September 2022 at Sweet Briar

Posted on October 12, 2022 by Meredith Woo

Dear Colleagues,

We are midway through the 12-week term; fall break starts this Friday and academic advising for the spring semester begins the following week.

One of the highlights of the term is our annual Founders’ Weekend celebration. It’s one of my favorite events in the academic calendar, not just for the pomp and majesty lent by donning our academic robes and hearing the skirl of the bagpipes, but because of what the celebration means. It is a time when we reflect upon the history of the College and honor the people who made this place what it is today. We think of the Monacan Indian Nation, and how the acres we now steward are part of their ancestral homeland; we think of the Fletcher and Williams families; we think of the many people, enslaved and later free, who built a plantation and then a college, and we think of the alumnae, employees, students, and friends who joined together to save Sweet Briar in 2015, giving it a new beginning. You can read more about Founders’ Day weekend, below.

Let me share with you additional College updates for September.


We held our first Fall Open House on September 10. Our second Fall Open House was this past weekend. These weekends help us generate domestic submitted applications and convert applicants to admitted students, which is our top priority.

Messaging for the first Early Decision deadline of November 1 is in full motion.

October 15 is the first deadline for admitted students to apply for performing arts (dance, music, theatre) scholarships; the second deadline is November 30. We are encouraging interested admitted students to apply for the Wyllie Engineering scholarships; the application deadline is November 1.

Our invitations to qualified admitted students to join the Honors Program will launch in October (last year we didn’t start this process until March).

We just hosted our second virtual “Sip and Chat” with high school and independent counselors; our topic was the performing arts at Sweet Briar and 20 counselors participated.

Academics, Student Life and Athletics

The ABET visit by the site review accreditation team was a success; while the official news will not be received until August 2023, the visit identified no concerns. Many thanks to Michelle Gervasio, Bryan Kuhr, T.C. Scott, and Jon Bender, along with all of those who met with the site review team!

Engineering held the annual cardboard boat regatta. There were more opportunities for waterproofing the teams’ boats this year, which led to more floating and less sinking!

Students in Professor Betty Skeen’s Creative in Dance course presented a performance of their original work, “Kenopsia,” for which they created a movement score, a found sound composition, costumes, and the set.

The art installation, “Erasure, Visibility, and Resilience – Justice,” by Valeria Tatera, opened in the Pannell Gallery. It is made of 2,000 ribbons and addresses the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2 Spirits, seeking to make their lives visible beyond the statistics.

We hosted the first VCCA Salon of the year, featuring talks by two current VCCA fellows: poet and essayist, JoAnn Balingit, and Reece Camp Cater, a mixed media artist.

May Jeong, a reporter with Vanity Fair, presented a talk and Q & A on her reporting in Afghanistan and her current book project, which examines inequality in America through the prism of sex work.

Theatre professor Quill Camp was featured in an article in Playbill, announcing his role as co-book writer, with Dan Rothenberg, of the Broadway-bound musical, Harold and the Purple Crayon, with music by Ryan and Jack Met of the indie pop rock band AJR.

Art studio professor Shawn O’Connor recently exhibited his work at the Southern Miss Ceramics National at the University of Southern Mississippi. Psychology professor Ashlyn Brady-Lusk presented a conference paper on gender differences in sexual experiences at the Love Consortium in Durham, NC.

English professor Molly Boggs’ review of Charles Dickens and the Properties of Fiction: The Lodger World was published in Victorian Studies. Biology and Environmental Science professor Lili Lei was the lead author on an article in Environments and a co-author, with Sweet Briar 2022 graduate Emma Leaseburg and Biology professor Linda Fink, of an article in Agrochemicals. Education instructor Amelie Smucker published an article in the International Journal of Inclusive Education.

September features many opportunities for students to engage with Sweet Briar’s rich traditions. First-year students hung their class banner in Prothro Dining Hall and received their “big sister,” a junior student who serves as their mentor. First years and sophomores participated in the rock and hitching post fight, a paint war between classes in which they defend their campus landmark. All classes enjoyed fall step singing.

