A letter from Cailey Cobb ’20, SGA president

Cailey Cobb

Dear Sweet Briar Community,

I hope that each of you have taken time to process how COVID-19 has affected your experience at Sweet Briar. This is a situation that is necessary for you to internally process. I just ask that you don’t burn out. I know how easy it is to throw your hands up and feel as though “There is nothing I can do.”

There is so much to do.


You still have your big [sisters]. The Junior Class may be reflective (I was) as they imagine what Junior Banquet could have been like and all the ways they have earned their rings. Take time to learn from their experiences. This is an incredible lesson in gratitude. I am sure that your upperclasswomen have felt uncertainty many times at Sweet Briar. I believe that pushing through that feeling has led the upperclasswomen to fall more in love with Sweet Briar. Let this time give you a reason to think about everything Sweet Briar has given you. Let it remind you why you fell in love with our community.


I personally need help from your class. The Senior Class is hurting. Please give the seniors your love. We are a community unlike no other. Reach out to a senior you may not know, or your big. You are a strong class. This is the time that, as a group, you all dig deep and love each other. We each have a story of why we chose to attend the Pink Bubble. You can become closer to campus by hearing these stories.


Take a moment. Look down at your left hand and imagine your class ring on your pinky. You have earned that ring. Reflect on what you did to earn it. Think about how you have upheld the Honor Code, studied hard and been a friend to so many. This is not a time to dwell on the hurt. This entire situation wouldn’t hurt if you didn’t love Sweet Briar. Loving Sweet Briar is good. For every reason there is to be upset, there are two more reasons to smile and reminisce on your last three years.


I wish I could give each of you a long hug right now (even if I am really the one that needs the hug). I keep wondering, “How can I make the seniors know they are loved and supported?” Part of me wants to stand on a table in Prothro and tell you how loved you are. Another part of me wants to waste your time in the elevator in Benedict and endlessly ask how you are doing. Then, I am reminded that I can’t do either of these. There is one thing I want to make clear: We are a family that is a part of the Sweet Briar community. Community knows no boundary. We would be hypocrites if we said that we were not a community just because we are not on campus. Our class is fiery, strong, and at times, quite a riot. Don’t forget who you are and who we are.

Our community is not defined by location, but by our spirit and response to adversity.

This is not the end! We are not through with the year yet. We each have something to finish (along with a semester full of high marks in every class). The Student Government Association will continue to find ways to connect and celebrate the Sweet Briar spirit.

Cailey Cobb ’20
President, Student Government Association

Defining leadership: five years after the Saving Sweet Briar effort


Five years ago, on March 3, 2015, the College’s administration and board at the time attempted to close the school based on their belief that it could not overcome challenges and address the trends in liberal arts colleges. They cited financial difficulties and made this decision despite having an endowment of $69 million, an engaged alumnae base and a loyal student body.

However, mere minutes after the announcement was made, Sweet Briar alumnae leapt into action to save the College and halt the efforts to close. This was the powerful beginning of the Saving Sweet Briar effort that not only immediately united the College’s local and national community of supporters, but became a case study in achieving results through leadership, courage, confidence and action.

The nation and higher education industry watched as Sweet Briar women acted swiftly to build a strong legal case for keeping the College open, secured an impressive amount of donations and pledges of support and mobilized a national network of supporters who rose to the challenge. They were determined to stop the closure.

Sweet Briar women believe there is nothing that they cannot do, and these strong leaders proved that through their determination and grit. For that is what Sweet Briar always taught them to do, and they prevailed. The College never closed and transferred leadership to a new president and board on July 1, 2015.

The Saving Sweet Briar movement succeeded and gave the College a chance to reinvent itself and innovate in a way where others had not. President Phillip Stone stabilized the College over the following two years,  and in 2017, President Meredith Woo became the 13th President of Sweet Briar. She announced a new, comprehensive academic vision with an innovative core curriculum, tuition reset and business plan. With a purpose and direction firmly planted in the qualities of leadership, the core curriculum was restructured around this concept and the Leadership Core was formed.

Leadership and the liberal arts go hand-in-hand. Effective leaders benefit from this educational foundation that teaches them to be successful communicators, ethical decision-makers and empathetic problem-solvers. The Leadership Core provides a broad, multifaceted education while also showing how different disciplines interact, which is a direct reflection of how life works in professional, personal and community circles.

Born out of the challenge to save the College — led by a fearless group of women — the concept behind the Leadership Core curriculum teaches students to harness their natural leadership abilities and apply them in every facet of their lives.

Today, students continue to be inspired by the alumnae’s monumental accomplishment in 2015 and, every day, experience its impact first-hand. This milestone in the College’s life will forever encourage women to harness their power to lead, create change and make history in whichever way they desire.

Sweet Briar has always been the place where young women discover their passions, pursue their interests and grow their confidence. Being a women’s liberal arts college plays an important role in enabling them to do that from the very beginning. From the moment a student steps onto campus, she is supported by the entire community who rallies behind her and helps her reach her goals.

At Sweet Briar, women are not afraid to be themselves. They stand up for their beliefs and roll up their sleeves to get things done. They, along with the alumnae who came before them, are true leaders, and they will continue to make history.

Learn more about the College’s focus and what makes it stand out: Five things you should know about Sweet Briar

Admissions Blog: What I’ve learned from being a first-generation College student

Shay Finch '22 (left) and friends cheering
Shay Finch ’22 (left) cheers on the field hockey team with friends.

Being a first-generation college student is scary, but when you’re in a place that feels like home, it is just a little bit easier. Here’s what I’ve learned during my experience:

  1. I have learned a lot about independence by not having a parent who understands FAFSA, or how many credits it takes to graduate. I would have long discussions with my mom where we would both have no idea what we were talking about. Getting through those moments felt like hours.
  2. I have learned to utilize every resource given to me and not take for granted the people that go out of their way to help me. I finally found peace and comfort in asking for help. I’ve learned to put my foot down when I do not think what I’ve been given is fair and to speak up when I want something and speak louder when it is not heard.
  3. I’ve gained insight on learning to navigate feelings of frustration and confusion, and admitting that I’m in those states. I can now admit when I need help from friends, professors and administration.
  4. During high school I found myself becoming a leader and taking charge in helping others through this process. Despite struggling myself, I wanted to be an advocate for others in my situation. Coming to Sweet Briar has helped me learn how to become more of a leader to help others get the help I was able to receive.

I love working in admissions because I bring another perspective to our team and am able to openly share my experience with others like me. Even today, I am still learning what it means to be a first-generation college student and cannot wait to gain more knowledge to share with others.

Shay FinchShay Finch ’22 is an art history and psychology double major and vice president for the Class of 2022. She is involved in several clubs, including the Black Student Alliance, GLOW (Gay, Lesbian or Whoever) and Indoor Field Hockey.

Sweet Briar student wins award at NFFTY, world’s top film festival for emerging directors

Catherine McCord
Sweet Briar College first-year and filmmaker Catherine McCord

Sweet Briar College student Catherine McCord ’23 capped an “incredible weekend” at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth in Seattle, Wash., on Oct. 24-27 with the Kathy Reichgerdt Inspiration Award for her documentary “You’re Gonna Be Okay.”

“I feel so honored,” McCord wrote in an email on Monday after returning to campus. And she should be. NFFTY is the world’s largest and most influential film festival for emerging directors, showcasing work by filmmakers 24 and younger from across the globe. The inspiration award is named after NFFTY’s silent co-founder, who died last year from cancer.

NFFTY 2019
Catherine McCord (left) on stage at NFFTY 2019. Photo by David Rzegocki

McCord’s documentary, which was screened on opening night, deals with a similarly life-threatening event. After undergoing open-heart surgery earlier this year to repair a damaged valve due to endocarditis, a rare heart disease, the 18-year-old filmmaker recalls intimate moments in her life, blending vintage home movies and voicemails with the present, recounting her recovery.

“People have asked me why I chose to make the film when I did,” McCord says. “I truly believe that in any art form, who you are when you make a film reflects your thoughts, feelings and perspective of that moment in time. Had I made it later, one or two years after my surgery, the story would be so different. I’m glad I made it when I was still in the early stages of recovery because I know that years down the road, I will be grateful to look back and remember how I felt and the people in my story who made such a difference.”

Film screengrabs
Scenes from “You’re Gonna Be Okay”

Thousands of other young filmmakers attended the 2019 festival, which featured more than 287 films from 24 states and 24 countries. The awards ceremony took place on Sunday night, after McCord had spent the weekend watching nearly 100 short films at 40 separate screenings. The festival also featured a number of panels, workshops, parties and networking opportunities.

It was McCord’s second time at NFFTY and her second award — in 2018, she was crowned Best High School Filmmaker and given a $40,000 scholarship. A graduate of E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg, McCord caught The News & Advance’s attention several years ago when her film “A Dad’s Letter” was screened at The White House Film Festival and South by South Lawn (SXSL) in 2015. The paper’s Emma Schkloven interviewed McCord for another feature article last year when “Come Back to Me,” a narrative short film about gun control, won the Best Young Filmmaker category in Australia’s My Røde Reel competition before it was screened at NFFTY 2018.

“I’ve realized that the stories I feel most fulfilled in are ones that promote empathy and ones that can show someone’s experiences in a way where a viewer can relate to them and see themselves up on the screen or get a new perspective about something,” McCord told Schkloven then — just months before she was diagnosed with a heart condition that nearly ended her young life and career.

McCord behind camera
McCord behind the scenes

McCord had been making films since she was 12 years old and graduated from high school two years early — to focus more fully on her passion, she says. Her illness forced her to take a step back last year. She had wanted to go to film school, she says, but for now, she is staying close to home and her medical team. Enrolling at Sweet Briar this year made a lot of sense because her mother, Rebecca McCord, is a professor emerita, retiring in 2013 after nearly 30 years. Room 127 in the Babcock Fine Arts Center was renovated in her honor in 2012 by alumnae and friends.

“I grew up on the Sweet Briar campus,” McCord says. “[My mother] encouraged my attendance at musical, theatrical, dance and studio arts events on campus, and I know the faculty well.”

Catherine McCord on horse
Young Catherine McCord on horseback, wearing a Sweet Briar T-shirt

While Sweet Briar doesn’t have a film production major, McCord is concentrating on the leadership core curriculum, a modern version of general education requirements. She is a Presidential Scholar, an honors student, a Live Más Scholar through the Taco Bell Foundation and a Leopold Schepp Foundation Scholar. She also serves on Sweet Briar’s Student Advisory Board for the Center for Creativity, Design and the Arts and the Lectures and Events Committee.

“I love the College and have so many wonderful memories here,” she says.

In between classes, McCord continues to focus on her career — and chances are we will hear a lot more from her in the coming years.

Even before NFFTY, “You’re Gonna Be Okay” was selected by Mended Little Hearts as a public relations piece and was a prize winner in the iFootage International Creative Competition in Beijing.

“I made the film as a way to help myself through the recovery process and to thank my incredible medical team and family for being there for me,” McCord explains. “The idea that it could go beyond that and reach others, too, is so fulfilling.”

Sweet Briar alumna wins global Excellence in Language Teaching Award

Heidi Trude Teaching Award
Heidi Trude receives the Excellence in Language Teaching Award at the 2019 EF Global Education Summit in Tarrytown, N.Y.

Sweet Briar alumna and Loudoun Valley High School French teacher Heidi Trude ’07 has been awarded the 2019 Excellence in Language Teaching Award by Education First. Trude represented the U.S. at the 2019 EF Global Education Summit in Tarrytown, N.Y., in August.

“I was honored and humbled to be chosen for this award,” Trude said. “There are so many outstanding language educators across the globe. I loved meeting and working with the other recipients and learning how they teach languages in their respective countries. This award has helped me to become a better teacher and has helped me to make connections with amazing teachers from across the globe!”

Trude was one of 13 teachers chosen for the honor. Overall, there were more than 900 applicants from 83 countries. The Excellence in Language Teaching Award recognizes exceptional language teachers worldwide and is focused on the theme of “Promoting Cross-Cultural Understanding through Language Learning.”

“The selection of these 13 outstanding teachers is a testament to their teaching excellence, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to recognize and celebrate their achievements,” EF Executive Director of Academic Affairs Minh Tran said in a prepared statement, according to an article in Loudon Times-Mirror. “They inspire us with their passion, dedication and skills, and we look to them to elevate the language education practices in their respective countries.”

The summit, which took place from Aug. 23 to 26, offered Trude and other honorees the opportunity to exchange best practices and learn from prominent experts in the field of language education. The summit also included an interactive program of teacher presentations and round-table sessions.

This wasn’t the first award for Trude. A Google Certified Educator and Trainer, she was Virginia’s 2017 Region IV Teacher of the Year and the 2017 David Cox Virginia World Language Teacher of the Year. Last spring, she was named the 2018 SCOLT World Language Teacher of the Year and she was one of five finalists for the ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year award. This past weekend, she was also elected president of the Foreign Language Association of Virginia (FLAVA).

“I always look for the best in my students, [and] I like to incorporate active learning and differentiated instruction,” she told us in 2016.

Trude is especially passionate about creating global citizens in her classroom. In 2012, she established a partnership with the Lycee Bazin in Charleville-Mezieres, France, so her students could collaborate on projects with their French peers. Last year, Trude represented Virginia during a trip to France to work with the French Ministry of Education.

Admissions Blog: 5 things to do your first year at Sweet Briar

Quad Rocks
Iris Williams ’22 (center) at Quad Rocks 2018

So, you’ve decided to come to Sweet Briar College. Now what? A new chapter of your life has started, and there are so many things you can do with it! It’s a very exciting time, but it can be a little overwhelming. My first year here is over now, so I decided to compile a list of things you should do during your first year to help make your experience the best it can possibly be!

Explore Your New Home!

Sweet Briar has 3,250 acres of beautiful land. Of course, some of this land is used for buildings, but much of the land is left as is. There are 18 miles of trails to explore and lots of fun spots to discover with new friends. A popular trail is the Dairy Loop. This trail takes you by the barn where all the horses are. Students like to walk the loop and visit the horses. One of my favorite spots is Lower Lake. The Boathouse is on Lower Lake and there is a trail that leads to a dam. It’s so peaceful down there and it’s also very fun to hang out with friends. Because the campus is so big, you can constantly discover new places.

Participate in Traditions!

Iris (left) at Fall Step Singing 2018

One of the best things about SBC is its rich history of traditions. Each year students partake in several fun activities. Some of these traditions are class-specific, while others are for the whole College. An example of a class-specific tradition is “Bigs and Littles.” The junior class picks a first- year to be their Little. This gives first-years an upperclasswoman they can look up to and ask for help. Sister classes are two years apart.  My favorite first-year tradition is the Rock and Hitching Post Fight in the fall semester. The first-years must protect their hitching post from the sophomores. The sophomores try to protect their rock. Each class throws paint on the other. This tradition is an awesome way to bond with your class while having lots of fun. My favorite school-wide tradition is Step Singing. Each class comes up with songs to sing to the other classes. Songs about the seniors are nice because everyone loves the seniors. Classes also sing a nice song about themselves and their sister class, and teasing songs to their rival class. Rival classes are the ones directly above and below you. Each tradition offers a unique and fun way to bond with the school.

Get Involved on Campus!

Getting involved on campus is super easy and a great way to make friends. Many students are also athletes. SBC has seven Division III varsity sports, three riding teams and several club teams. We also have a great theater program that I am involved in. Everything is done by students. This is really cool because students can get hands-on experience with building sets or focusing lights.

Support Your Sisters in Athletics and Performances!

Because so many students get involved on campus, it’s super easy to support them if participating isn’t really your thing. There are sports games throughout the year. Come out to a soccer game or cheer on your Lacrosse sisters. Definitely show up to games against our rival, Hollins! There are also theater productions, dance concerts and our very own a capella group! The best part about all of these? If they happen on campus, they’re usually free! There’s no better price than that. 🙂 So come support your sisters because they put in a lot of work. (See all events here!)

Theater crew
Iris (far right) found time in her busy engineering schedule to get involved in theater.

Don’t Forget Academics!

Of course you want to have fun at college. Much of your college experience won’t be academic. But ultimately, you are here to learn. Make time to study. Get to know your professors. Find your favorite study spot. We have a ton of awesome resources here to support you in all of your endeavors. We can’t wait to get to know you better!

Want to know more about how to get involved at Sweet Briar? Visit our student life website!

Need more info about our majors and minors, or how to find academic support? No worries: sbc.edu/academics has you covered.

Iris WilliamsIris Williams ’22 is a sophomore engineering major from Lynchburg, Va. She is an admissions ambassador and is involved in the theater program. 


Sweet Briar awards 2019 Girl Scouts scholarships to two first-years

Cynthia Plaugher and Jesseca Ballard
Girl Scouts Gold Award Scholarship winners Cynthia Plaugher (left) and Jesseca Ballard, Sweet Briar Class of 2023

Sweet Briar College has awarded this year’s Girl Scouts Gold Award Scholarship to two members from the Class of 2023: Jesseca Ballard and Cynthia Plaugher. This marks the second year the joint scholarship has been awarded.

The partnership between Sweet Briar and the Girl Scouts of the USA was first announced in 2017. This year, additional funding was added to allow for up to seven scholarships annually. Only students who have completed the Girl Scouts Gold Award may apply. The Girl Scouts Gold Award Scholarship is funded by multiple generous Sweet Briar alumnae who are former Girl Scouts and who care deeply about advancing women’s leadership.

“We’re so proud of these young women and what they have already accomplished with the Girl Scouts,” said Beth Clarke, acting vice president for enrollment management. “We’re confident they will do great things at Sweet Briar!”

Ballard, from Leicester, N.C., is the daughter of Sweet Briar alumna Jennifer Ballard ’93. She is interested in the College’s pre-veterinary track and plans to ride in the equestrian program. “Within the 10 years of my life that I have spent in Girl Scouts, I would not give back one second,” she said. “I have learned who I am — from elementary school all the way to graduating high school. It has taught me who I am and how to express myself, plus so much more!”

Plaugher, of Fredericksburg, plans to study environmental science and is also interested in the College’s equestrian program. “In my experience, there are many similarities between Girl Scouts and Sweet Briar,” she told us. “Both organizations instill the same drive for courage, independence and leadership in women, and both have the same goal: to build strong women and help them be productive, responsible members of our world community.”

Girl Scouts who have been accepted at Sweet Briar from anywhere in the United States can apply for one $2,500 award, and another 5 awards of $2,500 each are reserved for students in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia and Texas. A $5,000 award is designated for a Girl Scout from the Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital.

All seven scholarship awards are available for eligible incoming first-year students from the designated geographic areas who have achieved the Girl Scout Gold Award and have been accepted to Sweet Briar College. The scholarship award is for the first year of study.

Scholarship winners are judged on the following criteria:

  1. Acceptance to Sweet Briar College and a commitment to attend
  2. Current (or recent) active membership in a Girl Scout troop and completion of the Girl Scout Gold Award (please provide copy of the certificate or letter)
  3. Letter of recommendation from the troop leader
  4. Essay on your Gold Award project or how you have demonstrated a commitment to community service, leadership and/or sustainability

Gold Award winners can apply to Sweet Briar College at sbc.edu/admissions/apply-now. After submitting your application, you can submit the required Gold Award essay inside your Sweet Briar admissions portal.

For questions, contact Sweet Briar’s Office of Admissions at admissions@sbc.edu or 434-381-6142.

For more information about joining the Girl Scouts, visit girlscouts.org.

Admissions Blog: 3 reasons why Sweet Work Weeks is my favorite new tradition at Sweet Briar

Jill Gavitt painting SWW
Jill Gavitt ’97 paints during Sweet Work Weeks 2017 at Sweet Briar.

Traditions are among the most beloved parts of the Sweet Briar experience. Every college has academics, residence life, sports and clubs, but Sweet Briar has some of the quirkiest traditions that you can never quite explain to an outsider. Each current student and alumna can wax poetic for hours about the traditions they love the most. (I know I can!) These traditions keep us bonded to each other and to the College. They lift our spirits and they make us laugh, and they remind us how lucky we are to be learning in such a unique place. But, once you leave the College, how do you keep the spirit of those traditions alive? Like other colleges, we have Reunion for the alumnae; it’s a fantastic event that gives us all the chance to reconnect.

But Sweet Briar has never been content to just simply do what other colleges do.

Recently, Sweet Briar alumnae have fiercely embraced a new tradition. For the last five summers, we have come together for Sweet Work Weeks to help the College staff prepare campus for the new school year. Like all Sweet Briar traditions, SWW is quirky and fun, and it eludes explanation to the uninitiated. It is an opportunity for alumnae and other friends of the College to volunteer their labor to the land and institution that Indiana Fletcher Williams entrusted to us. But that’s just what it is on paper.

Classmates Jill Gavitt (left) and Katie Clarkson Robertson during Sweet Work Weeks 2019 at Sweet Briar

I have been on campus for the last three years for these sessions and am constantly asked why I would do this. Why do I (especially as a teacher busy starting a new school year) give my precious free time to go and work at my college?

  1. Because here, work is play. There are tasks we need to accomplish — from clearing overgrown back trails to weeding the campus to painting all the dorm rooms to contacting future Vixens. And the list might seem onerous, especially when you’re working in the August heat, yet surrounded by these alumnae, I never worry that the day will be dull.
  2. Because Vixen alumnae are the best company. I spend each day having conversations about topics all over the map with alumnae from all different classes. I can start my morning with a debate on the finer points of the perfect chocolate croissant and move on to discussing the best way to prevent poison ivy, the books we’ve read lately, and the environmental impact of single-use plastics. One of my last evenings was spent in the parlor of Randolph [Hall] talking politics while decorating T-shirts for a dear (and sassy) alumna, and this was just before my classmate came in and, with her killer fast-pitch precision, threw me the candy I was craving. The night ended with hugs all around before we dragged ourselves to bed — mine being in the same room I occupied my senior year.
  3. Because every part of Sweet Briar feels like home — from the dorm rooms to the dining hall to the pathways to the academic buildings. I moved around often after I graduated, but this campus has always served as a beacon. Coming here to spend time for Sweet Work Weeks only solidifies that bond. We take pride in helping to ready this spectacular campus for student arrivals so that they, too, may pull off of U.S. 29 and feel like they are home. When I am volunteering here, I once again remember why Sweet Briar is so unique and so special for all of us.

So why do we give our free time to the College? Because it’s a tradition.

Jill GavittJill Gavitt graduated in 1997 with a Spanish major, a dance performance minor and a teaching certificate. She is originally from Rhode Island and currently teaches high school Spanish in Staunton, Va.


Sweet Briar wins Forbes’ #MyTopCollege 2019 title among small schools

Students walking on campus

If there is an online contest to be won, the Sweet Briar community — thanks in large part to an alumnae network like no other — will (most likely) win it. And so it did again this year, when Forbes called on the nation to vote for #MyTopCollege 2019.

The magic started with Forbes’ 2015 #MyTopCollege contest, followed by two unforgettable campus appearances from Seth Meyers and Rachel Platten — both the result of online competitions. In 2017, the College took home the #MyTopCollege win again and it did so yet again last year. And, yes: In 2019, Sweet Briar is the #MyTopCollege winner among small schools once more.

DeDe TwitterOf course, Forbes categorizes any college with fewer than 2,000 students as “small.” Sweet Briar has about 330 students, and has never had more than around 700. To win this contest for the fourth time in six years is impressive, but it’s not surprising given the boundless passion and perseverance of its alumnae, students, staff, faculty and friends.

In the large-schools category, California State University, Fullerton came out on top once again. Among medium-sized schools, Widener University took the title from last year’s winner, Otterbein University. Overall, Sweet Briar ranked third in the country — up one from last year — with more than 100 posts submitted. According to Forbes, more than 1,000 submissions came in on Instagram and Twitter between June 17 and Aug. 9. This year’s theme was time travel, with different sub-categories each week: from favorite college memories and traditions to future imaginations of what one’s top school might look like in five or 50 years.

Forbes will release its annual America’s Top Colleges listing — the official companion to its fun social media contest — later this week.

Olympian, business executives among new Sweet Briar Board of Directors members

Sweet Briar House
Sweet Briar House

The Sweet Briar College Board of Directors inducted three new members at its meeting in April: Sweet Briar alumna and Olympian Lendon Gray ’71, former business executive Scheline Crutchfield and CEO and investor Stephen Smiley.

“Lendon, Scheline and Stephen bring a fantastic mix of experience in finance, arts and sports to Sweet Briar,” said Chair of the Board Georgene Vairo ’72. “I’m thrilled to welcome them to our board of directors, and I look forward to working closely with them as we move the College’s mission forward.”

Scheline Crutchfield

A Virginia native, Scheline Crutchfield enjoyed more than 20 years in the financial services industry before pursuing her lifelong passion for art. After graduating from the University of Virginia in 1986 with a B.A. in American government, she worked for Chemical Bank in New York in wealth management, commercial banking, the Office of the President and capital markets. She later joined the capital markets group of Nations Bank in Charlotte, N.C. Crutchfield returned to Virginia in 2003 to work for Wachovia Bank. She became the market president for Charlottesville and the surrounding area before moving to wealth management, where she served as regional director for Western Virginia. Crutchfield now combines her business and art skills as the owner of Sleepy Dog Studio. She’s a passionate community volunteer and has served on many boards, including the Charlottesville Free Clinic, Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development, Ash Lawn Opera, Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, Emily Couric Leadership Forum, Piedmont Virginia Community College Foundation and the Martha Jefferson Hospital Foundation.

Lendon Gray
Lendon Gray

Lendon Gray was in the Sweet Briar College Class of 1971, majoring in Greek and Latin. While at Sweet Briar, she was active in the riding program and taught riding there for 3 1/2 years after graduation. She later specialized in dressage, made two Olympic teams and represented the U.S. internationally for many years. For over 45 years, she ran successful training stables in Maine, New York and Florida and became active in the U.S. Dressage Federation, where she chaired many committees geared toward education, and was a founding examiner for instructor certification. She was on the board of directors of the U.S. Equestrian Federation and the U.S. Pony Clubs and is now on the board of the USA Equestrian Trust, is secretary of The Dressage Foundation’s Board and president of Dressage4kids Inc., an organization she started 22 years ago, and which is now recognized internationally as a top program for educating young people in dressage. Gray has been inducted into Sweet Briar’s Athletics Hall of Fame, the Maine Sports Hall of Hall and the U.S. Dressage Federation Hall of Fame, was honored as the American Riding Instructor Association Master Instructor, a USPC Legend and an EquineAffaire Exceptional Equine Educator, and received a Pony Club Master Achievement Award.

Steve Smiley
Steve Smiley

Stephen P. Smiley is the managing partner of Madison Lane Partners LLC, a private advisory firm in Dallas, Texas. Smiley was a member of the board of directors of, and an advisor to, Signature Family Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisor, from 2009 to 2018. Headquartered in Norfolk, Signature serves high net-worth families and manages in excess of $4 billion. From 1996 to 2010, Smiley was president of Hunt Private Equity Group Inc. Prior to joining Hunt, Smiley was president of Cypress Capital Corporation, a private equity firm he co-founded in 1991. Smiley started his professional career working for Citicorp/Citigroup for 15 years in New York and Dallas in various corporate lending and private equity capacities. He is the former chairman of the board of managers of the Alumni Association at the University of Virginia and a member of the board of directors of the Jefferson Scholars Foundation and the university’s Arts Council. He is also on the board of trustees of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. Smiley graduated from UVa in 1971 with a B.A. in English literature. Following college, Smiley served as a weapons officer in the U.S. Navy aboard a guided missile cruiser. He received an MBA from the College of William & Mary in 1976.

Sweet Briar named on Kiplinger’s Best College Values 2019 list

Emily Schlosberg at Sweet Briar College’s 110th Commencement in May 2019

Sweet Briar College is among 400 colleges and universities ranked on Kiplinger’s annual list of best-value colleges.

As in recent years, Kiplinger features a combined list that ranks the top values for all U.S. colleges and universities, plus lists of the best values in private universities, private liberal arts colleges (which are ranked separately to account for their different missions) and public colleges.

All schools on Kiplinger’s list meet its definition of value: “a high-quality education at an affordable price.” First, the publisher analyzes academic measures, including student-to-faculty ratio, test scores of incoming freshmen, and the percentage of students who return for sophomore year. The most points are awarded for four-year graduation rates because “graduating on time helps keep costs down,” Kiplinger’s argues. However, “that isn’t a reality for many students. To reflect the benefit that comes from earning a degree — even if it takes more than four years — we’ve revised the rankings to award a handful of points for five- and six-year rates. We also reward schools that do a first-rate job of graduating students with financial need.”

Sweet Briar is ranked No. 273 among all colleges and universities and No. 115 among liberal arts colleges. (You can see all of the data here.) Sweet Briar’s excellent, relevant and affordable education is price-competitive with public institutions but with the added distinction of a leadership core curriculum combined with liberal arts and sciences, including an ABET-accredited engineering program. Tuition and fees for 2019-20 are $22,020, and room and board cost $13,250. Thanks to generous donor funding, the College continues to provide substantial merit scholarships and need-based aid to bring the cost of attendance down even more. Additionally, Sweet Briar continues to be recognized among colleges with lowest student loan debt and default rate.

Kiplinger is a Washington, D.C.-based publisher of business forecasts and personal finance advice, available in print and online. It has published a Best College Values list for 20 years.

Sweet Briar College announces exceptional fundraising results, raising $18.5 million in fiscal year 2019

Sweet Briar Campus in the afternoon light

During fiscal year 2019, Sweet Briar College received gifts and pledges totaling $18.5 million. This includes generous donations from alumnae and friends of the College, foundations and corporations. Of that total, $10.2 million was for fiscal year 2019 and $8.3 million will come as future support. Since 2015, the College has raised $63.9 million.

“Sweet Briar has had a spectacular year that opened with recognition by U.S. News & World Report that we are among the most innovative schools in the country,” said President Meredith Woo. “S&P Global Ratings has also upgraded the rating for bonds issued for Sweet Briar College for three years in a row. Our success is owed to the support of our alumnae and friends. I’m humbled by their passion and generosity and we at Sweet Briar are singularly committed to being worthy of their support.”

Donations impact every aspect of College life. This year, alumnae and friends provided funding for scholarships and travel for prospective students, both of which help the College recruit and retain the best students. Donations supported the College’s Grants for Engaged Learning, which enable students to do in-depth research, travel abroad and participate in other hands-on learning experiences. Gifts have also helped Sweet Briar develop agricultural enterprises, rededicating itself to traditional strengths. In addition, donations enable the College to bring well-known speakers to campus. In 2018-2019, Sweet Briar welcomed writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, artist and activist Morehshin Allahyari, Bettina Ring, secretary of agriculture and natural resources for the commonwealth and Jim Hubbard, the undersecretary for natural resources and natural resources at the United States Department of Agriculture, among others.

Sweet Briar is grateful for the extraordinary support as we enter the second year of the new academic vision and repositioning of the College by educating the next generation of leaders in America.

The Camille Flood of 1969, and How Sweet Briar College Helped to Rebuild the Community

Buffalo River covered the bridge at Boxwood Farm Road with debris, Hurricane Camille
Buffalo River covered the bridge at Boxwood Farm Road with debris. The approach at the other end of the bridge was washed out. Photos courtesy of the Amherst County Museum & Historical Society Photo Collection

In late August 1969, Hurricane Camille struck Central Virginia. The storm appeared to have traveled along the eastern slopes of the Appalachian Mountains. We would later learn that it had made landfall in Mississippi on Aug. 18 as a Category 5 storm. Over the next 14 hours, it had weakened to a tropical depression as it moved northeast through Kentucky and West Virginia and, finally, Virginia, where a confluence of weather conditions caused massive rainfall.

I remember that night vividly. My family and I were living on а road connecting Amherst to Sweet Briar College, where I taught for the better part of 30 years. It rained throughout that night as I have never seen it rain again in all my 85 years. I went the next morning to the town to get а haircut. The reports were astounding. U.S. 29 was closed north of town because of damage to the bridge over the Туе River. The Southern Railroad bridge just to the east of the highway was completely destroyed, and rumors floated about that the town’s water supply and that of Sweet Briar were in danger. Fortunately, these rumors proved to be false. Access by rail to Sweet Briar from the north was difficult for months.

Damaged house after Hurricane Camille
Mountain landslide. Tons of earth and trees from a mountain behind W. O. Tucker’s Store on Route 60 caused heavy damage.

On the Monday after the weekend flood, chemistry professor John McClenon, а very good friend of mine, and I decided to go up to Massie’s Mill, а village on the Туе River reported to be decimated by flood water. By this time the waters had retreated. After а harrowing trip over the back roads, we got to the town. The scene was beyond belief: Dead cattle were everywhere in the fields, houses and buildings clearly showed how high the waters had crept, debris of every kind was strewn about and, in some places, piled head-high by the water. The small Episcopal church, the only church in the town, appeared relatively unharmed from the outside, but in its interior, pews, pulpits, hymnals and all other manner of trash were indiscriminately piled in one enormous heap. It was obvious that many homes in the town were going to require extensive renovation. It was also obvious that what help any of us could provide would be of use and much welcomed.

On the return trip to Sweet Briar, John and I drove up the valley toward the Blue Ridge Parkway. About а mile above Massie’s Mill, we spotted а two-story framed house which appeared to have originated in the early 20th century. It had been flooded up to window height. Inquiry produced the fact that before the flood, it had been inhabited by two elderly ladies. After what must have been а most harrowing experience, they had managed to brave the unlighted stairs and climb from the first floor, where they had been living, to the second floor. There they were rescued. They both expressed the deep hope of returning to the home they loved. Everyone we talked to wanted to make this hope come to fruition.

Bridge on Rt. 60 washed out after Hurricane Camille
Approaches at the Bridge on Route 60 at Sandidges were washed out.

John and I solicited help from our colleagues and from а local retired contractor, Carter Ambler. His help and advice were crucial throughout the reconstruction process, which lasted from the flood in August until our ladies resumed residence directly before Christmas. After this long passage of time, I cannot begin to name the host of members of the Sweet Briar community, faculty, staff and most of all our students who volunteered weekend after weekend to the reconstruction. I must also recognize the substantial gift the College made to the reconstruction cost.

Finally, I would like to return to the student contributions, which were nothing less than marvelous. I had often heard comments that described my students and others at Sweet Briar as “spoiled, self-centered, lazy, vain, rich and essentially а drain on society.” I always resented this erroneous appraisal of Sweet Briar students. My experience on the project I have just described proved my resentment was completely justified.

Professor Shannon and students on library steps
Prof, John Shannon with students on the library steps in 1960

Every Saturday morning for nearly three months, а group of 20 to 25 students arrived to work. They drove their own cars the 50-mile round-trip to the project at their own expense. They were given the dirtiest and most tiring projects. They cleaned walls, they washed floors covered with а half-inch of grime, they climbed on roofs, they painted, they carried lumber, they leveled gravel on the driveways and they learned to live without indoor plumbing! They were never paid а cent. I never once heard а single complaint. The students could hardly have been more useful or more gracious. Thank God for women like these Sweet Briar students. ln this unfortunate day in which the contributions and aspirations of women are so often demeaned, they demonstrated what it really means to be truly feminine. I hope and know we will have many more Sweet Briar students like them!

John R. Shannon is professor emeritus of music at Sweet Briar College.

This article first appeared in Sweet Briar’s Spring 2019 Alumnae Magazine. It has been edited slightly from its print version to reflect Hurricane Camille’s actual path as the storm moved inland.

Science for good: Sweet Briar STEM grad finds her path at Grassroots Cannabis

Jessica Heiser-Aliquo works in the lab at Grassroots Cannabis
Jessica Heiser-Aliquo works in the lab at Grassroots Cannabis.

As a recent graduate of Sweet Briar College, Jessica Heiser-Aliquo ’16 knows adversity. More importantly, though, she knows how to overcome it. When the bio major reached a dead end in her first job, Sweet Briar faculty and alumnae helped her switch careers. Last fall, Heiser-Aliquo landed an entry-level position in one of today’s hottest industries. At Grassroots Cannabis in Taneytown, Md., she quickly rose up the ranks and is now head of her department: lead tech of post processing. Her job? Making THC concentrates for use by medical cannabis patients in Maryland.

“I operate really fun machinery such as rotary evaporators, vacuum ovens, Buchner funnel and inline vacuum filtration systems — and my personal favorite, a wiped film molecular evaporator,” Heiser-Aliquo tells us. “Honestly, the most exciting part of my job is that I’m able to experiment and try new things to create the best possible product each day. There are always ways to improve and tweak my processes to increase my yields and therefore create a better product that will help people struggling with conventional medicine or terminal illnesses. I get to nerd out about the hard science of my job while making a positive impact on the Maryland medical cannabis community.”

Jessica Heiser and a co-worker in the lab at Grassroots Cannabis
Jessica Heiser-Aliquo and a co-worker in the lab at Grassroots Cannabis

Of course, things don’t always go as planned. “Some days are tough, when you feel like you’re not hitting your goals or running into an unnecessary amount of hiccups,” she admits. “Overall though, I really can’t complain. I love the work I do, I love my team and I love making a difference locally.”

Just over a year ago, Heiser-Aliquo couldn’t have imagined a job like this. And of course it didn’t exist at all before Dec. 1, 2017, when Maryland’s state-regulated medical marijuana program became fully operational. The plant’s growing legalization has triggered an explosion of brand-new jobs in recent years and months — alongside, of course, the technology industry’s lightning-fast developments over the past decade. Sweet Briar’s academic overhaul in 2017 introduced a modern leadership core curriculum to address that precise trend. Courses like Design Thinking and STEM and Society are preparing graduates for the jobs of tomorrow.

When Heiser-Aliquo graduated in 2016, things happened really fast for her. Within that first week, she got engaged, moved to Maryland and was hired at Grey Goose Farm. “I wore a few different hats during my time at the nursery, including purchaser and assistant manager, but it soon got to the point where I missed school and science so much that I began looking to switch career fields,” she recalls.

However, full-time entry-level positions in field biology or ecology were scarce, so Heiser-Aliquo turned to her Sweet Briar mentor, Dorys McConnell Duberg Professor of Ecology Linda Fink.

Jessica Heiser with Linda Fink
Jessica Heiser-Aliquo (right) with Prof. Linda Fink and Andrea Perez at Baccalaureate in 2016

“After spending over two years in the landscape industry and already hitting a dead end, Dr. Fink was really incredible for taking the time out of her busy life to help me with this frustration,” Heiser-Aliquo says. “I owe her and her late husband Lincoln [Brower] so much for helping me find opportunities and just keeping my morale up after graduation.”

Fink also put her in touch with fellow biology alumnae, who turned out to be life-savers.

Heiser-Aliquo was glad to be able to vent and brainstorm with someone in her field “until I had the courage to make a real change,” she says. The alumnae helped her spruce up her résumé and offered letters of recommendation, and eventually, all of the networking and hard work paid off. “It definitely wasn’t where I expected to end up, but it’s been a great opportunity for education and growth,” she says.

Heiser-Aliquo knew she wanted to practice science. She considered applying to veterinary schools when a lab assistant position at Grassroots came open last year. She applied on a whim. “There wasn’t a lot about my new industry to research at the time, but it was a foot in the door to an industry that was new and growing pretty rapidly,” Heiser-Aliquo explains. “I landed an interview in July, took the plunge and started at Grassroots around the beginning of September. Within my first six months, I advanced to head of my department and absolutely love what I do in the lab on a daily basis!”

Heiser-Aliquo may have taken a little detour on her career path, but she’s learned a lot in the process. It’s what makes her a great resource for recent grads and anyone looking to find their true calling.

Jessica Heiser and family
Jessica Heiser-Aliquo with her husband, Anthony Aliquo II, and his parents

“Honestly, just don’t give up happiness for a job,” she says. “It might take some time to find your niche, but it’s worth the wait. Networking is so, so, so important because if you can introduce yourself to a company in a way that isn’t just another résumé submitted online, you’re so much more likely to at least score an interview. In my experience, that’s the biggest step; once you land the interview, let your charisma shine, your skills do the talking and you’re golden. That advice goes for so many industries too; don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.”

Heiser-Aliquo says she was able to negotiate her trajectory at Grassroots by accepting the initial pay cut that came with the entry-level job. Her strong work ethic, regardless of the tasks she was asked to perform, paid off in the long run.

field hockey senior day
Jessica Heiser-Aliquo with her parents (center) and coaches Tracy Stuart ’93 (left) and Hannah Lott (right) during field hockey’s Senior Day 2016

“For those looking for a way into the cannabis industry specifically, I would suggest researching companies that inspire you and have a good reputation, monitoring their open positions that feel like a good fit and applying,” she says. “Social media is another great resource to keep an eye on the industry; there are often events that are open to the public where industry professionals are looking for networking opportunities and new hires. If you lack experience for a position you’re aspiring to, it might be helpful to begin in a lower position first and work your way up if you find a company willing to invest in your education.”

Heiser-Aliquo loves sharing her insights and network with current students and fellow alumnae, and she comes back to campus whenever she can. It’s hard to imagine now that she almost did not attend Sweet Briar. “I remember being totally against the idea of Sweet Briar when I was in high school because our local pageant queen wanted to go there,” she says. “It was the last school on my list for Virginia Private College Week, but everything changed when I first drove onto campus. The overnight stay as a prospective student definitely changed my perspective, and by the next day I was in tears driving away, insisting I couldn’t go anywhere else.”

The campus beauty and the biology program catapulted Sweet Briar to the top of her list of small, private liberal arts colleges in Virginia. And, finally, “it was ultimately the sense of community and the amazing history and traditions that set SBC apart.”

Linda Fink butterfly garden
Linda Fink’s insect biology class gathers at the butterfly garden on campus.

Heiser-Aliquo’s love of campus grew with her love of the College’s academics. “My first upper-level biology class is still my favorite class I’ve ever taken. I took Field Natural History as a sophomore with Dr. Fink during spring 2014. It was one of the best classes to take to really see campus and get to know the flora and fauna that make SBC so unique. It was also my first class with Dr. Fink, who intimidated the heck out of me at the time! Two weeks in, I knew I wanted this woman as my advisor and that I’d be taking every class with her I could. I ended up switching my concentration to ecology and fell even deeper in love with the campus over the next two and a half years. This was such a pivotal point in my undergrad career, and it defined my passion and identity as an advocate for the environment today.”

Jessica Heiser and her friends at Lantern Bearing, one of many Sweet Briar traditions
Jessica Heiser-Aliquo (center) and friends Lydia Gullicksen ’17 (from left), Christina Seay ’17, Sarah Kosar ’16, Sakinah Bryant ’17 and Citlali Molina ’16 at Lantern Bearing, one of many Sweet Briar traditions

Choir with Marcia Thom-Kaley, now the dean of students, was another big part of her Sweet Briar experience. Heiser-Aliquo joined the choir her first semester on campus, having little experience in singing. “I could read music because I was a band geek previously, but nothing could stand in the way of a girl wanting to sing as far as Marcia was concerned. The atmosphere that she created for anyone regardless of major, ability or time constraints was addictive, uplifting and ultimately gave me a stronger connection to this institution.”

Thom-Kaley encouraged her to step out of her comfort zone, Heiser-Aliquo recalls, and she ended up joining both the Chamber Choir and Octavo. “I can’t think of a woman more dedicated to her students’ well-being and success than Marcia. She was the one who picked us all up after the school announced it was closing, and she was absolutely on the front lines when it came to saving our home. Her passion for music and guiding young women really showcased her as a role model for what it means to be a Sweet Briar woman. She certainly had a huge impact on my life.”

Heiser-Aliquo says Sweet Briar taught her to “really understand the meaning of adversity and what it means to stand in the face of it and win. … Don’t give up, explore your options and ultimately make the best decision for you and what you care most about.”

We love checking in with our recent grads to see what they’re up to! This is just one story in a series of profiles featuring Sweet Briar’s young alumnae across various disciplines and job fields.

Ahead of the Game: Sweet Briar Lacrosse

Jennifer Crispen

Note: Many thanks to Theresa Carriveau ’20 for letting us use her Honors Summer Research paper, “Ahead of the Game: A Look at the History of Athletics, Field Hockey, and Lacrosse at Sweet Briar College from 1900-1930,” to write this story.

Lacrosse came to Sweet Briar in 1912, brought by recently hired physical director Cara Gascoigne. The first club team at the College was organized in 1914. It appears that Sweet Briar may have been one of the earliest institutions to introduce the sport. In fact, it may have been the first institution in the country to play lacrosse.

In 2007, long-time Sweet Briar coach Jennifer Crispen wrote in the Alumnae Magazine, “You cannot underestimate the influence of the early physical educators at Sweet Briar. They valued athletics and competition not only as necessary, but as good for their students. Much of the early progress in women’s competition was due to the competitive philosophy of women’s college athletics, particularly the Mid-Atlantic and Southern women’s colleges. Cara Gascoigne left a legacy that still benefits Sweet Briar student-athletes today.”

Sweet Briar Athletics: The Early Years

In 1907, when Sweet Briar College launched its athletic association, college-supported athletic competition for women wasn’t all that common. Mount Holyoke had introduced physical education in 1837, but it didn’t much resemble what we consider athletics today; it included light exercise, walking and calisthenics. By the end of the century, more sports had been introduced to college women, including horseback riding, croquet, bowling, boating, ice skating, archery, tennis, crew, walking, bicycling, fencing, swimming, baseball and football. But some sports were considered inappropriate for women. Basketball, it was thought, was too rough for girls, causing them undue exertion.

Cara Gascoigne
Cara Gascoigne in 1917

Intercollegiate athletic competition among women was rare. Lucille Eaton Hill, the director of physical training at Wellesley College, noted that “fiercely competitive athletics have their dangers for men, but they mainly develop strength. For women their dangers are greater and the qualities they tend to develop are not womanly.” In addition to the worry about introducing “unwomanly qualities,” people worried about the expense of hiring professional coaches and paying for equipment. Furthermore, women’s athletics for the enjoyment of spectators was frowned upon. Women were supposed to enjoy the game rather than emphasize winning or individual accomplishments.

Sweet Briar students formally created their athletic association in June of 1907, just one year after the school started accepting students. These Sweet Briar women challenged the ideals of the time, suggesting that they could be interesting without being pale and “sufficiently intellectual without rising our health.” Further bucking trends, Sweet Briar began scheduling intercollegiate contests in field hockey and basketball in 1919.

Crispen began coaching lacrosse at Sweet Briar in 1977 and became not only a beloved member of the Sweet Briar community but also boasted an impressive history of accomplishments as a coach. She won many collegiate championships, was named ODAC Coach of the Year four times and coached 12 All-Americans in lacrosse. She also coached eight All-Americans in field hockey. In her 30-year career at the College, she coached more than 500 lacrosse games and two nationally ranked lacrosse teams. Among her many legacies: the Sweet Briar athletics logo, which she drew herself, and which is affectionately known as the “Crispen Vixen.” She mentored hundreds of lacrosse and field hockey players before her death in 2008.

Jennifer Crispen
Jennifer Crispen

Today, lacrosse is in good hands at Sweet Briar.

Jodi Canfield, who joined Sweet Briar as athletics director in 2018, is a longtime lacrosse coach and player and like those early Sweet Briar women back in 1907, Jodi believes that athletics are a critical part of the academic mission of the College. “Athletics helps foster leadership abilities through being a part of team, conflict resolution and communication skills,” she says. “As a department, we have educational sessions, mentoring programs to be proactive on the academic front, and then constant contact with our student-athletes to try and intervene at the first spot of difficulty.  Student-athletes have a higher GPA than the general student body.”

She is optimistic about the future of Sweet Briar lacrosse. “The Sweet Briar program is growing and should be competitive in the conference in the coming years,” Jodi says. “Teams that are as large as a lacrosse team (20-25 players) often need more time to develop to become competitive. Specialty positions in attack, midfield, defense and goalies need time in the recruiting process to develop and yield.”

Jodi’s faith in the program’s future is justified by Meredith Newman ’09 as the head coach. Prior to coming back to Sweet Briar in 2017, Meredith was the founding head coach of the lacrosse program at Beloit College in Wisconsin. She also spent two years at Augustana College in Illinois, where she compiled an overall record of 37-5, a perfect 12-0 regular season conference record, and back-to-back College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) tournament titles, as well as NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearances.

Meredith Newman ’09
Meredith Newman ’09 coaches one of her players

Meredith takes being a head coach seriously and knows that her job is about more than just teaching the rules of the game. Her own open-door policy comes from what she learned from her own favorite coaches at Sweet Briar. “My experience as a student-athlete molded me into a more responsible, committed, organized and effective leader because of the incredible mentorship and leadership of the coaches during my time as a player: Missy Ackerman and Hilary London,” Newman says. “I am honored to be in such an influential role and aim to provide the same degree of mentorship to our athletes today as they gave to me.”

Meredith is excited about the future of the Sweet Briar lacrosse program. Her immediate goals are to increase scoring opportunities, limit turnovers and establish a tradition of relentless defense and hustle, but she also looks forward to recruiting the next generation and leaving a strong foundation for the future. “The lacrosse players who will carry the torch in the future will be committed to pushing the program forward and may very well find themselves in fiercely competitive company with some of the strongest programs in our conference,” she says. “They will be competing in the conference tournament.”

