Leadership Core

Our curriculum builds on Sweet Briar’s unique strengths in the arts, sciences and humanities. At its heart: a bold focus on women’s leadership in the 21st century.

Unlike other colleges with general education requirements, Sweet Briar’s core curriculum consists of 10 leadership courses that span multiple disciplines:


CORE 110 — Design Thinking (3)

Prerequisite: Limited to and required for all incoming first-year and new transfer students.

A team of faculty members from varied disciplines will introduce students to the design-thinking process and its application to a range of problems from local through global scale. Faculty will show how design thinking is expressed in different disciplines, and at the end of the course, students will engage in the process for themselves in different disciplinary contexts and engage in a multidisciplinary endeavor. This course introduces our leadership core, which will produce students who are inquisitive when approaching new challenges; empathetic, informed and fearless when framing potential solutions to those challenges; flexible, organized and collaborative when designing and implementing solutions; articulate and confident when communicating those solutions; focused upon the creation of well-executed products; and perceptively self-critical when reviewing the effectiveness of their own work.

CORE 120 — The Mindful Writer (3)

Prerequisite: Required of all first-year students.

A workshop-based writing course that helps students become confident and effective readers and writers. Using the New Yorker magazine as the primary text — each student will have an individual ten-week subscription — students will learn to read carefully; identify the style and structure of individual pieces, from profiles to review to political and cultural commentary; and write several pieces of their own, practicing a range of rhetorical methods while also conducting research, crafting persuasive arguments and producing multiple drafts through careful and sustained revision.

CORE 130 — Women in the World (3)

A multidisciplinary study of the social, cultural and political issues that influence women in societies across the world. The course introduces theoretical perspectives and social contexts for the diverse challenges that confront contemporary women.

CORE 140 — Sustainable Systems (3)

Prerequisite: CORE 110.

This class introduces the concept of sustainability by emphasizing the interconnectedness of environmental, social and economic systems. Case studies from around the world will demonstrate the importance of understanding both cultural and political contexts when developing innovative solutions to intractable environmental problems. Translating knowledge into actions, students will participate in projects related to local and campus sustainability.

CORE 150 — Expression and the Arts (3)

Prerequisite: CORE 110.

An interdisciplinary course that helps students develop creative and critical capacities through the study and practice of the arts. Students will learn the techniques of making art in one discipline while folding in perspectives from a variety of artists and artworks. In addition to making and presenting art, students will study methods of art theory and criticism, focusing on how art communicates diverse values. Students will also meet with fellows from the Virginia Center for Creative Arts to understand how a variety of artists think about art and culture. The overarching theme for CORE 150 will change from year to year; each section’s content will be determined by the instructor(s).

CORE 160 — STEM in Society (3)

Prerequisite: CORE 110.

Students will conduct open-ended investigations on a scientific or technological topic relevant to society. Each section will have a specific focus; all sections are designed to empower students to develop evidence-based opinions and make informed decisions about societal issues related to science and technology.

CORE 170 — Decisions in a Data-driven World (3)

Prerequisite: CORE 110.

The volume of data available to help us make decisions is increasing at a staggering rate. How do we sort through data to find what is relevant and useful? How do we evaluate, organize and interpret the information to make good decisions? This course will focus on data-rich topics drawn from the fields of economics, personal finance, science and technology, health and political science to develop the ability to reason and work with data, as well as understand and present arguments supported by quantitative evidence.

CORE 210 — Contemporary Ethical Questions (3)

Prerequisites: CORE 120, CORE 130 and sophomore standing.

Global climate change, human migration and technological manipulation of genes all present pressing ethical questions for which no clear-cut answers exist. This course helps students address such complex issues by introducing them to major branches of philosophical ethics and then helping them apply these diverse perspectives to propose solutions. All sections initially follow a common syllabus of theoretical readings; then each section concentrates on contemporary ethical dilemmas in particular sphere (e.g., medicine, business, law, etc.).

CORE 220 — Leadership Realized I (3)

Prerequisites: Two of the following: CORE 140, CORE 150, or CORE 160.

This course guides teams of students in using leadership tools to address a problem of their own choosing. Students will be given support to design and propose their projects; develop the skills integral to effective project management and the financial literacy required for project budgeting; and practice the effective communication of a proposal through both public speaking and the use of new media.

CORE 310 — Leadership Realized II (3)

Prerequisites: CORE 210 and CORE 220.

Students employ the skills and expertise they have acquired at Sweet Briar to carry out a collaborative project that addresses a substantial problem faced in the real world. The project combines individual contributions in small-group collaborations to develop and implement solutions. Teams organize around “big problems” and ask individual team members to navigate the questions: What can you solve with your skills?


The required courses are designed to be taken throughout three or four years of study so that students have the time to explore what really excites them.

The leadership core will prepare you to be an effective leader for today’s society. The classes are interdisciplinary and will enable you to develop the skills and habits of the mind that are the hallmarks of liberal arts excellence. These courses will encourage you to ask questions, identify interdisciplinary connections and foster intellectual open-mindedness. Further, the classes will help you establish the habits of lifelong learning, innovation, ethical conduct, problem-solving, collaboration and empathy.