Student leaders prepared their clubs and organizations for the academic year, revising their constitutions, filling open board positions, and connecting with their faculty/staff advisors. This year, Sweet Briar has 28 recognized student clubs, in additional to five multicultural communities and seven committees under the Student Government Association. The Inter-Club Council (ICC) hosted a Tap Club Spirit Week to encourage dialogue between upper class students and first years about Sweet Briar’s tap club culture. Student Life also hosted its first Service Saturday, an opportunity for students to engage in community service efforts with non-profits in the local community.

The entire Sweet Briar community celebrated Founders’ Weekend on September 16-17.  During the Founders’ Day Convocation, Adreana Sanchez-Catzin ’25 shared a message of reflection and gratitude to the College’s founders and Theatre professor Cheryl Warnock, recipient of the SGA Teaching Award, delighted and inspired the community by encouraging us to exceed our comfort zone. Community members participated in a walk to the Plantation Burial Ground and Monument Hill. The weekend ended with the Founders’ Weekend Dance, inspired by the Netflix hit show Bridgerton; over 375 students and guests attended the elegant evening.

Our current international students met with new, first year international students to support their adjustment to life in the U.S. and college. We hosted a Community Resource Fair to raise awareness of the multicultural restaurants and underrepresented communities, services, businesses and religious organizations in the greater Amherst and Lynchburg area. With the easing of pandemic travel restrictions, we relaunched study abroad efforts. We held our first annual Passport Day, where members of the Lynchburg County Clerk’s office came to campus and processed 12 students’ passport applications, and we held a Global Engagement Fair, where students could learn about various study abroad opportunities.

We kicked off the Heritage Celebration Series this fall with Hispanic Heritage Month featuring Delegate Elizabeth Guzman presenting a talk on her journey from Peru to the Virginia House of Delegates, a Latin Dance Workshop, DACA student discussion and immigration resources, and more. This fall we will also celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month, Native American and Indigenous Heritage Weeks, International Education Week, and Disability Advocacy and Inclusion Week.

September highlights from Athletics and Riding included a 3-2 victory by the soccer team over ODAC rival Hollins. In tennis, at the ITA Division III Women’s Southeast Regional Championships at Mary Washington, Sweet Briar advanced to play on the final day of the tournament for the second straight year. The doubles team of Maria Caro/Nikhita Simhambhatla went 3-0 to become champions of the Blue D bracket; while Sofia Andrade/Ana Patino and Ruth de Souza/Allison Wandling advanced to the Round of 16 in doubles play. In singles play, Isabela Guilarte advanced to the final of the Blue B bracket, and Ruth de Souza reached the quarterfinals.

Softball held its first intercollegiate scrimmage at Liberty University, scoring one run on the Division I team. Swimming opened its season at the Guilford College Invite, finishing third out of seven teams.

In Riding, the IHSA team won High Point team in its season opener at the William & Mary show at Willow Pond Farm. Riding also held their fall in-house horse show and hosted the Bedford Hunt.

The first field hockey game on the new Thayer Field will be October 15 against Wilson College. I hope you will be joining us on Saturday, October 29, as we hold the ribbon cutting for Thayer Field and Meyer Field followed by a celebratory luncheon. If you’re planning to attend the lunch, please click here to register.  Three of our teams will be competing at home that day: field hockey at 11 a.m. on Thayer Field, soccer at 3 p.m. on Meyer Field, and swimming at 5:30 p.m. Come watch the games and cheer our Vixens to victory!

Finance, Operations and Auxiliaries

The Book Shop was busy with the first Fall Open House and Founders’ Weekend, with over $31,000 in sales. We debuted our new “Sweet Briar College Farm” logo on our honey, with more products to come featuring it. The Inn and Conference Center hosted multiple groups for meetings, two multi-day conferences, several internal workshops, and the admissions open house.