This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 Alumnae Magazine.

Hundreds of alumnae representing 39 classes celebrate Reunion 2019

Reunion 1999
The Class of 1999 won the Nancy Godwin Baldwin Award for highest participation rate.

More than 350 guests visited campus for Reunion over the weekend, including nearly 300 alumnae representing 39 graduating classes and more than eight decades of Sweet Briar women. They traveled from 34 states and three countries to visit the place they all call home.

The most senior alumna represented was Virginia Watts Fournier ’44, who graduated with a degree in mathematics and went on to work at NASA.

The Class of 1999 earned the Nancy Godwin Baldwin Award for having the highest percentage of members attending (17%).

At the convocation ceremony, Mary Pope Hutson ’83 recognized alumnae who hold leadership positions on the College’s Board of Directors and in the Alumnae Alliance, and who volunteer for admissions, communications, career services, development, Sweet Work Weeks, regional clubs and class offices. Since July 1, 2018, alumnae have collectively volunteered more than 100,000 hours with an equivalent monetary value of more than $13 million.

Reunion stage
Outstanding Alumna Award recipient Cheri Burritt Yates ’84 (second from right) with her mother and surprise guest, Meri Burritt (center), and Mary Pope M. Hutson ’83 (left), President Woo (second from left) and Claire Griffith ’80

Cheri Burritt Yates ’84 received the 2019 Outstanding Alumna Award. With more than 20 years of hospitality experience, Yates has had an exceptional career as regional director of operations for Residence Inn® by Marriott. In addition to her volunteer work for the College during its recent renovations of The Florence Elston Inn, she has served on numerous boards including Healing Farms, Saint John’s Catholic School and Crown Leadership Academy. [photo]

Mimi Garrard ’58 was awarded the 2019 Distinguished Alumna Award. Garrard is an award-winning and internationally acclaimed dancer, choreographer and filmmaker. She has created more than 90 works for the stage that have been performed throughout North and South America. The Mimi Garrard Dance Company leaves an indelible mark on the entire Sweet Briar community but especially Ella Hansen Magruder ’75 and Mark Magruder, members of the Mimi Garrard Dance Company in New York City, who now lead the dance program at the College.

Sweet Briar Women: Leading in Public Service

Capitol DCCritical thinking, communication skills, ethical decision-making and problem-solving are all hallmarks of a liberal arts education, but they also provide excellent preparation for civic leadership. Perhaps it is unsurprising then, that so many Sweet Briar women become civic leaders after graduation. Some stand for elected positions, some are appointed to their positions and others are employed by governments at the local, state and federal levels. Regardless of the type of positions they hold, we’re proud of the many alumnae who have dedicated their careers to public service. They’re truly making a difference.

Here are just a few of their stories.

The Art Historian: Emily Pegues ’00

Curatorial associate in the department of sculpture and decorative arts at the National Gallery of Art

Emily Pegues
Emily Pegues

The department Emily Pegues ’00 works for at the National Gallery of Art is responsible for acquiring new works of art; organizing exhibitions; and preserving, displaying and interpreting works of art in the permanent collection. “My favorite part of the job is traveling as a courier with works of art we lend to exhibitions,” Emily tells us. “I’ve gotten to travel and work all over the world! It is quite special to accompany a Raphael back to Urbino, a city I first learned about from Professors Lee Piepho and Rosalia Ascari.”

Sweet Briar has a lot to do with where Emily is today. “At the SBC retirement party for Professor Emerita Ninie Laing ’57, I was one of the speakers and met another speaker, Lynn Rogerson ’76, who was the director of Art Services International. She was looking for an assistant to join her nonprofit traveling art exhibition organization. I remembered ASI from a J-term arts management class visit; it was a company that really intrigued me.” Emily went to work for Lynn. A few months in, ASI needed an education coordinator to cover someone’s maternity leave. “I leapt at the chance, and at age 22 was suddenly doing a dream job of coordinating exhibition catalogues, working with international scholars and gaining tons of experience — an extraordinary opportunity,” Emily recalls. She’s had a number of jobs in the years since — and she’s completed a master’s degree and is almost done with her Ph.D. dissertation, all while doing full-time curatorial work. While exhausting, she says, that double duty has “led to some exciting professional opportunities and cross-collaborations.”

If Sweet Briar’s alumnae network helped make her career, it is the College’s education and its faculty that shaped her as a leader. “Having great professors — great in their professional fields but also as generous mentors and role models beyond the classroom — has been instrumental in my life,” Emily says. “Being accustomed to speak up in the classroom, to take charge on the hockey field, to dive into life as a student in a foreign country are all things we learned as natural at SBC and which have shaped my understanding of leadership.” Good leadership, Emily says, is “doing the fearless right thing even if it makes people uncomfortable. I’m amazed by how often bad decisions are made just because people want to avoid rocking the boat or taking responsibility for saying the tough, true thing. Good leadership is being clear about goals — defining and committing to a mission, having a vision — and working collaboratively and fairly towards achieving it. It’s also about recognizing the value of each member of that team, whatever their role — like the famous photo of President Obama giving a janitor a friendly fist bump, in recognition of the person behind the job and the value of his work.”

The Judge: Verda Colvin ’87

Superior court judge in the Macon Judicial Circuit in Macon-Bibb County, Ga. 

If you didn’t know Judge Verda Colvin ’87 before March 29, 2016, you probably know her now — thanks to a viral video showing her lecture a group of troubled youth. As superior court judge in Macon-Bibb County, Ga., Verda has exclusive jurisdiction over felony cases, divorce, land and equity cases. “No one day is ever the same,” she says. “It is said that we are the busiest trial courts in our nation.”

Verda Colvin
Verda Colvin

Verda’s career started at a civil rights law firm, but she found her true calling where she never expected it — as a prosecutor. “I enjoyed being a litigator — engaging in bench and jury trials,” she tells us. From there, Verda went to work briefly as assistant general counsel for Clark-Atlanta University. “I honed my moral compass there,” she says. Her next step: assistant district attorney in Clayton County, Ga. “I learned that my role as a prosecutor was life-changing, as I could ensure that people were treated fairly as I controlled prosecutions,” she explains. “It was rewarding to ‘do the right thing’ even in a role that people readily assume is antagonistic to someone who finds him or herself in the criminal justice system.”

It is a good thing for Verda — and for Sweet Briar — that she stopped by the College’s table at a fair in College Park, Ga., some 36 years ago. She double-majored in government and religion and held a variety of leadership positions, including as a resident advisor and a member of several student organizations. What drew her to Sweet Briar in particular? “I wanted to attend a secondary institution that would be concerned about me, as a person, and my development as an intellectual,” she says. “I wanted an environment that would care about me.” And she got it. “Sweet Briar molded me into the woman I am today,” Verda says. “I learned to love myself at Sweet Briar and value all that I had to offer the world. There can be no greater joy than to choose an institution that empowers you on a personal level to be your best self. Sweet Briar did that for me.”

And it did something else. “Sweet Briar left me with a keen sense that my success was a necessity,” she adds. “Not just for myself, but for the world at large. I left Sweet Briar with a tenacious desire to do something, to matter, to fulfill my destiny — whatever that was to be. I knew that success was not optional, but expected. That has been the guiding quest since becoming an alumna of Sweet Briar.” And her career is a testament to it. “Leaders DO,” Verda says. “Leaders are those who seek the highest good, who demand the best and give the same to others. They don’t ask that others follow their example but instead, others follow them because of their admiration and recognition that this leader is who they’d like to be.”

The Representative: Felisha Leffler ’17

State Representative in Vermont

In November 2018, Felisha Leffler ’17 was elected to serve in the Vermont House of Representatives — an impressive accomplishment for a young woman less than two years from her Sweet Briar graduation. Felisha says her primary tasks are to listen and advocate. “For all of the concerns and ideas and initiatives I’ve listened to,” she says, “I then must act in a creative and responsible manner to bring solutions forward. To be effective as a representative, I need to be fierce, diligent — leveraging good compromise and creative problem-solving — understanding and honest.”

Felisha Leffler
Felisha Leffler

She says her college experience was an excellent launching pad for her current role, but as a member of the Class of 2017, she experienced some upheaval. “I experienced some of my highest and lowest moments at Sweet Briar,” she says. “But Sweet Briar pushed me out of my comfort zone and put me in a position to forge myself into a better person.” The Sweet Briar community helped her develop resilience during those difficult times. “It was the most compassionate place with the most understanding staff, peers, professors,” she told us. “It’s really the most incredible place for both education and development.”

She knows the resilience she learned at Sweet Briar will help her handle whatever challenges come her way. In addition to the support she got, she also had plenty of leadership opportunities. Beginning with practically her first day, she was involved in one kind of leadership or another, from being a leader in the classroom to serving on student government, clubs and more. “Having a community of so many driven women, there’s always a lot of good ideas on the table,” Felisha says. She learned to define the problem and how to make the best use of many ideas: “Collaboration and leadership go hand in hand, and Sweet Briar really helped me learn that.”

Felisha says running for office felt like a pipe dream or something she would do after she established a career. But as a student, she was able to intern on campaigns. Those internships helped her understand the ins and outs of why people run. “It was different than I had always thought,” she explains. “It was moms looking to change the conversation around education and opportunity. It was young professionals who were passionate about policy and wanted to get involved locally.” Those internships changed her thinking. “I was able to recognize the opportunity to serve my hometown and neighboring community. This allowed me to throw my hat into the ring decades before I thought it possible.” Her time at Sweet Briar also ignited a desire to strive for change and growth in her community. “The student council, Inter-club Council and so many more gave me an appetite to connect with the people and groups around me and work to make a comprehensive environment that’s robust and innovative. My role in public service really hones in on these goals and experiences and allows me to really act as a facilitator for my constituents.”

The Chief of Staff: Morgan Viña ’07

Chief of Staff to the United States Permanent Representative of the United Nations
[Editor’s note: After the Sweet Briar Alumnae Magazine went to press, Morgan Viña started a new job as
chief of staff for international security affairs, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy]

Working in a political position like chief of staff to the United States permanent representative to the U.N. isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a job that requires confidence and a willingness to make tough decisions. Morgan Viña is just that kind of person — and she’s never been the type to take no for an answer. That fortitude goes all the way back to her college days. For example, when she says she “bombed the LSAT” and worried she might not get into law school, she researched and discovered that graduate schools in the UK didn’t require an admissions test. “I ended up getting my master’s degree at the London School of Economics in one year, half the time and cost it would have taken me to attend graduate school in the United States,” she recalls. “Working for the U.S. government, I hear a lot of reasons why we shouldn’t change the status quo. To this, I say, ‘Don’t tell me why something can’t be done, tell me how you’re going to accomplish it.’” That’s a lesson she learned at Sweet Briar. “To be successful, students must do the work and be prepared to be challenged by their professors as well as classmates,” she says. “Similarly, in my career, I am most successful when I do my homework and prepare to be challenged by my principal and peers.”

Morgan Roach
Morgan Viña

As a student, she knew she wanted a career in public service, but wasn’t sure what that would look like. She did a lot of internships, but when she took former history professor John Ashbrook’s class on modern European history, she realized foreign policy was her niche.

Early in her career, when she was working as a research assistant for the Heritage Foundation, Boko Haram attacked the U.N. Headquarters in Abuja. She realized the attack could have broader policy implications. When she told her boss, he said that if it mattered to her, she should write a policy statement. “More to prove a point than anything,” she recalls, “I wrote a blog post and then a longer policy piece. This turned into a bigger campaign to get the administration to designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, which they eventually did.” That led to her organizing a working group on Sub-Saharan Africa, which in turn led to a recommendation that she work with Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) when he became the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. When Nikki Haley was nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, it was Morgan’s job to brief her on the committee’s priorities and vet her fitness for office. “I liked her so much that after she was confirmed, I asked her for a job,” Morgan says. “After joining her team in New York and serving as her advisor on management and reform, she asked me to be her chief of staff.”

Morgan has an impressive career, but she still has time for Sweet Briar. She loves mentoring students and recent graduates on their careers. “Working in politics and government can be like navigating a minefield,” she says. “There are so many unwritten rules and protocols one is expected to follow. I had to learn a lot of these lessons the hard way.” She likes the opportunity to help fellow Sweet Briar women learn to swim in those waters.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 Alumnae Magazine.

Deep Roots: Farming at Sweet Briar

VineyardJan Y. Osinga worked at the Sweet Briar farm for more than 41 years. In a memoir written in 2009, he said he was often asked, “What is a dairy farm doing at a college?” Jan’s response was always the same: that the farm was there first.

Driving around campus after his retirement and the end of dairy operations, Jan observed that “old and former barns are still a silent witness of the past, part of the Sweet Briar Farm History, while the open fields, once planted in hay, corn and small grain, will remain a constant reminder of the past.”

No longer a thing of the past, this year, farming will return as an active part of College life. In setting her strategic vision for the College, President Meredith Woo identified the campus as a distinctive asset and stewarding its land as everyone’s responsibility. She began asking questions about how to build an artisanal agricultural community that would have a purposeful academic component.

After consulting with the College’s Sustainability Committee, President Woo asked Lori Husein, vice president for finance and administration, and Nathan Kluger, director of agricultural enterprises, to implement new farming activities that would weave sustainable agriculture into the fabric of Sweet Briar’s campus. These efforts have two primary functions: to provide academic opportunities for Sweet Briar students and to produce alternative streams of revenue for the College. But more than that, Sweet Briar wants to honor its agricultural legacy and create chances to connect with residents of Amherst County.

Sheep on campus, c. 1908

And the timing couldn’t be more perfect, with more women taking on agricultural businesses than ever before. “As women run an increasing number of the nation’s farms, Sweet Briar will be poised to recruit and educate women who will be the agricultural and natural resource leaders of tomorrow,” President Woo says. “Moreover, by reactivating heritage agricultural lands, the farming operations will provide us with critical sources of auxiliary revenue, and will help ensure that we fulfill our responsibilities to be wise and proper stewards of our natural environment.”

Sweet Briar is Growing

In March, the school’s new agricultural operation buzzed back into life, when the bees in the hives that were installed last summer began foraging for pollen after a long winter. The first steps for the worker bees involve feeding the queen so she’ll ramp up her egg laying. In Virginia, early spring bees typically feed on flowering trees and as you read this article, our bees are venturing out to seek maple tree pollen and nectar. Bees need both nectar and pollen to be healthy, and a healthy hive should produce 35 to 40 pounds of honey in the first year — and maybe twice as much in later years. Later this summer, you’ll be able to purchase honey harvested at Sweet Briar in the Book Shop.

Nathan Kluger onsite at Sweet Briar earlier this spring

The College’s agricultural efforts will be a hive of activity this spring and summer. Near the apiary, Nathan is overseeing the planting of a meadow, which will be home to wildflowers and native grasses. The meadow will take approximately three years to mature, but already significant changes are taking place. “This pollinator field is a healthy buffer space that supports a variety of natural fauna like butterflies and humming birds,” says Nathan. “It’s a vast safe space, not only for the bees whose hives are nearby, but for a wide array of pollinators that keep our plants healthy. Of course, it also contributes to the beauty of Sweet Briar’s campus, which is one of its most valuable assets.”

Something else visitors to campus will be able to see very soon? Grapevines. Earlier this spring, Nathan and his team broke ground on what will become 20 acres of vineyard. They took surveys and conducted soil testing so they could make nutrient adjustments and ensure that the vines would grow strong and healthy. The team built trellises and now vines are being planted. “In the first year, we’ll train the vines,” says Nathan. “We should see the first yield in about three years with maximum yield in five.” Ultimately, there are about 60 acres of vineyards planned.

Making good use of the level spot that was home to the lower tennis courts, a greenhouse is being built. When construction is complete later this summer, the College will begin planting crops that its food services partner, Meriwether Godsey, will use to feed students, faculty and staff in the dining hall. When Sweet Briar is not in session, the hope is that Meriwether Godsey will be able to use the crops for its other local customers, ensuring a steady market for the College and plenty of farm-to-table produce for Meriwether Godsey: a win-win for everyone.

Watercolor rendering of the planned wildflower meadow and vineyard

Nathan says an orchard site has also been identified near the community garden, so fruit trees may also be in Sweet Briar’s future. In addition, there may be opportunities for livestock like cattle and sheep to take up residence on campus. Even farther out? Perhaps the College might use its grapes in its own winery. But no matter what additional agricultural endeavors the College engages in, says Nathan, “we have to operate within a regenerative model that treats the land that has been entrusted to the College in a responsible manner, and there has to be an academic overlay for everything we do.”

Agriculture and the Classroom

The faculty are already looking at ways to bring the farm into the classroom.

In fall 2018, just after the apiary had been installed, Dorys McConnell Duberg Professor of Ecology Linda Fink — in collaboration with Brooke Savage, the beekeeper from Elysium Honey — began offering a Saturday afternoon class in beekeeping for students. Those who completed the course will be prepared to take the Apprentice Beekeeper exam from the Virginia State Beekeepers Association Master Beekeeper Program. Next year, Linda and Brooke will provide another course for beginners, plus more advanced opportunities for students who completed the first course, and students will take on more responsibility at the apiary as they gain more proficiency.

There’s also ample opportunity for Linda to use the bees to teach insect biology. Last fall, students in BIOL 111: Introduction to Organisms spent an afternoon lab period learning about honey bee biology and collecting data on bee foraging behavior. One senior biology major conducted research in the apiary in the fall. In Linda’s three-week course this spring, students will do projects associated with the bees.

bees and student
Girl Scout and environmental science major Annika Kuleba ’22 brought several years of beekeeping experience to Sweet Briar, where she has been able to continue that passion.

Linda also plans to use the meadow extensively. “I’ll be teaching insect biology next year and having the meadow close at hand will be a wonderful asset. I’ll probably use it in ecology, too,” she says.

Indeed, the opportunities to link academics to the College’s agricultural efforts are limited only by the ingenuity and creativity of the faculty.

CORE 140: Sustainable Systems, will introduce the concept of sustainability by teaching students about the interconnectedness of environmental, cultural and economic systems. The need to test the soil for nutrient levels offers an opportunity for biology and chemistry students. Engineering students can develop tools to help the College monitor its fields. In fact, this year’s Capstone students are engaged in something similar already, though they’re doing it at UVa. Business students could learn to develop plans for agricultural businesses. The greenhouse also provides an opportunity for on-site learning.

Raina Robeva, director of the Center for Engineering, Science and Technology in Society, sees collaborative opportunities for her center and the Center for Human and Environmental Sustainability. “The plans are for a smart farm where modern technology compliments and assists with land management and use. This will be fertile ground for collaboration between the STEM center and the sustainability center,” says Raina. Carrie Brown, director of the Center for Creativity, Design and the Arts, is equally invested in developing ways for her center to take advantage of the growing agricultural efforts at the College.

The Bottom Line

There are complex financial issues involved with agriculture at Sweet Briar, from startup costs to long-term revenue. According to Lori, startup costs will be funded by private donations and public and private grants. The College is actively pursuing these private dollars, as well as grant opportunities at the federal, state and local levels. It is also looking into developing corporate partnerships.

President Woo, Bettina Ring and Jim Hubbard
President Woo (right) with Jim Hubbard, under secretary for natural resources and environment at the United States Department of Agriculture; and Bettina Ring, Virginia’s secretary for agriculture and forestry during Sweet Briar’s Earth Day celebrations

The Commonwealth of Virginia has prioritized agriculture as a driver for economic development — a sound decision since agriculture is the state’s largest industry. As a result, the state has developed incentive programs for agriculture-based economic development. Of course, economic development is particularly important to Amherst County and the region around the College. Sweet Briar is the fourth-largest employer in the county, so it can provide real development opportunities to the county and its residents. That makes Sweet Briar a good investment for the state, and has the added benefit of building up the College’s relationship with the county and its residents as an active part of the county’s economic growth.

In fact, the College is already working closely with the Amherst County Agricultural Committee to partner with them on growing agritourism in the county.

At the local level, Sweet Briar is already working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the United States Department of Agriculture, to mitigate invasive species and prepare the land for these new endeavors. At the federal level, there are larger Conservation Innovation Grants to be had as part of the farm bill. These grants drive public and private sector innovation in research conservation, helping to develop next-generation agricultural and conservation tools, technologies and strategies. The NRCS is also committed to supporting historically underserved groups — like women — providing a real opportunity for funding at Sweet Briar. Ultimately, the efforts funded by the NRCS boost production and improve water quality, soil health and wildlife habitats.

A staff member surveys the land near the green barn for the installation of grapevines.

“This is not just a ‘build it and they will come’ thing,” says Lea Harvey ’90, director of foundation and corporate relations. “We’ve done research to know where our access points to market are. And we have an opportunity to give back to Amherst County to drive economic development and be a demonstration site for best practices in agriculture. All of that will help us leverage grants and partnerships with government agencies and private sector companies that provide smart farm technologies.”

Sweet Briar will use these external funding opportunities to minimize the impact to the College’s bottom line in the short term and maximize revenue in the long term. “To be sustainable,” says Lea, “these agricultural efforts must provide unique auxiliary revenue opportunities and we need to start investing in them.” Lori agrees. “We have a ready market,” she says. “There is demand for the products we can produce here.”

A greenhouse on campus could make farm-to-table meals — like this special dinner Meriwether Godsey served for Earth Day — a more frequent occurrence.

As such, Nathan is tasked with ensuring that Sweet Briar’s agricultural enterprises are revenue-centric, starting with the apiary. Because the College has its own hives, as well as a contract with nearby Elysium Honey to process the honey, Sweet Briar should see a modest profit from the apiary soon.

Likewise, the vineyard will produce revenue because there is a big market for Virginia grapes. “Virginia is the fifth-largest wine-producing state in the country and in order to produce a Virginia wine, vintners must use a minimum of 75% Virginia grapes,” says Nathan. The state currently has a shortage of grapes and Sweet Briar will help provide a solution to that problem. “There is a lot of upside to using Sweet Briar’s many south-facing slopes to grow grapes,” says Nathan.

In addition to creating alternative streams of revenue, adding agricultural learning opportunities may also open some avenues to recruit students who are interested in farming or related industries. After all, what better place to educate women to be leaders in agriculture than at Sweet Briar, where there is a long history of farming and a renewed commitment not only to developing women leaders, but also to stewarding the land left to the College by Indiana Fletcher Williams?

Jan Osinga
Jan Osinga at Sweet Briar

Certainly, there are similarities between Jan’s farm and the agricultural enterprises Sweet Briar is undertaking today. For one thing, back in the days of the Sweet Briar dairy, Jan wasn’t afraid to try new things. And, like Nathan, Jan was charged with building a farm that would create revenue. But one thing is different: Jan thought the farm should have been a more integrated part of the student experience. “I always thought it a missed opportunity that the academic part of Sweet Briar never took great advantage of incorporating the farm and dairy in some way into their academic curriculum,” he wrote in his memoir. We’d like to think Jan would be pleased to see the College bringing farming back to campus with new products and new ideas, and that he’d be happy to know that the farm will have a place in the curriculum.

Yes, agriculture has deep roots at Sweet Briar. The latest efforts are part of a new chapter in farming at the College, one President Woo anticipates will have a lasting, positive impact. “We have a significant inheritance in the beautiful land. It is ours to keep and ours to honor,” she says. “I’m proud of what we will accomplish as we merge our agricultural legacy with our commitment to the future of the liberal arts and women’s leadership.”

This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 Alumnae Magazine.

Mighty Class of 2019 graduates under sunny skies

Graduation bell towerA heavenly breeze blew through the Quad as the Albemarle Pipes and Drums opened Sweet Briar College’s 110th Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 18. The small but mighty Class of 2019 — 29 undergraduate degree candidates and one M.A.T. graduate — couldn’t have picked a more perfect day to celebrate their incredible accomplishments: not just earning a degree, but choosing Sweet Briar College in the fall of 2015 against all odds.

Naturally, that fierce fighter spirit dominated the morning’s speeches. In her welcome, President Meredith Woo saluted the Sweet Briar community for its bravery, but especially the Class of 2019 for taking a leap of faith. Leading them, Woo noted, was Presidential Medalist Caroline Thomas, who stepped up to the podium first.

Wearing a graduation robe from 1929, Thomas said she wanted to show the “boundless nature” of Sweet Briar. Fighting back tears, she added, “We must remember that everything we do has an impact on our environment around us for future generations to come.” Thomas went on to read a letter written to Sweet Briar’s first graduating class by a student from the Class of 1911, calling them pioneers. “I believe that we, the Class of 2019, are very similar to the first thirty-six,” Thomas explained. “We took a chance on a college that almost did not exist. We were some of the first students to arrive on this campus in August of 2015. We were small, but we were here, and that was the biggest feat of all. … We, Class of 2019, are the pioneers of the Sweet Briar that has just begun its journey.”

Caroline Thomas
Caroline Thomas ’19

Class President Emily Schlosberg praised the strong sisterhood that came with this small class, but noted,“We are so much more than small. The words I would use to describe this class would be ‘strong’, ‘independent,’ ‘courageous’ and of course, ‘fierce.’” An alumna had told her once, she said, that graduating with the Class of 2019 was a badge of honor. “We are one of the smallest, but strongest classes the College has ever seen,” Schlosberg added.

Like Thomas, keynote speaker Dr. Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp ’68 felt compelled to invoke history when thinking about the Class of 2019. But in her case, it was her own story. Yeargin-Allsopp, who is the associate director for children with special health care needs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (where she has worked for more than three decades), was the first African American student to attend Sweet Briar College. In her speech, she recalled arriving at Sweet Briar by train in 1966. While reporters thought she was sent by the NAACP, she said, she simply wanted an education that was strong in the sciences so she could prepare for medical school.

Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp ’68
Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp ’68

“I believe I was called to Sweet Briar ‘for such a time as this,’” she said. “I did not think of myself as brave. And you may not think of yourselves as brave, either, but you were brave in 2015. … As with me, you really did not know what you would face. So many unanswered questions, and yet, you stepped out, and stepped up with a leap of faith and said YES! I imagine most of you did not think you were fulfilling some divine destiny or taking a place among those who have come before and made their mark in history. But, in many ways you were. I believe you sit here today having gotten to this place ‘for such a time as this.’” After retelling the biblical story of Esther (where the phrase originates) and delving into the historical and political events of the 1960s, Yeargin-Allsopp returned to the present day, recapping the past decade and its major global events.

“These are times that require courage, boldness, character and creativity,” Yeargin-Allsopp said, adding she was sure College founder Indiana Fletcher Williams was “looking down today and smiling” at this class and what Sweet Briar had become.

“Embrace the bold and brave legacy of Indiana Fletcher Williams and Sweet Briar. We will be forever grateful to you for stepping up ‘for such a time as this.’”

Woo hug
President Woo hugs Caroline Thomas after the ceremony.

After conferring the degrees, Acting Dean Jeff Key left the podium to Georgene Vairo ’72, chair of the Sweet Briar Board of Directors. Calling the graduates the “sturdy 30,” Vairo recounted the miracles it took to save Sweet Briar in 2015 — and how alumnae learned in the course of saving their alma mater just how capable they all were. “The more we learned what badasses we all were, the more we knew we had to save Sweet Briar for generations to come,” she said. This brought her to the Class of 2019’s motto: “We are proven by our actions.” Just as fitting as their motto, she added, was their emblem: a lion. “Lions you are,” Vairo said. “Courageous; unique; beautiful; and ready to pounce on any adventure or opportunity. … You have proven by your actions that you are women of consequence.”

Sarah Clement ’75, co-chair of the Alumnae Alliance Council, couldn’t agree more. “You as a class are blessed with a particular kind of grit, fierceness and determination,” she said.

Woo stage
President Woo (speaking) and the stage party

More strong women joined the stage as Thomas, in her role as Student Government Association president, and Maya White, SGA vice president, presented the awards for Excellence in Service and Excellence in Teaching. The latter was presented first to Anna Billias, assistant professor of music, whom student nominators called “the quintessential Renaissance woman,” someone who “cares about her students as if they were her own children,” and a professor who “taught me about self-love and acceptance.” Dean of Students Marcia Thom-Kaley received the Excellence in Service Award for “helping anytime,” being someone who “goes beyond her job description” and being there to support and comfort students whose families live far away.

Citing a biblical inscription by King Solomon on a cornerstone on the west side of Fletcher Hall — “Except the lord build the house they labor in vain who build it.” — President Woo charged the Class of 2019 to keep the faith. “As you go forth in life and engage yourself in various endeavors, I hope you will choose to do something difficult,” she said. “Yes, choose to do something really difficult. And as you grapple with the difficulties life throws at you, remember never, ever, to lose your faith.”

In her benediction, the Rev. Sarah Schofield Wright ’11 brought it back to the day’s fierce theme: “May you be fearless in the pursuit of your dreams and goals.”

Watch a video of the full commencement ceremony below:

Emily Wandling becomes first Vixen since 2003 to be named Academic All-District

Emily WandlingLess than two weeks after being named Second Team All-Old Dominion Athletic Conference, junior Emily Wandling became the first Sweet Briar student-athlete to earn Google Cloud Academic All-District honors in over 15 years.

Wandling (Mechanicsville, Va.) was named Google Cloud Academic All-District Women’s At-Large, as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) after a strong 2019 season on the court and in the classroom boasting a cumulative grade point average of 3.99 in biochemistry and molecular biology.

The 2018-19 Google Cloud Academic All-District Women’s At-Large Team, selected by CoSIDA, recognizes the nation’s top student-athletes for their combined performances in the athletic realm and in the classroom. Nominees must be academically classified as sophomores or higher and hold a cumulative GPA of 3.3 or higher, while competing as a starter or as a significant reserve for their respective team. The At-Large Team consists of student-athletes from the following women’s sports: beach volleyball, bowling, crew, fencing, field hockey, golf, gymnastics, ice hockey, lacrosse, rifle, skiing, tennis and water polo.

On the court, Wandling finished 2018-19 with a 7-4 record at No. 1 singles in ODAC action, while boasting a 13-8 overall record in singles play. Wandling finished the month of April undefeated at 7-0, with all victories coming in two-set matches.

A member of the Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society and Iota Sigma Pi Chemistry Honor Society, Wandling also serves as the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee vice president, student affiliate president of the American Chemical Society and in leadership roles in multiple on-campus organizations at Sweet Briar.

During the 2019 season, Wandling presented in Orlando, Fla., at the American Chemical Society Conference on the “Extraction of Betulin and Synthesis of Betulin Analogue.”

Wandling was recognized at Sweet Briar as the recipient of the 2018-19 Whiteman Award, presented to a student-athlete with a high scholastic average, sportsmanship and outstanding achievement in sport.

The last Sweet Briar student-athlete to be named by CoSIDA as an Academic All-District selection was volleyball student-athlete Briana Beckham in the fall of 2003. The spring of 2003 saw Carlota Stoevhase named Academic All-District, marking the last time a Sweet Briar tennis student-athlete was honored by CoSIDA.

Wandling was joined by fellow ODAC tennis players Lilli Altenburg of Lynchburg and Kristin Dantzler of Randolph-Macon as District 5 representatives on the CoSIDA Academic All-District NCAA Division III Women’s At-Large Team.

First-team Academic All-District honorees advance to the Google Cloud Academic All-America ballot. First, second and third-team Academic All-America honorees will be announced in June.

Schlosberg takes top award at Sweet Briar Athletic Awards Banquet

Schlosberg, Richards, Wroten
Emily Schlosberg (center) with Melissa Richards (left) and Mimi Wroten

Senior NCEA equestrian student-athlete Emily Schlosberg was honored as the Sweet Briar Crysler Award honoree on Friday evening at the Sweet Briar Athletic Awards Banquet held in the Upchurch Field House.

The prestigious Crysler Award was the headliner on Friday evening, as Schlosberg (Fairfax, Va.) was recognized with the award named after Cannie Crysler Shafer ’78. The Crysler Award has been presented since 1979 to an outstanding four-year student-athlete to honor her continuous commitment, sportsmanship and achievement in sport. Schlosberg is a two-time ODAC Rider of the Year and graduates as the leader in NCEA wins for the Vixens.

Junior Victoria Lawson (Shipman, Va.) was recognized as Athlete of the Year following a cross-country season that saw Lawson break and re-break multiple Sweet Briar records before leading the Vixens lacrosse team in the spring in multiple statistical categories.

Rider of the Year was presented to sophomore Kaitlyn Duecker (Chesapeake, Va.). Duecker, a member of Sweet Briar’s IHSA equestrian team, finished fourth in the nation at IHSA Nationals in novice flat, while helping to lead the Vixens to their best national finish in over a decade.

Senior Caroline Thomas (Appomattox, Va.) was honored as the recipient of the Coaches’ Award, presented to a graduating student-athlete who has demonstrated significant athletic achievement, represented Vixen Athletics with integrity in the Sweet Briar community and shown dedication to advancement of the program. Thomas, a four-year soccer player, finished eighth in the nation in saves per match as a senior goalkeeper and off the field served as Sweet Briar’s Student Government Association president.

The 2019 banquet also included the addition of Rookie Athlete and Rookie Rider of the year honors.

The inaugural Rookie Athlete of the Year was first-year golfer Annika Kuleba (Endy, N.C.). Having rewritten the golf record book at Sweet Briar in her first collegiate season, Kuleba was presented with the Rookie Athlete of the Year after demonstrating outstanding achievement in her sport.

The inaugural recipient of Rookie Rider of the Year was first-year Maggie Fraley (White Haven, Pa.). Fraley, who competes for the NCEA team at Sweet Briar, was named ODAC Rookie of the Year for helping the Vixens win the 2019 ODAC Championship just days before aiding the Vixens to the quarterfinals at the NCEA Championship in Waco, Texas.

Sophomore lacrosse student-athlete Madison Harpham (Monroe, Va.) was recognized as the recipient of the 2019 Susan Lehman Courage Award, which is presented to a student-athlete who has demonstrated courage above and beyond the usual rigors of training and competition.

Presented to a student-athlete with regard to her sportsmanship, team spirit and commitment to varsity athletics at Sweet Briar, the Class of 1977 Sportsmanship Award was presented to sophomore soccer and lacrosse student-athlete Sammy Holton (Arbutus, Md.).

The recipient of the Jean Pschirrer Freshman Athlete of the Year Award was first-year field hockey student-athlete Maggie Groetsch (Asheville, N.C.). The Jean Pschirrer Freshman Athlete of the Year Award is presented to a first-year varsity student-athlete who demonstrates dedication, motivation, sportsmanship and true love of her sport.

The Whiteman Award is presented to a student-athlete with a high scholastic average, sportsmanship and outstanding achievement in sport. Fresh off being named Second Team All-ODAC in tennis, junior Emily Wandling (Mechanicsville, Va.) was presented the Whiteman Award. Wandling, a biochemistry and molecular biology major, presented at the American Chemistry Society Conference in Orlando, Fla., during the season before returning to Sweet Briar to post a 7-0 singles mark in the month of April.

The Sweet Briar Student-Athlete Advisory Committee presented the 2018-19 Robert Barlow Faculty/Staff Award to mathematics professor Stephen Loftus.

Each coach added to the award ceremony by selecting a Pink and Green Award winner from their respective teams. Below is a list of Pink and Green honorees.

  • Cross-country: Nora Florio (So., Lynchburg, Va.)
  • Field Hockey: Caroline Trimmer (Jr., Toana, Va.)
  • Golf: Aoife Magner (Sr., North Potomac, Md.)
  • IHSA: Ailish Rhoades (Sr., Lebanon, Conn.)
  • Lacrosse: Emma Smith (Jr., Lexington, Va.)
  • NCEA: Lily Peterson (So., Ashland, Va.)
  • Soccer: Caylin Newman (So., Bedford, Va.)
  • Swimming: Dharma Kear (So., Virginia Beach, Va.)
  • Tennis: Emily Wandling (Jr., Mechanicsville, Va.)

Scoring best result in over a decade, Sweet Briar finishes eighth at IHSA Nationals

IHSA team nationals
Sweet Briar’s IHSA team at nationals. Photo by Ellyn Narodowy

The Sweet Briar Intercollegiate Horse Show Association team finished eighth in the country as part of the Collegiate Cup competition at the IHSA National Championships, while sophomore Kaitlin Duecker finished fourth as an individual in novice equitation on the flat at the New York State Fairgrounds Expo Center.

Individually, Duecker (Chesapeake, Va.) earned fourth place in novice equitation on the flat, finishing ahead of riders from UCLA, Florida and Savannah College of Art and Design, in addition to other colleges. Molly Krause of Skidmore wrapped up novice equitation on the flat as the individual champion.

In the Collegiate Cup, Sweet Briar finished eight with 18 team points. The Vixens edged Purdue by two points for eighth and were two points shy of Penn State in seventh.

Sarah Miller (Amissville, Va.) earned the first three points for Sweet Briar, placing seventh in novice equitation over fences.

Five additional team points came on Thursday, with Duecker finishing fifth in intermediate equitation on the flat.

Day two of competition saw the Vixens earn 10 team points, with first-year Pauli Born placing eighth in walk, trot equitation. Eight more team points came the Vixens’ way in walk, trot, canter equitation, when junior Abbey Narodowy (North Smithfield, R.I.) finishing as the reserve champion.

First-year Chloe Kerschl (Lexington, Va.) and senior Ailish Rhoades (Lebanon, Conn.) also rode for the Vixens at the IHSA National Championships.

Sweet Briar last placed in Collegiate Cup competition during the 2009 IHSA National Championships, which saw the Vixens place 10th with five team points. In 2009, the Vixens earned four points in intermediate equitation over fences and one in intermediate equitation on the flat.

Emory & Henry was the Collegiate Cup champion with 50 points, while Savannah College of Art and Design was the reserve champion with 43.

Duecker, Vixens headed to IHSA Nationals

Ailish Rhoades, IHSA team
Ailish Rhoades

The Sweet Briar IHSA team is headed to the New York State Fairgrounds Expo Center for the 2019 Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association National Championship, where six Vixens will compete as a team and sophomore Kaitlin Duecker will also compete individually.

Duecker (Chesapeake, Va.), qualified for nationals as an individual after finishing the Zone 4 Championships as the novice flat champion.

Joining Duecker in team competition will be: first-year Pauli Born, first-year Chloe Kerschl (Lexington, Va.), junior Sarah Miller (Amissville, Va.), junior Abbey Narodowy (North Smithfield, R.I.) and senior Ailish Rhoades (Lebanon, Conn.).

The Vixens qualified for nationals by finishing as the Zone 4 hunter seat reserve champion, just seven points shy of Zone 4 champion Emory & Henry.

Born will compete in walk, trot after finishing third at the Zone 4 Championship, while Duecker will be part of the team competition as the Vixens’ rider in intermediate equitation on the flat and intermediate equitation over fences. At the Zone 4 Championship, Duecker won the intermediate flat and was third over fences.

Kerschl is slated to compete in open flat following a second-place finish at the Zone 4 Championship.

Miller will compete in both novice equitation on the flat and over fences after placing second at the Zone 4 Championship on the flat and winning novice fences.

Narodowy and Rhoades will compete in walk, trot, canter and open equitation over fences, respectively. Narodowy finished fifth at the Zone 4 Championship in walk, trot, canter, while Rhoades was fourth in open fences.

The IHSA National Championship is scheduled to begin on Thursday, May 2, at 8:30 a.m. Duecker will compete individually in novice flat on Thursday, while three Collegiate Cup events will take place on the opening day. Day one Collegiate Cup competition will include: novice equitation over fences (Miller), novice equitation on the flat (Miller) and intermediate equitation on the flat (Duecker).

Friday’s competition will begin at 8 a.m., with Collegiate Cup intermediate equitation over fences opening that day. Friday events include: intermediate equitation over fences (Duecker), walk, trot (Born) and walk, trot, canter (Narodowy).

The final day of hunter seat competition takes place on Saturday, beginning at 8 a.m., with Collegiate Cup open fences as the second event on the schedule. Rhoades will ride in open fences, while later in the day Kerschl will compete in open equitation on the flat.

Additional information about the 2019 IHSA National Championships can be found on the official website of the IHSA: ihsainc.com/events/nationals.

Admissions Blog: A day in the life of a student-athlete

One LoveWelcome to the life of Sydney Campbell. I am a first-year lacrosse player at Sweet Briar College; this photo blog will take you on journey of the day surrounding our big rival game against Hollins University.

Morning sky7:30 a.m.: I wake up every morning and take my dog, Leo, for a walk to start my day. Sweet Briar’s beautiful campus makes the early mornings worth it.

Guion8:30 a.m.: I am a mathematics major and biology minor, so I spend almost all of my time in Guion, the academic hall that houses STEM courses. Today, I have Biology, Calculus II and Statistics.

walk to lunchNoon: After class, I am able to enjoy Sweet Briar’s lovely campus as I walk to Prothro for lunch. Typically, I walk with my friends to lunch!

Sydney and Victoria12:30 p.m.: My teammate Victoria Lawson (right) and I were able to have lunch together in Prothro before our game against Hollins University!

Dog on campus2 p.m.: After class, I like to take some time to decompress and get myself ready for lacrosse practice. Typically, I take Leo to the dell to play fetch!

Team lacrosse4 p.m.: Before games we talk about team and personal goals for the day. Following that, we say our chant — “Sweet lax on three!”

One Love7 p.m.: Today’s game was dedicated to the One Love Foundation, so we took a photo after the game with the foundation’s banner. Let’s go, Sweet!

homework8:30 p.m.: Even though I had a busy day today, I am still able to get my homework done!

Being a student-athlete at Sweet Briar has not only shaped my first-year college experience, but it has given me friends and mentors that I will have for the rest of my life. I have watched my team and me grow over this year, and I am looking forward to growing even more over the next three years.

Interested in becoming a Sweet Briar student-athlete like Sydney? Here’s how you can be a Vixen.

Want to learn more about Sweet Briar? Visit sbc.edu/admissions.

Sydney CampbellSydney Campbell ’22 is a mathematics major with biology and music minors. She is a defender on the varsity lacrosse team and a member of the Dining Committee. She hopes you enjoyed her photo blog!

Sweet Briar to host Girls on the Run of Central Virginia for spring 5K

Girls on the Run
Girls on the Run participants during the fall 2018 race at Sweet Briar College. Photo by Karen Smith Photography

Sweet Briar’s Dairy Loop will be abuzz with joggers and sprinters once again as Girls on the Run of Central Virginia returns to campus for one of the council’s two Spring Celebration 5Ks. The race starts at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, May 4, with pre-race activities scheduled to begin at 8 a.m.

As in previous years, the challenging 5K course loops around the center of Sweet Briar’s stunning 3,250-acre campus. Setting off with a cross-country “wave” start on the athletic fields near the train station, the runners will head onto the main road that leads past Guion Science Center, the Babcock Fine Arts Center and the Fitness and Athletics Center. After passing Sweet Briar House on the left and Fletcher Hall on the right, runners will make a left down Elijah Road, loop around physical plant and back up to the traffic circle, turning left on Chapel Road. Crossing the student parking lot, they will pick up Dairy Road and head up the hill toward the riding center. After passing the horse paddocks, they will climb Monument Hill before heading back down to the athletic fields where they’ll cross the finish line.

Girls on the Run of Central Virginia is an independent council of Girls on the Run International, a network of more than 200 councils across 50 states and the District of Columbia. Girls between the ages of 8 and 13 spend 12 weeks in the program, including training to prepare for the semiannual 5K — a culminating event that recognizes and celebrates their efforts.

Girls on the Run
A Girls on the Run participant in fall 2018 at Sweet Briar College. Photo by Cris Pacho

Since fall 2011, Sweet Briar has proudly supported the program and its mission to “inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.” It provides a picturesque route, as well as student and staff volunteers to help direct traffic, as running buddies and with pre-race activities such as face painting and the “happy-hair” station. Celebration 5Ks take place each fall and spring.

Council director Mary Hansen is expecting more than 250 girls for the May event, along with their coaches, volunteers, family, friends and community runners. In all, about 800 people will be on campus for the event.

Hansen is thankful to Sweet Briar College for hosting the event — not just because the school’s campus offers such a stunning setting, but also because its values mesh well with Girls on the Run. “The mission of Girls on the Run is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident,” she said. “The mission of Sweet Briar College is to prepare women to be productive, responsible members of a world community. Combined, these two missions help create a formidable group of individuals ready for their futures.”

It has been 14 years since Hansen began setting up the Central Virginia council, launching the program one year later at Holy Cross Regional School. In 2006, there were two teams with a total of 26 girls. Last year — and the year before, too — the council served more than 1,000 girls.

For more information, email girlsontheruncenva@verizon.net, visit the council’s website or follow them on Facebook.

No. 1 Auburn tops Sweet Briar as Vixens conclude historic run at NCEA National Championship

NCEA teamDespite senior Emily Schlosberg posting the highest score in Sweet Briar history at the NCEA National Championship, the top team in the nation and top-seed over fences, Auburn, picked up a 4-0 victory over Sweet Briar in the over fences event quarterfinal on Friday at the Extraco Event Center.

Making history competing beyond the opening round for the first time, following an opening round victory over Delaware State, the Vixens met No. 1 Auburn in the quarterfinal round.

The first-ever meeting between the Vixens and Tigers opened with Schlosberg (Fairfax, Va.) recording the Vixens’ top score over fences at the national championships. Schlosberg rode Petey to a 231, improving on her 211 against Delaware State on Wednesday. Despite Schlosberg’s strong ride, Auburn took the first team point thanks to a 252 by Taylor St. Jacques.

First-year Maggie Fraley (White Haven, Pa.) scored the third highest score in program history over fences at a national championship, posting a 216 on Aiden and raising her score of 210 from Wednesday. Fraley’s counterpart from Auburn, Hayley Iannotti, scored a 245 on Aiden for a second Tiger point.

The Vixens’ all-time leader in wins over fences, sophomore Lily Peterson (Ashland, Va.), scored a 204 on Cita, but was topped by Ashton Alexander’s 252.

The final Sweet Briar rider was sophomore Katie Balding (Williamsburg, Va.) on Vivaldi. Balding tallied her best career mark at the NCEA National Championship with a 203, but Emma Kurtz of Auburn posted a 249 to earn a fourth team point for the Tigers.

Schlosberg wraps up her NCEA career with a 6-9 career record over fences, 5-8 mark on the flat and an 11-17 overall record. Schlosberg holds Sweet Briar records for career meets competed over fences and on the flat, career wins on the flat and career most outstanding performer honors over fences.

Sweet Briar concludes the 2018-19 season with a 4-5 record over fences.

Vixens win fifth ODAC title; Fraley, Schlosberg, Wroten earn individual honors

For the fifth time in school history, Sweet Briar is the Old Dominion Athletic Conference equestrian champion, as the Vixens finished atop the conference at the ODAC Championships at Bridgewater Equestrian Center on Saturday.

Sweet Briar was represented at the ODAC Championships by first-year Maggie Fraley (White Haven, Pa.), sophomore Katie Balding (Williamsburg, Va.), sophomore Lily Peterson (Ashland, Va.) and senior Emily Schlosberg (Fairfax, Va.), to win the fifth conference title in school history and the first since the 2016 season.

The Vixens were second to Randolph, following the first session of over fences, with a team total of 238.75. In the opening session, Schlosberg led the Vixens with 83 points. Peterson scored 81, Fraley 70.5 and Balding 70.5. The final round of over fences saw the Vixens atop the standings with 248.25 points, led again by Schlosberg. Schlosberg led with 84 points, followed by Fraley at 83.75, Peterson at 80.5 and Balding with 79.5.

Balding and Fraley rode on the flat for the Vixens, with Fraley scoring 84 points and Balding 82 to give Sweet Briar 166 points. The Vixens were second to Hollins on the flat, but earned enough team points on the day to secure the team title at the conclusion of the event. Sweet Briar scored 17 team points, finishing ahead of Hollins’ 16 , while Randolph finished third with 14 points.

In addition to team success, the Vixens picked up three individual honors at the conclusion of Saturday’s show.

Schlosberg concluded her ODAC career by earning ODAC Rider of the Year honors for the second time in her career. Schlosberg becomes the seventh rider in ODAC history to earn Rider of the Year laurels multiple times in their career. Schlosberg’s honor marks the fourth Rider of the Year in the last five years for Sweet Briar and the fifth all-time ODAC Rider of the Year honor in school history.

Fraley was named ODAC Rookie of the Year, the fourth in the last five years for Sweet Briar and fourth all-time. Fraley joins Makayla Benjamin, Schlosberg and Peterson as Sweet Briar riders who have been named Rookie of the Year.

For the fourth time in her career, Sweet Briar head coach Mimi Wroten was named ODAC Coach of the Year. Wroten’s honor is not only the fourth of her career, but mark the fifth time a Sweet Briar coach has earned ODAC recognition.

Three Vixens earned All-ODAC honors, with Fraley, Peterson and Schlosberg all getting the nod. Peterson and Schlosberg earned All-ODAC honors for the second time in their careers, while Fraley earned her first nod from the conference.

