September 2021 Community Update

Posted on October 11, 2021 by Meredith Woo

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to tell you about a plan we’re working on that will guide Sweet Briar’s actions and investments for the next five years (from FY 2022-23 to FY 2027-28). Important preparatory work began in August when a number of faculty members met with the Cabinet for a series of discussions. I have spoken with the entire faculty about the plan at their faculty meetings and I want to share this information with everyone in the Sweet Briar community.

The plan consists of three major elements. The first is to determine how we can amplify and prioritize the College’s endeavors in the following areas: (1) deepening the women’s leadership core curriculum, which brings together the best of our liberal arts education at Sweet Briar, and building connections between leadership taught in the classroom and exercised outside of it; (2) scaling up and distinguishing our engineering program to create a curriculum and philosophy that is both unique and suitable to educate and empower women as engineers; (3) enriching campus life by focusing on the ethics of sustainability, suffusing sustainability throughout curricular and co-curricular programs, as well as extra-curricular activities, and emphasizing the importance of wellness and outdoor life; (4) building ancillary academic programs around the equestrian sport, such as the pre-veterinary, equine-assisted, and summer-camp programs; (5) collaborating with Amherst County and the City of Lynchburg to build a thriving arts and cultural corridor anchored in Sweet Briar and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts (VCCA), the artists’ residency across the road. A committee co-chaired by Dean Teresa Garrett and faculty senate chair Joshua Harris will work with the faculty on this aspect of the plan; the faculty will be meeting later this month and in November for intensive discussion sessions.

Second, the plan will prioritize the College’s infrastructural needs, including energy systems and facilities, to support our educational mission. We have been working with outside consultants for the past year to better understand our options for upgrading and improving our heating and cooling as well as electrical systems; the extent of our deferred maintenance needs; the requirements for historical preservation; and the renovations of Guion, Babcock, Benedict and Pannell. Luther Griffith and Kerry Greenstein will co-chair the committee overseeing this part of the plan. And third, under the purview of a committee co-chaired by Mary Pope Hutson and Lea Harvey, the plan will identify the resources needed to implement these goals and align them with our current Priorities Campaign.

I am chairing the plan’s steering committee, which consists of Teresa Garrett, Luther Griffith and Mary Pope Hutson. The steering committee will oversee the work of the three committees to help mold their ideas into a concrete and actionable 5-year plan, and will work closely with the plan’s drafting team of Jenni Sauer and Kathleen Placidi. We expect to have a draft ready by the end of the calendar year and have the Board of Directors approve the plan in February. I look forward to sharing the final version of the plan with you this spring.

Now let me give you the College updates for the month of September.


Since March of 2020, almost all of our recruiting events had to take place virtually, so we’re excited to have on-campus, in-person events this year. We held an Admissions Open House on September 11 and will offer additional Open Houses on October 23 and November 6. We are hosting an event for high school and independent counselors October 28-29. It is currently filled to capacity at 30; we have started a waiting list. We already have eight people registered for another counselors’ event that will take place in the spring.

We have 78 students scheduled to visit campus in the next 90 days, with 48 people (students and counselors) planning to use the fly-in program for their visits between now and mid-November. The Admissions Instagram account just passed 1,000 followers.

We are currently at 26 deposits; above 10% of our goal of 250. We currently have 41 submitted Early Decision applications; our Early Decision deadlines are November 1 and January 4.

Academics, Student Life, Athletics

We finished the 3-week term on September 8 and are now in the midst of the 12-week term. We’re gearing up for spring registration, with advising to start on October 19, and we’re getting ready to plan for the next academic year.

The community celebrated Founders’ Day (September 17 – 18) with a weekend of activities. We began our Founders’ Day commemorations with Convocation, featuring an address that was both humorous and reflective by Professor Jeff Key, recipient of the GSA Teaching Award; followed by the traditional walk to Monument Hill, accompanied by a bagpiper. That evening we held a community dinner and completed the commemorations of our founders with a candle-lit walk to the Sweet Briar Plantation Burial Ground, which had a great turnout. We rounded out the weekend with the Founders’ Day dance, held outdoors to the enjoyment of more than 300 students and 50 guests.

