When I first visited Sweet Briar in mid-2019, I immediately fell in love with the campus. I saw so much opportunity in the fields and forests and so much to learn from the land’s long history. The campus landscape, combined with the amazing students, faculty, staff, and alumnae, are why I decided to move to Virginia and join Sweet Briar’s faculty. In my first months on campus, I have grown to know the landscape better, and I have fallen even more in love with it. I am so honored to be Sweet Briar’s sustainability director.
The Center for Human and Environmental Sustainability facilitates curriculum, research, and community engagement activities that support improved environmental outcomes, economic development, equity, and quality of life. As part of this, the Center facilitates integration between academic activities and the campus landscape and agricultural operations, which include a vineyard, greenhouse, and apiary, in addition to the community garden.
At Sweet Briar College, there are numerous pathways through which students can pursue their interests in agriculture, food systems, conservation, and the environment. All students take a course in Sustainable Systems as part of the Leadership Core, providing a key foundation for thinking about resource use and planning for the future. The programs in environmental science and biology include courses such as Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems and Natural Resources Management and special topics seminars that provide space for students to tackle pressing global and local challenges. Sweet Briar’s accredited engineering program also provides opportunities for students to focus on their interest in solving environmental problems.
Across the curriculum, in courses ranging from business to photography to history to chemistry, faculty and students use Sweet Briar’s 2840-acre campus as laboratory, studio, archive, and incubator, and in doing so gain first-hand experience working in an agriculture- and conservation-oriented landscape. As an institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition, Sweet Briar students learn how to approach ideas both openly and critically, how to synthesize approaches and information from multiple fields, and how to learn new skills efficiently. With the foundation of the Leadership Core, the Sweet Briar curriculum also fosters students’ capacity to become leaders in the workforce, their communities, and beyond, as they learn to be successful communicators, ethical decision-makers and empathetic problem-solvers.
While students at Sweet Briar already engage in experiential learning opportunities both on- and off-campus, the Center is actively working to expand these, to facilitate students’ exploration of and preparation for careers in agriculture, food systems, conservation, and other fields. The Center is interested in partnering with public and private organizations in Central Virginia, throughout the Commonwealth, and beyond, to increase placements in meaningful internships that provide both learning opportunities for students and tangible contributions to the work of the hosts. We are also working on collaborations which will bring more partners on to campus, where they can share in using Sweet Briar’s land resources as an educational resource as we work together to achieve goals of more environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable systems in our region.
The Center is currently engaging with both the Sweet Briar College community and stakeholders in Amherst and other counties surrounding our campus, as well as throughout the Commonwealth and nation, about future directions for our programming. In the meantime, we welcome your ideas and feedback, and we would love to have conversations about potential collaborations. If you are a student thinking about the next stage in your education, we would love to talk with you about opportunities at Sweet Briar College.
Lisa J. Powell
Director, Center for Human and Environmental Sustainability
Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Agriculture