The Sweet Briar ODAC riders will next return to action with the NCEA team at the NCEA National Championships in Waco, Texas on Wednesday against Delaware State over fences and No. 3 Oklahoma State on the flat.

Vixens, Duecker qualify for IHSA National Championships

IHSA team CharlottesvilleThe Sweet Briar equestrian team is headed to IHSA Nationals after the Vixens became the Zone 4 Reserve Champions on Saturday in Charlottesville at the Zone 4 Championships, hosted by the University of Virginia.

With the Vixens headed to nationals as a team, sophomore Kaitlin Duecker (Chesapeake, Va.) will also compete as an individual at nationals after qualifying as the Zone 4 Novice Flat Champion.

In the team competition Duecker won the intermediate flat, while junior Sarah Miller (Amissville, Va.) won in novice fences.

First-year Chloe Kerschl (Lexington, Va.) finished second in the open flat and Miller picked up second place honors on novice flat.

A pair of third-place finishes came from first-year Pauli Born in walk, trot and Duecker over intermediate fences.

Team scoring for Sweet Briar was rounded out by a fourth-place finish in open fences by senior Ailish Rhoades (Lebanon, Conn.) and junior Abbey Narodowy (North Smithfield, R.I.) finishing fifth in the walk, trot, canter.

Sweet Briar finished with 37 points, while Emory & Henry scored 44 to win the Zone 4 Championship.

In individual competition, Duecker won the novice flat competition, while finishing ninth in novice fences. Sophomore Madeleine McAllister finished fourth in walk, trot for the Vixens.

The IHSA National Championships are scheduled to take place from May 2-5 at the New York State Fairground Expo Center in Syracuse, N.Y. Novice flat is scheduled to take place on May 2, with team competition taking place May 2-4.

Admissions Blog: A major change

Asha and students in lab
Asha Stewart (right) in a chemistry lab during her first semester

Growing up, I was always asked the same question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” After much thought, I made my big decision. I wanted to be a neuroscientist.

So, I took as many science classes as I could and did dual enrollment. I looked into everything I would have to do to reach my goal. I came to Sweet Briar bright-eyed and ready to do science stuff and be the nerdy college student I had always aspired to be.

Fast-forward a few months into the semester and I am miserable. In those days, I could not wait to finish college and just get it over with so I could be a scientist. It was around this time that I remembered the days when I enjoyed school and even enjoyed the work that came with it. I had to remind myself that it is about the journey, not the destination. If I was so eager to finish my studies so that I could become a scientist but I did not even enjoy the science, what was the point?

That’s when I did something that terrified me to even remotely think about: I changed my major. I switched from biochemistry to psychology. Almost instantly, I could feel myself fully paying attention in class and enjoying it. I could not even fathom that, months later, I would find the description of the job of my dreams. With a few Google searches, I found the job title “art therapist” and knew this was what I was meant to do.

Asha pottery
Asha in a pottery class in Fall 2018

Not only do I feel more confidence now, but even when having to do difficult work, I feel a sense of joy that I did not feel before. With all the echoes of adults telling me I could never find a job in the arts, I almost limited myself. Sometimes, you have to put that fear aside and do what you feel is best for you. In college, you are going to find parts of yourself you did not even know existed. There are going to be times when you have no idea what you are doing, and there are going to be times when you feel like the adultiest adult that ever adulted!

Either way, the biggest thing I learned is that it does not matter if you know exactly what you are going to do with your life. So much stress is placed upon college students to have a script of how their life is going to go. But, one thing I have to remind myself of daily is: I don’t know. I have no idea how my life is going to go. I have no idea what I am going to do when I graduate. I don’t even know what I am going to eat for breakfast the next day!

Life is unpredictable, but that is the beauty of it. If we knew exactly what was going to happen, so much of the magic would be lost. Two years ago, I had no idea how I was going to pay for college. Last year, I had no idea what I could study other than biochemistry. Last semester, I was not sure if I would be accepted to study abroad. (But I was, and I’m going to Paris in the fall!). Last week, I was not sure if I would be hired to be a camp counselor for the summer. (I was — I’ll be working at Georgia FFA-FCCLA Center.)

In a long-winded way, what I am trying to say is: You do not have to have life figured out. Sometimes you just need to make that major change.

Take a look at your major options at Sweet Briar — or create your own! Learn more at sbc.edu/academics.

Ready to find your way? Learn more about Sweet Briar here.

Asha Stewart ’21 is an admissions ambassador majoring in psychology with a minor in visual arts. She’s originally from Milford, Penn., but moved to Georgia a few years ago, where she learned about Sweet Briar. She loves to draw, sketch and paint and is interested in all forms of artistic expression.

Sweet Briar’s 2019 Presidential Medal goes to dual-sport athlete, SGA president from Appomattox

Caroline Thomas and Meredith Woo
President Meredith Woo (left) with Presidential Medalist Caroline Thomas

Appomattox native and Student Government Association President Caroline Thomas is the recipient of the 2019 Presidential Medal, the highest honor a Sweet Briar student can attain. The award was announced during the Academic Recognition Dinner for Dean’s List and First-year Honors List students in Prothro on Wednesday night.

“My first reaction was an emotional one,” said Thomas, a business major and journalism, new media and communications minor, the morning after the big event. “When President Woo mentioned me speaking for the SCHEV council last May, I broke into tears. I’d been shaking and I could feel my heart beating so fast, waiting to find out. I am so honored to be recognized among some of the most outstanding Sweet Briar women. It was a great feeling to be recognized by my college for my hard work in supporting them and encouraging class and school spirit for the last four years — and I can’t believe that I only have six-and-a-half weeks left!”

Carolne Thomas
Thomas awaiting the surprise announcement at last night’s Academic Recognition Dinner in Prothro

While the Presidential Medal rewards intellectual achievement, honorees must also have shown distinction in a combination of areas, including community service; the arts; global awareness; fitness and athletic achievement; and leadership, civility and integrity of character.

A three-year varsity swimmer and four-year soccer player, Thomas is known across campus for her extensive and enthusiastic involvement in and outside of class. A former Class of 2019 president and vice president, she has served as an admissions ambassador for three years, was vice chairwoman of the program her junior year and is chairwoman her senior year. She has held a Presidential Scholarship all four years and is the recipient of multiple honors and awards, including the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges Award (2017-19), the Mary Mackintosh Sherer Award (2017), the Rickards Award (2016) and the Jean Pschirrer First-year Award (2016). She is a member of Omicron Delta Kappa and Alpha Lambda Delta, serving as president in 2016.

Among her athletic achievements are two Old Dominion Athletic Conference All-Academic Team awards (2015-17) and an ODAC Sportsmanship Award (2016-17). Outside of Sweet Briar, Thomas has served as head coach for Appomattox County High School’s girls’ junior varsity soccer team since 2016.

Caroline Thomas
Thomas defends the Vixens’ goal.

But there is more to this Presidential Medalist, as her nominators remind us.

“A bold woman of intelligence, strong character, superb performance, courage and humility, [Caroline] came to Sweet Briar College four years ago in August of 2015 with a deep faith and belief … Instead of running from the storm, she was one of the very few who turned into the storm and its aftermath,” a nomination from the admissions office reads. At Opening Convocation that fall, it continues, Thomas was chosen as “Keeper of the Story” by current Dean of Students Marcia Thom-Kaley. “[Caroline] embraced the charge entrusted to her and courageously became an integral part of the process of healing, rebuilding, strengthening and helping to lead the College with boldness into an era of innovation and excellence that is now rated first among equals.” During her four years, the nomination continues, Thomas showcased all of the hallmarks of a true leader: “Not only did she write her own story, but she helped write Sweet Briar’s story.”

Caroline Thomas
Thomas at Opening Convocation 2018, where she challenged her peers to take charge of their stories.

Thom-Kaley agrees, praising Thomas’s natural leadership skills and writing in her nomination that she credits the SGA president, with whom she meets weekly, with “steering the student body towards a place of stability and encouraging every member to thrive.”

Jason Capps, head soccer coach, couldn’t agree more. Thomas, he notes, “embraces the wise notion that real leadership risks popularity. Miss Thomas is a team-first, steady, strong example of quality leadership and by leading in such a confident, passionate manner, she creates a positive and meaningful impact on those around her.” Thomas, Capps’s nomination continues, “epitomizes what it means to be a Sweet Briar woman. Part of the mission of Sweet Briar College … is to grow future leaders and Miss Thomas is already miles ahead, leading the way for other Vixens to follow.”

In short?

“With a booming voice that needs no microphone, unwavering strength that stands in the face of intimidation and unwavering faith in Sweet Briar College, Caroline Thomas is the obvious choice for this year’s Presidential Medalist,” the admissions office writes.

VCCA Salon to feature documentary film screening of ‘Instructions on Parting’

Craig on precipice
“Craig on the precipice,” Amy Jenkins, from her film “Instructions on Parting”

Sweet Briar’s monthly VCCA Salon will feature a powerful, feature-length documentary screening of “Instructions on Parting,” directed by artist and VCCA fellow Amy Jenkins. The screening will take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 4, in the 1948 Theater in the Fitness and Athletics Center on Sweet Briar’s campus. It is free and open to the public.

Over the course of one tumultuous year, Jenkins confronts the cancer diagnoses of her mother, sister and brother, and also welcomes her first child to life. Crafted in a unique visual style, the film weaves breathtaking vignettes of nature unfolding with cinéma vérité family footage to lead us to a bold and daring acceptance of our own mortality. You can view the trailer for the film here.

“Instructions on Parting” had its world premiere in New York City at Doc Fortnight, the Museum of Modern Art’s international festival of nonfiction film, in February 2018, and its international premiere at the Sydney Film Festival in Australia in June. It won Best Documentary at the Athens International Film and Video Festival in Ohio. Its New England premiere happened at the Independent Film Festival Boston last April and it was also screened at Montclair Film Festival in New Jersey and the Greenpoint Film Festival in Brooklyn.

Jenkins’s artwork combines video, sculpture, performance writing and audio and focuses on family relationships, desire and gender identity. Her work has been exhibited, screened and published all over the world. She has exhibited at The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Haifa Museum in Israel, Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum in Austria, the Akron Art Museum in Ohio and many more. Her artwork has been reviewed in publications including The New York Times, ARTnews, Bomb, Performing Arts Journal and The Village Voice.

In addition to her 2013 fellowship at VCCA, Jenkins has been an LEF Foundation Robert Flaherty Film Seminar Fellow and was a two-time nominee for the CalArts Alpert Award in Film/Video. Read more about Jenkins’s work and exhibitions on her website.

For more information about this VCCA Salon event and others, email Carrie Brown at cbrown@sbc.edu.

Sweet Briar president speaks at Higher Education Innovation conference

President WooPresident Meredith Woo was among past and present college presidents to speak at the Inaugural Presidents’ Conference hosted by Higher Education Innovation, LLC on March 21-22, 2019 in Waco, Texas.

The conference brought together accomplished higher education leaders who have successfully navigated enormous challenges and change. In a peer-to-peer environment, leaders shared lessons learned and best practices on the issues they perceive as the most critical, vulnerable and fruitful in higher education now and for the future. Some of these topics included affordability, accessibility, student support and financial viability.

Mary Landon Darden ’74, Ed.D., founded HEI in 2015 and serves as president. She is the author of Beyond 2020: Envisioning the Future of Universities in America published by the American Council of Education and Roman and Littlefield.

Iditarod rookie musher, Sweet Briar grad Alison Lifka to speak at alma mater April 2

Alison Lifka and fellow alumnae with banner
Alison Lifka (center) before the Iditarod with fellow Sweet Briar alumnae Mary Alexander ’12 (from left), Seanne Weekes ’12, Marisha Bourgeois ’99 and DeDe Conley ’72

Just two weeks after completing the 2019 Iditarod, Sweet Briar College graduate Alison Lifka ’13 will make the trip to Virginia to speak at her alma mater. Lifka will give a public talk about her experience training for and racing in the Iditarod at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, in the Boxwood Room at the Conference Center, followed by a reception. On Wednesday, April 3, she will meet with groups of Sweet Briar students.

After following the Asheville, N.C.-native’s 1,000-mile race through Alaska on social media, attendees are bound to have lots of questions. Some of them, Lifka may already have answered in a Q&A on the Sweet Briar news site published in October. But the media attention she garnered as she made her way from Anchorage to Nome, and her experience during the race, probably triggered quite a few more. Such as: What’s it like getting photographed for Vogue? Or: How does it feel racing 1,000 miles through snow, ice and slush with 13 dogs? And: Where do you get that unbelievable perseverance?

Lifka Iditarod

As KTVA reported, Lifka almost didn’t make it after crashing a third of the way into the route. Stuck with a broken sled, she took a fellow musher’s advice and rigged a temporary fix that would get her to Nikolai. There, she got lucky: Shaynee Traska, who had dropped out of the race, let Lifka borrow her sled.

“People are really nice out here, that’s for sure,” Lifka told KTVA. “We compete with each other, but we also like to help each other out.”

Lifka finished her first Iditarod in 13 days, 8.5 hours in 32nd place. Waiting for her in Nome were her parents, who had flown in from North Carolina and ordered a special Sweet Briar Fierce birthday cake to celebrate the momentous occasion. Of course, they weren’t the only ones rooting for Lifka.

Musher gramsA group of Sweet Briar alumnae were on hand in Anchorage to cheer Lifka on at the start of the race, and many more celebrated and cheered her all the way to the finish line. Led by Deirdre Conley ’72, who kept a constant stream of tweets going from the moment she touched down in Alaska, Lifka’s Sweet Briar support group on the ground also included Mary Rora Alexander ’12, Marisha Bourgeois ’99, Harriet Milks ’77, Seanne Weekes ’12, Nancy MacMeekins ’65, Vicky Barrette ’65, Betty Skladal ’58 and Abigail Adair ’13.

Alumnae and friends all over the country sent encouragement and birthday wishes through dozens of “musher grams” — phone calls recorded on paper and delivered at checkpoints along the way — as well as pizza. Conley’s group was there to meet — and eat — with Lifka before the race and to make sure she left Anchorage equipped with a Sweet Briar pin and flag for her sled. Lifka’s arrival in Nome two weeks later was just another example of that famous Sweet Briar slogan: There’s nothing that you cannot do. A true Vixen, Lifka did not disappoint.

For more information about the April 2 talk, email Linda Fink at lfink@sbc.edu.

Sweet Briar College sets all-time record for March Days of Giving

Fletcher, library, BenedictSweet Briar College has made history again. Our alumnae, parents, faculty, staff and friends are unrivaled, raising over $2.2 million in just the first 10 days of March. This exceeded previous records from the last three years.

“Our alumnae and friends are really extraordinary,” said President Meredith Woo. “They are undaunted and determined that our College will continue to set the pace for what liberal arts colleges should be. It’s an honor to be a part of this amazing and dedicated community.”

Each year, March Days of Giving is an opportunity for the College’s extended community to show its commitment to and confidence in Sweet Briar. This year, the first goal was to raise $500,000 on March 1. The community rallied to meet that goal, raising $507,133 in less than 24 hours.

The second challenge was to raise another $500,000 between March 2 and 10. Those dollars were fueled by a very generous challenge gift from an anonymous donor who wanted to catalyze giving to the College. Sweet Briar’s alumnae and friends exceeded that challenge, raising more than $1.2 million, ensuring the College will receive the full match. The total raised during March Days of Giving in 2019 came to $2,213,998.

“I am in awe of the fact that our alumnae and other donors have helped us raise over 20 percent of our $10 million fundraising goal in just 10 days,” said Mary Pope M. Hutson ’83, vice president for alumnae relations and development. “In our fourth year of unprecedented fundraising, this level of generosity shows an inordinate amount of commitment to and faith in the College.”

The College has now raised $7 million toward its overall goal of $10 million for fiscal year 2019. Gifts in support of that goal can be made through June 30 at sbc.edu/give.

Admissions Blog: 5 fierce women leaders in Sweet Briar College history

WHM SBC history
From left: Indiana Fletcher Williams, Mary K. Benedict, Dr. Connie Guion, Meta Glass and Harriet Rogers

Confidence, courage, grit and consequence. Since 1901, Sweet Briar women have shown a fierce commitment to each of these qualities — and what better time to celebrate our most accomplished leaders than Women’s History Month? Here’s to five amazing women in Sweet Briar history. They established, built and shaped Sweet Briar College and ensured it would thrive for generations to come.

Indiana WilliamsIndiana Fletcher Williams

In a time when she could not even vote, Indiana Fletcher Williams wanted more for women. When she died in 1900, she left her estate to found an institution in memory of her daughter, Daisy, who died at the age of 16. Sweet Briar Institute, as it was then called, was to produce “useful members of society.” It still does, and every fall on Founders’ Day since 1910, students, faculty and staff honor the founding family with a walk to Monument Hill, where a service is held and daisies are laid on their graves. More recently, the Sweet Briar community also began honoring the College’s less visible founders with a morning service at the slave cemetery above Lower Lake. Fun fact: Sweet Briar’s annual March Days of Giving end on March 10 — Indiana’s birthday.

Mary K. BenedictMary K. Benedict (1906-1916)

When Mary K. Benedict arrived at Sweet Briar College in June 1906, there was only one student enrolled, and the College had two faculty members. The 34-year-old rolled up her sleeves and got to work. Along with the board, she launched a massive advertising campaign. By August, she had recruited eight faculty members and Sweet Briar opened with 51 students. The A.B. degree was immediately recognized by graduate programs at leading universities — and three of the College’s first five graduates went on to pursue advanced degrees. Benedict Hall is named for the fierce first president.

Connie GuionDr. Connie M. Guion (1908-1913)

The nation’s first woman to be promoted to full professor of clinical medicine in 1946, Dr. Connie M. Guion taught chemistry and physics at Sweet Briar from 1908 to 1913. She also helped set up the athletic program and founded the bookstore in 1909. When Guion Science Center was dedicated in 1966, it was the second building in the country to bear her name. A few years earlier, the new outpatient wing of the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center was named the Connie Guion Building — a first for a living woman doctor. At Sweet Briar, Guion Science Center remains home to a thriving STEM scene, including the College’s ABET-accredited engineering program. The trailblazing physician returned to Sweet Briar often and stayed involved until her death in 1971.

Meta GlassMeta Glass (1925-1946)

After training nurses in France during World War I, Meta Glass took over Sweet Briar College’s presidency in 1925. She steered the College through the Great Depression and even managed to raise the endowment by $1 million. She also helped establish Sweet Briar’s art collection and the Friends of Art in the 1930s, worked with architect Ralph Adams Cram on several of the College’s historic buildings and actively promoted women’s full acceptance into the U.S. Navy. She once told Lynchburg businessmen: “To make women more useful and less irksome, you should demand more of them and give them education with which to do it.” Meta Glass Hall, a residence hall, is named for this fearless president, who retired in Charlottesville after her 21-year tenure.

Harriet RogersHarriet Rogers (1924-1963)

Yes, you probably recognize this name. Sweet Briar’s 130-acre Harriet Howell Rogers Riding Center is named for her. An expert horsewoman, Harriet Rogers retired from Sweet Briar in 1963 after 39 years of teaching. During that time, she played an instrumental role in the construction of Williams Gymnasium in 1931, the building of the first indoor riding ring at Sweet Briar, the development of our riding program and the establishment of a nationally recognized systematic program of instruction at the College. Harriet also was instrumental in establishing field hockey as a sport at Virginia colleges. In 2006, she was inducted into the Sweet Briar College Athletics Hall of Fame.

Ready to add your own fierce legacy to our long line of women leaders? Join our Sweet Briar family. Apply now.

Admissions Blog: Shaping Black History Month at Sweet Briar

Braxton and Jeffrey
Braxton Braswell (right) with his best friend, co-worker and co-organizer, Jeffrey Owen, hours before the Black History Month kick-off event

When we were given the assignment to plan events for Black History Month at Sweet Briar College, the one thing that made the task easier was the fact that I had Jeffrey Owen right here with me. See, I’ve known Jeff for almost 10 years now. We often say that we are long-lost brothers. We were in each other’s weddings. Jeff was one of my best men. I am the godfather to his son, so to say that we are just friends would be somewhat of an understatement.

When we started this journey, the amazing young ladies of the Black Student Alliance met with Jeffrey and me, along with our other committee planning members, Gloria Smith and LaVerne Paige. We were facing a pretty daunting workload. A “Night of Worship”-style event that, to my knowledge, has never really been done at Sweet Briar, and the 30th anniversary of Gospel Fest. What a mountain to climb!

Black History Month posterSo here we are now, after months of hard work, meetings and — quite honestly — prayer, at the brink of Black History Month 2019. And, speaking for the committee, we could not be more elated about how things have come together. Has it been easy? Not at all. There was a time when I did not believe it would happen. But here we are.

“Relax and Rejoice” kicks off the month with performances from the likes of LU Praise, Cassie Carter and our very own Sweet Tones. Our headline group RESOUND is going to blow people away. Then we close the month with the 30th annual Gospel Fest. Local choirs and soloists using their gifts to honor God only to be followed by none other than the Rev. Luther Barnes. A staple in traditional gospel music. A staple in black history.

See, that’s what this is all about — black history. For me, this is more than an opportunity to hear great songs of worship. It’s also an opportunity to give others insight into the significance of gospel music in black history. It’s an opportunity to celebrate stories of triumph and perseverance of black history in a nation that can sometimes appear divided. It’s an opportunity for the community to see our campus through the lens of diversity and inclusiveness.

This is going to be an incredible month. The only thing to wonder now is, where will you be? Ha! My hope is that by the time you’ve read this, you will already have plans to join us. It is going to be a great ride and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

To see what else is happening during Black History Month at Sweet Briar, visit sbc.edu/featured-events.

The Black Student Alliance is one of many campus clubs and organizations at Sweet Briar. Learn how to get involved here.

Braxton BraswellBraxton Braswell has been working at Sweet Briar College since 2017 as an admissions enrollment specialist. He is happily married to Kristen Braswell and is the proud dad-to-be of Ms. Rebecca Elizabeth Braswell. But what’s most important to Braxton is that he is a child of God.

College community mourns loss of poet Mary Oliver, former Margaret Banister Writer-in-Residence

campus treesThe Sweet Briar community was saddened to learn of the death of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, who died Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, at the age of 83. Oliver taught at Sweet Briar College from 1991 to about 1995 as the Margaret Banister Writer-in-Residence.

While at Sweet Briar, she received the National Book Award, and her poetry workshops at the College led to her completing her now-classic “A Poetry Handbook,” published in 1994. Oliver was instrumental in growing Sweet Briar’s creative writing program, urging then-dean George Lenz to hire a director and to offer two workshops per week instead of just one. She lived on campus with her lifelong partner Molly Malone Cook and their two beloved dogs, Ben and Little Bear. She spent her mornings walking with her dogs through the woods and along the trails of the College’s 3,250-acre campus.

Oliver’s infectious love of nature and language left a lasting impression on her students and fellow professors. Many remembered her fondly on social media as the news spread Thursday and Friday, recalling in particular a poem she wrote about Sweet Briar’s famous 200-year-old Fletcher Oak, which fell in 2005. The tree was repurposed over the years, most recently to fashion an academic mace for President Meredith Woo’s inauguration.

Board member Alice Dixon was instrumental in making that mace happen, — sharing in a Facebook post that she knew it couldn’t be just any mace, considering Sweet Briar’s 2015 revival: “Some random mace was not going to measure up to the bright future that Sweet Briar College was investing in and building.” After locating the Fletcher Oak’s remains and finding out about Oliver’s poem, Dixon managed to obtain the rights to print it in the 2017 inauguration program:

Fletcher Oak

There is a tree here so beautiful it even has a name. Every morning, when it is still dark, I stand under its branches. They flow from the thick and silent trunk. One can’t begin to imagine their weight. Year after year they reach, they send out smaller and smaller branches, and bunches of flat green leaves, to touch the light.

Of course this has consequences. Every year the oak tree fills with fruit. Just now, as it is September, the acorns are starting to fall.

I don’t know if I will ever write another poem. I don’t know if I will live for a long time yet, or even a little while.

But I am going to spend my life wisely. I’m going to be happy, and frivolous, and useful. Every morning, in the dark, I gather a few acorns, and imagine inside of them, the pale oak trees. In the spring, when I go away, I’ll take some of them with me, to my own country, which is a land of sun and restless ocean and moist woods. And I’ll dig down, I’ll hide each acorn in a cool place in the black earth.

To rise like a slow and beautiful poem. To live a long time.

(“Fletcher Oak” from “WHITE PINE: Poems and Prose Poems” by Mary Oliver. Copyright 1994 by Mary Oliver. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.)

“Twenty-five years ago, Mary Oliver was teaching at Sweet Briar College, and she was one of the people most responsible for my being offered a job here,” wrote John Gregory Brown, director of Sweet Briar’s English and creative writing program, on his Facebook page. “She was a complicated, deeply private person, but she was also kind to our children, especially to Molly, our poet-in-waiting, to whom one day she delivered a nest with robin’s eggs that she had found on the ground during one of her very early morning walks. Mary believed that being a poet was a kind of sacred calling and her high-holy book the natural world, which she studied with reverence, concentration, and the unyielding, uninterrupted devotion of a cloistered monk.”

“Today, I am sad for our world,” wrote Melissa Broderick Eaton ’96 on Facebook. “A source of the brightest light has gone out, leaving behind long memory of its importance and a greater responsibility on each of us to be its bearers.” Eaton, who came to Sweet Briar “with scientific aspirations,” says it was Oliver who encouraged the poet in her. “Her guidance was candid yet respectful, incisive and succinct,” Eaton continued. “Her red exclamations next to phrases she liked were the singular most valuable feedback I received in college, and probably in my entire life. Never one to lavish praise, she pushed me to choose carefully every single word and to cut ruthlessly at anything that didn’t fit.”

While Eaton admits she abandoned writing over the years, she eventually came back to it. In a few months, she’ll publish her first poems.

“Mary Oliver saw something in me that I couldn’t yet see in myself,” she wrote. “It is entirely appropriate she left us in this season of insulated potential, because that is the state in which she found each of us as her students — full of hidden glory, ready to blossom under the stern and devoted sunshine that was Mary Oliver’s attention.”

You can read Oliver’s obituary in The New York Times here.

Admissions Blog: How a campus job can help you manage your time

Campus tour
Phoenix Brown ’20 leads a campus tour for admissions.

I’m a double major in studio art and archaeology, and I’m also pursuing a B.F.A., so I find myself busy a lot of the time. I work two jobs on campus: I am an admissions ambassador, and I am also a technical assistant in the theater.

As an admissions ambassador, I work at least two shifts per week that consist of two hours each. I usually help write note cards, put together packets or prepare other things for our open houses. I’m also required to host students in my room when Sweet Briar has an open house event. I enjoy working in admissions because I like to meet prospective students and talk about how much I love being here at Sweet Briar. I always have a fun time giving tours, and I like hosting prospective students.

In the theater department, I have a less set schedule. I mostly work only when I am needed: During or before a performance, I come in and help set things up. I also help take everything down afterwards. I’ve helped build sets, hang lights, paint and even do regular cleaning and maintenance of the theater. I like this job because everything I do I would do voluntarily without pay. When I was offered the job, I was very excited because it meant that I would get paid for doing things I already loved doing.

Phoenix also works in the theater. Seen here: Sweet Briar Theatre’s fall musical, “Heathers”

Working these jobs helps me structure the time in which I study. Because of my rigorous course schedule and numerous extracurriculars, not a lot of time is left for homework. Scheduling everything makes me feel as though I have enough time to get everything done. Having a routine is the number one key to my success. Last fall, I planned out sections of my day dedicated to doing homework for certain classes, and it helped me stay on track for most of the semester. When I got behind from being sick for two weeks, I was able to use my routine to get back on track.

I don’t think I would be as on top of things if I were not as busy as I am. I find that when I have too much free time, I tend to waste it and think “I can just do that later.” Unfortunately, later comes and that’s when I would panic. Having a very structured and thought-out system, however, doesn’t leave time to be lazy or procrastinate. This approach has helped me focus and have a successful semester.

Need help with time management or study skills? Stop by the Academic Resource Center in the library!

Interested in finding a campus job? Here’s a list of job openings. For help with your résumé and internships, visit career services

Phoenix BrownPhoenix Brown is a junior from Greensboro, N.C. A double major in studio art and archaeology, she’s also pursuing a B.F.A. She’s an admissions ambassador and a technical assistant in the theater program.

Sweet Briar riders help Team USA win bronze at AIEC World Finals

Team USA
Team USA earned a podium spot at the 2018 AIEC World Finals in Belgium.

Recent Sweet Briar graduate Makayla Benjamin and junior Kirsten Reinhart competed for the United States at the 2018 AIEC World Finals in Oud-Heverlee, Belgium, with Benjamin finishing second in individual show jumping and Team USA earning a bronze medal in the Silver League.

“The experience itself was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the show was very different [in format] from the other international shows I’ve competed in,” Reinhart said. “It was amazing to have someone I know show me the ropes.”

Reinhart, Benjamin and Dinnia DiGennaro, from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, comprised Team USA in the Silver League and competed against Sweden, The Netherlands, Estonia, Norway, France, Poland and Austria.

“Having two teammates [who are] veterans of the competition really helped me, since world finals was my first AIEC show and their performance led the team to finish up in bronze show jumping and bronze overall in the Silver League,” Reinhart said.

Benjamin, winner of the 2018 USEF/Cacchione Cup and the 2015 AIEC World Finals show jumping competition in Germany, finished second in individual show jumping and earned sixth in the combined ranks.

Team USA
Team USA, from left: Kirsten Reinhart, Dinnia DiGennaro and Makayla Benjamin

Reinhart and Benjamin helped the United States earn bronze in show jumping and overall combined rankings in the Silver League, while Sweden earned gold and Estonia picked up silver as a team.

“World Finals Belgium was a wonderful experience. I was able to compete against some of the best student riders in the world and I got to show alongside my Sweet Briar sister, Makayla Benjamin,” Reinhart added.

Team USA was selected based on individual results in USEF competitions over the past 12 months. The event took place Dec. 29, 2018, through Jan. 1, 2019. More information about AIEC, the World University Equestrian Federation, is at aiecworld.com.

From Sweet Briar to Europe to Texas: The success story behind Céleste Wackenhut’s French & Michigan

Celeste Wackenhut F&M
Céleste Wackenhut at a presentation for an education program during the F&M exhibition “Lisa Qualls: A Collection of Silence” (2015)

Arts and humanities majors often fight the misconception that their degrees don’t prepare them for the real world, or a “real job.” Like so many Sweet Briar graduates, Céleste Wackenhut ’08 proves that stereotype wrong. As curator and co-owner at San Antonio’s cutting-edge French & Michigan, a hybrid space founded in the research of art and design, Wackenhut has established herself in the city’s art scene.

The company’s purpose is twofold: Wackenhut runs F&M Projects, a nonprofit arts organization, while her husband, Billy Lambert, is in charge of F&M Workshop, a design and fabrication practice. According to F&M’s website, the company started as a “small, nameless design studio” at a house in San Antonio’s Southtown neighborhood, an area known to the local art community as “the Compound.” In 2012, the studio moved into a Spanish Mission-style building on the corner of French Street and Michigan Avenue in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. And just like that, it had a name. One year later, the studio expanded and opened French & Michigan Gallery.

French& Michigan
French & Michigan’s first location in San Antonio’s Beacon Hill neighborhood

Today, F&M is renovating a new building back in Southtown. They now carry an eclectic portfolio, from design and fabrication services on the F&M Workshop side to exhibitions and a residency program on the F&M Projects side. Wackenhut’s isn’t your typical art space: Instead of starting with the display and creating a catalogue to accompany the show, French & Michigan focuses on the printed piece first.

“As a nonprofit, our primary effort is a publication program where we work with researchers and writers to create catalogues of an artist’s work,” Wackenhut explains. “I manage the artist applications, work with a curatorial panel to select artists, collaborate with the artists selected, identify and work with writers, designers and printers for the publications, and organize the resulting book releases and exhibitions.”

Wackenhut also manages some smaller programs for the organization, and she takes care of the nonprofit’s general operations, finances and fundraising. Over the years, F&M’s staff has ranged between two and 12, so she’s used to wearing a lot of hats.

Exhibit at F&M
Exhibition for “Cornelia White Swann: Fugitive Color I” (2015) with an F&M Workshop bench

How did she get here? That’s an easy one for Wackenhut.

“Certainly the answer to this is Sweet Briar College and its faculty. I believe that my professors were uniquely positioned to identify my interests and strengths and lead me to opportunities that made sense for me,” says the former art history and Italian studies double major, who also completed an Arts Management Certificate. “While my work experiences after graduating provided great insight and continued education, my current work all leads back to Sweet Briar and the domino effect it can have on your life.”

Wackenhut fell in love with Sweet Briar long before she could attend — in 1994.

“Both my sisters went to Sweet Briar, Anne-Claire Wackenhut Kasten, Class of 1998, and Sophie Wackenhut Szymanski, Class of 2002,” Wackenhut recalls. “Our mom was a French exchange student at Mount Holyoke and encouraged Anne-Claire to look at all-women’s colleges. They were driving up the East Coast looking at schools. After a stormy drive and a hard time finding shelter due to power outages in the area, the visit at Sweet Briar under the sun the following morning had been enchanting. Anne-Claire toured the campus and had an impromptu interview with the dean. She was convinced.

“I remember the first time I visited SBC was for Parents’ Weekend her freshman year in 1994. I was in the second grade. We pulled through the gate and drove through SBC’s iconic drive and I literally said, ‘This is where I’m going.’ My parents still laugh at the memory. I did apply to other colleges my senior year but knew it had to be SBC in the end.”

Graduation 2008 Sweet Briar
Céleste’s sisters Anne-Claire ’98 (left) and Sophie ’02 make final adjustments to her commencement attire before graduation in 2008.

While at Sweet Briar, Wackenhut took advantage of every opportunity that came her way: She studied abroad during her junior year in Urbino, Italy. She worked as an art history research assistant and as a gallery guard. She was involved in the Academic Affairs Committee and sat on the Advisory Council, serving as the modern languages student representative.

“As a result of being part of the arts management program, I received many internship opportunities, including working at [the nearby] Virginia Center for the Creative Arts,” she says.

Céleste and Billy at the 2018 wedding of a friend Céleste studied with during her junior year abroad in Urbino, Italy

“During an internship, I was asked to interview for a summer position at VCCA and was able to begin working even before graduation day. This experience and perspective on artists and art organizations led to an internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy, and then to graduate school at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.”

And Wackenhut’s drive didn’t stop in grad school. During the 12 months it took to earn her master’s (in modern art: history, curating and criticism), she landed an internship at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and while writing her thesis, she began applying for jobs and found a post-graduate 10-month internship at McNay Art Museum in San Antonio.

“I was hoping it would be my last internship and my last temporary post,” Wackenhut admits. And her diligence was rewarded. “At the end of my 10 months, they hired me for a new position as curatorial/communications assistant.”

Wackenhut spent three years at McNay before starting French & Michigan. Now in her early 30s, she’s built a visionary, thriving nonprofit that enriches her community and supports up-and-coming artists. With so much passion, it’s no surprise that pretty much every part of her life has to do with the arts. She’s also an independent curator and has been on the board of directors for the Sweet Briar College Friends of Art since 2016. Currently, she serves as the board’s vice president.

“I feel lucky to have been nominated and to be able to use my professional experience and interests to give back to Sweet Briar in this capacity,” Wackenhut says.

F&M dinner
A dinner in 2018 to benefit the publication program in F&M’s new space

And she means it. In spring 2018, she initiated the Friends of Art’s VCCA summer internship for other graduating seniors — inspired by her own experience as an intern and admissions assistant at the VCCA. This fall, she served as guest curator for Sweet Briar’s show “La Jaula de Oro.”

“Sweet Briar gave me the ability to lead and participate in all areas of my life,” Wackenhut explains. “I was astonished to sit in meetings at my first jobs and observe colleagues who didn’t know how to speak up. Being at a college — a small environment where every leadership position is occupied by a woman — taught me to speak, to ask questions, to share ideas and thoughts. This certainly has influenced my life, both professionally and personally. SBC taught me the benefits of being engaged and seeking out research to become informed as events come up in life.”

That knack for research might come in handy in 2019.

“My husband and I are expecting our first child early next year, so our spare time is spent wrapping our heads around this next phase of our life,” Wackenhut says.

We love checking in with our recent grads to see what they’re up to! This is the fourth in a series of profiles featuring Sweet Briar’s young alumnae across various disciplines and job fields.

Core 110: Learning by design

Student whiteboard
Design Thinking students in two different groups jot down ideas on a whiteboard.

Design thinking is a phrase that describes one way that human beings can approach problem-solving. Sweet Briar isn’t the only college that teaches it, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty about what it really means. “I had no idea what it was when President Woo came on board,” says Joshua Harris, assistant professor of music. “But when I learned more about it, I knew it would be relevant to what I do. Artists sometimes get paralyzed thinking that they have to create a masterpiece, but that’s not true. Iteration is part of composing and there’s a lot of overlap between creative arts and design thinking.”

CORE 110: Design Thinking is the first class in the College’s Leadership Core Curriculum. It was team-taught by four faculty members: Josh Harris, music; Christopher Penfield, philosophy; Jessica Salvatore, psychology; and Kaelyn Leake, engineering.

One reason it’s the first course in the core is because it can be applied to so many different fields. Kaelyn Leake, assistant professor of engineering, says that although there’s already an engineering design process, design thinking can be complementary and both processes are based on similar principles. “I think anyone who truly learns design thinking will see their field in it,” she says.

Design Thinking Quad
Professors Jessica Salvatore (psychology) and Chris Penfield (philosophy) address students with megaphones in Sweet Briar’s Quad early on during the three-week class. In the background: Joshua Harris (music) and Kaelyn Leake (engineering)

All of the faculty teaching the class went to Stanford last winter to train at its design school. For them, design thinking is as much about defining problems as solving them. In order to design anything, you first have to know what problem you’re trying to solve, a skill Jessica Salvatore, associate professor of psychology, says can be applied to almost every aspect of college. For example, she says, “It’s a universal experience to be assigned a paper for a class and to not know where to begin because you can’t describe the problem you’re trying to research. If students can learn to define problems, they’ll be able to apply that skill to every project in every class they take, as well as to the professional problems they’ll solve after graduation.” Penfield agrees. “You can’t solve any problem until you identify the issue,” he says. “Learning to locate, identify and define the problem is an important first step in becoming a problem-solver.”

One thing that makes design thinking at Sweet Briar different is that it’s a required course that everyone has to take. “We often heard from the students that the class didn’t feel ‘like college,’ so clearly, it’s not what everyone is doing,” says Salvatore. “I’ve never heard of anyone teaching a framework of defining problems in a systematic way to every single student in an incoming cohort. That makes it different.”

For students, although the class may have been strange at first, it was worth doing. “I really did enjoy the class,” says Iris Williams ’22. “The subject matter is relevant to my engineering aspirations. The process was a little slow at first, but it was worth learning about it in depth.”

Design Thinking
Design Thinking students work in groups on solving a problem during the fall 2018 class.

Perhaps the most defining part of design thinking is that it is an iterative process. You talk to someone and empathize with them. You define the problem. You come up with ideas for solving that problem. You build a prototype of that solution and then you test it. But the process doesn’t end there and it’s not linear. Sometimes you think you’ve defined the problem, but during the testing phase, you discover some un-thought-of aspect that changes the way you think. Sometimes you test something and it doesn’t work, so you have to come up with new ideas and develop a new prototype. Sometimes your idea works great, but during the process, you discover a different problem you want to solve.

To be sure, design thinking has its skeptics. Salvatore was a skeptic until she took the Stanford course. Penfield notes that critics sometimes say that “design thinking doesn’t involve a moment of critique,” but he argues that critique is an inherent part of the iterative process. “It’s important to know when, in the creative process, to apply that critique,” he says.

On the first day of class, the students were given a box of items: aluminum foil, tape, pipe cleaners, sticky notes, Play-doh, string, popsicle sticks, straws, colorful circular stickers and more. At first glance, such a box might seem like materials for summer camp, but the items were tools that the students used to prototype designs. On the day that we visited, students were using the materials to test their ideas for a better study space. Using the items in that box, they prototyped things as different as a calming spa space to a smartphone application. According to Hank Yochum, associate dean of academic affairs, “You could probably find a box similar to that in many offices at Google, and there are a lot of people over there making a lot of money using the tools we’re teaching our students.”

Design Thinking Quad
Design Thinking students have fun during an outdoor exercise in the Quad.

The faculty noted that a lot of people don’t think they’re creative. Design thinking, Leake says, is a framework that allows people who might not feel creative to come up with innovative ideas. “It’s not about a creative moment of inspiration,” says Penfield. “Anyone can use this process to work collaboratively and come up with innovative ideas and breakthroughs that they might not have come to otherwise. It’s a set of skills that is not often taught in a structured way.”

The class is pass/fail, and as a result, doesn’t have an impact on a student’s GPA, but that’s by design, says Lynn Rainville, dean of the College. “Solving problems is a process that by definition involves failure,” she says. “We don’t want our students to be afraid of that or to be concerned that failing to solve an assigned problem will have a negative impact on their grade. We want them to fail — and we want them to learn from those failures.” In fact, taking risks and learning from failures is one of the primary goals of the class.

Students in the class work in teams. Salvatore says the notion of teams — not just “groups” — is important. For students, group work can be an annoyance, but Salvatore explained that the projects they were doing could not be actually done by an individual — she used the example of raising a barn: even if she wanted to, she could not build a barn by herself, just like the projects the students were working on in the class. Unlike a group, a team is a collection of people focused on a common goal, and everyone on the team has a sense of identity and a shared mission. During the course, students worked in several teams, and some of the students acknowledged that they didn’t always get along with other team members, but that, too, is a learning experience in itself.

Learning to work with others wasn’t the only skill the students learned. Because the first step in the process is empathy, students had to learn to talk to someone and really listen to what they had to say. While the students were practicing empathy, they were also learning interviewing and listening skills — and that’s before they’d solved any problems at all. CORE 110 gives students an opportunity to learn these skills so that they’ll be prepared to go into the workforce and collaborate with people of various skills and knowledge. And they’ll be able to work effectively with those people and come up with truly innovative solutions.

To see Sweet Briar’s first Design Thinking class in action, watch the video below:

Did You Know?

The term “design thinking” was probably coined in the 1960s. IDEO, perhaps the company best known for developing consumer products using design thinking tools, was founded in 1991. Stanford University launched the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, better known as the d.school, in 2005.

How design thinking has led to innovative solutions

It’s a question that gets asked regularly over kitchen tables when kids are doing their homework: “Why do I have to learn this?” And it was one obstacle the faculty of CORE 110 had to overcome with their own students, so one of the first things the students did was to look at some case studies about how design thinking had led to innovative solutions.

One such case study was the story of Doug Dietz, a designer for high-tech medical imaging systems for GE Healthcare. Dietz noticed that though his machines were technological marvels, the kids were so scared to get in them that they had to be sedated. Dietz realized there had to be a better way. He took Stanford’s course on design thinking and learned skills that helped him understand a human-centered approach to design.

He had to find a way to make the machines less scary. One of the prototypes he designed turned the MRI machine into a pirate ship and after the voyage was complete, there was a small bit of “treasure” waiting for the child in a pirate chest. Children were now less scared and the hospital had less need for anesthesiologists. Everybody won.

Some critics of design thinking argue that anyone could come up with these simple-seeming solutions; it doesn’t require a complicated process. But the truth is, before Dietz, nobody had come up with a solution to this particular problem. Simple doesn’t always mean easy or obvious.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2018 Alumnae Magazine.

Admissions Blog: What it’s like to be a non-traditional student at Sweet Briar

Campus bikesMy name is Julie Horton, and I’m pretty stoked to share my perspective on the Admissions Blog. I’m a junior majoring in history, minoring in religion and on the teaching track to earn state licensure and a Master of Arts in Teaching degree. Additionally, I’m in the Honors Program and was recently elected to serve on the Student Government Association. Oh, I almost forgot to mention: I’m a wife, mother of three incredible children and 49 years old. Yes, I’m pushing 50 and I’m in college. Sounds crazy, right? Let me tell you my story.

I married a Navy man at the young age of 18 and had my first child at 20. Two more babies came four and 13 years later. My husband deployed A LOT. Because he was gone so much, we decided that I would be the “constant” in our children’s lives by not working outside the home. My baby became a teen, which downsized my job as stay-at-home mom. Being “downsized” created an unbelievably large hole in my life; I felt that my life’s purpose was quickly fading. I became depressed and wondered what I should do — now that two of three kids had flown the coop and the third was aching for independence from Mom and Dad. I realized: “Oh, my word. I’m having a midlife crisis!” And let me tell you: it wasn’t pretty.

Julie Horton family
Julie Horton (right) with her family

Everyone has midlife crises, right? I wandered and wondered, cried and talked to a therapist to figure out how to redefine myself. I’d spent my entire adult life ensuring that my children attained their hopes and dreams and that my husband’s career soared. I willingly placed myself on the far back burner. I needed some kind of diversion, so I began substitute-teaching part time. I fell in love with the classroom and accepted more and more subbing positions. One day, the special education teacher I worked with on a particular assignment told me that I would make a great high school teacher, and urged me to consider going back to school. I told her it would take too long, that I’d be in my 50s by the time I finished, that I didn’t think I had the ambition or patience to do something as drastic as going to college at my age. She encouraged me to keep it in the back of my mind, and I did.

While visiting the Amherst County Honey Bee Festival a couple of months later (small-town festivals are a huge deal!), I spotted a Sweet Briar College banner hanging in the far corner of the gymnasium. Walking past, I noticed the staff giving away fabulous pink pens. I ambled over and began some small talk so I’d feel less guilty about going over just to snatch up a free pen. (It had a light on one end; can you blame me?) The admissions staff manning the Sweet Briar booth told me about the Turning Point program for students of non-traditional age (basically, any woman older than 23) seeking a college education.

My initial reaction was reserved. How could a middle-aged woman fit in at a school teeming with 18- to 22-year-olds? I’d never be able to keep up with the fast pace of college work. Was I smart enough to even think about going to college? All that therapy to treat my midlife crisis kicked in and I said to myself, “Well… why not?”

students cheering

I scheduled a visit the following month and was hooked. I applied, was accepted and began my college career in the fall 2016 semester. I faced — and overcame — all the fears that surrounded such a major life change. Today, I’m not just surviving at Sweet Briar; I am THRIVING!

Sweet Briar College is dedicated to ensuring student success by offering a plethora of options for tutoring and support, as well as employing engaged, dedicated professors who care about the needs of each student. Also, my worries about acceptance into the fold flew right out the window after the first couple of weeks. I’ve made many friends who will be part of my heart forever. Although my time is at a premium — since I have a family and household to help care for — I DO have a place at Sweet Briar and it has become like a second home. I’m reminded of that fact each day by my fellow sister Vixens, who accept me for who I am and encourage me to participate in extracurricular activities alongside them.

Regardless of your race, creed, ethnicity or age, there IS a place for you at Sweet Briar. Stop dragging your feet and come see what Sweet Briar can offer you: a place for any woman who believes there is “nothing that you cannot do!”

Want to know what Sweet Briar has to offer? Fill out this simple form to learn more.

Ready to take the next step? Apply now and we’ll be in touch soon!

Julie HortonJulie Horton is a junior with a passion for American history. She’s the wife of a retired Navy officer and a mother who dances in the kitchen with her kids when they visit. After graduation, she plans to teach high school history and government, keeping her summer months open to fish, work in her garden and travel the world. 

Sweet Briar College unveils portrait of former president Phil Stone

President Stone and Pres Woo
Former President Phil Stone and President Meredith Woo at the portrait unveiling

On Friday, Nov. 16, a group of alumnae, friends and donors to Sweet Briar College gathered to honor the hard work of former president Phil Stone at the unveiling of his official portrait.

Although Stone was only president of the College for two years, he had a lasting impact and is credited with laying the foundation for the College’s current success. Georgene Vairo ’72, chairwoman of the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors, said: “Once [the settlement board] saw Phil, wearing his pink and green tie, at our first meeting in July 2015, we had no doubt that he was as passionate as the alumnae were about the College and that he was the perfect person to lead us.”

Indeed, when Sweet Briar opened its doors to students in the fall of 2015, it was due in no small measure to the efforts of President Stone. Over the next two years, he laid the foundation on which the College would begin its next chapter — with engaged and united alumnae, faculty and staff joined in common purpose and a new generation of Sweet Briar women ready to take on the world.

“Your steady hand was key to resuscitating our college,” remarked Vairo. “You put us on a firm footing and you set the stage for Meredith Woo to come in here and made sure that we would not only survive, but thrive. We are a beacon of how a small, liberal arts college can be excellent, relevant, affordable and sustainable in the 21st century.”

Vairo portrait unveiling
Chair of the Board Georgene Vairo ’72 speaks to guests at the portrait unveiling on Friday night.

The work he did to secure the College’s future was done with warmth and compassion and those attributes have earned Stone the abiding affection of so many at Sweet Briar College. He’s still a valued member of the Sweet Briar family and President Woo noted that she still relies on Stone’s good counsel. “I can always call Phil when I need advice and he’s never been stingy with it. I can tell you he’s been a solace and a comfort in the last 18 months,” she said.

