Messages from the President

Spring Message
February 24, 2024

My dear fellow alumnae and friends,

The daffodils along the main drive have started blooming, an early but welcome treat for our beautiful campus. Wherever this message finds you, I hope you are well and happy! When I last communicated with you, it was to convey my profound gratitude for all you have done for Sweet Briar and to tell you what an honor it is to be your president. I am happy to share an update from the last 90 days — they have been busy!

We have laid out an ambitious plan for the spring semester. As the garden writer William Bryant Logan described, “Spring time is not a season, but an action…the beautiful risk of growth and renewal.” That is what I envision for Sweet Briar this spring: we are bursting forth with energy and momentum and have plenty of work to do.

As we complete the second year of our five-year strategic plan, we must keep a pulse on our progress and adjust as needed. Our common goal and purpose must remain top of mind: to educate young women and promote women’s leadership.

Since last spring, I have been reviewing our Admissions Office practices and personnel and feel we have a terrific team. Our admissions counselors, alumnae admissions ambassadors and major gift officers have been working very hard this fall and into the early spring recruiting top students by attending college fairs around the country, visiting high schools, and hosting on-campus open houses, including accepted students, scholar events, and counselor visits. We’ve also launched a word-of-mouth marketing campaign to initiate conversations and interest in Sweet Briar with prospective students. Our applications and acceptances are up from last year, and once the issues with the Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA) are resolved, we feel very positive about the next class of Sweet Briar women. I’m grateful that so many of you are volunteering to help with these recruitment efforts.

Thanks to your support, we continue to raise resources for the College, from the priorities of the Where Women Lead campaign, such as the transformative $5 million gift for the rehabilitation of Gray residence hall, to gifts for the Sweet Briar Fund.

Since starting in 2016, I have devoted much of my time to building relationships and connecting with alumnae, foundations, and government officials. As president, I have further expanded my relationship-building portfolio—it’s at the heart of everything we do. I am working to create partnerships and opportunities for Sweet Briar in the following categories:

  • Building community, both on campus and off campus in our local area.
    We have welcomed the executive director of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the chief of the Monacan Nation, the Amherst County Board of Supervisors, the Amherst Town Council, the Amherst County Economic Development Authority, and Amherst County school officials, and other neighbors to campus. The annual Engineering Banquet was co-sponsored by the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance and had 175 students and guests in attendance with Katherine Williams, the CEO of Framatome, giving the keynote address.

    I have been meeting with students, staff, and faculty, and plan to meet with all faculty members individually as the semester progresses. I also hold open office hours each Monday so that any campus community member can stop in to share ideas, thoughts, and concerns directly with me.
  • Instituting a peer network with liberal arts colleges, locally and around the country, lending a hand where possible.
    Liberal arts colleges everywhere face similar challenges, and while we are all competing for students, we have much to learn from each other. I have met with the presidents of several liberal arts colleges in the Commonwealth of Virginia, with presidents of our sister women’s colleges, and have networked with other leaders at two conferences I recently attended for college and university presidents. When asked, I answer the call for advice from colleges who are facing similar obstacles to the ones we experienced in 2015.
  • Enhancing and solidifying academic partnerships.
    Sweet Briar is developing articulation agreements with the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech to create pipelines into some of their graduate programs for our students. The College plans to partner with the Institute for World Politics in Washington, D.C., to facilitate internships and fellowships in national security, intelligence and international affairs for our students. Other partnerships are in development, and once they have reached the implementation phase, I will share that information with you.
  • Reaching out to local, state, and national government officials.
    In order for us to extend the reach of Sweet Briar’s positive reputation around the country, we must first begin with the Commonwealth of Virginia. I have met with the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and our local delegates of the General Assembly; in Washington, D.C., I’ve met with our Virginia senators and congressmen. I am telling our Sweet Briar story, ensuring that our representatives know what a treasure Sweet Briar is for the Commonwealth — and beyond.

While we cultivate and steward these relationships, operations at Sweet Briar are my priority. We are launching a campus-wide initiative to study both the opportunities and drawbacks of artificial intelligence (AI). We have just solicited nominations from our faculty and staff for this year’s Presidential Medalist. Our seniors are checking off the remaining items on their Sweet Briar bucket lists and all students are looking forward to spring break following their midterm exams. The time-honored traditions of Spring Step Singing and Lantern Bearing are just around the corner. Our Career Services office holds career fairs and panels for all students and helps place students in internships, jobs and graduate programs. In Athletics, our tennis, golf, lacrosse and softball seasons are in full swing and riding championship competitions are fast approaching.

The spring theater production, “Fefu and Her Friends,” debuts at Babcock Performing Arts Center this weekend. At the end of March, we will welcome Chlo√© Cooper Jones, author of Easy Beauty, this year’s Common Read. In April, our annual Earth Day celebration and community lunch will focus on a collaborative project with the Center for Human and Environmental Sustainability and the Galleries and Museum program featuring artist Susie Ganch and her exhibit on plastic pollution in Pannell Gallery.

As members of this special Sweet Briar community, we have a myriad of perspectives, ideas, opinions, and passions, and we can all agree on one key thing: We have all had the great fortune to know Sweet Briar, its community, and its culture. Whether we attended or graduated from Sweet Briar, work or teach here, watch a family member cross the stage at Commencement, or buy fresh produce from the greenhouse, we have had the pleasure of being part of this place. To know Sweet Briar is to love Sweet Briar.

I believe that through building relationships, fostering collaboration, and implementing innovation, we will ensure Sweet Briar’s future success. Given this community’s collective creativity and ingenuity, we can find infinite solutions to any challenges we face. Working together, we can make Sweet Briar an even greater institution and help our students realize their tremendous potential. Thank you for being a significant part of our Sweet Briar community.


Mary Pope

Mary Pope M. Hutson ’83

A Message of Thanksgiving and Gratitude
November 15, 2023