Sweet Briar Year End Community Update

Posted on January 12, 2021 by Meredith Woo

Happy New Year! I hope you and your families had a joyous, restful, and safe holiday season, and that you enjoyed your semester break. I want to give a special shout out to those of you who worked during the break in order to keep the college’s operations moving – many thanks to employees in campus safety, HR payroll, and to some of the folks in the business office and in alumnae relations and development, for your efforts and your time.

Now I want to share with you some updates for the month of December.


The total number of submitted applications stands at over 900, with over 600 students admitted. We had 219 applications in December and have now surpassed the total number of submitted applications from all of last year. Seventeen students took advantage of our early commitment initiative and deposited by January 4th, bringing the total to over 90 deposits. Sweet Briar was highlighted positively in two articles in Forbes on the effect of the pandemic on admissions offices.

We continue to improve each step of the Admissions funnel, as we move prospectives from inquiries, to applicants, to admits, to deposits. We are reaching out to the various prospective student pipelines (such as Riding, Sustainability, Engineering, Legacies, and more), with an improved communications flow, new website landing pages for pipeline groups, and increased tracking of website traffic. We are encouraging prospective students to visit, in person and virtually. We currently have 71 students already registered for the Sweet Briar Scholars virtual event on January 30, which is a marvelous opportunity to showcase our people, programs, and campus to our highest quality recruits – the presidential and dean’s scholars – and get them to deposit.

Academics, Athletics, Student Life

One of the highest priorities for Teresa Garrett and her team is the college’s reaccreditation. They are assembling the SACSCOC Focused Report, in reply to the off-site SACS committee’s response to the Compliance Certification Report we submitted in September 2020. The Focused Report, along with our Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP, which centers on enhancing student leadership development through the Core curriculum and co-curricular activities), must be submitted by February 22. Our on-site committee review will take place virtually on April 6 and 7.

Spring classes for the 12-week term began yesterday. Returning students came back to campus this weekend and we are pleased to welcome nine new students to Sweet Briar, who had a mini-orientation on Friday and Saturday. To ensure a safe resumption of campus learning and living, we required each student to provide the result of a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than five days before her return to campus. Dean Garrett worked with Jodi Canfield to be sure that all students had the ability to get tested and to provide those who tested positive with the support they need, such as remote learning accommodations until they are symptom free and can return to campus.

Due to the pandemic and the necessity of limiting travel, the spring calendar was adjusted to sprinkle five days across the semester when no classes will be held, instead of having a traditional week-long spring break. The first of these “no class” days is January 18, Martin Luther King Day. The Dean’s Office and Student Life are planning for a celebratory and practical day of service, with various service activities for students to participate in, capped off by an evening event in honor of Dr. King.

We are making progress in filling critical positions in the academic program and in Student Life. Our new Director of Library Services, Lore Guilmartin, and our new Residence Life Manager, Nakia Johnson, have just started their respective positions. Please join me in welcoming them to Sweet Briar! We are wrapping up the search for the new Dean of Student Life and hope to announce this hire in the next few weeks.

Athletics and Riding continue to come on strong. To date, students with these interests have contributed 58% of the deposits. Competitions are still on for the spring with the first soccer game occurring on February 21st. Please go to vixenathletics.com for the composite schedule. And you can tune in to interviews with the coaches on the fall practice seasons and future goals for their programs by at vixenathletics.com. Currently. Lizzie Fisch (IHSA), Rebekah Ricksecker (Cross Country), and Meredith Newman (Lacrosse) are featured.

Finance, Operations & Auxiliaries

The highlight of December was receiving (in record time – only 20 days after submitting the proposal!) a CARES Act COVID-19 relief grant of $787,450 from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). Funds from the grant will reimburse the College for pandemic expenditures ranging from the costs of the new health clinic, to IT technology and equipment upgrades, to the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), and more.

Other significant projects included generating all the student bills in the middle of December and the draft completion of the single audit of federal awards, which will be complete in February. Jenni Sauer spearheaded the effort to renew the college’s indirect cost rate agreement with the federal government, which takes place every four years. This is important for two reasons. First, external grants help drive the college’s educational mission, supporting targeted needs ranging from student scholarships, to special programs, to faculty and student research. Second, indirect costs help reimburse an institution for overhead expenses such as utilities and general and administrative costs and they are awarded as a percentage of a grant project’s direct costs. Sweet Briar’s current indirect rate is 30%, and we hope the renewed rate will be very similar or even a bit higher.

With the students gone all month, operations were at a less harried pace. Further tree removal was completed, as were other landscaping projects. Housekeeping was able to do a deep clean in many areas. HR completed the switch from ADP to Paycom for payroll and HR systems. The usual conversion issues occurred with significant software improvement. Open enrollment for January 1 also was completed, along with assisting employees in the process.

Alumnae Relations, Development & Communications

Alumnae Relations continues to lead the way in engagement of our core and broader constituencies, and December is always one of our most important months of the fiscal year in terms of giving. Our efforts to actively steward our relationships with our older alumnae and with alumnae in other class years, along with the contacts we’ve been cultivating with foundation and government partners, are paying off.

We held eleven Sweet Briar Days Zoom events in December and just completed five more in January, with approximately 300 total participants. Many thanks to those who gave talks: Lisa Powell, John Gregory Brown, Linda Fink, Jessica Salvatore, Melora Kordos and Cheryl Warnock, and Jody Canfield and Hannah Lott (in December) and Jeff Key, Shawn O’Connor, Teresa Garrett, former dean Lynn Rainville, and August Hardy (in January). All sessions were recorded and will be posted on the website for viewing by the college community, alumnae, and current and prospective students. If you missed any of the events, I hope you will watch them online.

Outreach undoubtedly boosts overall giving, which totaled $2,144,534 in December, including support from foundations and government grants for Covid relief, and $171,640 raised in just one day for Giving Tuesday on December 1. Overall giving in FY 2021 has now reached $4,312,276 in unrestricted gifts and pledges and $1,217,939 in restricted gifts and pledges. Total giving is now $5,530,215 which exceeds the total annual goal of $5.5 million.

In the coming months, increasing the percentage of alumnae participation, which currently sits at 8.1%, will be a primary focus. Looking ahead, we will mobilize class leaders and others toward the March Days of Giving and raising another $2.5 million toward an overall stretch goal of $8 million total in restricted and unrestricted giving.

Meanwhile, the Communications team continues to help admissions with promotional materials and marketing strategies for admissions recruitment, such as the organization of virtual admissions events, the digital marketing campaign and supporting the overall marketing of the College.

Finally, let me end with the hope, which I know you share, that 2021 will be a better year for all of us at Sweet Briar and for everyone all over the world. Let’s also hope that we continue to have a mild winter (even though our campus is especially beautiful when covered with snow)!

Meredith Woo
Sweet Briar College
This is HOME.