Stone thanked the speakers for their kind words and said he was grateful for the kindness and friendship of the College’s alumnae and supporters. “One of the joys of Sweet Briar is that I got to know some of your families and visit your homes,” he said. “I had such a great time getting acquainted with you. You were so kind to me and I do appreciate that very much.” In typically modest fashion, he downplayed his own contributions to thank the faculty and staff who supported the work to bring the College back to health and to acknowledge the students and families who put their faith in the College. “You reinvested,” he said of those families. “You put your trust in us again and you made this happen. You made it possible.”

Stone’s portrait was painted by Ying-He Liu, who received B.A. in fine arts from Stony Brook University, SUNY. She has devoted most of her career to portraiture and her subjects encompass heads of major corporations and institutes; leaders in academics, philanthropy, medicine, finance, government, religion and arts; and family members of domestic and international clientele.

The portrait will be on display in the Reading Room in Mary Helen Cochran Library.

Makayla Benjamin ’18: Riding forward

Makayla Benjamin ’18
Makayla Benjamin ’18 rode on the NCEA team at Sweet Briar. Photo by Andrew Ryeback Photography

Jan Benjamin still remembers her daughter’s first hunt trail ride. Makayla was about 4 years old, she recalls, perched proudly on top of her pony, Marshmallow. “How was it, Makayla?” the field master asked her. Makayla sighed. “A little bit slow,” she replied.

Seventeen years later, Makayla Benjamin ’18 would be the first in her family — and the first Sweet Briar student — to win the coveted Cacchione Cup, the nation’s highest honor for a collegiate rider. It was the first time she’d even qualified, during her senior year at Sweet Briar.

But her historic victory had been long in the making.

family Benjamin
The Benjamin family on horseback: Makayla, Andrew, Jan and brother, Matthew

“Makayla started riding when she was a baby,” Jan says. “I would put her in front of me on a horse, between my arms.” It’s no surprise the two have been best friends ever since, bonding over their shared passion. Jan herself had owned horses since she was a child, so they’d been a staple of the Benjamin family and their home in Lucketts, Va., from the start.

There might not have been a Benjamin family without horses — after all, it’s how Jan met her husband, Andrew: The two competed together on Purdue University’s Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association team when Jan was a freshman. Andrew graduated the next year, but as soon as Jan finished college, they got married. Seeing their former Purdue coach again at this year’s IHSA nationals — and grabbing him for a group photo with Makayla — was “really neat,” Jan says.

Did she expect Makayla to win the Cacchione Cup? Nope. “I mean, it’s the top riders in the country,” Jan says. “I was hoping for her to be in the top 10, you know. When we were there watching it, and once they announced the fourth-place rider, I turned to my friend and said, ‘She won it.’ I knew the other two riders, and I had taken notes through all of the classes. I was like: ‘She won it. They can’t beat her.’”

Makayla and Jan
Makayla’s first horse show in 2001

“We were all shocked and crying for joy,” Andrew Benjamin says. “All I could think of was, ‘What a year, and this is the best possible way to cap her college career!’”

Makayla was 5 when she entered her first horse show. Jan didn’t want her to show until she asked to do it. “It was more important for her to learn how to ride, and how to take care of horses first,” Jan explains.

And Makayla did.

“I think I was so involved with horses from the get-go that each moment just reassured my interest in horses and the sport,” she says. “I liked to be able to see my own progress with a horse. It was always challenging and frustrating, but so rewarding at the same time. I think being able to work with horses my entire life gave me such an appreciation for being patient and humble. And I loved that about them, so I think just being able to learn so much about them developed my deep interest in them.”

Makayla showed ponies for several years and competed in the Pony Finals when she was 11 and again when she was 14.

Soon after, she moved on to horses and throughout high school, learned the ropes of equine care as a working student at Gavin Moylan Stables. At 16, Moylan put her in charge of all the horses he left at home while going to Florida for the winter. “He had a horse that was pretty much broken mentally, that no longer would jump,” Jan remembers. “That was her project over the winter — to work with him and get him going again.” By the time Moylan returned, his horse was jumping just fine. Makayla kept the horse from December until August and, in partnership with Moylan, made enough money selling it to import a new horse from Germany.

In order to work with her new horse, Makayla completed her high school credits early and spent her final semester in Florida. Then the Benjamins sold the horse and she was off to Sweet Briar — a place she had fallen in love with as a flower girl when she was 6 years old. A few campus visits confirmed it was still as magical as her memory. And that magic continued.

IHSA team
Makayla (second from right) with other Sweet Briar IHSA team members in Feb. 2017 after a competition at Hollins University

“My experience at Sweet Briar was phenomenal,” Makayla says. “I will forever cherish the friendships I made there, and the relationships I had with my professors, who were always so supportive. The entire environment truly made it seem like you could accomplish anything you dedicated yourself to. Sweet Briar taught me how to fight for something I love and believe in, how to be a good leader, how to face challenges and overcome them, how to be involved, and how to manage it all.”

Her first semester was a blur of equitation finals, with little time for academics. She was planning to catch up over the summer, her mother remembers, to make sure she’d be in good shape to major in engineering. And then March 3, 2015, happened: Halfway into her second semester, Makayla — and everyone else in the Class of 2018 — found out the College was closing. Or was it? Makayla took action. On April 20, she and one other student filed a lawsuit against Sweet Briar’s previous board.

Andrew Benjamin at Founders’ Day Convocation 2018

Her father, now vice chair of the current board of directors, remembers it well. “When she testified in court and was asked to explain her thoughts about the closure, the first thing she said was, ‘I have lost my home.’ To me that made it worth fighting for in earnest,” he says.

While painful, the near-closure and subsequent saving of the College played a huge role in Makayla’s personal development. “I did not know that I was going to have to take the stand, but I am so thankful that I did because it helped me to believe that I could fight for something, and I would be heard,” she says.

The summer’s uncertainty put her behind academically, so Makayla had to change course: She dropped her engineering major to a minor and went for a mathematical economics major instead, with another minor in business. But she’s glad she was able to stay at Sweet Briar. So is Jan.

“We looked at other colleges, and all it confirmed for us was that [with] Sweet Briar, we made the right choice the first time.”

And 2015 wasn’t over yet for Makayla. That winter, she qualified for the AIEC-SRNC World Finals in Marburg, Germany — as one of three riders on Team USA. And she ended up winning the show jumping competition. Back home, then-President Phil Stone organized a special awards ceremony to greet the champion. “President Stone was amazingly supportive,” Makayla remembers. “I was overwhelmed by all the support from my classmates, alumnae, board of directors and parents, and I wanted to do all I could to help the school be recognized.”

Makayla Benjamin '18 (center) won the Silver League show jumping competition and was third overall in the AIEC Student Riding Nations Cup World Finals in Germany.
Makayla (center) won the Silver League show jumping competition and was third overall in the AIEC Student Riding Nations Cup World Finals in Germany in Dec. 2015.

Over the next few years, Makayla did just that: She won lots of ribbons and was crowned high-point rider at nearly every IHSA show. Her parents were right there, cheering her on. She became part of Sweet Briar’s first National Collegiate Equestrian Association team in 2017, competing as the only Division III school against Division I schools. And each year, she’d always be just short of qualifying for IHSA nationals. But her Sweet Briar experience was about so much more than just ribbons.

“The riding program was always very supportive of me and helped me to emerge as a leader on the teams,” Makayla says. “Honestly, the skills I learned being a team leader have stuck with me the most.”

In Stride magazine
Makayla on the cover of In Stride magazine after winning the Cacchione Cup in May 2018

Nevertheless, when she rode to victory in May, it was a moment she had been waiting for her entire life.

“Winning the Cacchione Cup for me was like the fairy-tale ending to my college riding career,” Makayla says. “It truly helped me recognize that hard work and determination can pay off in the most incredible ways possible. I was ecstatic to finally have made it to the national final. It was three long years of fighting it to the bitter end and being just short of it each time. And when I was there, I just wanted to leave it all out there. In the moment, I just wanted to give the horse I was on the best ride I could, so that it would leave the ring more confident than it walked in. The overlying motivation was that I wanted to prove that Sweet Briar was still around and still relevant. That the attempted closure hadn’t shaken us in our renowned riding program. That was my motivation.”

Since her historic win, Makayla has been working as a wrangler at Bitterroot Ranch in Wyoming with her friend and classmate Courtney Barry, who found the job online — a dream job for both. When she’s done, she’ll head back to Germany to work for two months at the riding facility in Marburg-Dagobertshausen before she starts her first “normal” job in accounting back in the U.S.

Makayla Benjamin Wyoming
Makayla in Wyoming in summer 2018

“I think I am in a fascinating place in my life and career,” Makayla notes. “I have had wonderful opportunities, but also time to explore what I want to dedicate my time to. I will be exploring many more opportunities to decide which one suits me best!”

And who knows what might come next? Winning the Cacchione Cup has definitely given her an extra push. “It reignited my big fat dream of going to the Olympics — and believing in myself that I could get there with more hard work and determination,” Makayla says.

There’s no doubt in her mother’s mind she’ll find her way. It’s in her personality.

“She has always been an old soul and extremely comfortable in her own skin,” Jan says. “She doesn’t care what other people think. She does what she wants to do and doesn’t let anything get in her way. I think a lot of that, too, is Sweet Briar.”

This article first appeared in the Fall 2018 Alumnae Magazine.

Sweet Briar College honors visionary donors

Donor DinnerBetween 2015 and 2018, Sweet Briar alumnae and friends contributed $53.7 million dollars in support of the College. About a quarter of that total came from a group of 90 remarkable and visionary donors, including several who made gifts of $1 million or more. Their donations supported faculty, academic programs, scholarships and the College’s natural and built environment.

On Thursday, Nov. 15, the College honored these extraordinary families, whose generosity not only ensured Sweet Briar will continue to educate women of consequence, but also laid a foundation for the College’s future innovation and leadership among liberal arts colleges.

Kelley Manderson Fitzpatrick ’85, a member of the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors and of the search committee that hired President Meredith Woo, is one of the individuals honored on Thursday. She said she knew that if she didn’t make her best gift in 2015, she might not get another opportunity. “This was a unique situation, and the College needed my gift right away,” Fitzpatrick said. “I had to put everything I had into it and I had to do it with no strings attached. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t.”

Speaking at the event in Mary Helen Cochran Library, Mary Pope Maybank Hutson ’83, vice president for alumnae relations and development, expressed her gratitude. “When I look around the room, I see friends, colleagues and believers in what this institution stands for: courage, excellence and undeniable resilience,” she said. “I see dedicated individuals and families who were undaunted by the odds or the naysayers. I cannot say this enough: Thank you for your deep love and commitment to this college.”

President Woo acknowledged the difficulty of the work the College and its supporters did over the last three years. “The work the College did to raise unrestricted support was almost unthinkable in higher education,” she said. “Sweet Briar’s passionate alumnae and supporters were responsible for preserving a great American legacy. Thanks to all of you for making this miracle happen.”

Woo went on to talk about her vision for Sweet Briar’s future, including innovation in academics, doing right by the College’s architectural inheritance and natural environment, and nurturing a can-do spirit of leadership in its students. “Sweet Briar is a small college that delivers an excellent liberal arts education in an environment that is simply exquisite,” she said. “We can be a destination as a place that delivers a fine education for women with strengths in the arts and engineering. We can take that legacy and create a signature educational program that is intentional about what it means to be a leader. I think we are very much on our way to making it happen.”

New student ensemble Daisy’s Harp bridges music and engineering, past and future

Daisy's Harp
Daisy’s Harp with director Joshua Harris, assistant professor of music, in front of Memorial Chapel

There’s that half-hushed air of anticipation in Babcock 127 as students trickle in and take their seats — some pulling out instruments, others phones. And it’s not your everyday class. These are all members of Sweet Briar’s brand-new ensemble Daisy’s Harp, and this is band practice — pretty much.

Corin Diaz ’19 has settled in at the piano and is playing a few notes, while classmate Anne Meyer is fiddling, just a little, on her violin.

Two weeks earlier, Daisy’s Harp performed its first concert in Memorial Chapel. “This is really like being part of a rock band,” Assistant Professor of Music Joshua Harris, who directs the group, told the audience then. That first show was a colorful assembly of contemporary pieces chosen, arranged and performed by the students — from Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In an Aeroplane Over the Sea” to “Five” by John Cage.

“Being in the first song was nerve-wracking, but I had the support of everyone who was on stage with me, and I wanted to put on the best performance possible for their sake,” says first-year Rachel Davis from Van Wert, Ohio, who played electric guitar and sang on the Neutral Milk Hotel song. “I’d say we rocked it.”

Rachel Davis
Rachel Davis plays “In an Aeroplane Over the Sea” during dress rehearsal.

In just three weeks of class, the students had — through improvisation, rehearsals and rearrangements — put together their first big concert, with Harris serving as more of a facilitator than a director. On board: one violin, one cello, two clarinets, one flute, three guitarists, three pianists, several vocalists and two dancers/choreographers. Even a last-minute change of plan — one student lost her voice, so another, Ellis Carroll ’20, had to make the song hers and learn it in one day — didn’t shake Daisy’s Harp. That’s what musicians do every day, Harris noted.

But there was something else that impressed listeners in Memorial Chapel: an unusual instrument that can be played by waving one’s hands over it.

“This is a light-sensitive harp,” Harris explained. “These little bumps are phototransistors that react to light. When the light is blocked, they send a message to the computer that basically says: ‘Play a MIDI note.’ From there we can really do anything. … In the case of the song you just heard [“Aeroplane Over the Sea”], we’re controlling a synthesizer that students designed last spring in a course I taught called Interactive Computer Music. The glitches you hear correspond to the light levels being registered by the phototransistors.”

That instrument and its development, Harris added, reflect exactly the kind of “Do-it-Yourself” ethos Daisy’s Harp is trying to foster: “We believe that students need to have opportunities to be makers. Eventually, we hope to design another, larger harp with similar functionality, but with several improvements, and we’re collaborating with engineering faculty on some of the design.”

light harp
A prototype of the light harp before installation

One of those faculty members is Assistant Professor of Engineering Kaelyn Leake ’09, who, along with Harris and two other faculty members, team-taught Sweet Briar’s very first Design Thinking class to first-years during the College’s inaugural three-week session this fall.

Meyer, the ensemble’s violinist who is also an engineering major, was instrumental in building the light harp, Harris said. She took the prototype for the instrument and soldered the circuitry to a circuit board, then installed it in the enclosure box.

Using a modern light harp in this experimental ensemble makes perfect sense, Harris says, especially given the group’s name, which is as much a nod to Sweet Briar’s history as it is to its future.

“My music colleague Jeff Jones and I have been thinking about ‘Daisy’s Harp’ for a long time,” he explained during the concert. “If you didn’t know, Daisy Williams, the daughter of Sweet Briar founder Indiana Fletcher Williams, played the harp, and you can see her harp on display in the Sweet Briar Museum on Elijah Road. In naming this ensemble Daisy’s Harp, we are seeking to make a connection between our history and our future. Having a kind of modern harp in this ensemble was important to me as a symbol of our respect for tradition even as we press forward with more experimental approaches to music.”

Cellist Olympia LeHota ’20 and others during dress rehearsals for Daisy’s Harp’s first concert on Oct. 5

As someone who is new to Sweet Briar, Davis can name another reason the ensemble is unusual. “What really makes Daisy’s Harp different is the sort of attitude that permeates the group,” she says. “In high school, my symphonic band instructor was incredibly strict. Working in an environment where the professor is on good terms with all of his students and is actually friendly to us is a huge change, and it’s much more conducive to making the best music we can.”

Back in Babcock, the group tackles its next challenge — a very different one: excerpts of Philip Glass’s opera “Einstein on the Beach,” which they’ll perform on Nov. 28 in Pannell Gallery.

“I’ve been thinking about the space and the arrangement,” Harris starts. “A lot of [the text of the opera] was written by someone who is autistic —”

“— Christopher Knowles!” adds Davis, delving into an impromptu presentation about Knowles’s life and work, which earns her genuine gratitude from her bandmates. They start talking about patterns, and about how repetition can make words sound and look differently over time.

“Minimalism plays on this idea, and Knowles is a great example,” Harris offers.

And yet, singing Knowles’s endlessly repetitive lines, Daisy’s Harp quickly realizes that this is going to be a tough one. Harris reassures his choir that they will figure it out.

“If you trust the music, the score, that’s the experience you’ll provide to the audience,” he says.

It’s another valuable lesson — and one that fits in perfectly with a class “designed to prepare students for the realities of being a musician in the 21st century.”

Is it working? “We’ve been really pushing ourselves past what we thought were our limits,” Davis writes in an email three weeks after that first opera rehearsal. “Philip Glass is pretty demanding on performers, but we’re rising to the challenge and really making everything come together.”

Girls on the Run returns to Sweet Briar for 15th semiannual 5K

Girls on the Run 2017
A participant nears the finish line during Girls on the Run’s spring 2017 5K at Sweet Briar College. Photo by Karen Smith

Girls on the Run of Central Virginia returns to Sweet Briar College for another Fall Celebration 5K on Saturday, Nov. 17, marking the council’s 15th 5K at Sweet Briar. Pre-race activities begin at 8:30 a.m., with the race starting at 10 a.m.

Girls on the Run of Central Virginia is an independent council of Girls on the Run International, a network of more than 200 councils across 50 states and the District of Columbia. Girls spend 12 weeks in the program, including training to prepare for the semiannual 5K — a culminating event that recognizes and celebrates their efforts. Girls on the Run encourages girls between the ages of 8 and 13 to live healthy, confident and empowered lives — a mission that fits well with Sweet Briar’s commitment to fostering confidence, courage and grit among its students, and to educating women of consequence. Since 2011, the College has sponsored the Central Virginia council’s spring and fall 5Ks on campus.

“It’s so hard to believe that time has gone by so fast,” council director Mary Hansen said. “Our first event [at Sweet Briar] was on Nov. 19, 2011. We continue to be grateful for our partnership with Sweet Briar College and hope the relationship will continue for many more years.”

Hansen is expecting about 400 runners for Nov. 17, as well as 125 coaches and nearly 100 community participants. She also anticipates more than 100 volunteers to “help out around the course” as running buddies or at various stations before the race, including at the always-popular happy-hair table.

For more information, email girlsontheruncenva@verizon.net, visit the council’s website or follow them on Facebook.

Sweet Briar’s IHSA team is third in Richmond, three earn top honors

IHSA team RichmondThe Sweet Briar IHSA team finished third on Saturday at the University of Richmond show, as three Vixens won their classes at Haverhill Equestrian.

Sophomore Madeleine McAllister qualified for region finals with a first-place finish in the walk, trot division, while sophomore Kaitlin Duecker (Chesapeake, Va.) won her novice fences class.

In advanced walk, trot, canter, junior Chandler Fox came away as the winner, while junior Abbey Narodowy (North Smithfield, R.I.) finished second.

Making her novice flat debut, junior Ellyn Narodowy (North Smithfield, R.I.) earned second-place honors.

Senior Ailish Rhoades (Lebanon, Conn.) was second in open fences and fourth in open flat, while first-year Chloe Kerschl (Lexington, Ky.) finished third in intermediate flat.

Sweet Briar concludes the fall portion of the IHSA schedule on Saturday, Nov. 17, as Christopher Newport hosts a show at the Stonehouse Stables in Toano, Va.

Admissions Blog: How I got paid to do summer research (and you can, too)

Courtney Nelson
Courtney Nelson ’20 presents her summer research at the Southwestern Social Science Association’s annual meeting in Orlando.

If you take nothing else away from this article, at least take away one piece of advice: Do summer research! I spent eight weeks at Texas A&M University this summer doing research for sociology, and it was a life-changing experience. Not only did I have an amazing time, but I was getting paid, as well.

The research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation through a program called the Research Experience for Undergraduates. Research opportunities can be found at institutions across the country in a wide range of subject areas, including engineering, chemistry, earth sciences, social, behavioral and economic sciences, and more!

I heard about the program through a Sweet Briar professor, who encouraged me to apply. When I was accepted, he was just as excited as I was and extremely supportive. He went on to serve as my home institution mentor.

Going into the program, I was nervous because I knew it was going to be challenging and rigorous work. In the end, I emerged with a new outlook. It was empowering to learn how to research, use data analysis programs, write a research paper, and prepare a presentation. It was life-changing because it changed my goals and has pushed me to work even harder to prepare for graduate school. Along the way, there were many frustrated moments and long nights. However, I had the support of my home institution mentor and the program mentors, as well as my cohort because they were going through the same challenges. Ultimately, I was left with a feeling of pride: My analysis provided actual results and I could explain how I reached my conclusions.

Courtney in Orlando
Courtney at the conference in Orlando

All participants receive a stipend and most programs pay for housing and travel expenses. This makes the experience a win-win situation. You get to do original research and you get paid to do it. Through the program, we also had the incredible opportunity to present our research at a conference in which housing, travel and conference expenses were paid for. A few weeks ago, I presented my research at the 98th annual meeting of the Southwestern Social Science Association in Orlando, Fla.

Overall, the program was such a rewarding experience. I was able to travel and see new places, network and advance my love of sociology through engaging research. The program also focused on graduate school preparation and the program mentors provided insider information on the grad school experience. This was another reason I loved my experience: it made me reconsider post-undergraduate options I had previously disregarded. I am now planning to apply to graduate school and feel prepared and excited. Receiving a stipend was truly a bonus to the countless benefits I received by participating in this program.

Ultimately, this experience was incomparable to anything I have ever done. To fully understand it, though, you’ll have to see for yourself. I would do it again in an instant!

Learn more about academics at Sweet Briar at sbc.edu/academics.

Did you know every Sweet Briar student can apply for up to $2,000 to fund research, internships or other academic endeavors? Learn more about our Grants for Engaged Learning.

Courtney NelsonCourtney Nelson ’20 is a sociology and environmental studies double major from Midlothian, Va . She is on the varsity soccer team and is president of the Student-athlete Advisory Committee and junior class president in the Student Government Association. She is a member of the tap clubs Earphones, Aint’s ‘n’ Asses and BAM.

Sweet Briar board member Alice Dixon ’82 named to Richmond’s U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame

Alice Dixon lacrosse
Alice Dixon ’82 during her varsity lacrosse years at Sweet Briar College

Sweet College alumna and Board of Directors member Alice Dixon ’82 was named to the United States Lacrosse-Richmond Chapter Hall of Fame in October for her dedication to the sport of lacrosse in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Dixon, who came to Sweet Briar from Charlotte, N.C., was a three-sport varsity athlete for four years, competing in field hockey, basketball and lacrosse for the Vixens. Away from the field and court, Dixon served as the Student Government Association president, junior class president and freshman class president, while serving on the Judicial Committee as a sophomore. A QV and an Earphone, Dixon was named in the 1982 edition of Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.

Dixon graduated from Sweet Briar in 1982 with an A.B. in biology, before earning a Master of Humanities from the University of Richmond. In Richmond, Dixon took a job in the pharmaceutical industry. Following a long career with Carter Wallace, she entered the field of residential mortgage lending, where she earned the prestigious Certified Professional Mortgage Specialist designation.

In the sport of lacrosse, Dixon has had her hands on many facets of the game since she left Sweet Briar as a collegiate student-athlete. Dixon continued to play the sport at the club level following her college career, and was a highly respected official for 23 years at the high school and college level. Dixon also spent 10 years as an assignor of officials for middle and high school and club games. Assigning over 400 games a year, throughout Virginia, Dixon helped develop officials, while also recruiting and training new officials.

In 2008, Dixon was the recipient of the Lanetta Ware Service Award, which serves as a lifetime achievement award from the Blue Ridge Board of Officials.

Dixon’s time in lacrosse also saw her as a member of the Central Virginia Women’s Lacrosse Association, where she served as vice president of the organization, before being named an honorary member in 2003.

In 2009, Dixon assumed the role of President of the Richmond Chapter of U.S. Lacrosse, which had been dormant for many years. Dixon reconstituted and reorganized the chapter, which is now a thriving member of U.S. Lacrosse.

Most recently, in lacrosse, Dixon served as head lacrosse coach for Collegiate School’s middle school girls’ team, while also working as the head field hockey goalie coach. Dixon coached at Collegiate School for nearly five years.

Dixon joined the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors on July 2, 2015, and is chair of its Alumnae Committee. In 2017, she served as President Meredith Woo’s Inauguration Committee chair. Previously, Dixon was active in the Richmond chapter of the Sweet Briar Alumnae Association (now Alumnae Alliance), serving as the club’s president for a number of years. In her community, she has been active with her church and was a longtime member of the Junior League board, and a member of its executive committee.

Q&A: After five years in Alaska, Sweet Briar grad Alison Lifka gets ready for Iditarod

Alison Lifka
Alison Lifka with two puppies

No bones about it: Alison Lifka has a giant appetite for adventure. It’s why she moved to Alaska three days after graduating from Sweet Briar College in 2013. And it’s why she’s now training for the Iditarod — the world’s “last great race.”

Lifka, who was born in Ohio and grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, says a lot of her fierce spirit comes from her four years at Sweet Briar, where she studied environmental science. “Sweet Briar molded my current character. Entering college, I was a shy, quiet student,” she recalls. “While determined with a strong work ethic, I was easily intimidated and wasn’t very confident in my skills. I still tend toward quiet and reserved, but now there is a steel edge and resiliency to my quiet determinedness. This is very much thanks to Sweet Briar. My professors, soccer coaches and peers taught me the value of the strength of women and pride in doing something not quite the norm. In the sport of racing sled dogs, where the gender of the competitor doesn’t matter, I have found a niche that Sweet Briar helped prepare me for.”

Magazine story LifkaIn 2014, we wrote about Lifka’s move to Alaska in the Sweet Briar Magazine. Little did we know we’d be checking in with her four years later because she was going to do something as extraordinary and (awe-) inspiring as the Iditarod, so yes: We wanted to know everything. Lucky for us, Lifka told us a lot about how she ended up in Alaska, what made her want to race in the Iditarod (here’s her profile), and how she’s getting herself and her 22 huskies ready for it.

(The Q&A below is edited for length and clarity.)

Q: What made you want to move to Alaska, and what was your first job there?

A: I moved to Alaska three days after graduating from Sweet Briar for multiple, mostly subconscious reasons. I believe the strongest motivation stemmed from an internal struggle with the concept of settling into a predestined career — and the desire for adventure and living more in sync with the outdoors. The lure of the romanticized notion of Alaska as the Last Frontier appealed to me. Also, I really love winter and what better place to experience true winter than the great white north? I spent my first summer working as a sea kayaking guide in the town of Whittier in Prince William Sound. A fellow alumna and close friend, Mary Rora Alexander ’12, helped me secure this job and we worked together that summer.

Q: How did you end up working with sled dogs?

A: In my last month as a kayak guide, I gave a tour to a friend of a sled dog musher. At the time, I wanted to work with sled dogs, but didn’t know how. This musher’s friend put me in contact with the musher, Lev Shvarts, who was looking for help training his dog team that winter to compete in his first Iditarod.

Q: Has the Iditarod been a lifelong dream of yours?

A: After my first winter, I found a summer job working as a sled dog tour guide on a glacier in southeast Alaska. From then on, I worked in the winter as a “dog handler” for Iditarod racing kennels and spent my summers as a mushing guide on the Norris Glacier. After two winters working for Lev, I transitioned kennels and began working for Linwood Fiedler. There, I was given my first opportunity to race in mid-distance sled dog races.

Before racing, I had a vague desire to eventually run the Iditarod, but it was a bit like a fantasy, not very solid or fleshed out. Other mushers encouraged me to try, but I had no real notion or plan of actually making it happen. Yet, when I ran my first race, I ran it as an Iditarod qualifier. To run in Iditarod, you have to run and receive good marks on three mid-distance races before even signing up for Iditarod.

Northern Lights 300
Lifka racing in the Northern Lights 300

That first race, the Northern Lights 300, cemented my love for the sport. I wasn’t particularly competitive, but I enjoyed traveling across vast spans of the back-country by dog team. I enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow mushers. Most of all, I enjoyed watching my dog team. In training, the dogs and I generally run on the same network of trails and fall into a pattern. But out on the race, they came alive in a way I had never seen before. They were competitive and driven. I was holding them back in my inexperience at running dogs for 300 miles in a race setting. When we crossed the finish line, I wasn’t proud of myself — I was proud of the dogs. After that experience, the dogs and I trusted each other even more to get each other through thick and thin.

Last winter, I completed my final two qualifiers and got permission to run a younger group of dogs from Linwood’s kennel in the next Iditarod. My group of dogs consists of 22 dogs, 11 of which are 2-year-olds. This means that my team won’t be going for any records. Instead, we will be running the Iditarod trail as a training run for the young guys. They are too young physically and mentally to compete seriously in the race, so we will be taking a slow pace and enjoy each other’s company for 12 days in the beautiful, harsh back-country of Alaska.


Q: How important is trust and relationship-building with your dogs? How do you care for them?

A musher’s world revolves around the dogs. From the moment I wake to nearly the moment I go to bed, I am caring for and spending time with my huskies. The bond between musher and dogs is essential. I need to trust them to work hard, be honest in harness, and get me back home no matter what. The dogs need me to be fair and care for all their needs — food, water, shelter and social interactions. The longer we work together, the stronger the bond. Having a dog team’s trust and trusting my dog team is crucial when attempting an endeavor such as Iditarod.

I don’t generally sit down and strategize about how I’m going to earn a dog team’s trust, but the amount of care a musher puts into their team shows. Examples of common care practices for a dog team include providing a high nutritional diet, exercise and health care. The majority of the sled dogs’ diet is meat and a high quality dry commercial feed. We feed mostly beef and fish, mainly salmon.

Exercise is somewhat self-explanatory; they are sled dogs and they love to run. We give them an outlet in the form of running as a team pulling a sled with a musher clutching on for dear life. If we are unable to run them in a team because it is too warm or because they are on “vacation” from mushing, we find other outlets for all their boundless energy. Mainly we take them on free runs (human rides an ATV and dogs run along free with the machine) or put them in a free run (big pen the dogs can run around in). Finally, the last key in having a healthy, happy dog team is making sure their bodies are physically healthy.

Dog teamDogs get sick and hurt, whether they are a pet or a working sled dog, so I am on constant alert. Common ailments and injuries can be cared for in the kennel, but chronic or more serious ailments are taken to the “local” vet an hour away in the nearest big town. Just like with human sports teams, my huskies need proper conditioning and care to prevent sports injuries. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, one of my canine athletes gets an injury from running. Generally, these aren’t major injuries and can be stretched and massaged during rehabilitation. Other injuries require a dog sitting out and healing for weeks or months at a time before slowly rehabilitating them. It is a lot like human sports medicine, except the patients are furry and have four legs. The running of the dogs is the fun part, but the behind-the-scenes care of the team is, in my opinion, what makes the dog team.

Q: How are you training for the Iditarod? What does a typical day look like?

In late September, my team and I began our training. We start slowly at first and build up their conditioning. We don’t have snow until November to December, so until we get snow, I hook up my dog team to an ATV. My goal is that by February, they can run 40 to 50 miles continuously with only short meat snack breaks. By comparison, competitive race teams happily run 50 to 80 miles continuously. To achieve this requires a training schedule. Typically, we train on a three days on, two days off, day on, day off schedule.

Lifka Denali
Lifka during a backpacking trip in Denali National Park

Every day, we get up before the sun and feed our dogs. Their breakfast consists of a watery meat soup with varying amounts of kibble added, depending on the nutritional requirements of the individual dog. While they are digesting their breakfast, we clean up their areas. After that we either take care of kennel chores, take care of any dogs needing extra TLC, and/or go for a run with a team.

The distance and type of dog run vary depending on the training schedule. Right now, miles are low (5 miles) and focus is on just getting the dogs moving and working as a team. As the fall progresses into winter, the focus will shift to conditioning (higher miles, pulling strength and recovery time). My team and I will also begin going on camping trips to get the dogs used to sleeping and eating away from home.

On days we do spend at home, our days typically end by feeding dogs their dinner around 6-8 p.m. before getting our own dinner. The dogs’ dinner consists of a thick meat mash mixed with kibble. The meat in the winter is usually high in fat, but additionally we feed fat mixed with fish, almost like a dessert at the end of their main meal. Dogs process and use fat more efficiently than humans, and it is a necessity in feeding a working sled dog team in the cold winters.

Lifka has fun skijoring with her dogs.

Before going to bed, if it is extremely cold outside (think 20 to 40 degrees below 0), we bring the dogs into what my boss has coined the “dog hotels.” The dog hotels are outbuildings with individual cubbies for the dogs to sleep in. These dogs are double-coated arctic breed dogs that typically would rather be out in the snow than inside by a fire, but these dog hotels are much appreciated by them.

In addition to training the dogs, I have to keep myself in shape. Mushers view this aspect of training in varying amounts of importance. For me, keeping myself in good physical condition ensures that I will be able to care for and help my team (running up hills, running alongside the team, ski poling) for the entire trail. Right now, this just equates to hauling heavy feed buckets around and going for human foot runs.

Q: What are your expectations going into the race?

Iditarod FB post
It’s Facebook-official: Lifka is among 40 mushers to sign up for the 2019 Iditarod.

A: Looking forward to March and the start of Iditarod, I still get the jitters and a surreal feeling. I don’t think I will truly believe it is happening until the starting gun is fired figuratively. My goal for the race is to run 14 happy, healthy huskies 1,000 miles, with them just getting stronger and more confident as the miles pass.

Q: The Iditarod is a big deal. What are your plans beyond that?

A: Looking even further ahead, everything gets hazier. I have been living the seasonal lifestyle for the past five years and a lot of that involves going with the flow. Eventually, I would like to return to my field of study, environmental science, but hopefully in a field position. Until that day, I plan on leaping at interesting and adventurous opportunities — whether that’s working in Denali National Park’s sled dog kennel or abroad for a few years. Ultimately, I plan on sled dogs always being a part of my life, but the goal is to eventually own a team of my own. Right now, my kennel consists of one, Bear, a 9-year-old Alaskan husky that I adopted, who is also the namesake of my team this winter, Bear Necessities Mushing and Racing.

Learn more about Lifka’s team at www.bearnecessitiesmushing.com. You can also follow her on Instagram: @bear_necessities_mushing

We love checking in with our recent grads to see what they’re up to! This is the third in a series of profiles featuring Sweet Briar’s young alumnae across various disciplines and job fields.

After completing the Iditarod in 32nd place, Alison Lifka visited Sweet Briar College on April 3, 2019, to talk about her incredible experience. You can watch a video of her talk below:

Admissions Blog: An inside look at Sweet Briar’s Student Government Association

Caroline Thomas at Convocation
SGA president Caroline Thomas ’19 addresses her peers during Sweet Briar’s 2018 Opening Convocation.

As is the case with so many things at Sweet Briar, our Student Government Association exists because students created it. It was founded in 1906 — during the College’s first year — by Sweet Briar students, who wished to take control of non-academic matters on their campus.

What is the SGA, and how does it work?

Every Sweet Briar student is an automatic member of the SGA. Sweet Briar’s SGA board is made up of 21 elected members from all four classes. We have meetings every second and fourth Monday night of each month and discuss a plethora of things, from budget requests by clubs and organizations to our two annual blood drives. These meetings are public and open to all students and faculty who wish to attend. Students may also bring forth concerns and use these meetings as a platform to use their voice. Many of the members that sit on this board also sit as non-board members on various committees of the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors.

On the SGA board, we have our president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, electoral officer, publicity officer, non-academic judicial chairwoman, academic judicial chairwoman, academic affairs chairwoman, Inter-club Council president, Campus Events Organization president, non-traditional student chairwoman, inclusivity liaison and the presidents and vice presidents of each class.

Olivia Byrd
Olivia Byrd ’19 at the Sunrise Service

What does the SGA do?

Each organization has a vital role on campus. For example, each set of class officers — consisting of a president, vice president, treasurer and secretary — is in charge of maintaining the traditions of each class, such as Junior Banquet, as well as representing their class at SGA meetings. The SGA Executive Committee is responsible for interpreting the SGA Constitution, along with the students and the other members of the board. The inclusivity liaison is responsible for holding events that raise awareness and promote a culture of acceptance and diversity on this wonderful campus. This fall, our inclusivity liaison, Olivia Byrd, led a committee that planned our first-ever Sunrise Service at the Sweet Briar Plantation Burial Ground for the enslaved families. This is just one example of the great work that our SGA board is doing.

Our non-traditional student chairwoman represents all of the students who did not take the traditional college route, such as international students, non-residential students, Turning Point students (those 23 and older) and transfer students. The CEO president and her board are the masterminds behind many large and small events on campus and promote Sweet Briar’s social life. The Inter-club Council president makes sure campus clubs are accountable for their actions and regulates their community service outreach. Our academic affairs chairwoman and her committee, all elected members, are the liaisons between faculty and students and ensure that curriculum, course offerings and faculty decisions are done while keeping student interests in mind. Our judicial chairwomen, academic and non-academic, are responsible for handling violations of our Honor Code through a student-elected board.

Lantern Bearing
Lantern Bearing is a campuswide tradition held in the spring to honor the graduating seniors. It is sponsored by SGA.

Why do we need the SGA?

As a whole, the board has a large role in influencing changes to the Sweet Briar community. For example, in the 2015-2016 school year, the board had a voice in changing the system in which guests come onto campus by changing it from a paper system to an electronic system that alerts students of their visitors’ arrival. We have formed a Dining Services Committee to allow students to communicate effectively with our food services company, as well as created a Campus Safety Committee to do a similar thing, just with a different organization. These committees are formed not because there is a problem, but to ensure that on a campus as small as this one, student voices are heard on matters that affect us.

Caroline ThomasCaroline Thomas ’19 is a student-athlete from Appomattox. ​A business major with a minor in journalism, new media and communications, Caroline is the Student Government Association president for 2018-19 and the student admissions ambassador chairwoman.

Admissions Blog: 12 tips for submitting your FAFSA

Wanda and DaZane
Sweet Briar’s Director of Financial Aid Wanda Spradley (right) talks to DaZané Cole ’20, a student worker in the financial aid office.

It’s October, and we all know what that means: It’s FAFSA time! As of Oct. 1, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is now open, and you should take advantage of it — even if you think you might not qualify for financial aid. (Maybe you do!) But before you jump on it, here are some things to remember when completing the FAFSA.

  1. You can complete the FAFSA several ways:
    1. Online 💻 at fafsa.gov
    2. On your phone📱 (new for 2019): iOS or Android
    3. On paper 📝(still available but takes longer)
  2. Both you and your parent must create an FSA.ID.
  3. Please note: Your parents can use their 2017 tax return(s) for the FAFSA — no need to wait until they have filed their 2018 return(s)!
  4. Don’t leave any questions blank. Use zero instead of leaving blank answers.
  5. Make sure you use the exact name that is listed on your Social Security card — no nicknames.
  6. If you don’t understand a question, use FAFSA’s Help section or call us at 800-381-6156. We’ll be happy to assist you! 🤷🏽‍♀️
  7. Use the IRS Data Retrieval tool when you get to the financial section for both student and parent. It’s the easiest tool to use and makes us very happy in the financial aid office! 😊
  8. Check with your high school counselor regarding outside scholarships. They may know of some civic or community organizations that offer scholarships.
  9. Meet all deadlines. Check with the colleges you are interested in for deadlines and list those colleges on your FAFSA.
  10. Get your FAFSA done as soon as possible. Don’t wait.
  11. Remember, here at Sweet Briar, our tuition is competitive with state colleges, and we offer more than 250 scholarships. But you must apply — and complete the FAFSA!🎓
  12. Completing your FAFSA and an application by Nov. 1 means you will receive an admission decision and — if accepted — your financial aid package before the winter holidays! ☃️🏝

Ready to fill out the FAFSA? Go to fafsa.gov and get started.

Ready to apply to Sweet Briar? Visit sbc.edu/apply.

Wanda SpradleyWanda Spradley is the director of financial aid at Sweet Briar College, where she has been working for more than 15 years. When she isn’t meeting with students or writing award letters, Wanda can be found spending time with her family and scrapbooking. Wanda graduated from Sweet Briar in 2009.

Service to America Career Achievement Medal goes to Sweet Briar’s Dr. Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp ’68

Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp
Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp at Sweet Briar College during Reunion 2018

Dr. Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp ’68 is among a select group of civil servants to receive a Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal tonight. The “Sammies,” also dubbed the “Oscars of government service,” are awarded by the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission it is to make government more effective.

Sammies are awarded each year in a number of categories to individuals whose accomplishments are “making a meaningful difference to millions of people across our country and around the world,” according to the organization. Yeargin-Allsopp, associate director for children with special health care needs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be honored with the 2018 Career Achievement Medal.

During her more than three decades at the CDC, Yeargin-Allsopp “pioneered research to understand the prevalence of autism and other developmental disabilities, influencing the expansion of health, social and educational services for children with special needs,” according to her Sammies profile. In 1966, Yeargin-Allsopp became the first African-American student to attend Sweet Briar College and in 1968, she was the first African-American woman admitted to Emory University School of Medicine. Last year, Yeargin-Allsopp received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine.

“I feel that I’ve done the best I can do with the gifts and talents that I’ve been given,” she said according to a story in the Washington Post. “That’s what we all should do.”

Yeargin-Allsopp is currently serving a second term on the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors. In 1992, the College honored her with its Distinguished Alumna Award.

“I think Sweet Briar as a place matches my determination and willpower as a person,” she said in a February 2018 profile on the Sweet Briar College website. “I hope that many more young women will find their way to Sweet Briar and take advantage of all the wonderful, transformative experiences they will have there. It can be life-changing. I am an example of that!”

New ‘female-centric’ art exhibit at Sweet Briar highlights immigrant experience

Barbara Minarro
Barbara Miñarro among her soft sculptures

An exhibition by Mexican-born artist Barbara Miñarro opens with a reception and artist’s talk at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, in Pannell Gallery at Sweet Briar College. “La Jaula de Oro,” or “The Golden Dream,” will be on view until Dec. 14.

Miñarro was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and currently lives and works in San Antonio, Texas. As an artist “influenced by and making a life between two cultures,” her work explores ideas of the “body in migration,” according to her website. “Her soft sculptures, installations and paintings utilize the tactile memory of clothing, the earth, and the physical body to express the emotional journey of immigration.”

Miñarro’s departure from her home in Mexico to the U.S. has shaped the way she navigates and adapts to new surroundings. She works with textiles that are personal to her: her grandmother’s bed sheets, her mother’s clothing and her own garments. Along with collected materials, they act as signifiers of identity that she has brought with her from her homeland.

Miñarro will be on campus to meet with students and install her work beginning Monday, Sept. 24. The project is commissioned by Sweet Briar College as an extension of the theme “Bridging Distances,” which unites sections of the course Expression and the Arts in the new leadership core curriculum. The exhibition is organized by guest curator and Sweet Briar College Friends of Art board member Céleste Wackenhut ’08. Funding is provided by the Friends of Art as part of an initiative to expand its support to the College in new and enriching ways for students and the community.

La Ceiba
“La Ceiba”

“I’m thrilled to be giving back to Sweet Briar in this capacity,” Wackenhut says. “It’s a wonderful feeling to come back to campus — and to the foundation of my learning in art history and arts management — and serve as a guest curator.”

Miñarro “quickly became a clear choice for creating work in Pannell,” says Wackenhut, who had several conversations with Carrie Brown, director of the College’s Center for Creativity, Design and the Arts, about the new curriculum and the “Bridging Distances” theme.

“We wanted to identify a practicing contemporary artist to activate the gallery with a temporary site-specific installation, one that would call for contemplation, conversation and reflection,” she adds. “As Barbara is exploring themes of the body in migration, I knew her approach to the theme of ‘Bridging Distances’ would provide a human element to the curriculum being explored by students across departments. Barbara’s work, which is primarily made up of soft sculptures, is meant to take over a space and allow an audience to walk in, around and through the installation. This ‘soft’ confrontation achieves our goals to have students and the community engage with the work on a deep and meaningful level.”

The artist agrees. “I aim to create an environment viewers must navigate and adapt to,” she says. “This forced movement allows me to engage on another level with the audience about immigration and how a body moves through space. I want this to be a safe place that ignites conversation.”

Miñarro is also an excellent role model for Sweet Briar students, Wackenhut says. “Barbara is a recent B.F.A. graduate who immediately established her practice and has begun to show on a national and international level. She is a woman using a strong and skilled voice through her artwork and as a result, there is an immediate connection between her and the women we educate at Sweet Briar College.”

Miñarro says it’s a special opportunity for her. “My work is female-centric, and it’s an honor to present it to an all-women’s college,” she says. “I look forward to sharing my experience with other women, and to give them a platform to share their own. Our stories connect us, no matter how different our experiences.”

MinarroWackenhut and the Friends of Art are pleased Miñarro’s exhibit offers so much opportunity for community engagement: Sweet Briar student Olympia LeHota ’20 will work with the artist on her installation, classes will be able to meet with Miñarro throughout her time on campus, and the community will have a chance to speak with her at the opening reception.

And they are bound to have many questions for the young artist. In recent projects, Wackenhut notes, Miñarro has incorporated clothing from other women important to her today, resulting in a “tapestry of fabrics from both nations, both homes, and both lives.”

The objects, extracted from their native environment and adapted to their new surroundings, symbolize her own immigrant experience, Miñarro says. Placing her materials in a new location changes their context, she adds, which helps the artist explore the idea that environments can affect identities, dictate relationships and “change the way bodies navigate through familial spaces and abstract borders.”

Miñarro stresses the toll migration takes on the body, but also highlights the strength that comes from such challenges — including the potential for bringing people together, Wackenhut says.

“With every installation, Miñarro re-approaches these themes to create new immersive work based on the architecture of a space,” Wackenhut explains. “Miñarro’s work provides an opportunity to draw an audience in through her playful aesthetic and encourages difficult conversations regarding how bridging distances and differences can influence the human race.”

Pannell Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday or by appointment. For more information, visit the artist’s website at barbaraminarro.com or email Sweet Briar galleries and museum director Annie Labatt at alabatt@sbc.edu.

Admissions Blog: What every daughter should hear from her momma on the first day of college

Campus at move-in 2016This article by Sweet Briar momma Kristina Henson was first published on Aug. 28, 2018, at elephantjournal.com.

A few things I forgot to say.

Dear Lily,

Change. Love it or hate it, it’s going to happen. It never seems to be on my terms, so I’m going to do the only thing I know how to do: keep driving and don’t look back.

I had a long time alone in the car yesterday to think of all the things I forgot to tell you before I drove away and left you to live in a dorm with strangers, 518 miles from home.

>> Wear your retainer as prescribed. I know what all of your teeth look like. If any of them move, you owe me $5,000. I’m not kidding.

>> Don’t eat too much junk food. Go for a walk or watch puppy videos if you get stressed out. That whole “you are what you eat” thing is for real. Please make sure there is a green vegetable on your plate at dinner.

Lily with mom and dad
Lily Henson ’22 at her high school graduation with dad, Joe, and mom, Kristina

>> Try new stuff. I’m going to do that too. I tried shrimp and grits yesterday. I don’t think grits is in my DNA. We are polenta people. I’m still glad I decided to try it.

>> Go to the dances and parties and wear your new dress. It’s gorgeous on you. No one else knows anyone either. Just find one person you can talk to. If that one person is a boy, remember to get your own drink. I haven’t been a teenager for a while, but I know that things haven’t changed that much. A young man will go to exceptional measures to charm the pants off you. Be charmed. Have fun. Be safe.

>> I have never seen an area so populated with deer! You’re going to be dodging them left and right! Keep your eyes on the road. Stay in your car and call Dad or me if you ever break down. Maybe get that campus security guy’s number too. What was his name? I can’t remember.

>> Take a lot of photos. You have a talent for capturing moments. You’ll want to remember all of this one day.

>> Don’t look at your phone while you’re eating.

>> Do you have any idea how smart and funny and beautiful you are? I look back on photos of myself when I was your age and wish I knew then that I had it all going on. Maybe seeing that while you’re in the thick of it is impossible and part of growing up. Trust me: you have it all going on.

>> If you ever feel shaky in your shoes, too stressed, too anxious, go outside. Take your shoes off. Feel the grass under your feet. Shut your eyes. Take deep breaths. Listen to the birds. I truly believe a few minutes of this can cure almost anything.

Lily Henson and Claire Affleck
Lily (right) and Sweet Briar grad Claire Affleck ’03

>> I’m sure I’ll think of more things to tell you that will inevitably have you rolling your eyes at me, willing me to stop. Know that I can’t help myself. I can’t turn this off. I’m honestly not worried about the big picture stuff with you. I am confident that I raised an intelligent, ambitious, motivated young woman. I’m just going to fuss a little. Be patient with me.

>> Don’t slouch. Look people straight in the eye and speak kindly and confidently.