Three officers completed their Campus Security Officer Training, required for all campus security officers in Virginia; four officers attended training on recognizing stalking and keeping our students safe. Campus Safety completed the Clery Report and posted it on the website. A Department of Homeland Security representative visited to conduct a crime prevention assessment of the campus, which will assist with future grant funding.

The Finance/Business Office continued with the FY22 year-end audit tasks; audit procedures and review will continue into October before the Audit Committee meeting on Oct. 20. The FY23 budget was approved and loaded to Banner; comparative worksheets were distributed to senior staff and budget managers.

Human Resources set up an online Title IX training module for all employees, organized a flu shot clinic for October 18, and is readying the open enrollment period for benefits elections from November 1–6.

Information Technology added a secondary VPN tunnel from Sweet Briar to Marist College, set up load balancing on the internet circuits, and replaced the current firewalls—resulting in a 400% increase in internet throughput, resolving the network bottleneck issue. IT set up new computer furniture and computers in the Guion computer lab, installed large-screen menus and information displays in Daisy’s Café, and installed televisions in Meta Glass and Reid Pit. They are also working with the Office of the Registrar and Stellic on implementing workflows.

Physical Plant completed the renewal of all insurance policies, excluding ELL, with policy dates of Oct. 1, 2022 – Sept. 30, 2023. With support from a grant from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC), they started the installation of a new set of steps that will connect the Upper Meta Glass parking lot to the Lower Meta Glass parking lot, relieving parking spot congestion. They have also initiated monthly meetings with Student Life and SGA to talk about issues and better serve our students. They completed work on water heaters at Green Village, and finished the annual inspections and testing of all campus elevators.

Projects/Agriculture completed the work on Daisy’s Cafe, Reid Pit, and Meta Glass student commons spaces; they reopened for use on Sept. 30. Many thanks again to the Class of 1972 for funding these marvelous improvements to student life spaces!  The turf field project is 95% complete, with some final dress grading, hydro-seeding, sod, electrical termination and testing left to finish. We completed the repairs to the boathouse pylons.

We are in the planning phase for the boiler and associated equipment automation that will facilitate isolating steam leaks and increased energy savings.

The grape harvest is complete and produced better than expected yields, almost double the weight in each varietal. The hay harvest is done, with the switchgrass harvest to be finished in the next three weeks.

Alumnae Relations and Development and Communications

During Founders’ Weekend, members of the Alumnae Alliance Council and other alumnae leaders joined the AR & D team on campus for a leadership conference featuring training and engagement activities. These in-person sessions followed online sessions with reunion class leaders and all class fund agents. These activities encourage giving to the Sweet Briar Fund and overall engagement with the College.

Whenever possible, AR & D plans alumnae events around our athletic events. So far this fall, the tennis team was hosted for dinner by the Fredericksburg Club and the IHSA Riding team was provided with snacks by our Williamsburg alumnae.

We have submitted proposals for over $600,000 in grants. We continue to plan for the public launch of the priorities campaign through training sessions and preparation of companion materials necessary for the broad scale rollout. In the current fiscal year, we have raised over $900,000 in gifts and pledges and confirmed several campaign gifts for Guion and the stewardship of the vineyards. Mary Pope Hutson and I have been making visits around the country to talk to donors about the priorities campaign.

We have been busy with invites for the former Board members to attend the meetings on October 28 and 29, and are excited to have current and former Board members, the Turf Committee and other alumnae athletes here for the ribbon cutting of the turf and soccer fields on October 29.

We are also happy to welcome Calli Arida, who will join us as Advancement and Stewardship Manager on October 17.

Communications is developing content for the alumnae magazine and shifting responsibility for that project to AR & D.  Along with a website task force, Communications is working with White Whale and Foxhall on the new website. They are also creating templates in Canva to allow community members to design signs, posters, graphics and more to publicize campus events and activities, and they continue to tout the news about Sweet Briar’s inclusion on US News and World Report’s Most Innovative and Social Mobility lists.

In closing, thanks again for everything you do for Sweet Briar.

Meredith Woo