to the members of our QEP committee and the other staff and faculty who are taking part in this vitally important series of meetings. We will receive the On-Site Committee’s report by the end of April.

We are very sorry that Kim Wood, the Registrar, will be moving for dual career reasons, but our incoming registrar, Jay Flynn, will be joining us on Monday, May 3. He’ll have a month of overlap with Kim to allow for a seamless transition.

This is a very busy time of year for the students. The 12-week term ends this week, followed by final exams and the start of the 3-week term on April 13. Registration for the fall is underway and most of the continuing students have registered for classes. We are currently planning the virtual summer session.

Our seniors are receiving excellent news about their post-Sweet Briar plans. Sydney Campbell is accepted into the Ph.D. program in statistics at the University of Virginia. Kendall Nicely will also head to UVA to earn a master’s degree in teaching, while Mary Lizzie Hodges is off to Vanderbilt for a master’s in education. Natalie Carroll is accepted into the master’s program in history at George Mason University. Kelsey Herrity will be going to the University of Connecticut for its master’s program in biostatistics. Katie Balding has a job offer from Foxtail Farm to ride and teach in its young trainer incubation program. December 2020 graduate Abigail Cahill has taken a position as a forestry consultant with Davey Resource Group in northern California, and Sarah Kelley, another December 2020 graduate, has started Duke University’s paralegal program. Congratulations to al!

Many cultural and academic events took place in March. Biology professor John Henry Herlihy presented an informative talk over Zoom, “Coronavirus Vaccines Demystified.” The theatre program presented, “She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms,” a live virtual performance streamed over Zoom on March 11, 12, and 13. The music students live streamed their Spring Recital on March 30, presenting an eclectic program ranging from the student’s own compositions to Western classical pieces and authentic Arabic folk music. Artist Caroline Hardy presented an in-person (socially distanced) talk on her paper kimonos, currently featured along with a selection of Japanese woodblock prints from the College’s permanent collection in the Pannell Gallery exhibition, “From the Land of the Rising Sun.” We rounded out the month with artist, educator, activist, and abolitionist Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, who participated in a talk and Q & A via Zoom, moderated by Bijou Barry ’23, president of the Black Student Alliance.

In Student Life news, we’ve registered over 130 students to receive COVID vaccines. Many thanks to Campus Safety for helping transport students to the vaccination clinic at Amherst County High School. SGA elections are wrapping up. Housing selection for next year is underway and continues throughout April. Lilly DeMerritt, president of the Class of 2024, took Dean Greenstein and Mary Pope Hutson and Claire Griffith of AR & D on a tour of some of the residence halls. They looked at the common spaces in Grammer, Reid and Dew, talked about how students utilize them, and gathered ideas about how students might like to see those spaces used in the future.

On the March 10 day off from classes, Deans Greenstein and Garrett (and Daisy, Dean Garrett’s rambunctious Brittany spaniel) led students on a “Hike with the Deans” along the trails around the Lower Lake. A good time was had by all (especially Daisy, who loves the loving from the students).

Athletics and Riding continue to come on strong, with our students receiving notable success and recognition. Following impressive wins in both singles and doubles competition, sophomore Ruth DeSouza was named the ITA/UTR NCAA Division III Women’s Tennis National Player of the Week. This is the first time a Sweet Briar player has been recognized this way. In more exciting tennis news, the doubles team of Ruth DeSouza and sophomore Allison Wandling upset the nationally ranked doubles team from Washington & Lee.

In Riding, Katie Balding was named an Ariat First Team All-American over fences by the National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA). Junior Britt Larson-Jackson and first-year Emmy Longest were Honorable Mention for All-America; Britt on flat and over fences and Emmy on flat. This announcement marks the first All-America honors for any Vixen since Sweet Briar joined the NCEA.

And Riding earned further kudos. Sweet Briar equestrian won their sixth ODAC championship, and did so while hosting the event at the Harriet Howell Rogers Riding Center. Senior Lily Peterson was recognized as Rider of the Year and Scholar-Rider of the Year. Coach Mimi Wroten was recognized as ODAC Coach of the Year for the fifth time in her career.

Finance, Operations & Auxiliaries

The A133 Single Audit (federal funds) and the final 403(b) Retirement Plan Audits were completed. I am grateful to my colleagues in Human Resources, and the Business and Financial Aid offices for their work on these audits. HR has also been busy posting job positions on Paycom, partnering with Student Life to evaluate RA compensation, and working on Empyrean, the consortium level database for benefits file feeds. The Business office transitioned from TMS to Nelnet’s student payment plans, to make it easier for families to handle their tuition account obligations. Information Technology launched cybersecurity training for faculty, staff, and students. Verizon installed a redundant internet circuit to help with connectivity issues.

The Book Shop has many new Sweet Briar branded products, so if you need another t-shirt or ball cap, it’s time to shop! In Hospitality, the Elston Inn “reopened” to the public on March 15. During Accepted Students weekend (March 26-28), we saw our first full house in over a year! New Elston Inn and Conference Center signs are up along Rt. 29 and 29 Bypass.

Physical Plant is coordinating upgrades to the kitchen in the Wailes Center, overseeing upgrades and repairs to the #5 Woodland Road house, and working with Student Life to finalize the end-of-year student move-out process related to trash disposal and residence hall cleaning. Grounds spent March finishing upgrades to the Gray and Pannell courtyards and getting ready to start the five to seven day spring mowing cycle. Grounds also cleaned up the area around the Greenhouse and fertilized and trimmed all the rose bushes on campus and in the upper vineyard. We are getting ready for the vineyard’s third leaf!

Alumnae Relations, Development & Communications

In March, the communications and marketing team focused on helping Admissions with yield efforts. We’re also seeing good results from the digital advertising campaign and print ads in equestrian magazines. The spring issue of Sweet Briar magazine will hit mailboxes the third week of April and will also be available through the website.

The Alumnae Office continued to coordinate with the Alumnae Alliance and class leaders to drive March Days of Giving. The alumnae and parent volunteers who make up the Admissions Ambassadors continue to support Admissions’ “high touch” yield efforts by contacting more than 700 accepted students who have not yet deposited, as well as reaching out to deposited students to help prevent “summer melt.” Planning for Reunion is underway and over 25 virtual club events are scheduled in April and May.

In fundraising, March Days of Giving (March 1-10) resulted in our alumnae and friends contributing more than $1.8 million in gifts and pledges to help meet the expenses and lost revenue caused by COVID-19. Our contributors also helped us raise more than $86,000 to stabilize and repair the Boathouse and the Outing Cabin. Our alumnae participation rate has now reached 18.5 percent toward our year-end goal of 30 percent, with all classes stepping up to the plate. Campaign pledges are being fulfilled and the total funds received in all categories (unrestricted, restricted, campaign) for March exceeded $3.6 million. For the fiscal year to date, giving totals $9,226,394. With three months to go, we look forward to a very successful end to the fiscal year, even in the midst of the pandemic.

In closing, let me thank you again for all you do for the College. I hope you are enjoying this glorious spring weather, and that, if you haven’t received your COVID vaccination(s) yet, you will very soon.

Meredith Woo