Our Sustainable Future: A Five-Year Strategic Plan for Sweet Briar College’s Future

Executive Summary

This five-year plan is a roadmap for how Sweet Briar College can garner national distinction by building on areas of excellence. The plan parlays two structural and immutable features of the College: the reality of its being a single-sex institution that is creating a new type of leadership for our society—women’s leadership; and its physical presence as a place of uncommon beauty and architectural significance. These comparative advantages drive every facet of the plan.

The plan identifies the following critical areas of growth over the next five years.

Women’s Leadership

While many institutions of higher education have leadership programs, only a few of them— the nation’s service academies and Sweet Briar—deploy a liberal arts general education program for this purpose.  The Women’s Leadership Core teaches women the skills and habits of effective communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and empathy through a series of ten courses on the ethical, financial, scientific, environmental and artistic issues of our time. The core imparts a style of leadership that is collaborative and humanistic, which the world needs now and in the future. In the next five years the leadership curriculum will acquire additional depth and excellence by: enhancing leadership content in leadership core courses; providing professional and academic development workshops for faculty; and creating and launching the co-curricular ROSE (Relationships, Opportunities, Service, Empowerment) leadership program that gives students hands-on, practical leadership training on and off campus.

Sustainability

Women increasingly lead the national conversation on the environment, conservation and sustainability—all matters of unparalleled importance to our global future. Sweet Briar’s 2,840-acre campus, with its unique natural and built environment and agricultural enterprises (greenhouse, vineyards and apiary), make it an ideal place for hands-on, immersive learning about the environment, conservation and sustainability. Sweet Briar will make its academic and co-curricular programming, as well as its campus operations, hallmarks for sustainability by: accelerating the tempo of its investments in agriculture; expanding the current certificate program in Leadership in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems into a minor (eventually a major) in this field; integrating sustainability studies across the disciplines; creating a campus culture of physical and mental wellness for students and community members; and developing a plan to address issues of land use, energy needs, and other areas of environmental stewardship.

Engineering

One of the only two ABET accredited engineering programs at a women’s college, our program empowers women to succeed as engineers. Through immersive, hands-on, project-based learning imparted in an environment free of bias and misogyny, students acquire the training to succeed in any engineering specialty while benefitting from a liberal arts education. Sweet Briar will grow the engineering program by: doubling the number of student majors; ensuring its accessibility to students with varying preparation levels in math and science; increasing the opportunities for students and faculty to engage in entrepreneurial activities with regional and national companies and organizations; and exploring the development of a Master’s degree program in integrated engineering. To meet the instructional and research needs of engineering, as well as all its STEM programs, the College will plan the renovation of the Guion Science Center.

Equestrian Program

Sweet Briar’s equestrian program is one of the oldest and most renowned in the country. In addition to producing winning riding teams, the program trains horsewomen of all skill levels. As practiced at Sweet Briar, riding is another aspect of women’s leadership, providing lessons in confidence, discipline and teamwork. Sweet Briar will elevate its equestrian program to an even higher level by: integrating it more closely with the leadership core and the rest of the academic program; hiring a staff veterinarian who, in addition to providing animal care, will mentor students, expand the program’s academic offerings, and create synergies with biology and other programs, potentially leading to the development of a B.S. degree in equine science; growing the number of auxiliary activities offered throughout the year to help market itself and generate revenue; and continuing to make improvements to its facilities.

Destination Sweet Briar

In collaboration with regional partners, Sweet Briar will capitalize on its beautiful outdoor setting and facilities by becoming a destination for creative and performing arts experiences, akin to those of a Chautauqua. Destination Sweet Briar will generate benefits by: raising the College’s visibility and increasing its name recognition; promoting its performing and visual arts programs; boosting recruitment and retention; utilizing the campus year-round, especially in the summers, thereby increasing auxiliary revenues; improving “town-gown” relationships; and boosting the regional economy. The College has an extensive array of assets, ranging from its verdant landscapes and agricultural enterprises to its facilities and hospitality services, that will help establish the cultural corridor. The renovations that Sweet Briar is already planning to make to its dormitories, to the Babcock Performing Arts Center and to Pannell will also be integral to establishing Destination Sweet Briar.


Explore the Details

Note: This is a living document for the board and administration of Sweet Briar College, to serve as a vade mecum in operating the College in a planful manner for the period of FY2022/23 – FY 2026/27. You can download a PDF of the plan or review it at the links below.

Background and Summary

Part I: Five Years in Five Parts: Academic and Co-Curricular Priorities

  1. Women’s Leadership
  2. Sustainability
  3. Engineering
  4. Equestrian Program
  5. Destination Sweet Briar
  6. Cross-Cutting Priorities

Part II: Capital and Energy Infrastructure

Large-scale capital projects associated with academic priorities have been discussed in Part I. This section will discuss projects, smaller in scale, that are financed under “capital depreciation” in the budget; improvements associated with student life; and energy systems on campus currently under study.

  1. Addressing Deferred Maintenance: Continuous Upkeep and Renovation
  2. Student Housing and Other Buildings
  3. Energy Systems: The Steam Plant and HVAC

Part III: The Financial Resources to Ensure Sweet Briar’s Sustainable Future

  1. The Five-Year Operating Budget Model
  2. Capital Project Needs and Resources
  3. The Next Step: Recalibrating the Priorities Campaign

Concluding Thoughts


Sweet Briar launched its five-year action plan at the beginning of the 2022/2023 academic year; the costs of the plan’s implementation along with an investment schedule for it are built into the budget and will be further enhanced by the resources provided by the concurrent capital campaign, “Sweet Briar: Where Women Lead.”