Today is my first Sunday morning in the house without you. It’s way too quiet. I’m sad that I don’t hear your familiar sounds. I’ve read about and am fascinated by the significant transformation a person can go through in 40 days. It’s mystical. It’s practical. It seems to be a reasonable amount of time to try to adjust to a new way of living.

So, for the next 40 days, I am going to write feverishly. I am going to paint the bathroom. I am going to look for my favorite hiking socks that you swore you didn’t pack and walk the dog a lot. I am going to get ready for you to come home for Thanksgiving.

I am going to remind myself that this is everything I have ever wanted for you.

In 46 days, I am going to drive 518 miles to see your beautiful face.

I think that’s all I can do — keep busy and give myself some time to get used to this.

I love you with every bit of my heart,


This article was first published on Aug. 28, 2018, at elephantjournal.com.

Kristina HensonKristina Henson is a writer and graphic artist living in upstate New York. She divides her time between working, raising her daughter and catering to the needs of a large dog. Her daughter Lily is a member of Sweet Briar College’s Class of 2022.


Horses, medicine and music lead Sweet Briar’s 2012 Presidential Medalist to England

Commencement 2012 Alex St. Pierre
Alex St. Pierre practices her commencement speech before the ceremony in 2012.

“What a whirlwind!” Alex St. Pierre wrote when we asked her how she was doing six years after graduating from Sweet Briar. And you’d probably say the same thing, had you just touched down in England to start your dream job at one of the world’s most renowned equine hospitals.

It seems like just yesterday when the 2012 Presidential Medalist graduated from Sweet Briar with a major in classical languages and minors in biology and vocal music. Her commencement speech rallied classmates and punctuated a perfect undergraduate career that culminated in her acceptance to the University of Pennsylvania’s school of veterinary medicine.

Alex St. Pierre at UGA
After earning her doctorate, St. Pierre interned at the University of Georgia.

But St. Pierre needed a little break. She took a year off to travel to Italy, compete her two event horses in Aiken, S.C., and do “some odd little things” she had always wanted to do — like growing a pumpkin patch (“It got completely out of control!”) and teaching herself how to use a sewing machine.

Then she got back in the game: In 2017, St. Pierre finished veterinary school at the University of Pennsylvania, followed by a yearlong internship as a large-animal veterinarian at the University of Georgia.

Now she’s an equine veterinary intern at Newmarket Equine Hospital — the largest equine hospital in Europe. The internship will last for two years — about the same time as her fiancé’s job assignment there.

“For someone who grew up inexplicably in love with these magnificent creatures, to be living and working in the birthplace of thoroughbred racing is a tremendous experience,” St. Pierre says.

Her love of horses was only one reason Sweet Briar appealed to the girl from Massachusetts. At first, “the school wasn’t anywhere on my radar,” she admits.

Thailand trip
St. Pierre and her fiancé on a recent trip to Thailand

“I had looked at one of the women’s colleges near home and was utterly disappointed, to be quite frank — the sophomores I was staying with were studying from the same biology textbook I was using as a senior in high school,” St. Pierre remembers. “A friend of the family happened to give my name to [former admissions counselor] Grace Loughhead [’04]— Grace Farnsworth at the time — who was unlike anyone I had met up to that point.”

St. Pierre’s private prep school college advisor, who didn’t think much of Sweet Briar, had never met anyone like Grace, either. “I’ll never forget the shocked looked on her face as Grace, dressed impeccably in pink and green, leaning forward slightly as she sat opposite us, completely and methodically, without ever being rude, took apart the thinly veiled disparages my counselor had launched against the college,” St. Pierre recalls. “In that moment, I knew that was the type of woman I wanted to be.”

And she was dead-on. Everything about Sweet Briar turned out to be perfectly suited for her.

“My Sweet Briar experience was entirely fulfilling,” St. Pierre remembers. “I was surrounded by women who were, in some sense, fundamentally like-minded — choosing a women’s college in rural Virginia is ultimately a very deliberate choice — while being surprisingly diverse. Sweet Briar was the first time in my life that I felt connected to individuals my own age. I still can’t place exactly what it is about a Sweet Briar woman that knits us together so closely, but it must have something to do with Sweet Briar’s ability to attract genuinely caring individuals.”

St. Pierre field hockey
St. Pierre (left) was part of the varsity field hockey team all four years.

“There’s nowhere in this world that I have traveled and no endeavor I’ve set out on that some Sweet Briar woman somewhere in the world has not helped me with in some way,” she adds. “Sweet Briar women have and continue to support me no matter how far I stray from Virginia.”

In her courses, she was always challenged, which was a new experience. “I was used to being near the top of my class, so I was mostly left alone in high school,” St. Pierre recalls. “At Sweet Briar, I was fortunate enough to have professors with the time, energy and willingness to challenge me to best myself. Especially now as a veterinarian, the development of this drive to do my personal best despite all extenuating circumstances has proved invaluable.”

Alex St. Pierre recital
St. Pierre before her junior recital

St. Pierre’s drive didn’t stop in the classroom. She was on the varsity field hockey team, sang with the Sweet Tones and was a member of Tau Phi. She performed in junior- and senior-year opera recitals and had leads in the musicals “Baby” and “The Fantasticks,” as well as the opera “Too Many Sopranos.”

“I consistently credit Sweet Briar with who and where I am today,” St. Pierre says. “It allowed me a safe space where I could focus on who I wanted to be as a person and as a professional. I was challenged academically, while being nurtured personally.”

Sweet Briar has shaped her life in many ways, St. Pierre says, but naming just a single impact would be too difficult. Instead, she has two examples: “The first is that it provided me with my very best friends — women who will be dearest to me our whole lives. The second is that it proved that kindness is not incompatible with excellence. Wherever I have gone — PennVet, UGa and now, Newmarket — treating those who work with, for and above me with common decency and kindness, no matter the circumstance, has proven to be one of the cornerstones of my success.”

Those memories and life lessons will stay with her wherever she goes — as will her Sweet Briar friends. It’s how the sisterhood works.

St. Pierre and family
St. Pierre and her family at her vet school graduation in 2017

St. Pierre says the initial homesickness she felt is still there, but it’s getting better: “It turns out you can be both homesick and reveling in your new country all at the same time!” she writes. Yes, you can. And there’s a lot to love about living in the UK, she admits.

“I’m most looking forward to getting to use our new location to visit more of the world — without having to cross the entirety of the Atlantic Ocean.”

What makes her most nervous right now?

“Driving on the left-hand side of road, but it’s getting less strange with time.”

We love checking in with our recent grads to see what they’re up to! This is the second in a series of profiles featuring Sweet Briar’s young alumnae across various disciplines and job fields.

Admissions Blog: My summer abroad in Spain

Taylor AllenThis past summer I spent two months studying abroad at The University of Granada in Spain through a program outside of Sweet Briar. I was born and raised in Richmond, Va., and have been fortunate enough to have traveled around — and outside — the U.S., but this experience was different. I was going to be abroad for the majority of the summer in a place where I could not speak the language confidently, and where I would know absolutely nothing and no one upon arrival. While I was very nervous, I was also extremely excited about this opportunity!

During the first month, I took an intensive Spanish course that is meant to help students learn to speak and write better. The second month included two courses that focused much more on the culture and historical aspects of Spain: one was on Islam in Spain, the other covered everything from Spanish poetry to Spanish architecture. Of course these courses also helped me to understand Spanish better.

So, why should you take part in a summer abroad program? Well, I got to travel to Madrid, Morocco, Sevilla and lots of other places, I was able to immerse myself in the culture, I worked on improving my Spanish, and I have friends and memories from this trip that I will remember for the rest of my life. There are so many reasons for studying abroad. But I can promise you one thing: If your trip is even half as fun as mine, it will be well worth it!

Taylor AllenTaylor Allen is a junior from Richmond, Va., with majors in international affairs, studio art and Spanish. You’ll usually find her on the third floor of Fletcher or in the basement of Benedict, her favorite spots for studying on campus. She is the Student Government Association Class of 2020 secretary, enjoys photography (Instagram: @tayginger20) and floating on the Lower Lake with her friends.  

Sweet Briar once again receives CASE award for excellence in fundraising

Bell tower nightEach year, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education recognizes educational institutions who show exemplary improvement and effort in their fundraising. This year, Sweet Briar College won an Educational Fundraising Award for overall performance in the category of private liberal arts institutions with endowments under $100 million. In addition, the College was honored for overall improvement in fundraising.

This is the second time in three years that Sweet Briar has been honored with the award for overall performance. In fiscal year 2018, the College raised $18 million, marking the third year in a row Sweet Briar had met or exceeded its fundraising goals. Since 2015, the College has raised $53.7 million.

An expert panel of volunteer judges selects winners based on a number of factors, including growth in total support, donor growth among alumni/ae donors and other individual donors, the impact of the 12 largest gifts on total support and total support in relation to the alumni/ae base. In selecting Overall Fundraising Improvement winners, judges use these factors and others to find significant program growth across the three years of data. Institutions are evaluated compared to institutions similar in size and type.

Institutions do not apply for this award, but are selected from among schools who submit the Voluntary Support of Education Survey, which has collected data on fundraising at North America’s educational institutions since 1957.

“We are so grateful to the alumnae and friends of the College for their continued generosity, and I am personally so thankful to the tireless efforts of our amazing team,” said Mary Pope Maybank Hutson ’83, vice president for alumnae relations and development. “The commitment, courage and unwavering devotion to Sweet Briar sends a strong message across America and abroad and brings great distinction to our institution.”

President Meredith Woo echoed that sentiment. “The extraordinary efforts of our fundraising staff continue to lead Sweet Briar into the future. Everyone at the College is indebted to them for their hard work and dedication.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to visit Sweet Briar College in October

Adichie and Americanah
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of the New York Times best-selling novel “Americanah.” Author photo by Wani Olatunde

Please note that this event will now take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1.

Best-selling author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will visit Sweet Briar College to present a reading and lecture at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, in Murchison Lane Auditorium in the Babcock Fine Arts Center. The event is free and open to the public, though seating will be limited. A book signing will follow.

Adichie first visited Sweet Briar in 2004 after the publication of her first novel, “Purple Hibiscus,” a coming-of-age story about a young woman in Nigeria in the midst of a military coup.

Her visit in October is part of Sweet Briar’s commitment to giving students the opportunity to meet and learn from thought leaders from around the world. Her work often addresses the complex challenges faced by women and asks important questions about the nature of feminism and female agency in the world. Her visit will also provide an opportunity to talk about the intersectionality of race and gender in the United States and around the world.

In preparation for Adichie’s visit, every returning student received a copy of her novel “Americanah,” which is the College’s common reading selection for this academic year. A love story about two young people whose paths diverge, “Americanah” is also a cutting — and at times funny — investigation of race, immigration, culture and ethnicity, and of the forces that seek to divide us. Throughout the fall, students will discuss it, book-club style, in small groups with faculty members from across campus.

TEDxTalk Adichie
Adichie during her TEDxTalk in 2012

In addition to “Americanah,” Adichie’s essay “We Should All Be Feminists” was part of orientation at Sweet Briar for the past two years. The essay, adapted from her viral TEDx Talk of the same name, asks questions about what it means today to be a feminist.

Adichie’s reading is part of the College’s Writers Series and is made possible through the generosity of the Ewald Scholars Program. Professor of English and Creative Writing Carrie Brown, an award-winning author in her own right, is excited about Adichie’s visit.

“Literature allows us to think about the world in new ways,” Brown says. “Chimamanda’s work, particularly ‘Americanah,’ is important to us at Sweet Briar, because it raises questions that students are absolutely going to have to answer — for themselves — about how to find or forge their place in the world as women and as human beings, and about how they want to engage with people whose experiences might be unlike their own. I’m very much looking forward to the discussions we’ll have this fall. It’s my expectation that those conversations will bring us together and encourage all of us to consider the beauty of the wide variety of perspectives found in our own community.”

For more information, email Brown at cbrown@sbc.edu. Click here to reserve seats, particularly for a large group.

Please note that this event will now take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1.

Admissions Blog: How to rock your first semester of college

Move-in 2018Here it is: your first semester of college. Maybe you’re there now or maybe you’re already thinking about what it will be like next year. We’ve gathered our experts to help you crush those first few weeks and months.

  1. College is a 9-5 job

    “Congratulations, you are now a full-time college student! To be successful, you must consider college to be a full-time job. You need to work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, whether or not you have a class that day. Getting up each morning and putting in a full 8-hour day will ensure that you excel this semester!” — John Morrissey, professor of biology

  2. Slow down

    “You need to slow down. Everything does not need to be done in the first few weeks of college. Set your priorities with no more than three things to focus on, and attend to those. AND, attend to your health by setting a wake-sleep pattern that is ‘normal’ and remember to eat right and exercise. Sleeping, eating and exercising are so important for stress management.” — Jodi Canfield, athletics director

  3. Learn from your mistakes — and move on

    “Musicians can’t stop in the middle of a performance — the beat goes on, as they say. Mistakes are inevitable even with the best musicians, but we have to learn to keep going in spite of them. So, learn from your mistakes, but don’t stop for them.” — Joshua Harris, assistant professor of performing arts: music

  4. Smile at strangers

    “Smile when you meet someone new, even if it is only in passing. The next time that person sees you, she’ll remember that you offered a smile even if her natural response was not to smile back. Before you know it, you’ll feel comfortable introducing yourself and striking up conversations. This is how lifelong friendships begin.” — Melissa Richards, vice president for communications and enrollment management

  5. Take it all in

    “Enjoy this time in your life to the fullest, but not at the expense of your future. Focus, learn, fully engage, rest, relax, play, explore.” — Timothy Schauer, associate professor of business

Of course Sweet Briar faculty and staff offer more than just advice and inspiration. Their doors are always open, so you can talk to them anytime you need help — whether you’re struggling in class or just having a rough day. We’re all family here!

For more resources, try our fabulous Academic Resource Center, where you can get free help from peer tutors with writing, time management and study skills. Also check out the library, where knowledge abounds not just in books, but among many helpful, friendly faces. Starting this year, we also have peer academic mentors (PAMs) who live on the first-year halls in Meta Glass. Feeling down? Student life will give you hugs and connect you with professional mental health counselors if needed. (We’ve heard there’s even a group session and art therapy!)

Chances are, your first semester is going to be awesome.

Outstanding Sweet Briar staff honored with 2018 ROSE Awards

ROSE Awards 2018
ROSE Award winners Bonnie Seitz (from left), Cassie Foster Evans, Melanie Campbell, Justin Ferrell and Amie Chenault. Not pictured: Nancy McDearmon, who retired last year

During a Hawaiian-themed employee luncheon in Prothro today — part of the first professional development day at Sweet Briar — College leaders announced the winners of this year’s ROSE Awards. Launched in 2006, the awards honor staff excellence across campus. Nominations are made by supervisors and co-workers; award winners each receive a plaque and a $500 stipend. Their names are also engraved on a plaque in Prothro.

Melissa Richards, vice president for communications and enrollment management, led the ceremony, while President Meredith Woo presented nominees and award winners with their certificates and plaques — and lots of hugs.

Excellence in Innovation honors a staff member who implemented an idea that resulted in measurable improvement on campus. This year, there were two winners — Amie Chenault at the riding center and Melanie Campbell in admissions. Campbell’s efforts are illustrated perfectly by her nomination: “Have you ever tried to learn AND implement a new customer service platform? If you haven’t, it isn’t easy. At all. But I watched Melanie struggle to learn ‘Slate’ while smiling to teach our office one more step to make [us] more efficient. Melanie worked diligently to help make our office part of the 21st century. … Operations staff and counselors truly appreciate the work Melanie does to help us work smarter, improve our customer service, track our work, and on and on.”

Woo and Campbell
President Meredith Woo presents Melanie Campbell, director of admissions operations, with a ROSE Award for Innovation.

Chenault, who was nominated in two categories, was praised for researching and implementing a rebate program for horse feed that has helped the College save money. She also worked “on many other projects to improve — and make safer — the stables for our staff, horses and students,” the nomination reads. “Without her, the riding center would have an enormous hole,” her nomination for Excellence in Service notes. “She’s thoroughly committed, does whatever is needed to keep things running smoothly, and has a great sense of humor.”

Excellence as a Team Member recognizes staff members who exhibit high levels of teamwork both in their department and across the College. This year’s winner was Cassie Foster Evans in communications. “Cassie has gone above and beyond in her duties, taking an insane amount of excellent photos over the last year,” her nomination reads. “She’s not afraid to learn something new, jumps in to help with graphic design when she’s needed and adds new responsibilities to her plate, even when her weekends and nights are already booked with back-to-back photo shoots. Overall, Cassie’s stellar work has made a huge impact at Sweet Briar and beyond, as can be seen in our fierce new marketing materials.”

Excellence in Service honors those who provide exemplary service to members of the extended Sweet Briar community. This year’s winner, Justin Ferrell, was nominated twice in this category for demonstrating excellence in campus safety, particularly during the April 15 tornado. One nomination noted he displayed “bravery and professionalism” in a situation that required “quick thinking and action.”

Rose AwardsThe Presidential Award is given to an employee who displays high character, dedication to the College, commitment to results and who values the College and its community. In 2018, there were two winners in this category: Bonnie Seitz in alumnae relations and development and Nancy McDearmon in galleries. McDearmon, who recently retired after two decades at Sweet Briar, was nominated three times for this award, as well as five times for Excellence in Service and three times for Excellence as a Team Member.

“Nancy has worked tirelessly to keep the galleries and museum running smoothly this past academic year, going above and beyond the call of duty,” one nomination reads. “She has taken on many of the duties without complaint, including curating and hanging shows, working with Friends of Art, and looking after the welfare of the collection. Nancy is also fiercely committed to the students and serving their needs. She serves quietly and diligently behind the scenes, and in my opinion deserves this recognition.” Another nomination praises McDearmon as a “rock star,” noting she produced more than 10 shows last year: “She is my superhero and I admire her determination and heart. Nancy has inspired me to narrow down a career path and I am forever thankful.”

Woo and Evans
President Woo congratulates nominee Kristie Evans.

Seitz was lauded for her quiet, steadfast commitment to Sweet Briar during her 32 years at the College. “For as long as I can remember, she has always come in two hours early to start her day,” her nomination reads. “She is very devoted to Sweet Briar and the mission of the College. She works so quietly that sometimes it is hard to know if she is even still here without peeking into her room to see her there still working on two computers at once. She is very Banner-savvy and a sustaining force during Reunion. She handles problems with the greatest of ease and makes our work so much easier. We would be lost without her.”

Other ROSE Award nominees this year included Beverly Tipps (Excellence in Innovation); John Bailey, Gertie Coley, Kristie Evans, Luther Griffith and Savannah Oxner (Excellence as a Team Member); Luther Griffith, Jaze Spradley, Ronnie Staton and Beverly Tipps (Excellence in Service); and Claire Griffith, Luther Griffith, Mary Pope Hutson, Amy Ostroth, BJ Phaup, Kathleen Placidi and Mimi Wroten (Presidential Award).

Before the ROSE Award ceremony, Luther Griffith was presented with the Volunteer Service Award by Barbara Watts, director of career services, for his generous volunteer work in the Career Services Center over the last two years.

Sweet Briar College Board of Directors names new chair, officers

Monument Hill
View of Sweet Briar’s main campus from Monument Hill

During its August meeting, the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors elected Georgene M. Vairo ’72 chairwoman. Andrew C. Benjamin was elected vice chair and Marianne “Mimi” C. Fahs ’71 was named secretary. Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, was confirmed as a new board member.

Kelley M. Fitzpatrick ’85, Karen Jackson, Gillian Munson and Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp ’68 were named to the board’s At-Large Executive Committee.

Georgene Vairo
Georgene Vairo

Vairo has been the David P. Leonard Professor of Law at Loyola of Los Angeles Law School since 1995. Since 2007, she also has served as president of Auswin Realty Corp., a family-owned residential and commercial real estate firm in New York City. Prior to her current positions, she was associate dean of the Fordham University School of Law and Leonard F. Manning Professor of Law. From 1988 to 2000, she chaired the board of trustees for the Dalkon Shield Claimants’ Trust, a court-appointed position (appointed by Judge Robert R. Merhige Jr., U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia), and helped design and implement the plan to distribute more than $3 billion to more than 200,000 claimants. Since 1994, Vairo has been on the editorial board of Moore’s Federal Practice, and has authored numerous books and articles.

Vairo graduated from Sweet Briar in 1972 and was awarded the Distinguished Alumna award in 1997. In 1975, she received an M.Ed. from the University of Virginia in social studies. She graduated first in her class from Fordham University School of Law in 1979. She was law clerk to the Honorable Joseph M. McLaughlin, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (1981-1982), and associate at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom from 1979 to 1981, specializing in antitrust litigation.

Andrew Benjamin
Andrew Benjamin

Benjamin has more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry. As operations manager for Card Establishment Services for seven years, he managed the chargeback department and was one of the key managers to bring automation to the unit. He then joined NeuralTech as director of implementation services, where he worked with banks automating their back-office operation. Then he co-founded Merlin Solutions and was the chief operations officer. In 2007, Total Systems (TSS NYSE) finalized the purchase of Merlin Solutions. Benjamin has remained with TSYS, where he manages one of the highest-margin divisions as director of the Operation Contact Center.

Benjamin has been a fervent Sweet Briar supporter since his daughter, Makayla, became a member of the Class of 2018, joining the parent/student lawsuit that helped keep the school open in 2015. He is a graduate of Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management, with a B.S. in industrial management and a minor in industrial engineering.

Mimi Fahs
Mimi Fahs

Fahs is a health economist, with more than 30 years of experience. She holds a joint appointment in the City University of New York as a professor of health policy with the Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and professor of economics with the Graduate Center. She was the founding research director of the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging of Hunter College, and the founding director of the Health Policy Research Center at the New School in New York City. Prior to that, she directed the Health Economics Division at Mount Sinai Medical Center in NYC, where she pioneered the first cost-effectiveness analysis of cancer prevention strategies among older women in the U.S. She has authored numerous articles and consults regularly with the National Institutes of Health.

Fahs received her B.A. from Sweet Briar College in international relations and her M.P.H. and Ph.D. from the School of Public Health, University of Michigan.

Lynn Pasquerella
Lynn Pasquerella

Pasquerella was appointed president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities in 2016, after serving as the 18th president of Mount Holyoke College from 2010 to 2016. She was provost at the University of Hartford from 2008 to 2010 and vice provost for academic affairs and dean of the graduate school at the University of Rhode Island, where she began her career as an ethics professor in 1985. A philosopher whose work has combined teaching and scholarship with local and global engagement, Pasquerella is committed to championing liberal arts education, access to excellence in higher education and civic engagement. She has written extensively on medical ethics, metaphysics, public policy and the philosophy of law and is the host of Northeast Public Radio’s “The Academic Minute.”

Pasquerella sits on the advisory board of the Newman’s Own Foundation, on the boards of the Lingnan Foundation and the National Humanities Alliance and is a senator and vice president of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. She is a graduate of Quinebaug Valley Community College, Mount Holyoke College and Brown University and holds honorary doctorates from Elizabethtown University and Bishop’s University.

More information about the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors, including meeting minutes and other documents, can be found at sbc.edu/president/board-of-directors.

Sweet Briar’s mighty school spirit wins #MyTopCollege contest once again

Fletcher Hall
Sweet Briar’s campus boasts 3,250 acres and 21 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

There’s something about Sweet Briar College and online contests. (We’ve heard it’s our alumnae.) We just can’t seem to not win them.

MyTopCollege tweetIt all started with Forbes’ 2015 #MyTopCollege contest right after the College stayed open, followed by two unforgettable campus appearances from Seth Meyers and Rachel Platten — both the result of online competitions. Last year, the College took home the #MyTopCollege win again and this year, well: Here we are. Sweet Briar is the #MyTopCollege winner among small schools yet again.

It’s important to point out that Forbes categorizes any college with fewer than 2,000 students as “small.” Sweet Briar has about 300 students, and has never really had more than 700. To win this contest for the third time in five years is a testament to just how passionate our alumnae, students, faculty, staff and alumnae are. (Did we mention our alumnae?)

Coach Hale tweetIn the large-schools category, California State University, Fullerton came out on top once again, as did Otterbein University among medium-sized schools. Overall, Sweet Briar ranked fourth in the country, with nearly 170 posts submitted. According to Forbes, a record number of nearly 2,000 submissions came in on Instagram and Twitter between June 18 and Aug. 10. This year’s theme was impact, with different sub-categories each week: the impact of professors, clubs, sports, classes, events, friendships and more.

Forbes will release its annual America’s Top Colleges listing — the official companion to its fun social media contest — on Aug. 21.

Explore Engineering 2018 bridges music and science for high school students from across the country

Explore Engineering 2018
Erica Chu (left) and Mari Woodworth work on their abacuses during Explore Engineering 2018 at Sweet Briar.

If you were near the engineering lab in Guion Science Center last Wednesday, you probably heard two things: the soothing sounds of Disney songs floating through the room, and bells jingling. The former was a playlist; the latter a piece of the main project in this year’s Explore Engineering Design Course for High School Girls.

Wednesday was a big day for the students. After touring the local GLAD facility in the morning, the 17 participants — along with Sweet Briar faculty and students — headed to Lowe’s and Goodwill to shop for all of the extras they’d need to design and build automated, interactive musical instruments. Earlier in the week, they had made abacuses to learn how to use shop tools; gotten a crash course in circuits; and learned about physical computing and mechatronics, as well as how to program an Arduino microcontroller. Now they were ready for the big project.

That afternoon, they got started: working in teams of two, students were sketching, experimenting and testing at tables or clustered around the computers along the wall, starting to write the code that would make their design work.

In the middle of it all: engineering professor Bethany Brinkman, who directs the Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 Engineering Program, and Kaelyn Leake ’09, an assistant professor of engineering — along with student assistants Rosa Bello ’20 and Rylee Runyon ’20. They were on hand to answer questions and help troubleshoot all week. But most of the time, they were there to encourage participants to find their own answers.

Ferrell and Glancy Explore Engineering
Sasha Ferrell (foreground) and her teammate, Liliana Glancy, work on writing code for their water-floating device.

At one point, Liliana Glancy, 16, of Fairfax, holding a square piece of acrylic glass, asks, “How do we cut this?”

“What do you think?” Brinkman replies.

Glancy and her teammate, Sasha Ferrell, 17, from Houston, Texas, think out loud for a few minutes. “Go slow and don’t be weirded out if it reforms,” Brinkman advises before Glancy and Ferrell head over to the machine shop.

This is Explore Engineering’s 10th year, with participants from California, Texas, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia. Over the last decade, Sweet Briar — one of just two women’s colleges in the country to offer an ABET-accredited engineering degree — has hosted 500 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors from all over the Unites States in its weeklong summer and its weekend fall and spring Explore Engineering events. A significant percentage end up enrolling at the College later — like recent grad Mackenzie Crary ’18, who served as an overnight RA for the event and stopped in Wednesday to see how things were going in the lab.

Brinkman and student
Prof. Bethany Brinkman helps student Rachel-Elizabeth Gaspar Frantz with her abacus.

Back at Glancy and Ferrell’s table, a large drawing shows what looks like a sewing machine. It’s going to have floating sensors in water — as the water moves, the sensors will be activated and produce piano-like sounds. The glass is used as a divider to separate the sensors so the water doesn’t bounce into other sensors, Glancy explains.

“I’m so excited!” Ferrell says. “Me too!” agrees Glancy, adding she came up with the idea for the instrument when someone mentioned floating sensors. “I was like, I want to float something in water, and I want to hear music.”

“I’m just the idea supporter,” Ferrell says, laughing.

“No, you’re the troubleshooter, too,” Glancy argues.

They are getting ready to start programming their device using Arduino — a basic computer program. Both have prior engineering experience. Glancy attended Sweet Briar’s Explore Engineering weekend in the spring while Ferrell — whose sister Des’rae Davis ’17 is a graduate of Sweet Briar’s engineering program — has done a biomedical engineering course in Texas. It’s what she wants to study in college. “I would love to help veterans,” she says. Glancy is interested in studying aeronautical engineering at the Air Force Academy.

Kaelyn Leake, Galdo and Chambi Explore
Engineering professor Kaelyn Leake checks on friends Valeria Galdo (left) and Nathalie Chambi.

Two tables over, Arlington natives and friends Valeria Galdo and Nathalie Chambi, both 17, are getting to work on a mobile alarm clock.

“You have to physically get up because it rolls around your room,” explains Galdo. They came up with it together, they say.

It’s the first Explore course for both, though they’ve attended Johns Hopkins University’s Engineering Innovation camp. But they haven’t quite settled on engineering as a future major yet, says Chambi. “We’re still exploring the definition of engineering,” she adds. Both agree that the engineering design course has been very informative. Chambi’s favorite part so far: “Learning how to work with circuit boards.”

By Friday, drawings, codes and parts have been turned into actual, working — or semi-working — instruments, all in the course of a few days.

“More than anything else, this week is about giving students the tools they need to create something unique completely on their own,” Brinkman says. “It’s really fulfilling for the students to look at their final projects and think about all the different things they learned in the span of just a week — rapid prototyping, programming with Arduino, how to use the machines in the shop — all to get from Point A to Point B.”

Friends of Art award leads to VCCA dream internship for Sweet Briar grad

Alexa Dahlin
Alexa Dahlin ’18 at the VCCA

Thanks to the Friends of Art, recent Sweet Briar grad Alexa Dahlin ’18 didn’t have to look far to find her dream internship. Dahlin is the first recipient of the organization’s graduate internship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an international artists’ colony adjacent to campus.

A $5,000 stipend allowed the former business major with an Arts Management Certificate to spend 10 weeks this summer working on a number of projects with VCCA staff. One of them: developing a plan and strategy for the VCCA’s upcoming 50th anniversary in 2021. A big chunk of her time has been spent compiling the center’s history.

“Being able to do some archival work is great because that has always been an interest of mine,” Dahlin says. “I’m super happy that I’m getting hands-on experience with that.”

Alexa Dahlin VCCA
Sorting through old photographs that document the VCCA’s history is a fun part of Dahlin’s internship.

She’s also worked with Kirsten McKinney, the VCCA’s director of communications, on several other projects, including, as McKinney put it, “magically” organizing a “tremendous backlog of processed applications,” posting fliers around town, helping out with the VCCA’s Open Studios in July and with day-to-day operations such as greeting fellows in the office, sitting in on staff meetings and keeping track of entries to the VCCA’s annual Instagram contest.

“Much of what Alexa has done, to us, is a Herculean achievement,” McKinney admits. “Given our small staff and demanding mission of providing creative space to 24 fellows at any given time, certain tasks can fall by the wayside as we respond to more immediate needs. We are so appreciative to the Friends of Art for establishing this internship and for Alexa and the time she has given to us this summer.”

Dahlin loves the variety, but that’s not the only thing: “One of the most exciting parts about my internship is being able to be a part of a women-led arts organization,” she says. “With all my work experience I’ve had over the past four years, I have never worked for a practically all-female staff. The open communication and leadership that exist are truly refreshing and remind me a lot of the atmosphere at Sweet Briar.”

Alexa Dahlin On Aug. 10, Dahlin will wrap up what is internship number five since she started — and finished — her undergraduate career. Among them: an accounting firm, a children’s museum, a nonprofit arts organization and a fashion merchandising firm.

It’s no surprise the judges for the Friends of Art Graduate Internship award were impressed, and they felt Dahlin deserved to be rewarded for her dedication.

“Alexa demonstrated an impressive track record throughout her undergraduate career of commitment to arts organizations,” wrote Carrie Brown, professor of English and creative writing and director of the Center for Creativity, Design and the Arts at Sweet Briar. Also on the jury were Barb Watts, director of career services, and FOA board member Celeste Wackenhut ’08, who also interned at the VCCA after graduating from Sweet Briar.

A former VCCA fellow herself, Brown has cultivated strong ties between the VCCA and the College during her two decades at Sweet Briar. Under her leadership of the Center for Creativity, Design and the Arts — and as part of the College’s new academic calendar — there will be even more opportunities for collaboration between the neighbors, including monthly evening salons held in the Reheard Gallery of Mary Helen Cochran Library, when VCCA fellows share their work with the Sweet Briar community. And next spring, one section of one of Sweet Briar’s core classes — Expression and the Arts — will be co-taught by a cross-genre team of VCCA fellows working across artistic disciplines. Brown expects some very exciting applications to emerge from that call for proposals.

Alexa DahlinFor Dahlin, focusing on the arts has meant a steady buildup of skills, and she’s learned that she’s on the right track. “All of these experiences have given me a well-rounded foundation that I’ve been able to use for my internship here at the VCCA,” she explains. “Being at the VCCA this summer has made me confident in my passion of being an arts advocate, as well as working for a nonprofit organization. I’ve learned new data and research methods, as well as the inner workings of how an artist residency functions.”

The VCCA’s peaceful setting has also helped Dahlin slow down after a hectic senior year at Sweet Briar, she says. “I became very sick and was eventually diagnosed with achalasia, a rare esophageal disorder that made it impossible for me to eat any solid foods. Dealing with major health issues and trying to balance a 20-credit course load, varsity soccer, two clubs and an internship for my entire senior year of college became super overwhelming.”

Just four days after graduation, Dahlin flew to Minnesota to undergo invasive thoracic surgery at the Mayo Clinic. She’s recovered well since then, but has had to put life on hold — for a little while.

“After I complete my internship at the VCCA, I am looking to move south — either Birmingham or Atlanta — and work in development or marketing in the nonprofit sector,” she says.

With a résumé like hers, that next step should be easy.

Six Sweet Briar athletes named to VaSID Academic All-State team

VaSID Academic All-StateThe Virginia Sports Information Directors announced today that six Sweet Briar student-athletes have earned recognition as part of the VaSID Academic All-State team for the 2017-18 academic year.

To be eligible, a student-athlete was required to hold a cumulative grade point average of 3.25 or higher and be at least a sophomore in standing.

The six Sweet Briar honorees joined 217 student-athletes from 37 college and universities across the Commonwealth of Virginia as members of the VaSID Academic All-State team.

Sweet Briar honorees in 2017-18 were recent graduates Marina Biel (Palmyra, Va.), Lydia Gullicksen (Nantucket, Mass.), Elizabeth Phaup (Amherst, Va.), Rachel Rogers (Providence Forge, Va.) and Claire Zak (Saint Cloud, Fla.). Also earning recognition was rising junior Lacey Tucker (Swansboro, N.C.).

Gullicksen (Cross Country, Business and English) and Zak (Swimming, Archaeology and Classics) become two-time VaSID Academic All-State honorees. Zak is also a four-time ODAC All-Academic recipient, while Gullicksen was recognized by the ODAC on three occasions.

Biel (Equestrian/Golf, Engineering), Phaup (Lacrosse/Soccer, Psychology), Rogers (Field Hockey, Dance) and Tucker (Soccer/Tennis, Engineering) all earned their first recognition from VaSID.

Phaup, a three-time ODAC All-Academic honoree, was also recognized in 2018 as Honorable Mention All-Independent Women’s Lacrosse. Biel and Tucker each earned their second nod as ODAC All-Academic earlier this month, while Rogers adds VaSID recognition to her place on the 2017-18 Zag Field Hockey/NFHCA/ Division III National Academic Squad.

The Vixens’ three dual-sport student-athletes were the most from a single school in 2017-18. They joined 13 other two-sport student-athletes in receiving academic laurels.

Sweet Briar places 42 student-athletes on ODAC All-Academic Team

ODACThe Old Dominion Athletic Conference announced today that 42 Sweet Briar student-athletes have been named to the 2017-18 ODAC All-Academic Team.

Eligible student-athletes boasted a 3.25 cumulative grade point average for the 2017-18 academic year, while participating in at least one of the 24 ODAC-sponsored sports. Only Sweet Briar student-athletes participating in ODAC play were eligible for recognition.

A total of 1,994 student-athletes were recognized by the ODAC from 14 full-time members, plus swimming student-athletes from Ferrum and Greensboro.

Sweet Briar equestrian boasted the largest number of recipients on the Sweet Briar campus, with 18 riders making the list.

Five two-sport student-athletes from Sweet Briar were recognized by the conference office: Marina Biel (Sr., Palmyra, Va., Equestrian/Golf), Ruth Lechner (Fy., Baltimore, Md., Soccer/Tennis), Meagan Phister (So., Moneta, Va., Golf/Soccer), Caroline Thomas (Jr., Appomattox, Va., Soccer/Swimming) and Lacey Tucker (So., Swansboro, N.C., Soccer/Tennis).

2017-18 ODAC All-Academic Team | Sweet Briar College

Lydia Gullicksen
Kollin Kirven
Hannah Marron

Jade Ashley
Katie Balding
Courtney Barry
Makayla Benjamin
Marina Biel
Cassie Fenton
Annabeth Griffin
Aoife Magner
Madeleine McAllister
McKenzie Michiels
Cassie Mills
Abbey Narodowy
Ellyn Narodowy
Lily Peterson
Emily Schlosberg
Amber Snyder
Erin Snyder
Jules Sudol

Marina Biel
Emily Hawk
Kendall Nicely
Meagan Phister

Cassidy Bodkin
Ruth Lechner
Karlynn McCarthy
Courtney Nelson
Rachel Partington
Elizabeth Phaup
Meagan Phister
Caroline Thomas
Lacey Tucker
Melissa Wert

Sarah Ahson
Sarah Cahoone
Theresa Carriveau
Dharma Kear
Caroline Thomas
Claire Zak

Bryanna Colvin
Ruth Lechner
A.J. Lukanuski
Lacey Tucker
Emily Wandling
Samantha Yew

Renowned monarch butterfly expert Lincoln Brower dies, but his legacy lives on

Lincoln Brower
Lincoln Brower in Michoacan, Mexico. Photo by Medford Taylor

The Sweet Briar community was saddened to learn of the death of Lincoln Brower, a world-renowned entomologist and research professor at the College. Brower died peacefully at his home in Nelson County on Tuesday, July 17, 2018, after an extended illness.

Brower came to Sweet Briar in 1997 after retiring from the University of Florida as Distinguished Service Professor of Zoology, Emeritus, joining his wife and research collaborator, Dorys McConnell Duberg Professor of Ecology Linda Fink. Born in New Jersey on Sept. 10, 1931, he was well-known internationally for his research on the chemical and physiological ecology of monarch butterflies, and was an ardent conservationist on their behalf. He worked tirelessly to protect the monarch’s overwintering habitat in Mexico, raising awareness through his research reports and dozens of interviews with national and international media organizations.

“I feel keeping it on the front page is really important,” he said in a 2013 interview for the Sweet Briar Magazine. “To me, the monarch is a treasure like a great piece of art. We need to develop a cultural appreciation of wildlife that’s equivalent to art and music and so forth.”

Lincoln Brower and Linda Fink
Brower and his wife, Linda Fink, in Canterbury, England, in 2007

During his two decades at Sweet Briar, his work also provided unique opportunities for students, exposing them not only to the rigors of field and laboratory research but to the scientist’s role as a communicator. But to students and colleagues alike, Brower was more than “just” a scientist.

“His prodigious and pivotal contributions to biology were exceeded only by his humility,” says John Morrissey, a longtime professor of biology at Sweet Briar. “In fact, I knew him for two to three years before I realized that he was the Lincoln Brower who had authored all those amazing papers that I read as a student! He was simply too warm, too generous, too gregarious and too thoughtful to be that famous! Simply stated, he is one of the finest humans that I have ever met.”

Morrissey says he’ll especially remember Brower’s “infectious,” “unfettered enthusiasm” for the natural world. He recalls the first time he had dinner at Brower’s home, eagerly awaiting an evening of interesting conversation about insect biology. “Instead, he chose to show me a small sampling of his collection of geodes, complete with his poetic, awe-struck, nearly tearful description of their beauty,” Morrissey remembers. “To me, the only thing more beautiful than the accumulation of crystals lining the cavities of those rocks was the joy that Lincoln exuded while sharing them with me. I am a better person for being inspired by him.”

Lincoln Brower and student
Brower admires work from a collaboration between arts and science students at Sweet Briar in 2014.

Brower’s impressive career began in 1953, when he received a B.S. in biology from Princeton University. At Yale University, he worked with Charles Remington, earning his Ph.D. in zoology in 1957. A Fulbright Fellowship allowed him to spend a year in E.B. Ford’s ecological genetics lab at Oxford University before joining the biology department at Amherst College, where he rose from instructor to the Stone Professor of Biology. In 1980, he moved to the zoology department at the University of Florida.

Brower authored or coauthored more than 200 scientific papers and produced eight films. His early research on insect adaptive coloration led to collaborations with chemists and ecologists in exploring the chemical ecology of milkweeds, monarch butterflies and bird predators.

When the winter location of eastern monarch butterflies was announced by National Geographic in 1976, Brower’s focus turned to studying the extraordinary winter colonies and to the microclimatic protection provided by the forests. On his first visit to Mexico in 1977, he recognized that the colonies could be lost to deforestation, and his work expanded to include conservation of this endangered phenomenon.

It was during one such visit in 2005 that he met Medford Taylor, a renowned photojournalist who now teaches at Sweet Briar College. Taylor had decided to photograph the monarch butterfly sanctuaries in Michoacán. Brower connected him with the right people, Taylor says, in addition to briefing him on his work.

Brower portrait by Medford Taylor
Medford Taylor’s favorite portrait of Brower, taken by Taylor in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacan, Mexico, 2006

“I was fortunate to climb and ride horses up the mountains to those colonies with Lincoln [after that],” Taylor recalls. “Standing in those fir tree forests bursting with millions of butterflies with this world-renowned scientist was a spiritual experience for me. Lincoln never talked about Lincoln; it was always about his work, photography, politics, the environment — and he listened. He was a gentle soul, a man of high intellect and a gentleman of the highest order. I feel honored and very humbled to have called him friend. His work and his spirit will live on.”

Brower conducted field and laboratory research to understand the monarch’s habitat requirements, worked with conservation organizations and government agencies to design the monarch butterfly reserves, and encouraged the public to care about monarchs through innumerable public lectures and consulting for dozens of articles, books and documentaries. In 2013, President Jimmy Carter joined him on a visit to Mexico to learn more about the monarchs — one of the highlights of his life, Brower said. In 2015, Brower was a signatory on the petition to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to designate the monarch butterfly as a threatened species.

Brower receives E.O. Wilson Award
Brower receives the E.O. Wilson Award at Sweet Briar in 2016.

Brower’s awards include the E.O. Wilson Award of the Center for Biological Diversity, Reconocimiento a la Conservacion de la Naturaleza from the Mexican federal government, the Marsh Award of the Royal Entomological Society, the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal from Yale, the Henry Bates Award of the Association for Tropical Lepidoptera, the Distinguished Animal Behaviorist Award of the Animal Behavior Society and the Linnaean Medal for Zoology. He was a fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and Explorers Club, the Entomological Society of America, an honorary life member of the Lepidopterists’ Society, and a research associate of the Smithsonian Institution and the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera at the University of Florida.

Brower is survived by his wife, two children, two grandchildren, his brother, three German shepherds and two cats. His professional family includes research collaborators, former graduate and undergraduate honors students and conservation professionals around the world. A celebration of his life will be held at Sweet Briar’s butterfly research garden in early fall.

Lincoln Brower
Brower at home in 2012. Photo by Medford Taylor

In honor of Brower’s extraordinary dedication and commitment to monarch conservation, the Monarch Butterfly Fund, of which he was a founding board member, has established the Lincoln P. Brower Award, an annual grant of $3,000 to support undergraduate or graduate students in research on the conservation of monarch butterflies and their habitats.

To donate funds to support the Lincoln P. Brower Award, visit monarchbutterflyfund.org and follow the directions to donate. To ensure that your donation is credited to the Brower Award, please send an email to Karen Oberhauser (koberhauser@wisc.edu) with information on your donation. To donate by check, please send the donation, with an indication that it is for the Brower Award to:

Monarch Butterfly Fund
c/o Karen Oberhauser
4013 Yuma Drive
Madison, WI 53711

Senior HR generalist at Sweet Briar selected for CUPA-HR Wildfire Program

Ashley DuggerAshley Dugger, senior HR generalist and Title IX coordinator at Sweet Briar College, is one of 12 College and University Professional Association for Human Resources members selected to participate in the 2018-19 CUPA-HR Wildfire program. The program offers a 12-month leadership development experience designed for early-career human resources professionals in higher education.

Dugger and the other program participants make up the fifth Wildfire class and will have the opportunity to develop their professional skills through tailored learning experiences including mentorship, a shadow visit on the campus of a higher-ed HR leader, attending the CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo and completing a year-end project highlighting the insights they gain throughout the year.

“I am incredibly honored to be chosen to participate in the CUPA-HR Wildfire 2018-2019 cohort,” Dugger said. “CUPA-HR is a fantastic resource for higher education HR professionals, and the opportunity to connect with other HR leaders, share resources and learn from some of the strongest HR talent in the industry will be so rewarding and exciting! It is also inspiring to see the continued support for Sweet Briar College within the higher-ed community.”

Dugger began her career in higher education managing the admissions and enrollment functions for Liberty University’s online programs. In addition to more than 12 years of experience spanning higher education, operations management and nonprofit leadership, Dugger also serves as a full-time faculty member for Independence University’s online business program, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate-level business courses.

Ashley Dugger and Nicole Whitehead
Ashley Dugger (left) and Nicole Whitehead during a meeting

Dugger joined Sweet Briar in February of 2016 as a human resources specialist, transitioning over the next two years to serve as a generalist, then to her current role as senior generalist and Title IX coordinator. She holds a doctorate in business administration with a focus in management, an MBA in international business and a B.S. in business marketing. In December of 2017, Dugger also received her SHRM-CP designation.

“I am extremely excited that Ashley was selected for this highly competitive and selective development opportunity,” said Nicole Whitehead, director of human resources and community engagement at Sweet Briar. “She is a lifelong learner and seeks best practices and networking opportunities that will strengthen her ability to be a credible activist to all constituents. Ashley is a tremendous asset to the College, and we look forward to the innovative practices and thought leadership she will glean from the program that will support our mission of excellence.”

This year’s program received more than 150 applications. Participants were selected based on their HR strengths and areas for development identified on the program application, as well as their interest in and commitment to the program.

The program formally kicked off on July 12 during CUPA-HR’s annual Association Leadership Program, which brings together association leaders from across the country to connect with one another, share ideas and be immersed in all that is CUPA-HR.

“We are very pleased to celebrate the beginning of our fifth Wildfire class,” says CUPA-HR President and Chief Executive Officer Andy Brantley. “Every organization must be committed to the development of early-career professionals. The full-year experience these professionals receive through the Wildfire program is not only an outstanding leadership development opportunity for them, but also a great opportunity for our higher-ed HR leaders to give back and help prepare the next generation of higher-ed leaders.”

Wildfire program facilitators include Mark Coldren, associate vice president for HR at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York; David Blake, Ph.D., vice president for human resources at California Western School of Law; and Julie Boggs, director of member marketing and engagement at CUPA-HR.

“Working closely with these early-career professionals is one of the association’s most important initiatives,” Coldren says. “The Wildfire experience represents our commitment to assist with the development of talented higher education HR professionals. The folks who have completed the program and the new cohort are nothing short of awesome, and I am privileged to get to work with them.”

How the liberal arts and origami helped one Sweet Briar engineering grad land the perfect job

Citlali MolinaTwo years ago, Citlali Molina ’16 was part of the first class to graduate from Sweet Briar College since its near-closure in 2015. Today, she’s living the dream — as a manufacturing engineer for Leonardo DRS in Cypress, Calif.

“The job, and the industry, fascinates me more than anything,” says Molina, who builds specialized infrared sensors for climate satellites and defense applications. “Microelectronics are everywhere in our daily lives, in our phones, watches — really anything with power. To now understand how to build them at the microscopic level continues to amaze me. I work hands-on with delicate, microscopic products that require dexterity, patience and precision.”

During the hiring process, Molina impressed interviewers with her liberal arts background — which they found “refreshing and unique,” she says — and one particular hobby: “Origami showed them that I had dexterity and patience to do delicate tasks. I found it amusing, but they could see that I was well-rounded, despite my little experience in the industry.”

And yet, Molina gained lots of practical skills during her time at Sweet Briar — in 2015, she interned at a company in Silicon Valley. “It was an alumna who offered me the internship,” Molina recalls, adding the offer came around the time of the closure announcement. “Despite being in undergrad limbo, I figured it would be good experience, with or without a college [to go back to]. Turned out to be a good call. Got my college back, and it helped me land a job later.”

Citlali Molina
Citlali Molina in the lab at Leonardo DRS in California

Internships are a requirement for engineering majors at Sweet Briar, one of just two women’s colleges in the country with an ABET-accredited engineering program. Most students intern more than once during their time as undergrads, and in many cases, internships turn into job offers even before graduation. Within three months of graduation, 100 percent of Sweet Briar engineers are employed or in grad school.

And there was something else that gave Molina an edge in the industry, she says.

“Sweet Briar’s general engineering science program made me an extremely trainable and malleable asset to my company,” she observes. “I was not particularly devoted to just one engineering field; in fact, I did not really know what kind of engineer I wanted to be while at Sweet Briar. I discovered that I enjoyed microelectronics through my internship as a rising senior. Sweet Briar’s engineering program proved that you can teach me anything and train me in anything. And I know my company saw that about me. Sweet Briar allowed me to peek though many job doors until one eventually swung open for me.”

