John Nau joins two alumnae in $3 million gift for Sweet Briar College’s leadership core curriculum

A Sweet Briar professor high fives a student in class
Professor Tim Schauer high-fives one of his students.

Philanthropist John Nau, along with two Sweet Briar alumnae, Virginia “Ginger” Cates Mitchell ’63 and an anonymous donor, have pledged a total of $3 million to support Sweet Briar College’s innovative leadership core curriculum.

This combined award, one of a number of significant recent investments in Sweet Briar, demonstrates the commitment of its alumnae and friends to President Meredith Woo’s vision for the College, which focuses on academic innovation, an expansion of the Presidential Scholarship program and stewardship of its built and natural environment.

The core consists of ten courses designed to inculcate the habits of mind and skills needed for democratic and collaborative leadership, such as problem solving, creative expression, persuasive communication, ethical thinking, scientific literacy and financial competence. Six core courses were launched in the 2018-2019 academic year; the remaining four are being taught for the first time this year, including the capstone course, The Consequential Citizen, which focuses on teaching the founding principles of America. The phased rollout allows the College’s faculty and administration to assess what is working, what needs refining and what additional resources are required to support the core.

This $3 million gift for the leadership core will fund faculty development to refresh and update course content within the context of a changing world; support learning activities that take place beyond the classroom, such as domestic and international field trips; and enhance core courses with guest speakers, visiting professorships, symposia and other special events.

“Gifts to the academic program,” said President Woo, “allow Sweet Briar to offer a superlative education that is relevant to the needs of our time, preparing women to take ownership of solutions to global challenges and opportunities. I am profoundly grateful to these three donors.”

John Nau, a graduate of the University of Virginia and former member of its board of visitors, is a life-long student of American history, particularly of the Civil War era, and is committed to the preservation of national parks and significant historic sites. He cares deeply about America’s place in the world and, as the father of two daughters and two granddaughters, wants to help ensure that women are integral to the nation’s global leadership.

The two alumnae donors exemplify the tradition of strong women leaders produced by Sweet Briar College. Ginger Mitchell, who has contributed to the College for decades and is a passionate advocate for homeless women and their children, has been closely involved with the Atlanta Children’s Shelter, the Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children and continues to volunteer as a tutor for young children in her local community. The anonymous donor, a business and community leader, is also a long-term supporter of her alma mater.

Sweet Briar, known for having one of the country’s most beautiful campuses, with its historic Georgian Revival architecture by Ralph Adams Cram and its 3,250 acres of rolling hills, forests, and fields, was named as one of the nation’s most innovative colleges by U.S. News and World Report for 2019 and is increasingly recognized for its curricular emphasis on women’s leadership.

“When I look at Sweet Briar’s alumnae, I see women who carry all before them in their families, communities, and places of business, women who work together to get things done,” said President Woo. “At Sweet Briar, we believe we can mindfully teach an ideal type of leadership.  Our leadership core formalizes the traits that have always been the hallmarks of good leadership and intentionally cultivates them. Women who want to be leaders are welcome at Sweet Briar.”