Sweet Briar leadership holds panel discussion following board meeting

Panel discussion
President Woo (from left), Georgene Vairo, Melissa Richards and Marcia Thom-Kaley

A panel discussion moderated by Teresa Pike Tomlinson ’87, chairwoman of the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors, had College leaders address questions submitted by constituents for more than 90 minutes over lunch today. The panelists were President Meredith Woo, Vice Chair of the Board Georgene Vairo, Vice President for Communications and Enrollment Management Melissa Richards and Interim Dean of Students Marcia Thom-Kaley.

Before introducing the panel, Tomlinson noted that Sweet Briar had received questions from more than 20 stakeholders, with several submitting multiple questions. Because there wouldn’t be enough time to answer all of them separately, she said, she had combined them into subjects. But first, Tomlinson asked Woo to provide a general overview of Sweet Briar’s recent changes to its academic and business models.

Next, Vairo talked about how the board and an advisory council she was part of began envisioning the College’s changes that were announced in September and December. President Woo, she said, had everyone read “seven books and thousands of pages of PDFs and web pages.”

Richards followed with a detailed look at what has happened in admissions and marketing since she arrived in July 2017, including implementing Slate (an admissions data management system), rolling out the “This is Fierce” rebranding campaign and launching an integrated content strategy.

Thom-Kaley spoke about her first few months in student life, emphasizing the close connections she has continued to form with students. While 15 women had left since the fall, she said, eight new students joined the College in the spring. Sweet Briar’s retention numbers have remained about the same over several years, Thom-Kaley noted, but conceded this wasn’t good enough. “Anything less than 100 percent means that I need to work harder,” she said.

Other topics discussed included application numbers, which are up 25 percent; the board’s composition and bylaws; Sweet Briar’s plan for teaching foreign languages going forward; recruitment of international students; changes in student life, including the new food service and the College’s new health care partnership with Centra; and new marketing initiatives such as airport billboards and advertising on NPR, Pandora and Spotify, among other platforms.

Finally, Woo told the audience she had “completed 27 of 20 city tours” to speak with alumnae and other stakeholders. Her many other weekly activities also include eating in the dining hall with students whenever she can, she added.

You can watch the full panel discussion below:

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