For Molina, who grew up in California, it was just the right one. This fall, she’s starting a master’s program in materials and manufacturing technology (MMT) at the University of California, Irvine, and it’s sponsored by her company.

Citlali graduation Sweet Briar
Molina (right) and her sister at graduation in May 2016

“After a few months of working with DRS, I became interested in how these products work. I handle them and build them all the time, but the science behind them is a mystery,” she explains. “We have test engineers and data scientists at DRS that know all that, and I really want to know it, too. As a California native, UCI had always caught my interest. With a very specific major like MMT, UCI just seems like a perfect fit for me to get those answers to all my questions.”

College degrees are rare in her large Latino family, Molina says, so it’s important for her to set an example. “I wanted to break the mold and try to be an example to my younger cousins,” explains Molina, whose parents came to the U.S. from central Mexico in the 1980s, meeting and finally settling in Pico Rivera, Calif.

“My dad also never finished college, but if he had, he would have been an engineer alongside me,” she adds. “All these facts about my family continue to be incentives to go to college and experience the world as an educated woman. Sweet Briar really helped me become an advocate for education.”

Attending college in Virginia may not have been the most obvious choice for Molina, but it turned out to be the perfect one, she says. “Coming from a Latino background, and a state with many good colleges, I faced a lot of criticism for deciding to study in Virginia,” she notes. “I’ve lived in [Pico Rivera] almost all my life, but after visiting Sweet Briar for an open house weekend, it was a no-brainer! I had to go there no matter the distance or challenges it took.”

Sweet Briar, she adds, equipped her with everything she needs to achieve her goals: circuits and material science on the engineering side and, on the life side, “confidence, moxie and resilience.

“Never once was I brought down for being a female in a male-dominated industry, and I took that confidence with me when I left the pink bubble,” Molina says. “I am who I am because Sweet Briar pushed me to learn and speak up.”

We love checking in with our recent grads to see what they’re up to! This is the first in a series of profiles featuring Sweet Briar’s young alumnae across various disciplines and job fields.

Vixen Athletics announces five-year partnership with Under Armour, BSN SPORTS

UnderArmour-SBCThe Sweet Briar College athletics department on Monday announced a five-year partnership with BSN SPORTS and Under Armour.

The agreement is part of the BSN SPORTS Collegiate Select program and will make Under Armour the game-day outfitter for Vixen Athletics. The BSN SPORTS Collegiate Select program aims to make BSN SPORTS a one-stop provider for all collegiate athletic, intramural, club and staff apparel and equipment to all DI, DII, DIII, NJCAA and NAIA schools.

“This agreement with Sweet Briar College affirms our highest aspirations for BSN’s Collegiate program: delivering elite, customized products and services to our college customers,” said BSN Collegiate Select Vice President Bill Stote. “We are excited to partner with the Vixens to elevate the performance and impact of their growing athletic program. We appreciate the vision of Sweet Briar College and are excited to be a partner.”

The agreement includes numerous incentives in the form of discounts and rewards, along with incentives for on-field achievements and additional marketing and promotional opportunities.

“We are extremely excited to join the Under Armour and BSN SPORTS family,” said Acting Director of Athletics Meredith Newman ’09. “Our partnership with Under Armour and BSN SPORTS truly sets us up for success as we move fiercely into a new era of Sweet Briar athletics. Our alignment with such powerful leaders in the athletic equipment and apparel industry affords great opportunity for the expansion of the Sweet Briar College and Vixen Athletics brand, as well as an enhanced experience for our student-athletes.”

Sweet Briar teams will begin wearing Under Armour uniforms during the 2018-19 athletic season. The Vixens’ partnership with BSN SPORTS and Under Armour will extend beyond the seven NCAA squads on the Sweet Briar campus to the Vixens’ equestrian program. Sweet Briar Equestrian will utilize Under Armour for gear outside of the competition ring, including travel gear, polos and jackets.

Sweet Briar-branded Under Armour merchandise will also be made available for purchase through an online store in the near future.

Sweet Briar achieves 42 percent increase in new student enrollment for fall

Class of 22 bannerToday Sweet Briar College announced new-student enrollment numbers and details of its incoming first-year class for the 2018-19 academic year. A total of 129 new students have enrolled for the fall 2018 semester, compared to 91 last fall.

The Class of 2022 will be comprised of 114 first-year students (compared to 79 last fall) representing 23 states, with half of the students from Virginia, and five non-USA countries — China, Ethiopia, India, Mexico and Russia. The class’s mean grade point average is 3.51 (compared to 3.34 last fall) and mean SAT (combined) is 1098 (compared to 1071 last fall), with 44 students earning the Presidential Scholarship, the College’s merit award for the highest academic achieving students.

“Not only is the quantity of students increasing, but also — judging by their aptitude test scores and grade point averages — more academically gifted students are making Sweet Briar their college choice,” President Meredith Woo noted. “They are the first class to take advantage of the leadership core curriculum, which will be taught by our most talented faculty. Sweet Briar is quite naturally positioned to serve as a private honors college for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Other demographics of the first-year class include:

  • 6.1 percent are legacy students, meaning a family member also attended Sweet Briar
  • 16.7 percent self-identified as a minority (based on self-identified race and Hispanic origin)
  • 30.7 percent are first-generation college students (compared to 18 percent last year)
  • 32.7 percent are student-athletes who have signed on to one or more of the College’s seven NCAA Division III varsity athletic teams or NCEA riding team

“As acknowledged around the country, Sweet Briar is a new academic model for liberal arts institutions in the 21st century. This increase in enrollment is a strong indicator that the forward-thinking changes introduced last year are exactly what today’s student seeks to prepare her to be tomorrow’s leader,” said Melissa Farmer Richards, vice president for communications and enrollment management.

Fifteen of the 129 new students are transfer students representing the states of Virginia, Missouri and New York, as well as the countries of Mongolia and India.

With Sweet Briar’s rolling admission, new students are continuing to apply for the upcoming academic year, and the College has some spots remaining. Interested applicants should apply right away and contact the Office of Admissions to expedite the application process. Visit sbc.edu/admissions/apply-now or call 434-381-6142.

Sweet Briar announces new faculty hires in visual arts, history

Fletcher Hall in summerSweet Briar College has announced the hiring of two new faculty members. Annie Labatt will join the College on Aug. 1 as associate professor of visual studies and director of galleries and museums, while Dwana Waugh will assume her post as assistant professor of history.

“The humanities, including the arts, are an important tradition at Sweet Briar College,” President Meredith Woo wrote in a letter to the community on Wednesday afternoon. “They are critical components of the liberal arts education and provide an intellectual anchor for the ‘leadership core.’ Rather than view the humanities and arts as discrete disciplinary realms, we have brought together the scholarships with lived experiences, such that the study of art history is married to working with objects in gallery space, and history, through field research, is made present and relevant.”

Annie Labatt
Annie Labatt will serve as associate professor of visual studies and director of galleries and museums at Sweet Briar.

Professor Labatt is an expert in Byzantine art history, with an emphasis on artistic and cultural exchanges between the East and the West during the early medieval period. Internationally renowned for her work on Byzantine Rome, her career has straddled the paths of both an art historian and a curator.

Educated in art history at Barnard College (B.A.) and Yale (Ph.D.), she is a recipient of the prestigious American Academy Rome Prize, the Dumbarton Oak-Harvard fellowship and the Chester Dale Fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. These fellowships — especially the two years spent in American Academy, Rome — enabled her to conduct research for three important forthcoming books. The first two, “Emerging Iconographies of Medieval Europe” and “Byzantine Rome,” are significant monographs on Byzantine art. The third is a collection of essays based on public lectures given at the San Antonio Museum of Art titled “Art History 101: Without the Exams.”

Museums have played a formative role in Labatt’s training as a medievalist, starting with her work at the Metropolitan Museum. She was involved in the exhibition “Byzantium: Faith and Power” in 2003-2004 and for the 2011-2012 exhibition “Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition,” she wrote multiple catalogue entries and papers while delivering a series of talks. She is currently working with the Hispanic Society of America on an exhibition tentatively titled “Spanish Polyptychs” on the development of late-medieval Spanish altarpieces. Labatt comes to Sweet Briar from the University of Texas, San Antonio.

Professor Waugh is a historian of what is often referred to as the “Long Civil Rights Movement,” an extended struggle that covers most of the past century. A native of Lynchburg, she was educated at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in history, education and psychology (B.A.) and later earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in American history at the University of North Carolina.

Dwana Waugh
Dwana Waugh has been hired as an assistant professor of history at Sweet Briar.

“Who controls public schools?” is a question that has defined much of her scholarship on desegregation in the South. Comparing different outcomes in the long process of school desegregation in Farmville and Greensboro, N.C., she casts important lights on institutional and cultural variables that account for the different desegregation outcomes in otherwise similar places. The result is a monograph in progress, “Schoolhouses Rocked: Lessons on Race, Politics, and Power in the American South,” as well as other articles and oral histories that study different political strategies to desegregation in geographical and chronological areas not far from Sweet Briar.

“Perhaps few are as qualified to speak on the vexing issue of race and education as Professor Waugh,” Woo noted in her letter. “She is not only a historian of school desegregation, but an expert teacher with professional license in social studies, both in Virginia and North Carolina. She knows firsthand the inequity around education that is manifested in classrooms, and she has thought long and hard about the kind of learning that must foster independent thinking.”

To make history come to life, Waugh works with students in archives, guides them through interviews with participants of historical movements and urges them to touch and view materials firsthand.

In addition to these two new hires, the College has made several visiting appointments, Woo said. All of them are fully budgeted and will be announced later this summer.

Sweet Briar opens doors for 2018 Virginia Private College Week

,Fletcher Hall, Sweet Briar College campusSweet Briar College will again participate in Virginia Private College Week, an admissions event hosted each year by the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia. From Monday, July 23, to Saturday, July 28, high school students and their parents are invited to tour Sweet Briar’s stunning 3,250-acres campus, along with 23 other private institutions in Virginia.

At each college, visitors can expect a campus tour and information sessions about admissions, financial aid and academic programs. College officials will also address some common myths about the cost of a private college education.

“Visiting campuses in person is one of the most important steps in the college search process,” says CICV president Robert Lambeth. “I encourage parents to explore which college will be the best fit for their son or daughter, and I want to reassure them that a quality education at a Virginia private college is affordable and within reach.”

At Sweet Briar, a private college education is especially affordable as tuition was recently cut by 32 percent, reducing the total price tag for tuition, room and board to just $34,000. More than 250 scholarships remain available to eligible students, making the cost of a Sweet Briar education comparable to public universities. The College also revamped its academic programs: Starting this fall, a new academic calendar that begins and ends with three intensive weeks of interdisciplinary study will make more room for experiential learning, and a core curriculum focused on women’s leadership in the 21st century replaces traditional “gen ed” requirements.

And there’s more, says Vice President for Communications and Enrollment Management Melissa Richards. “Sweet Briar is consistently ranked among the most beautiful college campuses, and this year we aim to deliver the best college visit experience in the country,” Richards said. “We frequently have students who visit Sweet Briar a half dozen times before school term starts because they fall in love with the campus and the people and simply can’t get enough.”

Students who visit at least three institutions during Virginia Private College Week will receive three college application fee waivers. They may use the waivers to apply to any participating CICV colleges for free. In addition, students visiting at least three institutions during the open house event will be eligible for a $500 Amazon gift card drawing.

Sessions at Sweet Briar and most other colleges will begin at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and at 9 a.m. on Saturday. To visit Sweet Briar, please register in advance on the Sweet Briar College website. For more information about CICV and Virginia Private College Week, including a list of participating colleges, visit www.vaprivatecolleges.org.

To learn more about admission to Sweet Briar, visit sbc.edu/admissions.

Sweet Briar wins international CASE award for FIERCE rebranding

Kim fierce ad
Kimberlin Uglum ’17 was one of several Sweet Briar students photographed for the FIERCE campaign.

Sweet Briar College is the winner of a 2018 Circle of Excellence award given out by CASE, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Sweet Briar took home a Bronze Award in the institutional branding category for its 2017 FIERCE campaign.

In 2016, Sweet Briar College partnered with Lipman Hearne to conduct survey and focus group research among its constituents to develop a new college brand, including positioning, personality, core messaging and design elements.

“Throughout the summer and fall of 2017, our internal communications team rebuilt the college’s entire content strategy, produced new admissions recruitment materials, new campus signage, refreshed the website and hosted a brand launch party to educate and engage our community,” said Vice President for Communications and Enrollment Management Melissa Richards, who came on board in July 2017.

“We really feel that the new brand describes Sweet Briar’s confidence, courage and grit perfectly,” Richards added. “At Sweet Briar, we challenge and support our students to become women of consequence who are self-directed and independent. For over a century, Sweet Briar graduates have gone out there and demonstrated that they are smart, strong leaders for their communities and the world. Our new FIERCE branding underscores that spirit.”

Mall ad Sweet Briar
Brianna Garcia ’20 in a mall display

In winter 2017 and continuing into 2018, Richards’ team launched a statewide advertising campaign that included print, digital, environmental and radio advertising.

CASE’s international awards program honors outstanding work in advancement services, alumni relations, communications, fundraising and marketing at colleges, universities, independent schools and affiliated nonprofits. The program received 3,204 entries for consideration in nearly 100 categories from 676 higher education institutions, independent schools and affiliated organizations located worldwide.

Peer professionals at schools, colleges and universities as well as professionals from outside of education judged the entries and awarded nearly 350 awards to more than 190 institutions in 11 countries as follows: 104 bronze; 118 silver, 100 gold and 13 grand gold. In addition, CASE will recognize eight platinum winners.

A list of award winners from the current year’s competition is available at case.org/circle. Judges’ reports, which outline the strengths and weaknesses of each category and why particular entries were chosen for recognition, are also posted on the website.

Sue Cunningham, president and CEO of CASE, says 2018 was another exceptional year for the awards program and commended this year’s recipients for their bold, innovative work that epitomizes the profession’s best practices.

“Our members once again have demonstrated their commitment to their organizations through their remarkable work,” Cunningham said in a press release issued by CASE. “This year’s award winners demonstrate creativity and strategy; I urge everyone to take a look — you will be inspired. Congratulations to all the Circle of Excellence award recipients. Your work is breathtaking.”

Made up of several of CASE’s long-time recognition programs, the Circle of Excellence awards program, in its present configuration, was introduced in 1994.

President Woo addresses graduates of her high school alma mater

President Woo at Seisen
President Woo addresses graduates at Seisen International School on May 27.

Last month Meredith Woo, president of Sweet Briar College, returned to Seisen International School to deliver the graduation address to the Class of 2018.

Woo graduated from Seisen, an international girls’ school in Tokyo, Japan, in 1976 among 13 students in her class. A retired sister in the Handmaid of the Sacred Heart who attended the graduation event on May 27, remembered Woo fondly and distinctly for winning a public speaking contest as a student.

In her speech to the 32 graduates from myriad home countries, Woo described the education she received at Seisen as one that emphasized clarity of thinking. “I feel close to you because we share something in common … You know the splendor of being multicultural,” Woo said.

Woo and Colette Rogers
Woo with Colette Rogers, school head at Seisen

“As you go forth, one of the most important questions you will ask yourself is ‘Where do I belong?’ There is a benefit to not being a part of the mainstream while understanding what mainstream is,” she offered.

After graduating from Seisen, Woo attended Bowdoin College in Maine as an international student. She earned her master’s and doctorate degrees at Columbia University. Her educational experiences — as a student at an all-girls’ high school and during her career as a professor and administrator in higher education — came full circle when she was named president of Sweet Briar College, a women’s college in Virginia, in May 2017, and one year later was asked to give the graduation address at her alma mater.

Sponsored by the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Seisen is an international Catholic school that welcomes students from many ethnic groups, cultures and religious traditions into a happy, caring and respect-filled atmosphere. Seisen offers an educational program that prepares “today’s students for tomorrow’s world.” The school’s program spans preschool, elementary and high school years, K-12, and focuses on very high academic standards as well as social, physical, aesthetic, cultural and spiritual development. The International Baccalaureate Programme (IB) offers students in High School a Diploma that gives them a university entry credential for colleges worldwide. Seisen is a community made up of faculty, staff, students, parents and alumni, enriched by more than 60 different nationalities, who all work together for the good of every student.

With 5 million Yards for Yeardley, Sweet Briar athletes raise awareness about importance of healthy relationships

Athletes at Sweet Briar House
Sweet Briar athletes in front of Sweet Briar House just weeks before the challenge

In 2010, UVa lacrosse player Yeardley Love was killed in an act of domestic violence. The OneLove Foundation was created later that year in Love’s honor; its purpose to educate young people about healthy — and unhealthy — relationships. One campaign the foundation supports is Yards for Yeardley, a community awareness campaign that encourages participants to run, bike, walk, swim or do some other form of activity to both honor Love and to raise awareness about healthy relationships.

The campaign has particular importance to Sweet Briar’s Director of Athletic Training Devon Serrano, who is just about Love’s age and had heard the story of her murder while in college.

“As a young woman, I have my own #MeToo story, and Yeardley’s story always came to mind whenever I heard about #MeToo,” she says.

Serrano is also a member of the Sweet Briar Title IX Team, which received training through the OneLove Foundation’s Escalation Workshop in December. She views her role on the Title IX team as an honor and a way to have a lasting impact on the College’s student-athletes. “I wanted to help break the stigma that ‘it can’t happen to me,’” she says. “Sweet Briar is a sisterhood. It is our responsibility to care for one another, empower one another and protect one another.”

In early January, Serrano challenged the College’s athletes to participate in the Yards for Yeardley campaign and to complete 1 million yards over the course of the semester. All athletes, regardless of their playing status, were encouraged to participate — and they did. They reached their goal before the month was even over. Serrano was so inspired by their commitment to the cause that she challenged them to two new goals: complete 1 million yards for every month of the semester, called the #monthlymillion, and get 100 percent student-athlete participation.

Instagram post Devon Serrano
Devon Serrano announced the good news on Instagram with a photo of her new puppy, Yeardley.

On May 3, the eighth anniversary of Yeardley’s death, the College’s athletes had met both goals. Every single athlete participated, completing 5.5 million yards in cardio workouts, walks, runs, laps and rehabilitation.

“At Sweet Briar, we work every day to empower young women to be fierce, to be the best they can be and to always push themselves,” Serrano says. “Through this campaign, I saw student-athletes grow as athletes and young women. They pushed themselves that last tenth of a mile. Some came face to face with past experiences and started the amazing journey of taking care of their mental health. What originally started out as a physical challenge turned into an opportunity for education and transformation.”

Love’s legacy lives on at Sweet Briar in other ways, too. “This week, I am adopting a puppy in the hopes of training her to be a therapy dog in the clinic,” Serrano says. “Her name is Yeardley.”

Tears of joy and perseverance for historic Class of 2018 at Sweet Briar’s 109th Commencement

Class of 2018
The Class of 2018 just before commencement on May 12

It was no ordinary day in the history of Sweet Briar College, and everyone present could feel it. For one, it was President Meredith Woo’s first official commencement. But when the Class of 2018 graduated on Saturday, May 12, Sweet Briar celebrated not just a college commencement — it celebrated a whole new beginning. What started in the summer of 2015, when this class returned to Sweet Briar to build a new college, had now come full circle.

The significance of it was not lost on Presidential Medalist Ashton Mays, who knew that everyone in her class has “something big to contribute,” nor senior class president Annabeth Griffin, whose tearful speech illustrated the emotional roller coaster of the last three years.

“Sweet Briar has unintentionally given us the most well-rounded education,” Griffin said, holding back tears. “We will take our next steps forward knowing how to fight for things we believe in and win, even when those in power call us crazy. We’ve learned when to listen, but also when not to listen. We are so proud to become alumnae; we are so proud to join the warrior women who came before us. Wonder Woman has nothing on them, although she would totally fit in here.”

Teresa Tomlinson ’87
Teresa Pike Tomlinson ’87

In her remarks later on in the ceremony, Chairwoman of the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors Teresa Pike Tomlinson ’87 admitted that hearing their stories at Baccalaureate the day before made her realize just how “seismic” the shock of the closure announcement in 2015 had been for the Class of 2018 — so she’d discarded her prepared speech. Instead, she reflected on that moment and her now legendary commencement speech that year. She also thanked the graduates for coming back to Sweet Briar and rebuilding a college that could not have existed without them.

“You responded with faith and determination,” she said.

Commencement speaker Nella Gray Barkley ’55 also gave a nod to that Vixen spirit. “You are the women who just wouldn’t quit,” she observed. Her keynote address focused on a practical 10-step plan to help answer life’s existential questions — “Who am I?”, “Why am I here?” and “What am I going to do about it?” Answering those questions systematically could help one find meaning and fulfillment in work and life, she said.

After Acting Dean of the College Lynn Rainville presented three M.A.T. and 61 undergraduate degrees, it was time for a word from the Alumnae Alliance Council, delivered by Judith Greer Schulz ’61 — “one of the College’s most enthusiastic alumnae — and that’s saying a lot,” as President Woo pointed out. Then, Emily Dodson and Marina Biel announced the Excellence in Teaching and Excellence in Service awards, respectively. Religion professor Geoffrey Pollick was honored with the former, while Gloria Smith in the Office of Student Life took home the latter. Both received standing ovations from students, faculty and staff. Next, Rainville presented students with the all-College awards before leaving the podium to Woo, who gave her charge to the Class of 2018.

President Woo
President Meredith Woo

“As I stand here, I am reminded that sometimes where you study is as important as what you study,” she said. “As the Class of 2018, you studied at a place which is a significant part of American cultural history. … Sweet Briar is an important American legacy. Year after year after year, it produced women of strength and talent — women who carried all before them, in their families and communities, always being ‘useful members’ of their societies as in Indiana Fletcher Williams’s charge to us.

“Cherish the history and beauty of this place, and carry it in your heart. Remember all the things you loved here — your long walks, the horse whispers, the mist that rises over lakes, the shouts from the bleachers — that helped form who you are today. With the exquisite sensibility formed in these beautiful surroundings, and the capacity for love and hope that you have shown, may you go forth, touch many lives and change them for the better.”

You can watch the entire ceremony below.

Admissions Blog: Sweet Briar College graduation moments we won’t forget

The Class of 2016 lines up for Sweet Briar College’s commencement ceremony.

Few moments in your life will be as emotional as your college graduation. The culmination of four years of hard work and personal growth, it’s also a new beginning full of excitement and uncertainty. As we get ready for Sweet Briar College’s 109th Commencement tomorrow, here’s a look at some of our favorite moments and snapshots from the last few years. Get your tissues ready!

Commencement Speech 2015: “We Will Persevere.”

The Honorable Teresa Pike Tomlinson ’87, mayor of Columbus, Ga., chairwoman of the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors

Teresa Tomlinson commencement
Teresa Tomlinson ’87 was the keynote speaker at Sweet Briar College’s 106th Commencement in May 2015.

Tomlinson’s legendary 2015 speech inspired not only Sweet Briar graduates — it fueled and mobilized an entire army of alumnae, students, faculty, staff and friends. At a time when it seemed like the College might be closing, it was a battle cry like no other. In the end, Saving Sweet Briar persevered in court, thanks to unprecedented fundraising efforts and an ingenious social media campaign amplified by thousands of alumnae. You can relive Sweet Briar’s 106th Commencement here.

“The world is hungry for you. Confident thinkers. Problem solvers. Solution makers. If you were in the halls of Congress, this world would be a better, more functional place.”

Memorable Mortarboards

No two Sweet Briar students are alike, and we have an entire collection of graduation caps to prove it. Many of our recent classes have decorated their hat toppers to celebrate the big day and show the world where they’re going next. We can’t wait to see what the Class of 2018 has in store!

Commencement Speech 2016: “Now, We Are All Founders.”

Leah Busque ’01, founder and executive Chairwoman of TaskRabbit, Sweet Briar College Board of Directors member

Leah Busque
Leah Busque ’01 spoke at Sweet Briar‘s 107th Commencement in May 2016.

One year after the College’s near-closure, Busque greeted the Class of 2016 with a powerful message of confidence: They were all founders now. The story of rebuilding their College would stay with them for the rest of their lives, she added, forever defining what they could accomplish:

“We have earned the right to crown ourselves with a new title, a new identity, a new piece of our being that we may not have even known was inside us. Now, we are all founders. The faculty, staff, administration, alums, parents, community … and especially this historic Class of 2016: We are all founders now. … As a founder now, you can have a real impact on the world. Never worry if you are good enough to do something — know you are, and always act like it. Embrace that confidence that Sweet Briar has instilled in you.”

She also encouraged them to have “B-HAGs” — Big Hairy Audacious Goals:

“You may feel compelled to keep this beast hidden in your closet; you may not even dare to whisper the crazy ambitions of this outrageous animal. But if it makes you uncomfortable, you’re on the right track. If people think you’re crazy, unrealistic, or too ambitious, that’s when you know you are aiming high enough.”

Fierce Graduation Shoes

Graduation 2017
2017 graduates wait for the College’s 108th Commencement to start.

While the College’s commencement guidelines call for dark (and traditionally, closed) shoes to match one’s robe, it’s not a strictly enforced rule. In fact, chances are you’ll see a colorful assortment of sandals, heels, sneakers and cowboy boots tomorrow! Sweet Briar women do what they want, and they do it in style.

Students honor Sweet Briar’s invisible founders

Slave Cemetery
Sweet Briar students and staff at the Slave Cemetery on April 28

At Sweet Briar, we talk a lot about Indiana Fletcher Williams and her role in founding the College. What we talk about less is that Indiana was born in 1828, a time when men, women and children in the American South labored in slavery. On the grounds of the plantation that would become Sweet Briar College, generations worked the land — both during the era of slavery and after its end.

Many of these unknown and invisible founders are buried on the Sweet Briar campus in a cemetery located on a slight rise above the school’s two lakes. The people buried there remain largely unknown, their head and foot stones unmarked with their names.

On the last weekend in April, Sweet Briar’s Black Student Alliance (BSA) planted rose bushes at the burial ground, the first step in what they hope will become a more thoughtful and conscious remembrance of these individuals who lived, labored and died on the land that has since become home to thousands of students.

Memorial at Slave Cemetery
The memorial at the Slave Cemetery

Dajhanara Jones ’20, the president of the BSA, says the club wanted to bring beauty to the space. “Sometimes we forget the invisible founders,” she went on. “As a club, we felt we needed to take a moment to honor them. Eventually, I’d love to see the space become a memorial garden and be part of the Founders’ Day activities.”

Planning the walk and remembrance wasn’t a simple process, but BSA vice president A’Shawnta Sherman ’18 is grateful for what they accomplished and thinks that larger recognition of these invisible founders can be part of the changes at Sweet Briar. “I believe in the new curriculum and the other changes the school is making,” she said. “The BSA is making changes, too, and making this an annual event is an opportunity to change how the community views the cemetery. I’d like people to feel like it’s an integral part of the campus.”

Nicole Whitehead, the College’s director of human resources and community engagement, serves as one of the BSA faculty and staff advisors. In describing the ceremony, she acknowledged the emotion it brought. “As we inched closer to the site,” she wrote, “emotions ran high for some women who began to reflect on the lives of the men and women resting in the cemetery. We wondered if these now invisible blessings knew that they were paving the way for each of us to be here … visible manifestations of the fruits of their labor. As we stomped through the red mud, a peace that surpassed understanding was in the air.”

Though these men and women are anonymous to us now, they are blessings to every member of the Sweet Briar community, having laid a foundation for the College that has itself become a blessing to thousands of alumnae.

Sweet Briar’s Makayla Benjamin wins prestigious USEF/Cacchione Cup

Makayla BenjaminFor the first time in the history of Sweet Briar College, the Vixens can claim a USEF/Cacchione Cup winning rider, as senior Makayla Benjamin rode away with the prestigious honor on Saturday morning at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex.

Benjamin, of Leesburg, competed over two days in a field of 24 of the top collegiate riders in the nation over fences and on the flat for the USEF/Cacchione Cup, which is presented to the National Individual Hunter Seat High Point Rider.

After finishing the first two phases of competition with 162 points as eighth in the field, Benjamin competed against nine other riders on day two.

Riding for a final day in front of the judges, Benjamin was awarded with the top placing in the field to become the first Sweet Briar rider to win the USEF/Cacchione Cup at the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association Nationals.

Phase one, on Friday morning, saw Benjamin dazzle over fences to a score of 83. Benjamin’s 83 was the third best score in the field, behind only Mollie Kowalchik of Mount Holyoke and Halle Kutsche of Kansas State.

Riding in phase two, on the flat, Benjamin was awarded a score of 79 and sat tied for 13th on the flat. Benjamin’s total score on day one, 162, was good for eighth in the field.

Leading the top 10 riders advancing to day two was Kowalchik with 170 points, one ahead of Kutsche.

Benjamin rode to impress on Sunday, leapfrogging seven riders to win the top honor in hunter seat riding.

Since 2006, Sweet Briar has sent three riders to IHSA Nationals in the Cacchione Cup, including two appearances by Olivia Smith. Jodie Weber finished fourth in 2006, while Smith’s best finish was in 2014 when she finished ninth.

Read more about Benjamin’s historic win here:

Makayla Benjamin Keeps IHSA In The Family On Last Day Of National Championships (The Chronicle of the Horse)

Sweet Briar College’s Makayla Benjamin wins Cacchione Cup at IHSA Nationals (Roanoke Equestrian)

Admissions Blog: How to survive finals week

Dog therapy
Dog Therapy happens every fall and spring during exams at Sweet Briar.

It’s that time of year: Finals are here, and across the country, high school and college students are cramming for exams. If you’re one of them, you’re likely in a bit of a frenzy right now. Here’s some advice: Relax. Get some sleep. You got this! And then there’s more advice on how to survive the most stressful time of the school year, from our Sweet Briar admissions counselors and student ambassadors.

  1. Study With FriendsSavanna Klein

“Study with a group! You don’t have to work on the same thing, but sometimes having a group of people studying around you can help motivate you and keep you accountable. Just make sure you choose a group that will help you focus, and not constantly distract you.” — Savanna Klein ’16, admissions counselor

  1. Take a Time-out

    Taylor Jefferson

“One thing I always do to help myself through exams is schedule time for myself. It’s really important to be able to take a break from everything that causes stress. I schedule alone time for myself — whether it’s tanning time or TV time or cleaning my room or even just to eat and go brain-dead. If you’re constantly working, then you’re not taking care of yourself, and self-care is the most important thing.” — Taylor Jefferson ’19, dance education major

  1. Use Your Senses

    Savannah Oxner

“Color-code your notes and listen to music. If you can, rewrite your notes with different color pens and use different color highlighters. Sketch and make appropriate doodles, too, so you can add another layer to the visual element of your notes. And try listening to music you love but are really familiar with; listening to new music when you’re studying can be distracting.” — Savannah Oxner ’05, senior admissions counselor

  1. Study Somewhere New

    Victoria Stacpoole

“The best piece of advice I have ever been given is to study somewhere new. It is particularly effective if you only ever study in your room or with friends. Switching where you study puts you in a fresh frame of mind and allows for you to consider things differently. Break up your routine!” — Victoria Stacpoole ’20, history and international affairs major

  1. Get Some Dog TherapyTaylor Patterson

“Make sure you attend the dog therapy in the Vixen Den! Studies show that interactions with animals can decrease stress in humans. Stop by and take a mental break to pet some of the professors’ dogs.” — Taylor Patterson ’16, admissions counselor

At Sweet Briar, finals week is probably a little different from what you’re used to, especially if you’re coming from a large high school. Here, exams take place over several days and are self-scheduled. In many cases, they’re take-home tests you can literally take with you to wherever you’re most comfortable. Some students finish all their exams in just a day or two, while others decide to spend more time studying and using the whole week to complete all of their course requirements. You can learn more about academics at Sweet Briar here.

Living-learning community at Sweet Briar aims to help students thrive in and outside of class

Sweet Briar students
Sweet Briar students take a break on Reading Day, the day before finals week.

“How do I do college?” is the central question behind Sweet Briar’s new living-learning initiative.

For Marcia Thom-Kaley, who took over as interim dean of students in the fall, it’s an existential question she’s been researching for several months. Today’s college kids have very specific needs, she says, citing Gen Z research and existing living-learning projects — as well as studies on them — at the University of Virginia, Dartmouth College and others. Above all, they need a lot of guidance — socially and academically. One term she uses frequently is “relationship-building.”

This fall, she’s rolling out a plan to help first-year students at Sweet Briar navigate the first few days, weeks and months of college.

“My goal is to give these students resources and tools for their toolboxes,” she says. “[This initiative] is designed to decrease the level of stress as the first day of classes approaches.” Instead of simply asking students to show up at an orientation info session, Thom-Kaley wants to “bring the conversation to them — into the spaces where they live,” she says. “We’re going to have our counselor hold some informational sessions about building relationships — about relating to your roommate and about solving problems with your roommate.”

Move-in dayAs Thom-Kaley notes, living-learning communities have been “popping up all over the country” for several years. At many colleges, they’re also physical manifestations. Lynchburg College, for example, is building a whole new residence hall based on living-learning principles. At Sweet Briar, it is a comprehensive philosophy that will permeate all aspects of student and academic life.

Using Randolph Hall, one of the original historic residence halls that surround the quad, first-year students will all live together and — this is one of Thom-Kaley’s new ideas — there will be four peer academic mentors (PAMs) who will be housed among them.

PAMs are upperclasswomen who will serve as navigators and “connectors” to the academic community. They’ll explain how to read a syllabus, and what to do when one is sick and can’t be in class. They’ll also help first-years advocate for learning accommodations if they need them and stress the importance of speaking up in class.

“We purposely have small classes, so that can be a very intimidating atmosphere for someone who is 18 and who has come from a very large high school,” Thom-Kaley explains.

In short, PAMs will ease the transition from high school to college and help newcomers succeed academically.

Creative writing
A creative writing workshop with Prof. John Gregory Brown

“My goal is to not have any first-year students on academic probation or warning — because we have equipped them from the very first minute they step onto campus to be successful,” Thom-Kaley says.

Just like residence advisors, PAMs will be paid and available to students at all times without an appointment. In fact, Thom-Kaley envisions, they will “knock on doors” and ask first-years if they need help, rather than wait for a problem or question to arise.

“What makes this a living-learning community is the intentionality of it,” Thom-Kaley says. “We are bringing services that students need right to where they live. We don’t expect the student to make four appointments and keep them all and run all over campus trying to find people. … It’s very much a philosophy of being proactive rather than reactive.”

Students in Prothro
Students celebrate during a staff appreciation event in the dining hall.

She’s confident that as students adapt to college life and gain more confidence, they will become less dependent on that extra attention.

“We have run the risk of not preparing first-year students enough,” she says. “We have to do a better job of providing resources to them. We have to bring it to their comfort zone. And I think it will become obvious pretty quickly — the students who need extra help and those who don’t.”

Another piece is Sweet Briar’s new core curriculum and its restructured academic calendar. The fall semester now starts with an intensive three-week session that will have all first-years together as a cohort in CORE 110 — Design Thinking. The class will also be open to sophomores, juniors and seniors.

“The cohort model has become the flagship of living-learning communities,” Thom-Kaley says. “The idea is: Let them do things together.”

Biology students on lake
Biology students during a class on Sweet Briar’s Lower Lake in fall 2017

There will be lots of opportunities for hands-on collaboration and interaction, adds psychology professor Jessica Salvatore, who directs the new core program and will be team-teaching the course with three other faculty members.

“This isn’t a traditional, lecture-based course,” Salvatore says. “Each day, students will be working on projects in small teams of about four or five, which will be reshuffled repeatedly over the three weeks so our incoming students really get to know each other. To my knowledge, this approach is completely unprecedented among small liberal arts colleges; it will be a unique feature of Sweet Briar’s new core.”

For Thom-Kaley, what’s even more distinctive about Sweet Briar’s living-learning initiative is its focus on health, wellness and nutrition. The program, she says, will take advantage of the campus’s enormous size — 3,250 acres, to be exact — and its new food services partnership with Meriwether Godsey. In addition to providing students with wholesome food options, there’s another opportunity for life skills: teaching students about great nutrition. There will also be weekly group counseling sessions, as well as lots of outdoor activities and athletic involvement.

Move-in day Marcia Thom-Kaley
Marcia Thom-Kaley hugs a new student on Move-in Day 2016.

“A living-learning community is really concerned with the whole student. It’s about, how can we make this collegiate experience something that addresses and affects every bit of who you are as a human being?” she explains.

Over the past year, she’s chaired a college-wide committee that discusses student persistence and resilience. Thom-Kaley is convinced that living-learning communities can be a big part of the solution.

“My philosophy is that if we can increase student persistence, we don’t have a retention problem,” she says.

She’s already taken some practical steps toward making her living-learning initiative a reality. A new assistant director of student life, Jessica Austin, is already here, and a director of student life, who will also serve as director of residence life, will join the College in July.

Randolph Hall
First-year-students at Sweet Briar will live in historic Randolph Hall.

In the meantime, Thom-Kaley is beginning to build her support teams for each new student. There will be several “touch points” over the course of the summer between the team and first-year students, with the big welcome happening at orientation in August. By then, Randolph will be divided into “town themes” based on student interests, which will be collected in a survey over the summer. The survey will make it easier for student life to pair roommates, and the themed floors will help new arrivals feel connected when they move in.

“We want the residential life atmosphere to be a place of comfort and a place of ‘home’ to our students,” says Thom-Kaley.

Vixens honored at 2018 Sweet Briar Athletic Awards Banquet

Samantha Yew
Crysler Award winner Samantha Yew (center) with President Meredith Woo and head tennis coach Dustin Hale

Senior tennis student-athlete Samantha Yew and dual-sport senior Elizabeth Phaup walked away with top honors as the Crysler Award honoree and Athlete of the Year, respectively, Tuesday evening at the Sweet Briar Athletic Awards Banquet in Prothro Dining Hall.

In addition to awards, the athletic department presented varsity letters to four-year student-athletes and senior student-athletes who competed in three years of a varsity sport, recognized departing staff members and the 2017-18 Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

The evening was headlined by the presentation of the prestigious Crysler Award, which was presented to Yew (The Bronx, N.Y.). The Crysler Award is considered the most prestigious of the Sweet Briar Athletic Awards and has been presented since 1979 to an outstanding four-year student-athlete at Sweet Briar. The award, named after Cannie Crysler Shafer ’78, honors the athlete for her continuous commitment, sportsmanship and achievement in sport.

Phaup (Amherst, Va.), a member of the soccer and lacrosse programs, was honored as the Athlete of the Year for 2017-18. After being recognized as the Class of 1977 Sportsmanship Award winner last spring, Phaup earned Athlete of the Year after demonstrating outstanding achievement in her sports through athletic excellence and sportsmanship.

The Coaches Award, presented to a graduating student-athlete who participated in a minimum of three sports in a varsity sport, was awarded to field hockey senior Chelsea McKinney (Lynchburg, Va.).

First-year swimmer Sarah Ahson (Manassas, Va.) earned recognition as the Susan Lehman Courage Award honoree, presented to a student-athlete who has demonstrated courage above and beyond the usual rigors of training and competition.

Tennis sophomore Emily Wandling (Mechanicsville, Va.) received the Class of 1977 Sportsmanship Award, presented to a student-athlete based on sportsmanship, leadership, team spirit and commitment to varsity sports at Sweet Briar.

The Jean Pschirrer Freshman Athlete Award was presented to first-year field hockey goalkeeper Rosemary Austin (Commerce Township, Mich.). The Freshman Athlete Award is presented to a first-year student-athlete demonstrating dedication, motivation, sportsmanship and true love of her sport.

Dual-sport sophomore Lacey Tucker (Swansboro, N.C.), a member of the soccer and tennis programs, was honored with the Whiteman Scholar-Athlete Award. The Whiteman Award is presented to a student-athlete with a grade point average above 3.3 who has demonstrated sportsmanship and outstanding achievement in her sport.

The Sweet Briar Student-Athlete Advisory Committee presented the 2017-18 Robert Barlow Faculty/Staff Award to Barb Watts, director of career services.

Each coach added to the award ceremony by selecting a Pink and Green Award winner from their respective teams. Below is a list of Pink and Green honorees.

  • Cross-country: Lydia Gullicksen (Sr., Nantucket, Mass.)
  • Field Hockey: Rachel Rogers (Sr., Providence Forge, Va.)
  • Golf: Rebecca Parrish (Sr., Abingdon, Md.)
  • Lacrosse: Victoria Lawson (So., Shipman, Va.)
  • Soccer: Alexa Dahlin (Sr., Lynchburg, Va.)
  • Swimming: Claire Zak (Sr., Saint Cloud, Fla.)
  • Tennis: Anna Colvin (Sr., Bethlehem, Pa.)

Centra award for student research at Sweet Briar goes to psychology major

Emily Schlosberg with Centra
Emily Schlosberg ’19 (center) with Dr. Brenda Stokes, chair of the governance committee at Centra Medical Group, and H. Lester Reed, M.D., president of Centra Medical Group

Emily Schlosberg ’19 has been named this year’s recipient of the Centra Health Award of Excellence in Student Scientific Research and Collaborative Innovation, a research prize created in 2016 by Centra Health System’s Centra Medical Group through a partnership with Sweet Briar College. The award was first given out last year. Dr. Les Reed, president of Centra Medical Group, presented the $500 prize to Schlosberg on Thursday, April 26, following the Pannell Honors Scholars Fair in Mary Helen Cochran Library.

Centra established the annual award to reward a student researcher from Sweet Briar for a completed project in the areas of science and technology or science and medicine. The company, based in Lynchburg, is a regional health care system serving more than 380,000 people throughout Central and southern Virginia.

Schlosberg, a psychology and sociology double major from Fairfax Station, won the 2017 award for her contribution to a project started in 2015 by psychology professor Jessica Salvatore. Schlosberg was part of a team of students in PSYC 310 — Experimental Psychology that worked on an aspect of Salvatore’s project that Schlosberg calls “Correcting Misperceived Mental Health Norms.”

“I invited Emily — and two other students who graduated last year — to work on this, which was a real vote of confidence since I was entrusting them to extend a research project that I am really excited about and hope to publish soon,” Salvatore explains. “I thought it was a good candidate for the Centra award since it relates to mental health norms — specifically, classroom trigger warnings.”

Adds Schlosberg, “Oftentimes people think that others need trigger warnings more than they actually do. This research was aimed at helping to better align students’ and professors’ expectations, and at helping professors to use trigger warnings correctly.”

Salvatore says she is proud of Schlosberg’s work, which includes three contributions in particular.

“First, replicating a dataset that showed these misperceptions; second, designing and testing an intervention that proved to be successful; and third — this is Emily’s unique contribution — encouraging me to extend the dataset in a novel and useful way: to probe faculty accuracy,” Salvatore says.

NCEA team in Texas
Schlosberg (second from left) and her NCEA teammates in Waco, Texas

Initial news of the award came the week before last while Schlosberg, an active rider and president of her class, was representing Sweet Briar at a national competition.

“I actually found out I won while I was competing at the NCEA National Championships in Texas with the Sweet Briar riding team,” she said. “It was a nice surprise, and the whole team was very excited for me, which was a great feeling.”

Schlosberg rides on all three College teams — the National Collegiate Equestrian Association, which Sweet Briar just joined last fall, as well as the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association and the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. This summer, she plans to work and compete with a young horse while studying for her GRE. Next semester, she’ll also be head of the Riding Council.

Schlosberg hopes the award will improve her chances of getting into her top-choice graduate schools. And she has a lot going for her already: She’s on the Academic Advisory Committee for sociology, is a 2019 judicial representative and serves as the non-academic judicial chairwoman.

Girls on the Run returns to Sweet Briar campus for spring 5K

Girls on the Run
Girls on the Run of Central Virginia participants start the race in a cross-country wave during the council’s spring 2017 5K at Sweet Briar College. Photo by Karen Smith Photographer

Once every spring and fall, the Sweet Briar campus turns into a sea of happy hair that is running, jogging or walking along the picturesque Dairy Loop. With a couple of small loops added on, the route makes up a perfect 5K — ideal for Girls on the Run of Central Virginia and one of its two Spring Celebration 5Ks. The race starts at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, May 5, with pre-race activities scheduled to begin at 8 a.m.

As in previous years, the challenging 5K course loops around the center of Sweet Briar’s stunning 3,250-acre campus. Setting off with a cross-country “wave” start on the athletic fields near the train station, the runners will head onto the main road that leads past Guion Science Center, the Babcock Fine Arts Center and the Fitness and Athletics Center. After passing Sweet Briar House on the left and Fletcher Hall on the right, runners will make a left down Elijah Road, loop around physical plant and back up to the traffic circle, turning left on Chapel Road. Crossing the student parking lot, they will pick up Dairy Road and head up the hill toward the riding center. After passing the horse paddocks, they will climb Monument Hill before heading back down to the athletic fields where they’ll cross the finish line.

Girls on the Run of Central Virginia is an independent Council of Girls on the Run International, a network of more than 200 councils across 50 states and the District of Columbia. Girls spend 12 weeks in the program, including training to prepare for the semiannual 5K — a culminating event that recognizes and celebrates their efforts.

Girls on the Run finish line
Girls on the Run participants near the finish line during the spring 2017 5K at Sweet Briar College. Photo by Karen Smith Photographer

Since fall 2011, Sweet Briar has proudly supported the program and its mission to “inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.” It provides a picturesque route, as well as student and staff volunteers to help direct traffic, as running buddies and with pre-race activities such as face painting and the “happy-hair” station. Celebration 5Ks take place each fall and spring.

Council director Mary Hansen is expecting more than 275 girls for the May event, along with their coaches, volunteers, family and friends and community runners. In all, about 800 people will be on campus for the event.

“We continue to be so thankful to Sweet Briar College for hosting this celebratory 5K event,” Hansen said. “The mission of Girls on the Run is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident. The mission of Sweet Briar College is to prepare women to be productive, responsible members of a world community. Combined, these two missions help create a formidable group of individuals ready for their futures.”

It has been 13 years since Hansen began setting up the Central Virginia council, launching the program one year later at Holy Cross Regional School. In 2006, there were two teams with a total of 26 girls. Last year, the council served 1,100 girls.

For more information, email girlsontheruncenva@verizon.net, visit the council’s website or follow them on Facebook.

Admissions Blog: Smart study habits for college

Library studyOne key to success in college is developing study habits that will make you successful — without making you a workaholic. In other words, you’ll have to figure out how to study most effectively. To help you get started, here are my personal study habit dos and don’ts — or what I like to call the “roses and briars” of studying!

  1. Rose: Finding somewhere comfortable to study

Find somewhere you could sit for a long period of time if necessary without getting unreasonably uncomfortable. It’s important to be able to focus when you are studying, and you won’t be able to do that if you are having to readjust every few minutes.

  1. Briar: Studying somewhere that is too comfortable

Being comfortable is important, but being too comfortable can be dangerous. Try to avoid studying somewhere you could easily fall asleep — like in your bed or laid out on a couch. Most dorm rooms have a desk, so that is always a good option if you want to be close to your bed. If you are going to be up late and don’t want to disturb your roommate, Sweet Briar also has common rooms in every dormitory — or you can go to the library!

  1. Rose: Including friends in your study session

Friends who are willing to study with you can be a great asset. Even if you are not studying for the same class, you can hold each other accountable and try to make sure there is more studying going on than texting. That being said, having friends to study with can also be a distraction, so you have to be careful about making sure that studying is the top priority for both of you.

  1. Briar: Waiting to study until the last moment

If you know you have a test coming up, start studying a few days in advance so you have time to ask questions in class about things of which you are unsure. This will also leave you time to attend your professor’s office hours if you need a larger concept explained. This is especially true if you are taking a class that involves a lot of memorization. Being able to go over the information over a few days instead of cramming the night before will allow for you to actually learn the material instead of knowing it for a few hours and then forgetting it after the test.

  1. Rose: Knowing what works for you

I have shared some of the things that have helped me over the last few years, but the most important thing to take away from this is that different people study differently. I really like using flashcards and reading articles about the concepts I need to learn, but other people might need to rewrite their notes or draw out cell structures on the whiteboard. Find what works for you and fine-tune it during your time in college. Having a learning process that is quick and efficient is a skill you can continue to use well after you cross the stage at graduation.

McKenna SnyderMcKenna Snyder ’20 is a double major in philosophy and government with a minor in religion. She is from “the greatest city on Earth” — Knoxville, Tenn. — and the only problem she has with Sweet Briar is that it’s a Pepsi campus.

Sweet Briar Tennis honors Class of 2018 on Senior Day

Tennis Senior DayAs Sweet Briar Tennis wraps up its season, the Vixens celebrated the Class of 2018 during Senior Day on Friday, April 13, against ODAC rival Hollins University. This year’s honorees are Anna Colvin, Samantha Yew and AJ Lukanuski.

