May Community Update

Posted on June 08, 2021 by Meredith Woo

Dear Colleagues,

With Commencement for the Class of 2021 behind us, the campus has been rather quiet. But not for long: later this week, we will welcome members of the Class of 2020 back to the College for a belated in-person Senior Week celebration. They were unable to celebrate together last spring and their commencement was held virtually in October. But their time has now come and we’re looking forward to welcoming the 2020s back “home” and raising a glass in their honor.

As you know, in accordance with the latest guidelines from the CDC and the Governor of Virginia’s office, we announced last week that community members who are fully vaccinated no longer have to socially distance or wear masks while on campus – it’s been great to see everyone’s faces again. And as discussed in my email of June 7, we are requiring all students and employees to be fully vaccinated (with accommodations for those with religious and medical exemptions) by August 1. With our community’s health protected, we look forward to a safe and successful 2021/22 academic year.

Let me share with you some College updates for the month of May.


The deposits for Fall 2021 stand at 211 (as of June 8). Admissions continues to recruit new students and is partnering with Student Life to hold the number and prevent summer melt.  We have also begun to recruit the next cohort of incoming students. The 2022 fall application is now open.

As people across the country start traveling again, we have relaunched our “fly-in” program to bring prospective students to campus. We’re using all communication platforms (digital advertising, newspaper ads, social media, and traditional channels) to increase visit traffic during the summer.

Academics, Student Life, Athletics

Our online summer session started on May 24 and runs through July 2. The seven course offerings include four Leadership Core courses (Women & Gender in the World, Sustainable Systems, STEM in Society, and Decisions in a Data-Driven World) as well as Financial Accounting, First Amendment and Hate Speech, and Women and Art. The majority of the enrollees are continuing students, but incoming students, perspectives, and alumnae are also taking the courses.

Academic advising for incoming students is starting in June.  Students will register during their advising session and receive their schedules in mid-July. We are engaging the new students early, from advising and registration to the activities planned around the 21/22 Common Read, Braiding Sweetgrass.

This semester we have conducted faculty searches for Biology, Chemistry, Education, Engineering and Math, as well as a Director of Galleries/Museum and a Technical Services librarian. Some are completed and others are ongoing. These searches are time-consuming and I want to thank everyone for helping to ensure we hire the best candidates we possibly can.

We have over 30 students living on campus this summer. Most are involved in Honors Summer Research, but others have jobs on campus, internships, or just can’t leave for home due to personal reasons. With the help of a COVID relief grant from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC), we are also supporting three international students who were unable to go home this summer because of travel restrictions.

We are currently assigning housing to first-year students, finalizing orientation schedules, engaging new students with virtual programming and revising and updating the Student Handbook and other policies.

In Athletics, the big news was in tennis. The tennis doubles team of Allison Wandling and Ruth de Souza competed at the NCAA Division III Tournament in Chattanooga, Tennessee on May 28, with some members of the Sweet Briar community there to cheer them on. They played a great match but lost to St. Thomas (MN) 7-5; 6-3. Congratulations to Allison and Ruth for a terrific season, a 21-2 record, and for making the first appearance by a Sweet Briar doubles team at the NCAA Division III Women’s Tennis Doubles Championship since 1990!

Finance, Operations & Auxiliaries

The Elston Inn was open for Commencement and it hosted the first wedding of 2021, all while meeting the COVID restrictions in place. Commencement also brought in a great deal of much-appreciated “foot traffic” to the Book Shop, which is now gearing up for Reunion in July and the return of students in August, with new branded merchandise.

The Finance/Business Office presented the preliminary budget for FY22 to the Board for approval, completed and filed the 990PF tax return for 2020, and finished the interim audit tasks for FY21.

The kitchen at the Prothro dining hall is getting renovated with the upgrade of the kitchen’s dry storage, including new LED lights and painting. Gutters were replaced at the Elston Inn. The fire alarm panel is being upgraded in Dew and the ADA conversion of a shower, toilet, and sink is underway on Dew’s second floor.

Many capital projects and improvements are ongoing, such as the stabilization of the Outing Cabin and Boathouse, which will continue for two months. The vineyards are thriving and the harvest is under contract with Pippin Hill Vineyards. Work continues on the hydroponics buildout in the greenhouse, and contracts were issued for the final courtyard work at the Riding Center.

Alumnae Relations, Development & Communications

Reunion is on in July for twenty-two class years ending in 0’s and 5’s and 1’s and 6’s, and will consist of in-person and virtual components. Later this summer we will have an alumnae college featuring lectures from Sweet Briar faculty. The College is also planning for our seventh annual Sweet Work Week, from July 25 – August 1. This year, we’ll have a special focus on touching up the paint in the seven residence halls our volunteers worked on three years ago. You will see me wielding a paintbrush with them!

We have already exceeded our FY21 fundraising goals, with $5,825,196 raised to date in unrestricted funds and $1,726,329 in restricted funds, including grants for COVID relief. As we approach the end of the fiscal year on June 30, we remain focused on raising even more unrestricted funds to help offset the financial impacts of COVID, and increasing alumnae participation, which is currently at 21.2 percent. We aspire to 30 percent.

The Priorities Campaign cultivation continues. I have started to travel again, as have Mary Pope Hutson and other gift officers.  Mary Pope and I just returned from a series of visits in Texas. AR & D has established a turf field fundraising committee, comprised of alumnae field sports athletes who served on the fundraising committee for the Fitness and Athletics Center in the last campaign. They will help solicit major gifts and reach out to other donors after the lead gifts are secured. This summer, we are also planning campus visits from elected officials and their staffs; we continue to work on the endowed funds project to gain flexibility in their use; and the Preservation Task Force will be meeting to discuss the next steps for a campus landscape study.

Communications spent most of the month working with Admissions to finish this year’s recruiting cycle and begin planning the next one. They are reviewing all materials and marketing strategies, and will look over data analytics for social media, web traffic and all indicators that influence admissions and fundraising. Additional projects include working on the Briar Wire and other publications, as well as podcasts, reunion videos, and the digital media campaign for student recruitment and Sweet Briar “brand” awareness. Communications is also working on “wayfinding” for Sweet Briar, to determine appropriate signage on campus to help direct our internal community and visitors.

Finally, in closing, let me thank you again for your many contributions to Sweet Briar. I know that many of you are taking vacation prior to the end of the fiscal year. I hope you enjoy your days off and return to Sweet Briar refreshed and reenergized!

Meredith Woo