Families Weekend (October 1-3) had over 240 friends and family joining us for a full slate of festivities including an evening reception on the grounds of Sweet Briar House, an outdoor movie, the cardboard boat regatta, Oktoberfest, and a bonfire with S’mores. I presented an update on the College on Saturday. Throughout the weekend, we all enjoyed brilliant fall days and delicious meals prepared by Meriwether Godsey.

We wrapped up the Weeks of Welcome with a variety of activities with an average attendance of over 40 students per program. This month, Student Life and Career Services respectively hosted Bagel Bashes; we had the fall Step Singing; representatives from local churches and faith groups held a Faith Fair; Outdoor Programs offered a number of events; and Debby Willis Fund (Class of 2011) hosted a series of wellness talks on topics such as improving sleep health, safe sex practices, and healthy behaviors surrounding drugs, alcohol, and prescription medications.

Campus arts and cultural events are off to a terrific start. The contemporary Native American art exhibition, “Native Art Speaks,” was on view in the library’s Vaulted Gallery from September 7-October 5. The gallery’s next show, “Hidden Thunder: Rock Art of the Upper Midwest” by Geri Schrab, will open later this month. The Amherst County Art Society has an exhibition in the Benedict Gallery through December 17. On September 15, we held the first VCCA Salon of the year, featuring writer Christine Fischer Guy and Master printer Susan J. Goldman. On September 22, we held a screening of the documentary, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” which chronicles the work of Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist, social worker, and women’s rights activist; then on the 29th, Ms. Gbowee joined us virtually for a talk and question and answer. And on September 30, the exhibition, “The T-shirt Collection,” by artist, educator, and LGBTQ+ activist Hope Rovelto, opened in the Pannell Gallery. While on campus, Hope Rovelto visited several classes to talk about her life and work; her exhibition is on display through December 14.

We’re enjoying the return to competition this fall of our Vixen athletic and riding teams. Field hockey is off to a roaring start, at 8-2 overall and 3-1 in the conference. Their victories included a thrilling 2-1 overtime win over Bridgewater (I texted my predecessor, Phil Stone, to brag about that one). In riding, our Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) team has competed in two events and earned high point team for the home event, with many riders already qualifying for regional spots. NCEA competition gets underway with a road trip to Delaware State on October 29th. Tennis had its strongest showing ever in the ITA Southeast Regionals with Ruth De Souza advancing to the semifinals in singles play, and the powerhouse doubles team of De Souza and Allison Wandling also advancing to the semifinals. In golf, Amani Narang placed first in the Stevenson Fall Invitational, and team scoring records have fallen in each of their fall outings.

Finance, Operations & Auxiliaries

Although challenged by supply chain shortages caused by COVID, the Book Shop’s September sales were $29,656, up 61% over last year; October sales are also looking great, thanks to the Families Weekend. Hospitality welcomed several outside groups into the Conference Center, and the Elston Inn had many prospective families as well as other guests. Our highway signs are being noticed and are beginning to bring folks onto campus. We continue to upgrade guest room amenities.

Campus Safety now has an emergency two-way digital radio system with enhanced communication capabilities and a side-by-side Emergency Response Vehicle will be on campus shortly, enabling officers to expand their patrol capability on trails and remote areas of campus. Adding to our safety capabilities, we installed additional outside cameras in three more parking lots. Information Technology is in the final steps of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). As the last step of our internet pipes to campus upgrade, we successfully exported all phone numbers to the new Verizon fiber circuit.