Anna Colvin, of Bethlehem, Pa., is a mathematical economics and French double major. On the dean’s list since 2015, she was a Who’s Who in American Colleges honoree in 2017 and is a member of Alpha Lambda Delta, Pi Delta Phi and Omicron Delta Epsilon. Colvin spent her junior year studying abroad with Sweet Briar’s JYF in Paris, is the Class of 2018 treasurer, a financial aid student assistant and a member of three tap clubs.

“I chose Sweet Briar because this is where I felt the most self-development was possible,” she says.

Anna Colvin
Anna Colvin

Athletics has had a big impact on her work ethic, Colvin adds. “Being a student-athlete has given me structure and purpose while on campus. I have a routine and a team that I strive to impress. I work harder in general, because I know the influence that’ll have on the team. Athletics has really shown me that communication and diligence can make all the difference in any situation.”

Colvin will take that determination with her when she graduates next month. Her plan? To work in the finance or legal field “for a few years” before pursuing a degree in international financial law.

Coming from the Bronx, N.Y., teammate Samantha Yew has a similar academic background. Like Colvin, the business and economics double major is looking for real-world experience first before pursuing graduate study — in her case, an MBA. A resident advisor, Yew is also a member of Alpha Lambda Delta. She’s in two tap clubs and previously served as an admissions ambassador, a judicial representative and secretary, and on the Academic Affairs Committee.

Samantha Yew
Samantha Yew

Like so many students at Sweet Briar, Yew was attracted by the beautiful campus — and something else. “All faculty and staff are very supportive of my goals,” she says. “It has been such a unique experience at Sweet Briar with so many wonderful opportunities — including internship opportunities I got because of the support of the alumnae.”

Sweet Briar Athletics, Yew says, has taught her to excel in the classroom and on the court, and it’s made her feel part of something special.

“Time management is a skill that I have learned over my years of being a student-athlete. From the beginning, you have to learn how to prioritize your time to manage both practice, matches and school,” she explains. “Overall, being an athlete here at Sweet Briar gave me a second family. I can always count on my coach and my teammates to help me through a tough time or when I just need someone to talk to. My favorite memories of the tennis team are always our spring break trip to Hilton Head Island. We stay in a house together, which really bonds the team, especially over our ‘family dinners.’”

Fellow senior AJ Lukanuski, too, appreciates the sisterhood she has experienced at Sweet Briar. It’s what made her want to attend — combined with the College’s ABET-accredited Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 Engineering Program.

AJ Lukanuski
AJ Lukanuski

“My mother and aunt both attended Sweet Briar in the 80s,” says the engineering major and math minor from Richmond. “I knew about the school growing up, but didn’t seriously consider it until I decided to graduate early from high school. I wanted the nurturing environment with rigorous academics that Sweet Briar offers.”

A member of the QV Club, Lukanuski interned last summer with the Virginia Department of Transportation in Richmond and already has a job lined up. Starting in September, she’ll work at NAVAIR in Cherry Point, N.C. But first, she has some traveling to do. “Two summers ago, I backpacked Europe,” she told us. “And three summers ago, I drove across the country by myself — from the Smoky Mountains to the Rocky Mountains, stopping in multiple cities and National Parks.” This summer, she’s going back to Europe.

While a lot of that fierce Vixen spirit may be in her DNA, Sweet Briar Athletics has done its part to fuel and sustain it — and it’s inspired a lasting love of the sport.

“Athletics has pushed me to know what I can accomplish physically and mentally,” Lukanuski says. “It also gave me a great outlet for stress. I know I will play tennis for the rest of my life.”

Admissions Blog: 5 things to know about your first year at Sweet Briar

Girls at boathouse Accepted Applicant WeekendFirst of all, know that I am incredibly jealous that you are just starting your journey at Sweet Briar. I do not regret my choices, but instead wish I could go back and do it all over again. As a first-year, you have reached a place in your life that lends itself to great exploration. As a senior looking back, there are a few things I wish I had known coming in. Buckle up and get ready for some of the best years of your life!

  1. You don’t have to have your life planned out.

In fact, you shouldn’t! The best part about your first year in a new place is that you have a chance to grow and change. Don’t declare your major right away — allow yourself to explore things that you might be passionate about. While you might love biology right now, you may decide that art history is a passion you’d like to pursue.

  1. Challenges will come your way.

And you will overcome them! Sweet Briar is a place that encourages you to be tenacious, energetic and informed. Any obstacle that you face in the years to come will simply be a learning experience you’ll grow to cherish. Not only will you feel confident overcoming challenges, you’ll seek them out.

  1. Have a growth mindset.

You’re going to meet people that are incredibly different from you. Unlike at larger institutions, you’re going to have to work with them for the next four years of your life. This is going to make you extremely marketable and well-rounded once you leave college. Being open to — and understanding of — those around you is going to take you far!

  1. Friend groups change.

You can almost guarantee that they will. It’s a normal part of becoming an adult and living in a new place. The best way to prepare? Allow yourself a random roommate and mingle with as many people as you can! Shifts in relationships are bound to happen when you’re living in a new place, with people who are still figuring out who they are.

  1. Remember to have fun!

When you first arrive, you’re going to be overwhelmed — and that’s okay. Just remember to take a deep breath and do something that you enjoy. Take a walk down to the boathouse, grab lunch off campus with a friend, strike up a conversation with someone new, or take a personal day that leads you down a fantastic new Netflix show (I always recommend “Friends”!).

Overall, your first year at Sweet Briar is going to be filled with many amazing opportunities. You’re going to learn so much about yourself, grow in ways that you didn’t know were possible, and create bonds that will last a lifetime. In the blink of an eye, you’ll be exactly where I am — a month away from graduating, hoping you, too, could start all over again and relive some of the best years of your life.

Emily Hawk '18Senior Emily Hawk is a student ambassador in the admissions office. A liberal studies major with a minor in psychology, she plans to stay at Sweet Briar for another year to complete her M.A.T. In between classes and campus tours, the Goochland, Va., native serves as publicity officer in the Student Government Association.

Sweet Briar awards 2018 Friends of Art prizes to student writers, composer and visual artist

Catherine photo
“Catherine,” detail, by Courtney Nelson ’20

Once a year, Sweet Briar students get inspired by the College’s vast art collection to create their own works of art — from essays to short stories or poems, from music compositions to photographs and paintings. On Monday, the Sweet Briar College Friends of Art announced the winners of its 2018 student prizes.

There are awards for Writing and Studio Art, as well as a Multidisciplinary prize. In recognition of the College’s new Living with Art initiative, a fourth category was added this year for students wishing to write about their experience of choosing a work of art for their dorm room and coming to know that work over the past academic year. Each prize comes with a $500 award. All submissions were inspired by a work of art in the College’s permanent collection, which encompasses more than 4,000 pieces.

Courtney Nelson
Courtney Nelson

The Studio Art Prize was awarded to Richmond native Courtney Nelson ’20 for her photograph “Catherine,” which is based on the photograph “Domestic: Miggie and Ilene” by Catherine Opie. Opie’s piece was displayed last spring during Sweet Briar’s “116” exhibition in Pannell Gallery, which included 116 works of art, as well as artifacts, to tell 116 years of College history.

“I made a slow circle around the gallery,” recalls Nelson, a sociology and environmental studies double major. “I stopped. An eye-catching flash of flesh among a mesmerizing blue pool left me in deep thought.”

That image, she says, stuck with her for a long time. “The photo was provocative yet simultaneously innocent and peaceful. When working on my own photography project, Opie’s piece stayed in my mind and I would constantly have images pop into my head of what I wanted to capture. The idea of a woman in a white dress floating in the water came to me; I couldn’t let it go.”

Nelson took the picture at Sweet Briar’s Lower Lake in early April of last year.

“Despite the cold water, she portrayed the innocence and serenity I envisioned in my head,” Nelson says. “In addition, the sheerness of the dress reminded me of the vulnerability of being exposed similar to Opie’s photo. I am grateful that I was able to find inspiration for my own work in Sweet Briar’s collection.”

Music major Ellis Carroll ’20, from Crofton, Md., won the Multidisciplinary Prize for her composition “Misty Morning.” Carroll was inspired by the photograph “Morning Jewels” by Sweet Briar professor and internationally renowned photojournalist Medford Taylor.

Ellis Carroll
Ellis Carroll ’20

“My composition was originally a graphic score, which means it was just lines and shapes on a page,” Carroll explains. “I took those graphics and played it on the piano until I was satisfied with how it sounded, then input it into a Musical Instrument Digital Interface in [Sweet Briar’s] Sound Art Production and Analysis (SARPA) studio. From this program, I was able to use a piano, cello and viola to create the original melody, more texture and add layers into the piece. Medford Taylor’s piece helped inspire me because I saw the relationship between my own compositional process and the spider’s process of creating its web.”

When she isn’t experimenting in the sound studio, Carroll participates in the voice program and choir, which is currently recording the College’s century-old Sweet Briar Song Book. It’s a fitting project for the legacy student, whose mother, Priscilla Newton, attended Sweet Briar in the 1980s. “I wanted to come to Sweet Briar because it has such a personalized experience for learning, with hands-on activities in classes, small class sizes and faculty that are actively engaged in your educational experience,” Carroll says.

This year, the Writing Prize was shared by two students. Sophomore Raven Minyard, of Hohenwald, Tenn., received it for a critical essay about the photograph “Edith and Grandmother, Christmas 1969” by Emmet Gowin.

“I originally wrote this essay for my Survey of Art History I class last semester,” says the English and creative writing major. “For the assignment, we were supposed to pick a piece of art from the ‘GRRRL Power’ exhibit in Pannell Gallery, and while there were so many pieces that I liked, I kept going back to ‘Edith and Her Grandmother.’ There was just something about it that really captivated me, which was actually surprising to me since I generally prefer paintings to photography. There was this overall defiant mood to the photo, and I knew there was a lot to be said about it and how it related to feminism. I really liked how Edith had no shame about exposing herself to the camera, and even though this is all we see of her, I thought her character was worth further exploration.”

Raven Minyard
Raven Minyard ’20 in the library

Senior Emma Thom, an English and creative writing major from Lynchburg, impressed the judges with her short story “Try to Remember,” which was inspired by Félix Bracquemond’s “Geese in a Storm” — and by her own family history.

“The story is about a woman in her late 20s named Virginia,” Thom says. “She is a wife and a mother and is from a rural neighborhood in North Carolina. At the heart of this story is Virginia’s journey with her mother’s Alzheimer’s, an unrelenting disease that took control of my own grandmother’s life. A few of the hallucinations mentioned in the piece are ones my grandmother experienced and, though comical, were sort of terrifying in their strangeness. My mother was told that my grandmother had mentally left this world and she wasn’t coming back. I wanted to attempt to capture the ways in which my mother entered that other world and continued to love and care for my grandmother as if caring for a newborn or a toddler.”

Emma Thom
Emma Thom ’18

Thom chose Braquemond’s piece because she liked the idea of an impending storm in her story.

“It can serve to add a great deal of tension,” she explains. “I love the rural landscape in the etching and the way the sun is carefully peering through the clouds. The final moment in this story with Virginia and her mother depicts the two of them in this open field, surrounded by geese, and Virginia notices the sun grazing her mother, making her seem almost angelic.”

The Living with Art Prize was awarded to Stafford native and music major Katherine Leaver ’18 for her essay “Living with Salvador Dali’s ‘Velasquez’.”

“I wrote the essay over spring break, when I had some distance from campus,” she says. “I have been talking about the Dali piece pretty much from the day I got it, but being more reflective took a few more weeks.”

A photo post on the College’s Facebook page — part of a series to illustrate President Woo’s new initiative — featured Leaver in her room with the piece. The comments it sparked from alumnae, parents and students also served as inspiration for the candid essay.

“It’s funny, but my hair is wild in the picture, just like Velasquez’s in the etching,” Leaver writes in her essay, which describes how she became acquainted with Dali’s piece: “The work was hung in my room over Thanksgiving break, and when I returned, Velasquez was staring at the library. At first I was concerned; I’m a colorful and bright person, and the etching is in black and white. But after a few days, I started warming up to the actual piece, not just the artist. The piece itself is small, with Velasquez seemingly made from scribbles. I stared at it a lot at first, trying to memorize all the squiggles. I’ve even started trying to doodle in the same style. I learned I should have taken a drawing class during my time here at Sweet Briar.”

Living with Art Katie Leaver
Katie Leaver ’18 in her room with Dali’s work above her desk

Like Carroll, Leaver is a member of the choir and is recording the Sweet Briar Song Book — a process that is reflected in her Senior Thesis. She is also the vice captain of Skiffle USA, president of GLOW and secretary of the Inter-club Council. “The first time I chose Sweet Briar, I loved the people and the promises of what my four years here would look like,” she recalls. “I chose Sweet Briar a second time for the opportunities to help shape a new Sweet Briar that would be viable for the future.”

Faculty judges for the FOA awards this year included Professor of Art History Chris Witcombe; Julia Jackson Nichols Professor of English John Gregory Brown; Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Melora Kordos; Professor of Studio Art Laura Pharis; and Professor of English and Creative Writing Carrie Brown, who also serves as director of the Center for Creativity, Design and the Arts. Several members of the Friends of Art board also served as judges. They included Susan Stephens Geyer ’74, Elinor Plowden Boyd ’74, May Carter Barger ‘81 and Mary Page Stewart ’78.

“The Living with Art initiative inspired by President Woo, and the renewed presence of artworks in common rooms and public spaces on campus, represented an enormous undertaking for faculty and staff,” Carrie Brown said. “Both efforts suggest the value the community places on art in general and on the value of art in humanizing — and beautifying — the physical spaces in which we live and work. It was a pleasure to see the range of student submissions for all the prizes this year and to know that every year, these prizes help deepen the students’ relationship with art and with the College’s collection specifically.”

Women’s College Coalition taps Sweet Briar president as new board member

Meredith WooSweet Briar College President Meredith Woo has joined the board of directors of the Women’s College Coalition. Woo was confirmed at the board’s last meeting in February.

“I’m incredibly honored to join the board of the Women’s College Coalition during this crucial time for single-sex institutions,” Woo said. “Women’s colleges are now more relevant than ever, because progress in equal rights has not — as some would like to think — led to equal opportunity. There is a lot of work to do. It is our job to change the status quo, and to empower women to take charge.”

Woo’s term will last for three years.

“We are thrilled to have President Woo bring her experience and expertise to help guide the Women’s College Coalition at this important time in our history,” said Michele Ozumba, president of the Women’s College Coalition. “Her willingness to serve reflects her deep commitment to our mission and to our network of women’s colleges and universities across North America.”

Before joining Sweet Briar in May 2017, Woo was director of the Global Higher Education Program for the Open Society Foundations, based in London, where her program supported more than 50 colleges and universities over the past 20 years, mostly in the former Soviet bloc countries.

Woo previously served as the University of Virginia’s dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences; held appointments at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and Northwestern University; and consulted with the World Bank, the U.S. Trade Representative, Asian Development Bank and the MacArthur Foundation.

An expert on international political economy and East Asian politics, Woo has written and edited seven books, and was the executive producer of an award-winning documentary film, “Koryo Saram: The Unreliable People,” about Joseph Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of Koreans living in Far Eastern Russia during the Great Terror.

A native of Seoul who was educated in Seoul and Tokyo through high school, Woo came to the U.S. to study at Bowdoin College in Maine. She completed her master’s and doctoral degrees in international affairs, Latin American studies and political science at Columbia University.

The mission of the Women’s College Coalition is to transform the world through the education and success of women and girls. The Women’s College Coalition serves member colleges and universities in the United States and Canada by conducting collaborative research; introducing women and their families to women’s colleges through admissions advocacy programs; and bringing together women’s college leaders to collaborate and to explore the issues in higher education today.

Sweet Briar rider qualifies for IHSA Nationals in USEF/Cacchione Cup

Makayla Benjamin
Makayla Benjamin qualified for IHSA Nationals last weekend.

After competing in Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association Regionals and Zones over the past month, Sweet Briar senior Makayla Benjamin has qualified to compete for the prestigious USEF/Cacchione Cup at IHSA Nationals in Harrisburg, Pa.

The USEF/Cacchione Cup is awarded to the national individual hunter seat high-point rider each year.

Benjamin is one of 24 riders from across the nation qualified to compete for the USEF/Cacchione Cup, with three riders coming from each of the eight regions across the nation. She will compete against riders from schools across the country, including Stanford, Georgia Tech, Tufts and Penn State.

The last Vixen to compete at nationals in the USEF/Cacchione Cup was Olivia Smith in 2014. Smith placed ninth overall after scoring a total 162 points, with 77 points in phase one and 85 in phase two. Benjamin joins Smith and Jodie Weber as Sweet Briar riders to have competed for the USEF/Cacchione Cup since 2006. Weber finished fourth in 2006, while Smith finished 33rd in 2013 and ninth in 2014.

Benjamin qualified thanks to her performance at the Zone 4 show, hosted by Virginia Tech in Greensboro, N.C. She came in fourth in open fences and seventh in open flat. Jade Ashley ’20 was third in walk, trot. Joining Benjamin from Zone 4 at nationals will be Cary Hundley of Goucher and Sabrina Vlacich of St. Andrews.

As a team, the Vixens finished fifth in Zone 4, with only nine points separating them from the champion, St. Andrews. Virginia Tech was the reserve champion.

In the team competition, Benjamin placed fifth in open fences and second in open flat. Jules Sudol ’18 and Lily Peterson ’21 both scored a third place — Sudol in intermediate flat and Peterson in intermediate fences. Katie Balding ’21 came in second in novice flat and novice fences. Abbey Narodowy ’20 was fifth in walk, trot, canter, while classmate Cassie Mills scored a fourth-place finish in walk, trot.

IHSA Nationals are scheduled to begin on May 3 and conclude on May 6 in Harrisburg, Pa.

Final IHSA Zone 4 team standings:

Champion: St. Andrews University (39 points)
Reserve Champion: Virginia Tech (36 points)
Third: Goucher College (32 points)
Fourth: Randolph College (31 points)
Fifth: Sweet Briar College (30 points)

Sweet Briar celebrates 91st Annual Horse Show

Horse jumpingSweet Briar College will celebrate its 91st Annual Horse Show on Saturday, April 14. The event is recognized by the Southwest Virginia Hunter Jumper Association and is open to the public. Admission for spectators is free and concessions will be available.

The 2018 event will kick off at 8:30 a.m. at the 130-acre Harriet Howell Rogers Riding Center on campus. As is tradition, individual riders will compete in a variety of hunter and equitation classes at heights from 2 feet to 3 feet, 6 inches. Riders in equitation classes will be judged on position and accuracy, as well as the effectiveness of the partnership between horse and rider. Hunter over-fences classes will be judged on the performance of the horse.

The 91st Annual Horse Show will feature several special trophies and awards, including the Fayette-Brown Challenge Trophy, awarded since 1950 to the Sweet Briar rider who demonstrates the best horsemanship and sportsmanship throughout the show. A panel of judges, among them show judge E. Sue Bopp, will select the winner.

Another historically important award, given since 1968 to the show’s Adult Hunter Division champion, is the Harriet Howell Rogers Challenge Trophy. Last year, Olivia Fabian Slocum ’18 and Sweet Briar’s Lord of the Dance were awarded the trophy.

A new prize this year is the Preston R. Brown Horsemanship Award, which recognizes students who exemplify the qualities of horse care, kindness and attention to detail that the late Preston Brown shared with the Sweet Briar College riding program for more than 30 years.

A plaque with the names of the recipients will be posted at the riding center.

“This show is one of the highlights of the year for Sweet Briar,” says Mimi Wroten ’93, director of the College’s riding program and ODAC Coach of the Year in 2012, 2015 and 2016. “It is a wonderful way to celebrate our student-riders and our program.”

Outside competitors may view the prize list online or request it from Sweet Briar’s riding program by calling 434-381-6116.

For more information, email Pam Self at pself@sbc.edu.

Sweet Briar Lacrosse celebrates two Virginians on Senior Day

Lacrosse teamSweet Briar’s lacrosse team will celebrate Senior Day at noon on Saturday, April 7, with a home game against Randolph College. Before the action gets underway, the Vixens will honor Elizabeth Phaup, of Amherst, and A’Shawnta Sherman, of Richmond.

Both have made a tremendous impact on their team and will be missed at Sweet Briar, says Coach Meredith Newman.

“Liz has been a leader on and off the field for the lacrosse team ever since I arrived in August 2016,” Newman said. “As a player, she puts in significant hours outside of practice and encourages her teammates to do the same. She challenges herself in practice and lives by the philosophy that she will not be outworked. As a regular contributor all over the field, her presence will be missed, but her legacy will live on well beyond her time at Sweet Briar.”

Replacing Sherman will be just as challenging, Newman adds.

“A’shawnta stepped up in the fall of 2016 as a first-year goalie and hasn’t stopped improving ever since. A vocal leader on defense and a stalwart force in the cage, ‘Te-Tay’ has helped to keep us in games by coming up with big saves and starting the transition back to our offensive end. Always ready with a quick joke and a light-hearted personality, we are facing a tall order in finding her successor heading into next year.”

Liz Phaup
Liz Phaup

A psychology major, Phaup is a multisport-athlete, celebrating Senior Day last fall as a member of the soccer team. Off the field, Phaup is involved in Falls on Nose and Sweet Dancers and leads the weekly Bible study at Sweet Briar. An outdoor enthusiast, she worked last summer as a tour guide in Alaska. This coming summer, she’ll be working and taking online classes before applying to Lynchburg College’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.

As far as she’s concerned, graduation can’t come soon enough — even though she’s enjoying her final semester.

“I feel like I have truly been able to appreciate what I have learned — in my classes and from my coaches — without taking it for granted,” Phaup said. “I have learned that I can handle more than I thought I was capable of. I never thought I was the kind of person who can overload on classes, work, play sports and have good grades, but now I am that person! I don’t think I could have become that person without the guidance, help and advice of my professors, coaches and parents. They’ve helped me along the way and taught me how to not only do everything, but excel in whatever I am doing.”

A'Shawnta Sherman
A’Shawnta Sherman (center) protects the Vixens’ goal.

That fierce, can-do spirit resonates with her teammate, too. Like Phaup, Sherman practices two sports. When she isn’t guarding the Vixens’ lacrosse goal, the anthropology major can be found running on Sweet Briar’s cross-country team. A recipient of the 2016-2017 Coaches’ Award, Sherman also is a member of the Black Student Alliance and various other clubs on campus.

Her Sweet Briar experience has been unforgettable, she says.

“Being an athlete has been one of the most trying, but equally rewarding, experiences I’ve had here at Sweet Briar,” Sherman said. “Apart from the physical aspect of being an athlete, mentally, it caused me to push boundaries that I didn’t know I had. Coach Newman is fostering a culture that forces us to believe in ourselves and each other. She urges each of us to BE SOMEBODY, and that will stick with me for the rest of my life.”

Admissions Blog: Summer internship success stories

Liz Phaup in AlaskaThere’s only one way to gain experience in something, and that’s to actually, physically do it. Yes, we’re talking about internships. At Sweet Briar, 80 percent of students intern at least once during their time here. (If you’re an engineering student, make that 100 percent.)

While you might be strapped for time during the academic year, summer offers plenty of opportunities to boost your résumé with some real-world skills. Take a look at some of the jobs Sweet Briar students landed last year!

Liz Phaup IGPsychology major and dual-sport athlete Elizabeth Phaup ’18 traveled to Alaska to work as a sea kayak guide. “The scenery up here is incredible — it’s so beautiful, it often doesn’t seem real!” she told us.

Meanwhile, English and creative writing major Emma Thom ’18 completed a Virginia Business Magazine Journalism Internship — before heading to England with the Virginia Program at Oxford.

Alexa Dahlin InstagramAlexa Dahlin ’18, a business major who is pursuing an Arts Management Certificate, spent her summer in Charlottesville helping The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative with fundraising and event management.

Government major and journalism minor Mattie Nicholson ’18 interned in Harrisburg, Pa., with the Ridge Policy Group, a bipartisan government relations and issue management firm.

Emily Schlosberg IGPsychology and sociology double major Emily Schlosberg ’19 spent her summer interning at the Harriet Howell Rogers Riding Center on campus — a dream come true for the IHSA team member.

Six hours north, Jona Cumani ’18, a psychology major on the pre-med track, worked as an events and sports medicine intern with MedPrep Consulting Group in New York City.

Jona Cumani Instagram

Some colleges prioritize juniors and seniors for career services. At Sweet Briar, Director of Career Services Barb Watts will work with you from the very start to secure relevant internships throughout your entire college journey. Visit our career services website to learn more!


Spring Dance Concert at Sweet Briar promises emotional roller coaster

Sweet Briar dancers
Sweet Briar dancers in the air. Photo by Andrew Wilds

Sweet Briar’s 2018 Spring Dance Concert promises a captivating range of emotions displayed in solos and group dances by program faculty and students. Performances take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 13, and Saturday, April 14, in Murchison Lane Auditorium in the Babcock Fine Arts Center. The event is free and open to the public.

Known for his innovative choreographies, Professor of Dance Mark Magruder has crafted a piece called “Departures” that uses both movement and spoken-word elements. “It’s about the departures that happen in all our lives: parents die, wars start, students graduate and colleges [decide to] close,” he explains.” At times, he adds, his dance is athletic, while at other times it may be “bordering on the comic absurd.”

Performers include junior Taylor Jefferson and sophomores Olympia LeHota, Haylei Libran, Cassie Mills and Rachel Woods, as well as Magruder. The music, “Thread,” is composed by his son-in-law, the jazz musician and upright bass player Chris Dammann.

Magruder’s wife, Ella, also a dance professor at Sweet Briar, has choreographed a piece called “Too Close.”

“It is trio about power relationships — the uncomfortable decisions and actions between people who are in close proximity to one another,” she says. Woods, senior Rachel Rogers and LeHota will dance in it.

Haylei Libran
Haylei Libran. Photo by Andrew Wilds

Rogers also will perform a solo she premiered in her recent Senior Dance Concert. “This piece really expresses raw emotion of dealing with injuries,” Magruder observes. “The pain and the ability to overcome them is shown with great vulnerability and strength.”

As is tradition at Sweet Briar, students have choreographed the majority of dances in the concert. There is “Hexed,” a high-energy, fast-paced dance created by Libran, who will also perform a solo she has choreographed called “Cosmic.”

“Haylei is running on a higher octane than most people,” Magruder says. “Remember not to blink in this dance or you might miss something!”

Jefferson will perform in “Nothing But Dust,” a solo she has choreographed to piano music, while Woods has devised a large group piece for eight dancers titled “Coexist.” There are two groups, Magruder explains, each “trying to make it in a world where they cannot exist together. The conflict between the groups is apparent as the groups struggle to find a solution to their opposing ideas. They want to coexist, but can’t seem to right this idea until the end.”

LeHota’s quartet “Athena” is inspired by the Greek goddess Athena, goddess of wisdom, the arts and strategic warfare. “The dancers use all of these aspects as they perform this group piece with many climactic moments,” Magruder says.

LeHota will also perform a solo called “Waiting for Spring,” which “draws on the dream-like state of a much awaited spring,” according to Magruder.

The final student contribution comes from M.A.T. candidate Vanessa Finnegan ’17, who has created a solo called “The Taste, The Sound.” It’s an abstract piece that focuses on “overwhelming sensory experiences,” says Magruder, including the “pleasure and pain of feeling.”

For more information, email Magruder at mmagruder@sbc.edu.

Admissions Blog: 5 fierce Sweet Briar women leaders 45 and under

Alumnae leadersSweet Briar alumnae are pretty amazing: They’re entrepreneurs and artists, lawyers, teachers and scientists. They’re explorers, innovators and leaders. They’re collaborators, community builders and change-makers. Here are some recent Sweet Briar women leaders you should know.

Leah Busque
Leah Busque

Leah Busque ’01: Founder and Chairwoman of TaskRabbit, California

Major: Mathematics and Computer Science
Ten years after founding TaskRabbit, receiving multiple awards and eventually stepping down as CEO to chair the company’s board, Leah Busque has turned her attention to funding other startups. Earlier this month, the Sweet Briar College board member talked to Bloomberg TV about her Silicon Valley venture fund Fuel Capital. Working with other women leaders in tech and politics, she also recently launched an initiative, Shine Together, that is “dedicated to celebrating and amplifying the awesome impact women have every day while simultaneously creating measurable opportunities for them around the world.” You can read more about it on Medium and join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtags #ShineOn and #ShineTogether.

Nicole File ’95: Senior Copy Editor at CNN, Atlanta

Nicole File
Nicole File with a street girl in Kolkata

Major: English and Creative Writing
Nicole File will probably never forget the day she walked into the wrong office building in Atlanta. A senior at Sweet Briar at the time, she was there during spring break to interview for a job at a law firm. Instead, she encountered a headhunter agency owned by two Sweet Briar alumnae. The chance encounter landed her a one-day gig at Turner Entertainment and eventually a permanent job at CNN. For the past 17 years, she has served as senior copy editor for the network. She’s in charge of the control room and all dayside shows, writes and edits all breaking news headlines and approves all graphics we see on our TV screens. She also has researched and written human trafficking stories for CNN’s Freedom Project — a cause she is extremely passionate about. (Read more about it in our 2013 magazine.) Nicole’s work at CNN has earned her multiple Peabody awards over the years. “Before [I came to Sweet Briar], I thought I had to be more like a man to be successful,” Nicole told us in a 2007 interview. “I learned you can be a woman and be just as accomplished.”

Emily Johnston ’02: Founder and Fashion Blogger at Fashion Foie Gras, London

Emily Johnston
Emily Johnston in a recent photo on her blog, Fashion Foie Gras

Major: Art History
Emily Johnston is living the dream. In 2009, the Sweet Briar grad was working a full-time PR job at an auction house in London when she launched her own fashion blog, Fashion Foie Gras. “It was exclusively fashion news, but it quickly developed into a lifestyle site, covering travel, food and fitness,” she told Stylist magazine in a recent interview. After two-and-a-half years of nighttime blogging, Emily realized her part-time gig was getting out of hand. “By that time, I was getting approached by different brands about advertising, so I took the plunge, quit my job and made this a career,” she said. Today, it’s all Emily does, jet-setting from one fashion week to another — and sometimes home to South Carolina — and blogging daily about whatever pops into her head. Her blog has been featured in Vogue, Glamour and the Huffington Post. In 2015, she also wrote a passionate piece about her Sweet Briar experience.

Heidi Trude ’07: French Teacher at Skyline High School in Front Royal, Virginia

Heidi Trude
Heidi Trude receiving her most recent award in March

Majors: French, History
When you’re doing what you love, you tend to get noticed for it. Heidi Trude has been racking up awards virtually from the day she became a teacher. A Google Certified Educator and Trainer, Heidi was Virginia’s 2017 Region IV Teacher of the Year and the 2017 David Cox Virginia World Language Teacher of the Year. This month, she was named the 2018 SCOLT World Language Teacher of the Year and is now one of five finalists for the ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year award. “I always look for the best in my students, [and] I like to incorporate active learning and differentiated instruction,” she told us in 2016. Heidi is especially passionate about creating global citizens in her classroom. In 2012, she established a partnership with the Lycee Bazin in Charleville-Mezieres, France, so her students could collaborate on projects with their French peers. Next month, Heidi will represent Virginia during a trip to France to work with the French Ministry of Education.

Leah Jorgensen ’96: Owner of Leah Jorgensen Cellars, Oregon

Leah Jorgensen
Leah Jorgensen during a special dinner

Major: English and Creative Writing
Earlier this month, Food & Wine magazine named Leah Jorgensen one of “15 Women in Wine to Watch” from around the globe. This isn’t the first time Jorgensen’s wines have been noticed. A few years ago, Leah Jørgensen Cellars was named a 2014 Oregon Winery to Watch by Winepress Northwest. “I’m still new at this in terms of production,” she told the magazine back then. “To me, this is not second nature. It’s even weird for me to call myself a winemaker.” Well, she certainly can call herself a winemaker now!

Want to know what other alumnae are doing with their Sweet Briar educations? Check out our profiles of Sweet Briar graduates in the arts, humanities, social sciences and STEM.

Senior Art Major’s Show at Sweet Briar is quiet exploration in still life

Jules Sudol
Jules Sudol during a class in the Art Barn

“What is important?” asks Jules Sudol in her artist’s statement. The business and studio art double major from Scottsville attempts to answer that question in her senior show, which opens with a reception at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 5, in Babcock Gallery at Sweet Briar College. The exhibition will be on view through May 12.

“My work highlights small moments in order to convey a few of life’s most simple or minuscule ideas,” she explains. “My need for detail in realism feeds an obsessive tendency and a fascination with light, texture and color. The pieces that I have created for my senior body of work are examinations of unique objects through oil paint, drawing and printmaking processes. The ability to convey minute details while also producing a richness of color and contrast have drawn me to these mediums.”

Last year, Sudol won the Friends of Art Studio Art Prize for “Shirt,” an oil painting depicting a denim shirt.

Sudol, Clean
Jules Sudol, “Clean,” 8 inches x 6 inches, colored pencil on paper

Her senior year, Sudol adds, has served to really hone her technique. “I am also further developing an eye for what makes a meaningful still life,” she writes. “When I select the objects to paint or draw, many of them are special or have a story, while others hold no specific meaning and are simply beautiful. … I am sure that my work varied from my first to second semester, but I tried to create a cohesive senior art show comprised of pieces that challenged and shaped me this year.”

There will be five or six large paintings, Sudol said during a quick interview last week, and “lots of drawings.” She’s not sure yet how many pieces she’ll be able to fit in the exhibit, but it’s clear she has been busy this past year. And there are more ideas popping into her head even now, as she is getting ready to frame. “[Professor] Laura [Pharis] always says, ‘Are you sure you can finish one more?’,” Sudol says, smiling. Then she glances at her watch. “I think I might have time to start another piece before class.”

A few seconds later, she is headed out the door.

Jules Sudol, Abyss
Jules Sudol, “Abyss,” detail, 12 inches x 24 inches, oil on canvas

There are lots of things that inspire Sudol. As a radio DJ on The Briar 92.7, she draws most of her inspiration from music — and she’s always listening to tunes when she’s working on her art. Nature is a big one for her, as is pop culture. At Sweet Briar, there is no shortage of the former, which Sudol gets to enjoy often as a rider and member of the College’s IHSA team. A few weeks ago, her team won the regional championship.

When she isn’t at the Art Barn or at the horse barn, Sudol serves as the student liaison on the Academic Affairs Committee and is a member of two tap clubs — the Bum Chums and Aints ‘n’ Asses. But not every minute is scheduled, and that’s important for Sudol.

“My favorite thing to do on campus is to just go off to somewhere like the boathouse or the fields and spend time with my friends,” she says.

Sudol chose Sweet Briar because it’s a women’s college. “I knew I wanted to come here early on in high school,” she remembers. “It means the world to me that I am getting my degree from here after everything that has happened with the school in the last four years.”

With its close-knit community, the College does seem like the perfect fit for Sudol, who counts her mother, grandmother and three siblings among her biggest supporters. They will be there for her, no doubt, when she takes the next steps in her career. Right now, Sudol is planning to move to Virginia Beach and work for a property management company she interned with last summer — while continuing to make art, of course. She’s envisioning a studio space in her house, and yes, one can assume there will be lots of music.

Babcock Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, email Sudol at sudol18@sbc.edu.

Sweet Briar’s March Days of Giving bring unprecedented results

Tree blossomsEach year, Sweet Briar College celebrates its March Days of Giving. This year, the College began the month with three goals: to raise $500,000 on March 1; to raise another $500,000 between March 2 and 10; and to have 2,000 individual donors before the end of the month.

The extended Sweet Briar community met the first goal, raising $567,166 on March 1. Alumnae, students, parents and friends rose to the second challenge, too, helped by a matching gift from an anonymous alumna and her family foundation, raising considerably more than $500,000 and doing it two days ahead of schedule, on March 8.

In total, through March 10, the Sweet Briar family raised $2,045,861, a record-breaking achievement. This is a significant increase over the preliminary results announced earlier this month.

In announcing these achievements to the community, President Meredith Woo expressed her gratitude. “Without your support, these accomplishments would not be possible,” she said.

The College has made remarkable progress toward its third goal as well, having received gifts from 1,144 donors so far in March. Gifts in support of that goal can be made through March 31 at sbc.edu/give.

Sweet Briar awards 2018 Presidential Medal to Amherst native, legacy student Ashton Mays

Ashton Mays with president and mother
Presidential Medalist Ashton Mays with President Woo (left) and mother, Cathy Mays ’84

Amherst native Ashton Mays is the recipient of the 2018 Presidential Medal, the highest honor a Sweet Briar student can attain. The award was announced during the Academic Recognition Dinner for Dean’s List and First-year Honors List students in Prothro on Tuesday night.

To Mays, a psychology major and sociology minor who transferred to Sweet Briar in 2016, the announcement came as a “huge surprise.”

“I really just couldn’t believe that I was the person chosen for this incredibly prestigious award,” she said. “It is such an honor, and I am so very thankful.”

While the medal rewards intellectual achievement, honorees must also have shown distinction in a combination of areas, including community service; the arts; global awareness; fitness and athletic achievement; and leadership, civility and integrity of character.

Mays, who has held a 3.9 GPA while also achieving licensure as a Centra Health Nurse’s Aide, has exhibited that kind of distinction, said Sweet Briar College President Meredith Woo.

“In addition to her stellar academic work and excellence as a citizen in our community, she is a thoughtful and kind young woman, demonstrating fairness in her actions and decisions, and exuding tremendous and contagious energy,” Woo said during the dinner. “She is a remarkable example of the best of Sweet Briar women.”

Psychology professor Jessica Salvatore agrees, noting her student’s advanced understanding of complex topics and her ability to bring everyone along with her.

“Ashton is a gifted thinker, more like a grad student than an undergrad,” observes Salvatore. “She has taken several classes with me that involved full-semester group learning ‘missions.’ She can be counted on to see the nuances of things — so I have several times entrusted her with tricky aspects of these group projects — and to do what needs to be done for all in the class to succeed.”

Quad Rocks
Ashton Mays (center) with the other Chung Mungs at Quad Rocks last fall

Mays’ leadership skills are reflected in and outside the classroom. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, Alpha Lambda Delta, Eta Sigma Phi, Omicron Delta Kappa, Psi Chi and Pi Gamma Mu honor societies and has served as a departmental tutor, HR assistant and vice president of the Student Government Association. She’s been an orientation leader and resident advisor, a Sweet PEA, Sweet Spirit, president of the Sweet Tones and a member of several tap clubs, including BAM, Aints ‘n’ Asses, Taps ‘n’ Toes and Chung Mungs.

“Community involvement is a huge part of my Sweet Briar experience and has definitely helped me find my niche,” Mays said in a recent interview. “One thing that’s really awesome about Sweet Briar is that there is something for everyone to enjoy and be a part of, no matter what their interests are.”

Having grown up on campus, Sweet Briar wasn’t always Mays’ first choice. She wanted to explore a different campus, but just one semester at a large public university changed her mind. When she was ready to transfer in 2016, the choice was easy.

“I think what really drew me back to Sweet Briar was the sense of community and sisterhood,” she said. “After seeing all of the hard work that alumnae and friends of the College had put in to save the school, I wanted to go to a school that empowered women to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

Mays plans to continue that mission after she graduates this spring. She’s hoping to complete an accelerated bachelor’s degree in nursing.

In the meantime, she’ll celebrate a bit — this weekend, “when she has time from her studies,” said mom, Cathy Mays ’84, director of hospitality at Sweet Briar.

“Words cannot express how proud I am of Ashton’s many accomplishments,” Cathy added. “I have shared with her on numerous occasions how she reflects the true Vixen spirit. As an alumna, I am delighted to see her continue the legacy and love for Sweet Briar!”

Naturally, Mom’s support last night also included the traditional “Holla, holla” chant to remind her daughter of one of Sweet Briar’s core values: “There truly is ‘nothing that you cannot do’ when you believe in yourself and work hard,” Cathy said.

Sweet Briar’s NCEA team claims first big win

NCEA team at UTMThe Sweet Briar National Collegiate Equestrian Association team headed out on a road trip to the University of Tennessee at Martin for a double header on March 14 that lead to a successful end of the regular season with a win against the University of Minnesota Crookston.

The team started the day competing against the host, nationally ranked UT Martin. Sweet Briar riders took a 3-2 lead in the equitation over fences. The flat portion of the meet gave UTM three of the five possible points. Sweet Briar tied the two additional points, which resulted in them not being awarded to either team. Ultimately, the Vixens fell to UT Martin 3-5. A highlight of the competition was first-year Katie Balding’s Most Outstanding Player (MOP) award over fences.

The second meet of the day was a successful one for Sweet Briar, as the team claimed its first win since joining the NCEA last fall. Sweet Briar scored an 8-2 victory over the University of Minnesota Crookston.

The team took a 3-2 lead in equitation over fences with Courtney Barry ’18, Makayla Benjamin ’18 and Lily Peterson ’21 scoring points for the Vixens. The team continued to dominate in equitation on the flat, with all of the Vixens winning their points for a 5-0 sweep of the event.

Two more Sweet Briar riders were awarded Most Outstanding Player awards: Magner for equitation on the flat and Benjamin for her ride in equitation over fences.

“The NCEA team has worked very hard this year,” said Head Coach Mimi Wroten. “We ended the regular season on a great note and look forward to competing in our first National Championships in April.”

Admissions Blog: How Sweet Briar grads are winning at outcomes

2017 graduates at Sweet BriarIf you’re a Sweet Briar engineering major, chances are you’ll land that first job long before graduation. After all, internships are mandatory, and in many cases, those first experiences open the door to subsequent job offers. Not a math whiz? Don’t despair. Sweet Briar students across all disciplines have a strong track record of getting into coveted graduate programs or securing a full-time job before May rolls around. Within six months of graduation, more than 90 percent are successful.

Our secret is simple: Small, interactive classes with one-on-one research opportunities from day one; strong support from dedicated professors who become lifelong friends; and a comprehensive focus on career readiness. Our award-winning career services office helps students connect with alumnae mentors in various industries for internship and job leads.

The numbers speak for themselves: About 80 percent of Sweet Briar students complete at least one internship, and nearly 40 percent study abroad. And they’re bound to get even better. Starting this fall, our new academic calendar will include two three-week intensive sessions to make room for the kind of learning you can’t just get in a classroom. What’s more, every student will be eligible for up to $2,000 to fund an experiential learning opportunity such as internships and study abroad.

Where’s the proof, you ask? Here are some of our rock stars in the Class of 2018:

Shelby Benny
Shelby Benny

Shelby Benny will wrap up her bachelor’s degree after just three years and is headed to the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law this fall. Last spring, Shelby traveled to Germany to complete research for her Pannell Scholarship on the origins of World War II. Earlier this year, the history and classics double major presented a paper on “Game of Thrones” at the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association Conference in Albuquerque, N.M.

Claire Zak in Rome
Claire Zak in Rome in 2017

Claire Zak was accepted to Texas A&M University’s Department of Anthropology for a Ph.D. program in nautical archaeology. She plans to focus on Old World seafaring and shipwrecks, especially of the Classical era. Claire did some field work with Sweet Briar professors in Kazakhstan during the summer of 2016 and participated in an archaeological conservation field school in Italy last summer.

Emily Dodson
Emily Dodson

Emily Dodson will be working at M&T Bank in their Management Development Program in Richmond. “I found this program by attending a UVa Job Fair in September with career services, and I was seriously talking to a total of three companies,” says the business major and environmental studies minor. Several interviews later, Emily sealed the deal: “My goal was to have a job by Christmas, but instead, I had a job by Thanksgiving!” In addition to utilizing Sweet Briar’s career resources, Emily studied abroad with the Virginia Program at Oxford.

Follow Sweet Briar on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more Class of 2018 success stories in the coming weeks!

Sweet Briar grad is one of ‘15 Women in Wine to Watch’

Leah Jorgensen
Leah Jorgensen pours her 2015 Sauvignon Blanc during a special dinner.

Leah Jorgensen ’96 continues to dazzle the wine world with her creations. This week, Food & Wine magazine named her one of “15 Women in Wine to Watch” from around the globe.

“Leah Jorgensen considers her home state of Oregon, which has gained fame for its Pinot Noir — the great grape of Burgundy — to be more akin to the Loire Valley,” writes Sarah Bray. “As a result, she’s focused her own project on the production of that region’s famous red: Cabernet Franc. Her interpretation of this grape is based on careful site selection and often has a unique twist: her Blanc de Cabernet Franc is the first commercial still white Franc in the world.”

This isn’t the first time Jorgensen’s wines have been noticed. A few years ago, Leah Jørgensen Cellars was named a 2014 Oregon Winery to Watch by Winepress Northwest. “I’m still new at this in terms of production,” she told the magazine back then. “To me, this is not second nature. It’s even weird for me to call myself a winemaker.”

And in some ways, she was a newbie — while Jorgensen’s résumé was full of wine, she had only been making it since 2011. Soon after graduating from Sweet Briar in 1996 with a degree in English and creative writing, Jorgensen managed Chrysalis Vineyards near Washington, D.C., then worked for a distributor in the nation’s capital. Her sales of Pinot Noir made by Domaine Drouhin prompted the producer to invite Jorgensen to Oregon Pinot Camp in 2004.

Jorgensen, whose father grew up on an Oregon farm, felt compelled to return to her roots. Erath Winery hired her immediately for sales and marketing, and she worked for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates before joining Adelsheim Vineyard. By 2009, she was studying enology at the Northwest Viticulture Center in Salem.

Harvest and cellar work kept her afloat, first at Anne Amie Vineyards and then at Shea Wine Cellars, where she worked for two years — while making plans for her own wine.

“I feel very fortunate to be able to explore making my own wine, building my own business, and just doing what I want to do,” she told us in 2014. “Life is so short, and I felt a serious compulsion to pursue my own thing. I had no choice but to follow my heart, and I love a good challenge.”

One of them is breaking the stereotype of the male winemaker.

“I do want people to know these wines were crafted by a woman,” she said in her interview with Winepress Northwest. “I’m proud of that.”

Sweet Briar College on track to break all records for March Days of Giving

Bell Tower at SunsetSweet Briar’s alumnae and friends have done it again: From March 1 through March 9, donors contributed $1,128,240 through 956 gifts — and counting. The College fulfilled its first goal to raise $500,000 on March 1 with contributions totaling $567,166 and completed its second goal one day before the deadline with $561,074 contributed as of the afternoon of March 9.

An anonymous alumna and her family catalyzed contributions toward the second goal, offering to match donations toward the second goal, dollar for dollar up to $500,000.

The third goal for the 2018 March Days of Giving, to receive gifts from 2,000 donors, is well underway and has a deadline of March 31.

All gifts postmarked by March 10 or made online by midnight on March 10, 2018, will still be counted toward the total challenge, so both totals will increase through the week of March 12-16.

“I continue to be impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of our alumnae,” said President Meredith Woo. “Their commitment to and love for Sweet Briar is truly inspirational.”

Vice President for Alumnae Relations and Development Mary Pope M. Hutson ’83 expressed her gratitude to the entire Sweet Briar family for their support. “These contributions are not just about meeting a goal. They show that our alumnae, students, faculty, staff and friends will meet any challenge put in front of us. This can only be a sign of monumental things to come in Sweet Briar’s future.”

Gifts toward the challenge will still be accepted through midnight on March 10 and can be made online at sbc.edu/give.

From your team in the alumnae relations and development office, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You make all the difference to Sweet Briar.

Sweet Briar dance professors published in new book

Sweet Briar dance professors Mark and Ella Magruder

When you’re a dance professor, writing is optional. But when you’re a Sweet Briar professor, you always go the extra mile. So, Mark and Ella Magruder, who have been teaching dance at the College for many years, each recently published chapters in a new textbook on dance education.

The book is called “Perspectives on Dance Education,” and it’s edited by Mohd Anis Md Nor. Ella’s chapter — “Vital Dance: Performance for Young Audiences” — reflects her deep background as director of Sweet Briar’s dance education program, which not only prepares Sweet Briar students for careers in teaching, but also provides classes to children from the community.

“Watching live dance is exciting and fun, but more than anything, live dance performances are a great way to reach audiences and educate young people,” Ella explains. “You know, the philosopher, Descartes, was wrong to say emotion isn’t important to rational thinking. If we don’t feel something, we don’t care about it, and we make bad choices — neuroscience supports this. This is why children and all people need art in their lives. Art, especially dance, in my opinion, is vital to developing empathy for others.”

Ella Magruder dance
Ella Magruder (right) performs in 2005. Photo by Andrew Wilds

While her husband, Mark, would agree, his chapter, “Masks: A Door to Creativity,” takes a different approach. In addition to illustrating his knack for innovative choreography, it also reveals his passion for blending different art forms.

“I have always been fascinated by masks,” Mark says. “I have seen many masks in museums and have seen masks used in performances. I have carved them out of wood and created them out of other materials. I have danced with them and noticed the power they have to move an audience. The chapter is a distillation of the insights I have gained through the years and how they can be applied to teaching the craft of choreography to college or university students.”

