Sweet Briar College has named Melissa Farmer Richards vice president for communications and enrollment management. She will begin the new post on July 17.
Richards, a native Virginian from Bassett, comes to Sweet Briar from St. Lawrence University, a top private liberal arts college in New York. At St. Lawrence, she has served as vice president for communications since January 2015 and as acting executive officer for admissions and financial aid.
Richards’ position is new at Sweet Briar, a result of merging the communications and admissions offices. In making the announcement, President Meredith Woo noted that Richards brings the ideal skillset to meet Sweet Briar’s needs in today’s challenging higher education environment.
“Melissa is one of the nation’s leading experts in higher education marketing, including experience in recruitment, with a remarkable track record,” Woo said. “While the trend of combining marketing with enrollment is an inevitable one for small colleges, it is not always easy to find a leader who possesses the required skills and background. Melissa does, and she is real.”
For Richards, the appointment marks both a return to her home state and an opportunity to be part of Sweet Briar’s next chapter.
“I believe in Sweet Briar College, and I am inspired by President Woo’s vision for a modern women’s college and her commitment to women’s leadership,” Richards said. “Sweet Briar has a compelling brand story and delivers a powerful arts and sciences education. I am happy to be called back to Virginia, from where we’ll ensure the world knows we need more Sweet Briar alumnae.”
Richards has 24 years of broad and deep experience in marketing research and strategy, brand management, integrated communications, public relations, licensing and trademarks, special events and strategic alliances. She worked for nearly six years in university relations at Virginia Tech, advancing from the director level to assistant vice president for marketing and publications. Prior to her career in higher education, she held senior positions at start-up and global technology organizations and founded two small businesses.
At St. Lawrence, Richards oversees all aspects of university communications, including the university’s NPR affiliate, North Country Public Radio, as well as admissions and financial aid.
In May, St. Lawrence announced it had received 720 deposits for the incoming class of 2021 — 5 percent ahead of target and nearly 100 more deposits than last year. The increase comes against a backdrop of uncertainty in New York, where officials at private colleges and universities had feared a decline in admissions. The state recently passed a tuition-free plan for eligible New Yorkers at public institutions.
Richards earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia, where she majored in rhetoric and communication studies, and a Master of Public Administration from Virginia Tech. She also completed graduate-level coursework at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management and S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
She has held leadership positions in several community and professional organizations, including the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) District III Programming Committee and the College Communicators Association of Virginia and D.C. She is one of the founding board members of the Blacksburg Children’s Museum and TEDxVirginiaTech. She currently serves as advisor for TEDxStLawrenceU.