For Bill and Debbie Booth, college is a family matter. Since the day daughter Alyson visited Sweet Briar for the first time, the Booths’ life has been pretty much all pink and green. They’ve been active members on the Parent Steering Committee for four years and have chaired it for the past three; they’ve been back for Families Weekend and have cheered their daughter on at riding competitions; and they’ve opened their home in Palm Harbor, Fla., to other Sweet Briar students. On top of it all, they’ve given to the College as Boxwood-level donors since 2010.
“Alyson has gained so much from her time at Sweet Briar, it feels right to give back and make sure that Sweet Briar can continue to provide students competitive programs and resources,” says Bill, who made a career in point-of-sales marketing and retired after working for Coinstar during its startup phase. “[She] has benefited from the generosity of those who came before her, so getting involved and contributing to the Annual Fund is our way of giving back.”
This month, Alyson is graduating with a B.S. in biology and a minor in chemistry. She’s already been accepted to the veterinary program at Ohio State University, where she’ll start in the fall.
Alyson’s journey began during her junior year in high school. As a participant in the College Bound riding program in Gainesville, Fla., she met Sweet Briar riding director Mimi Wroten, who told her everything about the College’s equestrian program. After a campus visit, Alyson was ready to disqualify all other colleges from her wish list.
“Alyson’s passion is horses,” Debbie says, adding that her daughter has been riding since she enrolled her in a spring break riding camp in elementary school.
“When it came time to choose a college, she wanted to attend a school that would provide her the opportunity to continue riding.”
Sweet Briar was the only school Alyson applied to — despite her initial aversion to the idea of attending a women’s college.
“I remember suggesting Sweet Briar to her when she was a sophomore in high school,” says Bill, who had visited the campus when he was a student at Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania.
“I had a fraternity brother whose girlfriend attended Sweet Briar. They got in a fight and he convinced me to ride with him to visit her over a weekend. … If someone had said to me back then, ‘Someday, you will have a daughter and she will attend Sweet Briar with her horse,’ I would have told them they were crazy.”
While growing up just 30 miles apart in the Pittsburgh area, the Booths didn’t meet until they were both working for the same supermarket vendor, but in different cities. A corporate training program in California brought them together.
Two children and many years later, Debbie continues to work in marketing, now for the personalized digital media company Catalina, where she has been for 19 years. Last summer, Becca Davidson ’13 interned at Catalina and stayed with the Booths while Alyson was away with “Vets in the Wild” in South Africa.
“We had done this once before with a UVa student who was a friend of Aly’s sister Natalie, so we were totally open to doing it again when one of Aly’s friends expressed an interest in exploring a career in human resources,” Debbie says. “Aly suggested she reach out to me. After speaking with her, I encouraged her to send me her resume and I sponsored her candidacy for the Catalina Summer Internship Program. When she was accepted, we invited her to stay with us for the summer.”
Debbie hopes more parents will open their homes — and internship opportunities — to Sweet Briar students.
“Many parents may be able to offer a similar opportunity and just have not thought about it. It’s a rewarding experience for the student and for the host family.”
Alyson, in turn, has benefited from the generosity of many Sweet Briar parents in Virginia, who took her in during holidays when she couldn’t make it home.
To Debbie, “that says a lot about the SBC parent community.”
Through their involvement on the Parent Steering Committee, the Booths have connected with many other Sweet Briar families, and every time, they find a lot in common.
“In all my encounters, the parents have shared similar, positive SBC experiences and consistently place a deep value on the women’s college education and experience,” Debbie says.
Both Bill and Debbie know that Sweet Briar was the right choice for Alyson.
“The family atmosphere, the collaboration and support of the professors and the support of alumnae are all examples of what makes Sweet Briar such a special place,” Debbie explains. “Aly was appropriately challenged and supported by professors [who] believed in her and provided her strong advice and guidance.”
They’re especially grateful for the many opportunities Alyson was offered in preparation for vet school. The summer between her freshman and sophomore years, she interned at a Sweet Briar alumna’s small animal practice in the Lynchburg area, and her pre-vet and senior research advisor, biology professor John Morrissey, encouraged her to participate in the “Vets in the Wild” program. Each opportunity has brought Alyson one step closer to fulfilling her lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian.
For as long as the Booths can remember, “Aly was bound and determined to get into vet school,” Debbie says. “She was accepted at five schools — three abroad and two in the U.S. … We are thrilled and truly blessed.”
But it’s not just about academics. Alyson has grown on a personal level, as well, something Bill is keenly aware of.
“Alyson has flourished. Her self-confidence has grown, she has a deeper understanding of who she is; she is more independent, she speaks up. She’s developed gumption. She has also has taken [the] initiative to try new things, such as participating in cross country. I have seen her become a leader rather than a follower.
“Last but not least, she has developed deep friendships that will last forever.”
Alyson, for her part, is glad she made the choice to attend Sweet Briar. That her parents have been there to support her every step of the way means a lot, she says.
“It was important to me because they got to be a part of my college experience in positive ways, other than just helping me pay for school.”