Finance and the Business Office worked extensively preparing materials for the full Board and committee meetings. The audit is in the final stages and is scheduled to be completed at the end of October. We met with representatives from S & P Global to review our bond rating and expect to hear good news soon.  Human Resources is currently recruiting for two HR positions, preparing for the upcoming benefits open enrollment period in November, and working with Communications on improvements to the HR website.

Physical Plant completed the insurance renewal for our property and liability policies effective October 1, 2021, with minimal increase. We obtained a 60-day extension on cyber liability as we work with IT to finish implementing MFA, which is now required. We’ll be renovating #3 Woodland (a two-bedroom faculty/staff house) and are planning the refresh of Reid Pit, to include a Multicultural Center in the old radio station offices.

The 2021 honey harvest weighed in at 473 lbs; it has been jarred and is available at the Bookshop and online. Following the harvest of cabernet franc grapes in September, we harvested the cabernet sauvignon grapes on October 5. We are getting ready to complete the installation of hydroponic equipment in the remaining two gravel bays in the greenhouse. Thanks to gifts from the Class of 1976 in honor of their late classmate, Martha “Ookie” Hays Cooper, who was an avid birder, we built a bird observation platform at the north end of the lower lake. We’ve updated the on-campus trail map using GIS and we’ve ordered updated signage for the trails. And, we completed the upgrades to the Riding Center’s courtyard.

Alumnae Relations, Development & Communications

September saw the launch of the Sweet Briar Fund for FY 22. To fully leverage that support, we distributed 250 “toolkits” to all alumnae class leaders and conducted training sessions with them to inspire confidence and provide talking points for their upcoming outreach. We also started working with the anniversary classes to plan Reunion, which will take place June 3-5, 2022.  We helped plan and orchestrate events and activities surrounding Founders’ Day and Donor Recognition Day on September 23, during which the College recognized the support of a special group of donors through a series of dedications of several places on campus. Merlot Tract #1 in the vineyards has been named in honor of Cornelia Long Matson, Class of 1958. At the Harriet Howell Rogers Riding Center, the main stables were named in honor of Howell Lykes Colton, Class of 1938. The new health and wellness center was named in honor of Keenan Colton Kelsey, Class of 1966. And, the chapel was named in honor of Norma Patteson Mills, Class of 1960, and her husband, Olan Mills. Sweet Briar would not be the remarkable college that it is without the generosity of its many alumnae and friends, and I am so grateful for everyone’s support.

AR & D is holding a series of fall alumnae events. The first event was held in Richmond on October 6; upcoming events are in Washington, D. C. on November 8 and in New York City November 10. We dedicated the birding platform in honor of Martha “Ookie” Hays Cooper (class of 1976) on October 9. We continue to work on Priorities Campaign outreach and a mini-campaign focused on planned giving. We’re getting ready for the next Sweet Work Weeks on the weekend of October 16, during which alumnae and friends (and some current students, too) will help with the Reid Pitt refresh by painting areas that will be transformed into student spaces that include the Multicultural Center. We have completed the planning for the visit by the Virginia State Senate Agriculture Committee on October 24 and 25. Finally, we are thrilled to announce that the fundraising for the first phase of the turf field is now completed, thanks to many alumnae gifts and the closing gift from our Board chair, Georgene Vairo.

Communications continues their close collaboration with Admissions on the 2022 recruiting cycle, producing materials ranging from updated brochures and email communications to prospects, to social media messaging though many platforms, including ZeeMee. We’re actively promoting the fly-in program and we just launched this year’s digital marketing campaign to prospective students, which is increasing interest in the College. Communications is completing the fall issue of Sweet Briar magazine, preparing for a refresh of the College’s website and an update to the College’s YouVisit virtual campus tour, and continuing their work on the wayfinding project, which will improve campus signage.

In closing, let me thank you again for everything you do for Sweet Briar. In the meantime, stay well, get a flu shot at the upcoming campus clinic in Prothro on October 20, get a COVID booster shot as soon as you can, and enjoy the delightful fall weather.

Meredith Woo