For Ella, this marks the second time she has ventured into writing. In 2013, her book “Dancing for Young Audiences: A Practical Guide to Creating, Managing and Marketing a Performance Company” was published by McFarland & Company. At Sweet Briar, she teaches choreography, modern dance and aesthetics and dance criticism. Formerly a faculty member at University of Montana and Ripon College in Wisconsin, Ella Hanson Magruder was a member of the Mimi Garrard Dance Company in New York City. She performed “Black Traveler,” one of Beverly Blossom’s early solos, at The Danny Kaye Theatre in New York, receiving a positive review in Dance Enthusiast. Ella toured for 15 years with her husband and partner, Mark, in their duet dance company, Menagerie, performing for more than 100,000 students and adults.

Dance professor Mark Magruder performs Beverly Blossom's hilarious solo "Besame Mucho." Photo by Andrew Wilds.
Dance professor Mark Magruder performs Beverly Blossom’s hilarious solo “Besame Mucho.” Photo by Andrew Wilds

Mark is head of dance at Sweet Briar College and artistic director and co-founder of the Menagerie Dance Company. He has received reviews in The New York Times and The Washington Post. He has performed in Finland, Italy and Hungary and recently in New York City, where he danced in two of Beverly Blossom’s solos, “Besame Mucho” and “Last Bow.” Both were favorably reviewed in Dance Enthusiast. His work has been presented at the Kennedy Center in the National College Dance Festival.

He has taught in Finland, Canada, Brazil, the Netherlands, Jamaica, Taiwan and Denmark as part of dance and the Child international festivals. Mark has danced in the companies of Shirley Mordine, Beverly Blossom and Mimi Garrard. He holds a B.F.A. from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree from California State University.

To learn more about Mark and Ella Magruder, visit www.magruderdance.com. For more information about Sweet Briar’s dance program, click here.

President Woo to speak at The Heads Network annual conference

President Meredith Woo addresses students, faculty and staff at Sweet Briar’s 112th Opening Convocation.
President Meredith Woo addresses students, faculty and staff at Sweet Briar’s 112th Opening Convocation.

Sweet Briar College president Meredith Woo will speak at The Heads Network 2018 annual conference on March 5 in Savannah, Ga.

The Heads Network is comprised of 200 school heads and administrators of independent schools in the U.S. and Canada, engaged in active collaboration and professional growth as leaders who are committed to the education of girls and advancing women’s leadership.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Navigating Leadership: At the Helm, On the Deck, In the Lifeboat!” It is intended to be a forum for discussing innovation, trends, and peer reflection in a collegial atmosphere of diversity and intimacy.

In December, Sweet Briar’s faculty voted in a new core curriculum focused on women’s leadership. This new approach to delivering general education is designed to meet the demand for 21st-century relevancy. The leadership curriculum will be effective beginning with the fall 2018 semester and has been heralded in publications like Forbes and The Chronicle of Higher Education as a new model for liberal arts education.

Ginette Hemley to headline 2018 Waxter Forum at Sweet Briar

Sumatran tiger
Sumatran tiger in water. Photo courtesy of the WWF

Ginette Hemley, senior vice president for wildlife conservation at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), will speak at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 14, at The Florence Elston Inn & Conference Center. Her lecture, “Keeping Tigers Alive: A story of Recovery and Hope,” comes as part of Sweet Briar’s annual Waxter Forum. The event is free and open to the public.

Hemley has more than 30 years of experience in international conservation and has developed global recovery strategies for critically endangered species, including tigers and elephants. She has a Bachelor of Science in biology from the College of William and Mary, and has studied at Oxford University.

In her role at WWF, Hemley oversees programs to protect some of the world’s most endangered and iconic species, using community-based approaches and mobilizing public support for species and habitat conservation. One of her areas of focus is the reduction of illegal wildlife trade; she is a former director and current board member of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

Ginette Hemley
Ginette Hemley. Photo courtesy of the WWF

“It’s wonderful that Ginette will be sharing optimistic news about tiger conservation, because it’s easy to become overwhelmed by environmental problems,” said Dorys McConnell Duberg Professor of Ecology Linda Fink, who serves as director of Sweet Briar’s environmental science program. “As a highly respected conservationist at WWF, Ginette is a great example of women’s leadership. I’m delighted that our students will have several opportunities to interact with her during her campus visit.”

In addition to her public lecture, Hemley will meet with biology, environmental science and government students during class visits on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Julia B. Waxter Environmental Forum at Sweet Briar College is an annual event that brings nationally recognized speakers to campus for a public lecture and interactions with students. Previous speakers have included forest ecologist Joan Maloof, author Barbara Kingsolver, biogeochemist William Schlesinger and author Michael Pollan. The event is supported by an endowment established by the late Julia Baldwin Waxter ’49 and her husband, Bill.

For more information on this event, please email Fink at lfink@sbc.edu.

Pannell Scholar turns lifelong passion for fantasy into first stab at novel

Raven Minyard in the library
Pannell Scholar Raven Minyard in the Browsing Room of the library. Minyard spends lots of time in the library working on her project.

There was a light in the woods. A little girl stood at the screen door of her grandmother’s house, her face and hands pressed against the glass, watching. The sun had just set, leaving the sky a navy blue color — dark, but not so dark that the girl couldn’t make out the silhouettes of her grandmother’s flowers or the rubber ball she had abandoned in favor of homemade chocolate chip cookies. But the cookies were long gone now, and the girl’s attention had returned to the outside.

            The light flickered again, mesmerizing her. As if in a trance, she stood on her tiptoes and managed to grasp the door handle. The door let out a quiet groan as she pushed it open. Down the steps and into the dewy grass, her feet padded silently as she waddled toward the trees, her gaze never straying from the light. She could hear faint sounds coming from the woods — voices, laughter, perhaps the beating of a drum.

            Yes, come to us, little one.

(Raven Minyard ’20, from the prologue to her fantasy novel)

JC: I really enjoyed reading the prologue to your novel. Where did the inspiration for it come from?

RM: A few years back, I wrote a short story that was somewhat based on the same idea as the prologue. I did change a lot of themes in the prologue, but I discovered it last year before they actually announced the Pannell Scholarship. I knew this was something that I wanted to develop more into a full story. The Pannell Scholarship gave me the perfect opportunity to pursue it.

Raven Minyard journal

How did your interest in that topic first start?

I have honestly loved fantasy my entire life. One of the first books I read that was similar in topic, with faeries and goblets and such, was a series called “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” I was always intrigued by those books, and mythical creatures in general. In fourth grade, we had to start writing our own stories, and that’s when I realized that I really liked writing. Of course, back then and through middle school, it was really terrible because I didn’t know what I was doing, but I continued reading and taking English classes. I discovered that it was something that I would like to do for the rest of my life.

Were you able to take creative writing classes in high school?

We had one creative writing class, but we didn’t really do anything elaborate. The assignment that I liked the most was “Twisted Fairy Tales,” where we combined two different fairy tales into a short story. That obviously was most similar to my interests. Other than that, I just wrote on my own.

Did you have a lot of support from your parents? Are they writers, or big readers?

It’s never been a big thing for them, but my dad grew up reading. He’s always been big on sci-fi and fantasy, and he’s the one who introduced me to “Harry Potter.” They’ve always been very supportive of whatever I wanted to do. My friends have always been very supportive, too. I’ve written them short little funny stories just as presents. Everyone I care about is really supportive of my ideas. It’s helped me realize that this is something I want to do and to have the courage to do it — even though writing and being an author is not a stable job, so obviously I would pursue other careers, but this is ultimately what I want to do. I’m glad I have the support to go after that goal.

Minyard writing
Minyard, from Hohenwald, Tenn., jots down ideas and outlines for the plot of her novel in her journal.

Is that why you came to Sweet Briar? What brought you here?

I’m from Tennessee, so I hadn’t heard of Sweet Briar until they emailed me. I didn’t really know where I wanted to go. I did want to go out of state, just because I hadn’t really had any opportunities to travel. So I applied just to see how it would turn out. And then I got accepted, so I seriously began looking into it. It seemed like it had a really good English and creative writing program, and now that I’m here, I can definitely say that we do, and I’m very proud of that. I’m very happy to go to a school where we have the opportunity to explore ideas such as this one.

Can you talk more about your creative writing classes at Sweet Briar?

Because at Sweet Briar, we are focused more on the literary aspect, I am trying to work on developing voices and learn how to control a scene, rather than focus on faeries and monsters and what not. I have actually only taken two workshops so far, and I’m in one now. But even after the first few weeks in Intro last year, my writing had improved so much. The workshops are really fun. We’ve had a lot of interesting prompts to develop stories, and the professors are all great, so it’s really wonderful.

What has your experience been like so far with your Pannell Scholarship?

Originally, I was editing as I was writing. But then I realized that I was getting too caught up in making it good, rather than actually writing, and when I got caught up in that, I would just stop. It’s hard for me to stop the editor inside my head from controlling everything. So, I discovered a website called The Most Dangerous Writing App: You can set a word count or a time limit, and it ranges from about five minutes to an hour. If you stop writing for more than five seconds, it erases all of your progress — which is terrifying! I decided to try it, and it has helped me so much in progressing the story and getting the basic skeleton of what I want to happen down. I’m at 25,000 words right now, and my goal for the whole project is about 60,000 words, depending on how everything ends up. I plan to start editing the first half within the coming weeks, and then I’m going to continue the second half the same way I’ve been doing it so far with this app. Hopefully by the end, I can have it all edited, or at least the first half. So it will still be a good amount that I would want people to read. If I were writing this on my own, I would let other things get in the way. But I treat it more like a class or an assignment, like something that I have to do.

Raven Minyard

What about other fields of study? What are you interested in, and how has that influenced your writing?

Before coming to Sweet Briar, I went to a public high school, so all of our history teachers were coaches. We got the basics, but it wasn’t that great. But then I took a history class with Professor Laufenberg my second semester here, and I really liked it. I decided that I’m really fascinated by history, so right now I am considering doing a minor in either history or medieval and Renaissance studies. Possibly both, depending on if I can get the credits and not stress myself out too much. Since I do like to write fantasy, I would like to do a higher fantasy rather than one that is set in our world. I think seeing the different political aspects and the way people lived in times other than ours — and in different places — would definitely help me build worlds in my writing.

Celebrating Black History Month at Sweet Briar: Jimmy Rose looks back

Jimmy RoseLong service to Sweet Briar College is practically a tradition in Jimmy Rose’s family.

His dad worked for the College for about 35 years. His wife’s father also spent more than 35 years working for Sweet Briar. His sister, Gloria, works in the Office of Student Life, and like Rose, she’s been working at the College for more than 30 years.

Rose’s first job at Sweet Briar came when he was just a kid, coming to campus with his brother during the summer. They would mow lawns, clean windows and “just generally help out” the professors who lived along Woodland Road. He got his first real job in 1984, when he joined the staff as a custodian.

Rose remembers those early years fondly. The school was going through some changes back then, combining multiple functions into the department we now call Physical Plant. But whatever challenges came from such changes were lightened by the sense of community Rose felt. “I learned a lot from the guys who worked here then. The older guys took me under their wings and showed me the tricks of the trade,” he says.

One of those guys was John Carter, the College’s long-time mail carrier. When Carter went on vacation, Rose would cover for him. Then, when Carter retired in the early 1990s, Rose took over delivering the mail. A few years later, Rose took a job working inside the post office, which is how most people know him these days: as the smiling face they see when they come to pick up their mail.

Jimmy Rose post office“I love my job in the post office,” Rose told us. “I love meeting the parents on opening day and answering their questions. I love getting to know the students.” He also enjoys the company of his co-workers, Gertie Coley and Stacey Carter, who are both long-time employees of the College. “We joke and laugh and have a good time.”

He has a good time outside the post office, too. In the summer, he likes to spend weekends fishing and riding ATVs with his two sons, Demarcus and CJ. He also likes to ride his motorcycle along the Blue Ridge Parkway, where his natural warmth and good humor help him meet all kinds of people and swap stories.

In April, he’ll have 34 years of service to Sweet Briar. You might wonder if he has any plans to retire. When we asked him, he laughed and said, “I hope so. Someday.”

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:

Admissions Blog: I might have been an engineer

Introduce a Girl to Engineering participants
High school girls build a drawing machine during Sweet Briar’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day

When I was in high school, I was a girl who was good at math. I soared through AP calculus, I scored higher on the math section than the verbal section of the SAT, and I was even on the math team (although not the only female, proudly).

When I met with my high school guidance counselor to talk about college, she said: “You’re a girl who is good at math. You need to go to engineering school.” She handed me the application for the best engineering university in the state. In fact, it was the only application she was willing to give me.

“I’m scared of that. I want to be a writer,” I told her. As a first-generation college-bound student, the idea of huge classrooms that were rumored to “weed out” anyone not good enough was intimidating despite my abilities and confidence. She wouldn’t have it. And because in 1988, all college applications were on paper (I used a typewriter to complete mine), they were a little tougher to come by than today when you can simply go online. I asked for the application to my aspirational journalism school. No go. My high school classmates will attest that this lady thought she always acted in our best interest — and that she was stubborn.

Melissa Richards high school
Melissa Richards and her math team in high school

So I attended a local college fair and walked straight up to the table of an expensive private college known for creative writing. I completed their application and was accepted Early Decision. Although I transferred the next year, I still completed my liberal arts education.

Now, I love what I do, but what if my counselor had encouraged me to seek out a school where I could have thrived in a small classroom of other women pursuing engineering? Where I wouldn’t have had to worry about competing with 500 other students in a huge classroom? I believe that a major contributor to our lack of women in STEM is the fact that they start out all wrong. A recent study by Colorado State University reported by the Denver Business Journal revealed that “women are more likely than men to get discouraged by a particular math class and give up on their quest for a degree preparing them for a career in science, technology or engineering.” They say fueling a female’s confidence is key.

Sweet Briar College is one of only two women’s colleges in the United States with an ABET-accredited engineering program. In classrooms of eight students (on average), faculty are invested in knowing exactly how each student learns best. There are no huge introductory classes taught by graduate students or teaching assistants. Additionally, women who study at women’s colleges develop higher levels of self-esteem than other achieving women at coed institutions, according to the Women’s College Coalition.

If more “girls who are good at math” find the right place to study from the beginning, our society will have more women in STEM. If I had known that 30 years ago, I might have been an engineer.

Melissa RichardsMelissa Farmer Richards is vice president for communications and enrollment management at Sweet Briar College. She previously served as vice president for communications and acting executive officer for admissions and financial aid at St. Lawrence University, and assistant vice president for marketing and publications at Virginia Tech. She holds a master of public administration from Virginia Tech and a Bachelor of Arts in rhetoric and communication studies from the University of Virginia.

NASA engineer’s talk at Sweet Briar sheds light on true story behind ‘Hidden Figures’

Christine Darden podium
Christine Darden speaking at Sweet Briar College on Feb. 22

Perhaps the most surprising fact about Christine Darden’s career isn’t that she had a weak background in math, or that she learned how to change oil as a child, but that she doesn’t remember feeling discriminated against because of her race or gender when NASA first hired her as a data analyst in 1967.

“Maybe I just didn’t pay attention to it,” she told the crowd of more than 300 guests in Sweet Briar College’s Upchurch Field House on Thursday night. It was the third time the College hosted the region’s National Engineers Week Banquet, attracting not just Sweet Briar students, faculty, staff and alumnae, but many area engineers, college students and local high school girls.

Darden, of course, has the résumé to summon almost any-size audience: Her 40-year career at NASA, beginning with five years as a “human computer,” included 25 years of groundbreaking work designing supersonic airplanes and decreasing the levels of sonic boom. But it wasn’t until Margot Lee Shetterly wrote about Darden in her best-selling book “Hidden Figures” — which was simultaneously turned into an Oscar-nominated movie — that her accomplishments became mainstream knowledge.

Banquet crowd
More than 300 guests attended Sweet Briar’s 2018 National Engineers Week Banquet.

Darden isn’t featured in the film because it focuses on the years 1961 and 1962, when she was still in college. The film’s heroines —Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson — were several years ahead of Darden, but they worked together later. “I was portrayed in the book as standing on their shoulders, and that’s true,” she said. “The fact that they did good work meant that NASA continued to hire, and they hired me.”

Vaughan and Jackson died in 2008 and 2005, respectively, and Johnson will celebrate her 100th birthday this year. That leaves Darden to travel the country and speak about the story behind the famous movie — which she likes, she says, despite some factual liberties taken by the screenwriter. “I just saw it for the thirteenth time the night before last,” she said during media interviews yesterday morning.

Darden and Johnson have kept in touch over the years. “We went to the same church in Washington for 50 years,” said Darden, who now lives in Hampton. With three daughters and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Darden can look back on a full life that often required compromises. She wasn’t able to accept every promotion because sometimes, it wasn’t the right time for her family. But, she says, “You have to be ready when the opportunity presents itself.”

Clara Rogers at banquet
Engineering major Clara Rogers ’20 listens as Darden describes her career path to NASA.

And Darden always was — no matter how difficult it seemed. When you have a dream, she told the audience, you have to perceive of yourself as that person. Hers wasn’t a straight or easy path: Geometry was the highest-level math class offered at her high school back home in North Carolina. It wasn’t much, but that’s when Darden knew she wanted to be a mathematician. “I fell in love with applied mathematics,” she recalled. The class triggered her lifelong fascination with the connection between math and our physical universe. “That’s where my passion lies,” she said.

After following her older brothers and sisters through high school, she decided it was time to forge her own path. She applied to Hampton University, then known as Hampton Institute, and enrolled with a scholarship. Her father had urged her to earn a teaching certificate because he wasn’t so sure she’d be able to find work as a black mathematician. Darden obeyed, but she never abandoned her dream, adding 24 credit hours of high-level math to prepare her for the day opportunity would knock on her door.

Born in 1942 as Christine Mann, Darden had always been naturally ambitious and curious about the world around her. Her mother, she says, gave her a talking doll when she was 5: “I cut it open to figure out why she talked.” Darden also spent lots of time working on the family’s car with her father. “I’d rather be outside playing with the boys than inside with my doll,” she said. “I wanted to skate and ride my bike.” Having soaked up all she could when her mother, who was a school teacher, brought her to school with her at the age of 3, Darden started kindergarten when she was just 4 years old.

Darden and WSET
Darden speaks with WSET’s Kari Beal on Thursday morning.

Darden did teach high school briefly after college but was soon hired as a research assistant at Virginia State University, where she studied aerosol physics and taught math. The job paid for her graduate degree in applied mathematics, which she received in 1967.

“If I hadn’t taken all those extra math classes in college, I would not have gotten that position,” Darden said during her talk.

The job she landed at NASA shortly after had little to do with the equations she solved during graduate school. As a data analyst, she was stuck in a dead-end job: While NASA’s engineers, who were all men, worked on the kinds of problems Darden was trained in and were publishing papers, giving talks and getting promoted, Darden’s job never changed. In 1972, Darden decided she was going to speak up.

If she didn’t feel discrimination when she first started at NASA, she certainly felt it now.

“Why is it that the women and men who come in with the same background are assigned different jobs?” she asked a NASA director. He admitted no one had ever asked that question. But it was a good one. Instead of being fired, as Darden had feared, she was transferred to the engineering division and began a 25-year career as an aeronautical engineer.

Christine Darden
Christine Darden. Photo courtesy of NASA

In 1983, Darden earned a Ph.D. in engineering from George Washington University and in 1989, she was appointed leader of the Sonic Boom Team. From about 1997 until her retirement in 2007, she worked in management, having become the first African-American woman at Langley Research Center to be promoted into the senior executive service.

During her talk, Darden illustrated those milestones with a series of photographs and spoke in depth about the physical science behind supersonic airplanes. It’s one thing to read about her accomplishments, but another to hear her speak about them so modestly. A few of the banquet’s attendees already knew her story firsthand, having met Darden earlier that day when she visited the engineering program’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.

It was a different experience from the night’s glamorous event. Darden observed quietly as Bethany Brinkman, an associate professor of engineering in Sweet Briar’s Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 Engineering Program, introduced the 13 high school participants to their one-hour project: building a drawing machine. Women’s college recruiter Lauren Guerrant from Google was there, too.

“We don’t expect everything to work, and that’s just fine,” Brinkman said. “I want you to play around with it and have fun!”

Darden and high school girls engineering
Darden with participants in Sweet Briar’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering event

Several of the machines did indeed work when it came time for Darden to talk to the group.

“Who here has seen ‘Hidden Figures’”? she asked. All hands went up. “Did you like it?” Yes, they did. It’s one of Darden’s favorite moments when she speaks to high school or college students. “They always talk about how inspired they are by the movie,” she said.

She comes back to one movie quote often because it illustrates her own philosophy: “Learn all you can and be valuable to somebody.” And, she adds: Focus on your work, do your job well and speak up for yourself. It’s what all three “Hidden Figures” did in the movie and in real life, she says, and it’s her best advice to women in science — and to anyone trying to step it up in their careers.

The often-cited statistic that girls lose confidence in their scientific abilities as they get older may derive from what they are told — by parents or teachers — when they’re young, Darden says. “Don’t tell them that ‘that’s not what girls do,’” she explains. “When women are told they don’t belong in certain careers, we are losing a lot of talent.”

It’s a good thing Darden didn’t hear any of those voices.

Sweet Briar College’s National Engineers Week Banquet 2018 was presented with participation from Google. To watch Darden’s full speech, click here.

Sweet Briar’s Melissa Richards elected to Girl Scouts board of directors

The Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline Council has elected Melissa Farmer Richards, vice president for communications and enrollment management at Sweet Briar College, to its board of directors.

Melissa RichardsPreviously, Richards served as vice president for communications and acting executive officer for admissions and financial aid at St. Lawrence University, and assistant vice president for marketing and publications at Virginia Tech. She has 25 years of global experience in communications, public relations, integrated marketing strategy, brand management, special events, and strategic alliances.

Richards earned a master of public administration at Virginia Tech and a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Virginia. She was one of the founding members of TEDxVirginiaTech and served as faculty advisor for TEDxStLawrenceU. She is one of the founding board members of the Blacksburg Children’s Museum. She was a Girl Scout troop leader from 2009 to 2011 and founded Troop #397 in the Virginia Skyline Council.

With support from dedicated adult volunteers, parents and staff, the Virginia Skyline Council delivers the best Girl Scout experience to 9,500 members: 6,000 girls and 3,500 adults in a 36-county area within Central, Southside, Southwest and Western Virginia. The council’s headquarters is located in Roanoke City, with three camp properties: Camp Icimani in Roanoke County, Camp Sacajawea in Bedford County and Camp Sugar Hollow in Albemarle County. To volunteer, reconnect or join, call 540-777-5100, email info@gsvsc.org or visit www.gsvsc.org.

Sweet Briar’s engineering program receives ABET reaccreditation

Engineering studentsSweet Briar College’s bachelor’s degree program in engineering science has been reaccredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET, the global accreditor of college and university programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology. Sweet Briar is one of just two women’s colleges in the U.S. with an ABET-accredited engineering program.

ABET accreditation assures that programs meet standards to produce graduates ready to enter critical technical fields that are leading the way in innovation and emerging technologies, as well as anticipating the welfare and safety needs of the public.

“Achieving reaccreditation through ABET’s rigorous review process by peers and authorities in our field emphasizes the value of Sweet Briar’s engineering program,” says Hank Yochum, who directs the Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 Engineering Program at Sweet Briar. “Since we established the program in 2005, our graduates have gone on to work in a variety of industries. Our small, interactive classes, project-based approach, and the strong support system we provide — as well as the internship requirement we have — prepare our students to jump right into industry when they graduate.”

About 90 percent of Sweet Briar engineering graduates are working in engineering or pursuing graduate degrees. Recent alumnae are employed at BWX Technologies, the Clorox Company, US Navy Air Systems Command, Newport News Shipyard, Deutsche Bank, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab and Lockheed Martin.

Often, those first jobs begin as internships. Engineering majors gain valuable experience in industry through local and regional partnerships, and there are always opportunities to make a global impact, too: Recent class projects had students and faculty traveling to Brazil to deliver student-designed assistive devices, including a prosthetic arm for a quad amputee.

Sought worldwide, ABET’s voluntary peer-review process is highly respected because it adds critical value to academic programs in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines, where quality, precision and safety are of the utmost importance.

Developed by technical professionals from ABET’s member societies, ABET criteria focus on what students experience and learn. ABET accreditation reviews look at program curricula, faculty, facilities and institutional support and are conducted by teams of highly skilled professionals from industry, academia and government, with expertise in the ABET disciplines.

ABET is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). It currently accredits 3709 programs at over 750 colleges and universities in 30 countries.

More information about ABET, its member societies and the accreditation criteria used to evaluate programs can be found at www.abet.org.

To learn more about engineering at Sweet Briar, email Yochum at hyochum@sbc.edu or visit sbc.edu/stem/engineering.

Celebrating Black History Month at Sweet Briar: Rachel Woods ’20 forges her path

This is the second in a series of weekly profiles celebrating Black History Month at Sweet Briar.

Rachel Woods and Ella Magruder
Rachel Woods and dance professor Ella Magruder

Sometimes, love will hit you when you least expect it. Rachel Woods was in church when a sudden desire yanked her out of her grandmother’s arms and onto the ‘dancefloor.’ She was 5 at the time.

“We had a play at my church, and there was dancing involved. I ran on stage and started dancing with the dancers,” recalls the sophomore from Raleigh, N.C. It’s in her blood — her mother was a dancer once, and so are all of her sisters.

“My family always supported me, even when I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore because I was discouraged,” Woods says. “We didn’t have a lot of money for dance classes, but they always found ways for me to be taught, either in church or through friends.”

Woods has found a similar support system at Sweet Briar, where she majors in dance education. While the campus is “spectacular,” she says, it’s that personal touch she witnessed during a visit that made her want to attend the women’s liberal arts college in Central Virginia. “I loved the dance professors and how personable and caring they were towards their students,” she says. “I knew that if I came here, I would get the same exact experience.”

Three semesters in, she hasn’t regretted her decision. “I really admire the professors — I haven’t had a bad experience with one single professor here at Sweet Briar, even in the subjects I struggle in or do not care for. All of them have so much passion for their subject area, and no matter what, they make me love and understand it, too.”

Rachel Woods and Haylei Libran
Woods (right) and fellow dance major Haylei Libran in class

But Woods says she feels at home not just around faculty. “The community is something that drew me to Sweet Briar,” she says. “There really is a sisterhood here that you can develop with most people — I have, and I’m very grateful for it.”

Virtually everything Woods is involved in on campus has to do with dance — from serving as the historian on the Taps ‘n’ Toes tap club to working as a dance education assistant to choreographing many of the dances for her program. It’s no wonder she has already made great strides towards her goal of becoming a dance teacher.

“I have definitely grown as a dancer here at Sweet Briar,” she says. “I have become more confident, my dancing technique has grown, and I feel I am discovering who I am and my style of dance more because of [dance professors] Mark and Ella Magruder.” A recent concussion forced her to take things a little slower, but that also had its perks. “I’ve discovered things that I like and don’t like as a dancer,” she explains.

According to Mark Magruder, there aren’t enough good things to be said about Woods, whom he calls “an outstanding dancer.” Magruder says Woods “has grown incredibly” during her relatively short time at Sweet Briar: “Rachel is a force to contend with in dance classes and on stage. Her leaps are inspiring — such power and form! She is learning how to nuance her performance, so the subtle moments reflect and magnify her inner thoughts. Rachel truly is a joy to work with: She takes whatever challenges I throw at her, she rises to them, masters them and makes them her own.”

Rachel Woods dancing
Woods floating over a chair. Photo by Andrew Wilds

His wife, Ella, is just as impressed with the young artist’s work ethic and talent. “Rachel is one of the most dedicated and hardworking students I have taught,” she says. “She gives 100 percent in dance classes.” Woods also teaches dance and choreography to ages 11 to 16, and creative dance for ages 4 to 5 for Sweet Briar’s community youth dance program. Her lesson plans for the children are always “fun and creative,” Ella says.

Extra support in the pedagogical arena comes from Mary Tackett, an assistant professor of education. Tackett describes Woods as “reflective and compassionate.”

In addition, she says, Woods is “very thoughtful in class and carefully considers how to practically apply what she learns in her education courses to her own experiences as a dance student. In our introductory teaching course, after I introduced some strategies for instructional planning, Rachel returned to class the following day and shared how she revisited a lesson she planned for students in a practicum component of one of her dance classes, and revised it according to what she had learned in class. This is typical of Rachel. She constantly challenges herself, and she is an eager learner who is never afraid to ask questions. She is kindhearted, and has a strong passion for teaching dance and for creating learner-centered instruction to meet the needs of the students she teaches. She is going to be an amazing dance teacher.”

Rachel Woods and Ella Magruder in outdoor class
Woods (second from right) in a dance education class with Ella Magruder last fall

With so many cheerleaders, it’s easy to see why Woods is thriving at Sweet Briar. But that doesn’t mean everything is perfect all the time.

“Being a black dancer here at a predominantly white school, I have trouble with the fact that there isn’t any African dance class I can take, or even a Bollywood dance class,” she explains. Of course, this is where her support system comes in: “I’m thankful Mark and Ella are the kind of teachers who realize this and try to add as much as they can in a class period,” she says.

And there’s something to be said for having to make things work outside of one’s comfort zone: It forces you to grow, Woods says.

“Being at Sweet Briar has changed me as a person for the better — it is a big cultural difference being here compared to being at home,” she says. “I think it has taught me to understand and look at people in general in a different light. Also, before coming to Sweet Briar, I was a very shy person. Being here has made me stand strong, stand by my beliefs and advocate for myself.”

There’s another thing you learn as a Sweet Briar woman: that there’s really nothing you cannot do if you believe in yourself. “I have always aspired to be in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater — they are New York-based black company that I saw live in the 11th grade, and I was instantly amazed,” Woods says. “Also, Misty Copeland is my idol.”

Woods at Quad Roks
Woods leads her tap club during Quad Rocks 2017 on campus.

This summer, Woods is taking that confidence to a dance studio back home, where she’ll work as an assistant or a choreographer. She also plans to continue visiting her old high school to choreograph dances for her former dance team. Eventually, Woods wants to teach dance in a public high school, and she plans to open her own studio for underprivileged children who can’t afford dance lessons. “I want them to have the opportunity to discover early if dance is their passion,” she says.

Since that day in church, Woods has known for sure that it’s hers. At Sweet Briar, she also discovered that teaching dance can be as much fun as performing it. And, really, nobody is going to ask her to decide. She has plenty of time to do both — and to dream of all the possibilities that might come her way if she works hard enough.

‘Code Girls’ author Liza Mundy to speak at Sweet Briar

New York Times best-selling author Liza Mundy will visit Sweet Briar College at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 20, in The Florence Elston Inn & Conference Center. A book signing and reception will follow.

Liza MundyMundy’s book “Code Girls” tells the story of how more than 10,000 women served as code breakers during World War II. One of those women was Delia Ann Taylor, a member of the Sweet Briar Class of 1934. In addition to “Code Girls,” Mundy’s other books include “The Richer Sex” and “Michelle,” a biography of First Lady Michelle Obama, which was translated into 16 languages.

Mundy has appeared on The Colbert Report, The Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, MSNBC, CNN, C-Span, Fox News, and others including several National Public Radio shows.

A former longtime reporter for the Washington Post, she is currently director of the work and family program at the New America Foundation, and also a contributing editor at Politico Magazine. She has written for Slate, Time, the Guardian, the Washington Monthly, Huffington Post, and Lingua Franca, among others, and has received fellowships from the Japan Society, the Marine Biological Laboratory, and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Her presentation at Sweet Briar will touch on the themes in her book, including the contributions of women to the field of cyber intelligence. Graduates of women’s colleges across the South were eager to serve their country and helped the United States win the war. Taylor, says Mundy, was a pioneer in the field of code-breaking and rose to a high position as a result of her work. “It was a great moment in the validation of the education of women,” she said.

Cover of Code GirlsHer visit to Sweet Briar is part of the College’s “At the Invitation of the President” series, which brings women of consequence to perform and speak at Sweet Briar.

“Not only is Liza Mundy a successful author herself, but she has brought to light a wonderful story about the impact women had during World War II,” said President Meredith Woo. “That one of our own alumnae was one of those women makes her visit particularly meaningful.”

The event is supported through the Ewald Scholars Program and is free and open to the public. Because there is limited seating, the College asks that you reserve your seat by picking up your tickets in advance at The Florence Elston Inn & Conference Center on campus. Tickets will be available at the front desk from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. every day beginning on Wednesday, Feb. 14. You may also call the Inn at 434-381-6411.

Directions and Parking

The Florence Elston Inn & Conference Center is located just past the gate house on Sweet Briar’s campus. Click here for directions to campus. Click here for a printable map of campus. Guests visiting campus for the event may park in the lot next to the conference center.

Sweet Briar’s IHSA team wins big at Liberty University

IHSA team at LibertySweet Briar’s Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association Team brought home two big wins on Saturday after an exciting day of competition at Liberty University. The team was crowned champion while Makayla Benjamin ’18 earned the high-point rider award.

Aoife Magner ’19 started the day off with a win in her open flat class, followed by Benjamin finishing second in open flat and first in open fences. Benjamin’s open-fences win also qualified her for regionals in that division.

Emily Schlosberg ’19 was second in her open-fences class. In the intermediate division, Jules Sudol ’18 was third in flat and Courtney Barry ’18 came in second in her fences class. Barry was also second in novice flat, which qualified her for regionals.

Nicole Sabovik ’19 was fifth in her novice flat class and Lily Peterson ’21 won her over-fences class in novice. Amber Snyder ’20 won her advanced walk, trot, canter class and Abbey Narodowy ’20 was second in hers. Jade Ashley ’20 was second in her first show at the beginner walk, trot, canter level and Madeleine McAllister ’2, riding in her very first show ever, landed in fourth place in the walk, trot division.

The team will compete again next weekend at the University of Mary Washington to finish up its regular season.

Admissions Blog: “I’m a minority student. Why should I come to Sweet Briar?”

Having found a home at Sweet Briar, sophomore DaZané Cole and first-year Ajhani Oxendine have a million answers to the question we often hear at college fairs. We sat down with them to talk about why they love this place, what it was like to come to Sweet Briar as a minority student, and how they’re turning challenges into opportunities for growth.

Celebrating Black History Month at Sweet Briar: Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp ’68 finds her FIERCE

This is the first in a series of weekly profiles celebrating Black History Month at Sweet Briar.

Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp

If there’s a trail to blaze, Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp will find it. In 1966, the 17-year-old from South Carolina was the first African-American student to enroll at Sweet Briar College.

Sweet Briar had been trying for two years to amend the will of its founder, Indiana Fletcher Williams, so that it could admit not only white women, as prescribed in the 1900 document, but women of all colors. A temporary legal victory — which allowed Yeargin-Allsopp to enroll — finally became permanent in 1967.

“I did not know that I would be the first black student to be admitted to Sweet Briar until I received a call from a reporter from the Lynchburg News, followed by one from the Washington Post asking me how it felt to be the first, and whether I was a test case for the NAACP,” Yeargin-Allsopp remembers. “Of course not! I knew nothing about Sweet Briar’s legal challenges and its efforts to become integrated.”

Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp
Yeargin-Allsopp’s senior photo in the Briar Patch

And why would she? There were bigger, more personal things on her mind. Well, there was one in particular: medical school.

“I decided at a young age that I wanted to become a doctor, and never deviated from this goal,” she says. “All educational decisions for me were made with this in mind.”

A bright young woman raised by two teachers in Greenville, S.C., Yeargin-Allsopp had started college at age 16. She was a freshman biology major at Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C. — an excellent school, she says, but not quite what she was looking for — when Sweet Briar crossed her path.

“I wanted to transfer to a school with a stronger science department,” she explains. “I asked my great-uncle [Benjamin Mays, president of Morehouse College in Atlanta,] about possible schools where I might be accepted — Southern schools were just beginning to accept black students — and Sweet Briar was on his list of about ten. I had heard of Sweet Briar, but actually knew very little about the school. I thought it would likely have a stronger science curriculum, to help me achieve my goal of being prepared for medical school.”

She was right. Once enrolled, Sweet Briar’s curriculum proved quite difficult for the biology major and chemistry minor. She felt less prepared than her white classmates and made only mediocre grades initially, but it didn’t matter: Nothing would keep her from reaching her goal.

Yeargin-Allsopp at Emory University School of Medicine
Yeargin-Allsopp at Emory University School of Medicine

“I had no social life, but I was not concerned about that. I was focused on doing well and getting into a top medical school,” Yeargin-Allsopp says. And so she did. In 1968, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Sweet Briar and became the first black female student to enter Emory University School of Medicine. Her experience at Sweet Briar, it turned out, served as the perfect launching pad.

“At Sweet Briar, I learned to study more efficiently, to think critically, to not just memorize and to prioritize my time,” Yeargin-Allsopp remembers. “The sciences at Sweet Briar were tough, so that was a good experience for me. But the number of majors in the sciences was small, so the teachers were very committed to the students in their classes.”

The young medical student excelled at Emory, graduating in 1972. An internship and residence at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, N.Y., followed, along with a fellowship in developmental pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In 1978, Yeargin-Allsopp accepted a clinical fellowship at the United Cerebral Palsy Research and Educational Foundation and in 1981, she began her career at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over the next few decades, she would publish numerous papers on the epidemiology of developmental disabilities. She also designed and implemented the first U.S. population-based study of developmental disabilities in school-age children in an urban area. Her study served as the basis for an ongoing CDC developmental disabilities surveillance system, which identifies children with cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, hearing loss, vision impairment and autism.

To maintain her clinical experience, she also served as the medical director of the Clayton Early Intervention Program in metropolitan Atlanta from 1985 to 2013. In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics gave her the Arnold J. Capute Award for her work in the field of children’s disabilities.

Today, Dr. Yeargin-Allsopp is associate director for children with special healthcare needs in the Division of Congenital and Developmental Disorders at CDC. She was chief of the center’s developmental disabilities branch for more than 15 years and continues to speak to audiences across the country and internationally about CDC’s work. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, spends time with her children and grandchildren, and volunteers with several community service organizations. She also serves as an adjunct professor of pediatrics at Emory University.

Last year, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine. Her alma mater is proud of her, too: In 1992, she was honored with Sweet Briar’s Distinguished Alumna Award.

Yeargin-Allsopp wedding day
Yeargin-Allsopp on her wedding day with her husband, Ralph (right) and her great-uncle, Benjamin Mays

In many ways, Yeargin-Allsopp’s life has turned out much bigger than she imagined in 1966. It’s amazing what dreams and grit can do, given the right environment.

“I was not a leader at Sweet Briar, but I became a more determined young woman,” she says. “I was actually very shy. But, when called upon, I stepped up and overcame my self-consciousness. That was a learning experience for me in terms of leadership. I think many of us have a lot within us, just waiting to be tapped, when the time comes.

“I owe a lot of the self-confidence I developed for my professional life to my early experiences at Sweet Briar. I feel like those experiences have shaped who I am today, and I have carried them with me throughout my life.”

HHS award Yeargin-Allsopp
Yeargin-Allsopp and her Autism Public Health Response Team receive the HHS Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service in 2004.

Yeargin-Allsopp says it’s a privilege to bring some of that leadership back to Sweet Briar, where she is currently serving a second term on the board of directors.

“Sweet Briar, as we all know now, if not before, is a very special place,” she says. “No person or institution gets everything right all the time. But, the story of Sweet Briar — the determination of the school in the ’60s to integrate and the determination of the alumnae to not let the doors be closed forever — is just an amazing story.

“I think Sweet Briar as a place matches my determination and willpower as a person. What the board is doing now under the leadership of our chair, Teresa Pike Tomlinson ’87, and our new president, Meredith Woo, with the faculty and alumnae, is incredible. I hope that many more young women will find their way to Sweet Briar and take advantage of all the wonderful, transformative experiences they will have there. It can be life-changing. I am an example of that!”

Rachel Rogers ’18 to showcase work in Senior Dance Concert

Rachel Rogers. Photo by Andrew Wilds
Rachel Rogers. Photo by Andrew Wilds

Rachel Rogers will present her Senior Dance Concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9 and Saturday, Feb. 10, in Sweet Briar’s Upper Dance Studio in the Babcock Fine Arts Center. The event is free and open to the public.

The Senior Dance Concert is the culmination of the dance major at Sweet Briar. Rogers, from New Kent, says her concert will be about “displaying the human body, myself, and what I love to do,” including the “fun and life that dance brings.” She will perform under the direction of dance professors Ella and Mark Magruder.

In addition to her academics, Rogers has been an active participant in the College’s athletic programs, where she is a dual-sport varsity athlete. She’s played both field hockey and softball for Sweet Briar and has also participated in several tap clubs. Mark Magruder notes that her competitive spirit helps her in her performances.

“She is a great competitor. She used her drive and spirit to create an exciting B.F.A. concert in the fall. I hope Rachel’s Senior Dance Concert will continue to build on her successful B.F.A. concert,” he said.

That drive and spirit is something Rogers says she’s been able to build on at Sweet Briar.

“Sweet Briar has really taught me to be myself and to fight for what I believe in,” she said. “Dance is something I have always loved, and here at Sweet Briar, I have always been encouraged to think outside the box and think about how a simple moment can make myself and others feel. It is such an intimate form of dance that you can see the rawness of a topic, a smile within a story or simple, abstract movement with a deeper meaning.”

She’s not yet sure of her plans post graduation, but, she says, “I know that whatever I choose, I will take this education and love with me.”

For more information, email Magruder at mmagruder@sbc.edu.

Admissions Blog: My day at the United Nations

In September, I attended a United Nations panel discussion on youth innovation. It was an experience I will never forget.

Emma Thom UN
Emma Thom at the United Nations

I approached the array of flags amidst a sea of reporters, feeling apprehensive and inadequate. Meighan Stone, the moderator for the event and new member of Sweet Briar’s board of directors, led me through a number of security checkpoints, one resembling the airport I’d just come out of. (Before serving as the executive chairwoman of Pencils of Promise, Meighan worked on the Malala Fund.)

I sat in a room with leaders from around the world, including guest speaker and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus, as well as representatives from Canada, France and Antigua. They spoke of generation Y, adolescents and young adults ranging from 18-24, and their growing importance in the world.

I listened to Dr. Yunus remind his audience of highly esteemed businessmen and women that generation Y was not made up of the leaders of tomorrow, but the leaders of today. He suggested we were already in possession of the resources needed to be innovative and to create the change we wished to see in the world.

Following his enlightened speech, Matt Keller, Global Learning XPRIZE senior director, explained this nonprofit organization’s position as “an innovation engine and facilitator of exponential change.” His competitive team had been working to create a tablet-based software capable of bringing children from being completely illiterate to literate in 15 months, without the aid of a teacher.

I had expected to sit in awe of the world’s leading analysts and innovators, but instead I had questions and concerns. In a world already barreling toward impersonal relationships, what would happen to the educators, the tradition, the pen and paper? And, most importantly, what would happen to the children with learning disabilities: dyslexia, Down syndrome, autism?

Venkatesh Chari, president and CTO of Orbit Research, eased some of my anxieties. He brought to the panel his latest — what I would call — technological breakthrough, the Orbit Reader 20, revolutionary refreshable braille display. This 6-by-4-inch device, complete with more moving parts than a motor vehicle, enables the blind to text, take notes, browse the internet and read. A round of applause bellowed from the crowded room. This was innovation, this was change, this was compassion and concern for the disabled.

Alongside this panel of men was a group of the world’s leading women, urging and encouraging the confidence and independence of young women across the globe. Meredith Walker, founder of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, was among the women who sought to lead my generation of women in a largely male-dominated business sphere. We’d spent our two-hour-and-thirty-minute session in a flash with no time left for a Q&A as staff members began to clear the room. I shook hands with the men and women I’d only ever heard of before that day and left with a feeling of gratitude and inspiration.

It was truly an honor to attend this panel, and a whirlwind experience I will never forget.

Emma’s experience sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it doesn’t have to be. At Sweet Briar, our network of alumnae and friends and a well-connected career services office provide ample opportunities for hands-on learning, including internships and study abroad. And, starting next fall, you can earn up to $2,000 to fund those invaluable experiences. There truly are no limits to what you can do as a Sweet Briar student. Learn more about Sweet Briar here! 

Emma ThomEmma Thom ’18 is an English and creative writing major from Lynchburg, Va. She is involved in theater at Sweet Briar and will perform in the spring production of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”

Admissions Blog: Why I’m glad I’m attending a women’s college

Soccer team seniors
Leyte McNealus (right) with her teammates and fellow seniors Jona Cumani (from left), Alexa Dahlin, Elizabeth Phaup and Melissa Wert

When looking for a college, I wanted a place that felt like home. I wanted a place where I would not get lost in a sea of students, and where my professors would notice if I skipped class. Also, I wanted to play soccer at the collegiate level. At the suggestion of my mother, I came to be a Sweet Briar woman (She was right this time!), and I have never looked back. Sweet Briar is a women’s college, and that’s awesome. Here’s why:

Because I’m constantly pushed but always cared for

My high school never pushed me to do more. At Sweet Briar, my professors see my potential and push me to dig deeper. They have exposed me to some of the coolest topics imaginable! Medieval canon law and Roman law with Professor Laufenberg were equally intimidating and interesting. During Professor Goulde’s tenure, he introduced me to Comparative Philosophy of Religion. His class made me think so deeply about culture and society. It’s easier to dig deep academically at a women’s college, because I’m not worried about impressing anyone. It’s all about me and my education. My professors challenge me, but they also care about me and my fellow students. They invite us into their homes and always ask about other things we are involved in.

Because here, I’m a leader among leaders

Women’s leadership is part of the fabric of our school. Every single leadership position is held by a woman. Through the Student Government Association, I have developed my leadership skills even more. As the electoral officer, I have to organize and plan all of the SGA elections for the upcoming year. In addition, this position gives me the opportunity to help the greater school community as a representative of the student body through decisions we agree on at our SGA meetings. (Starting with the new academic year, leadership will be an even bigger part of the curriculum, too, which is really exciting!)

Because we’re ONE team

Coming into a new environment, I was lucky to be part of the soccer team my freshman year. Throughout my time at Sweet Briar, soccer has been a major part of my success. The team has given me a strong group of women I can count on no matter what, as well as emotional and academic support from my coaches, administrators and our trainer. At Sweet Briar, we’re ONE team — on and off the field.

Because lifelong friendships start here

The friends I have made here are some of the best people I have met. They inspire and push me to be better every single day. Sweet Briar women support each other in many ways: during late-night study sessions or as a shoulder to cry on. This type of love and support is also found in the alumnae. Each one is an accomplished woman with an incredible life story. Every time they interact with us, they want to hear all about our traditions and campus life, and they’re always willing to help us with whatever it is we might need — internship advice or a job lead, or maybe a place to stay over break. Our alumnae are here for us, just as we are here for each other. Soon, I’ll be one of them, and I’ll be reaching out to students who need my support. It’s because we’re all part of this enormous, unbreakable sisterhood.

Graduation will be bittersweet. I am so glad I chose Sweet Briar on April 30, 2014, while studying abroad in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Here’s how you can learn more about Sweet Briar, too.

Leyte McNealusLeyte McNealus ’18, of Landgrove, Vt., is a history major and religion minor on the pre-law track. She is a student admissions ambassador, varsity soccer player and former lacrosse player. She serves as the SGA’s electoral officer, Earphones president, a member of Aint’s ‘n’ Asses and secretary on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. A member of Phi Alpha Delta, Leyte earned an Experiential Learning Fellowship from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges.

Sweet Briar Swimming honors Class of 2018 during Senior Day

Claire Zak
Sweet Briar senior Claire Zak

After a week of training in balmy Delray Beach, Fla., Sweet Briar’s swim team has returned to campus and will take on Emory & Henry College in a coed meet with Hampden-Sydney College. The Vixens will also celebrate their two seniors, Claire Zak and Sarah Cahoone, before the meet gets underway at 2 p.m. on Saturday in Prothro Natatorium.

Zak, from St. Cloud, Fla., was a dual-sport athlete last year, running on the College’s inaugural cross-country team. This year, she is focusing exclusively on swimming — when it comes to athletics, that is. The classics and archaeology double major, with minors in religion and anthropology, is an Outdoor Program instructor and a resident advisor. A former admissions ambassador and tutor, Zak also serves as the Honors Program Student Council chairwoman and, for the second year, as the Student Athlete Advisory Committee president. She is a member of Tau Phi, BAM, Falls on Nose and the Sustainability Club, and serves as judicial chair for her class.

Claire Zak in Kazakhstan
Zak during her internship in Kazakhstan in 2016

Zak exemplifies what being a Sweet Briar student-athlete is all about: Dedication, hard work and team spirit are as vital in the classroom as they are in the pool or on the field. Currently, Zak is working on her Senior Honors Thesis in archaeology on Iron Age ceramics of Tuzusai, Kazakhstan. Honored with the Mary K. Benedict Award last fall, she is a member of Eta Sigma Phi, Omicron Delta Kappa and Alpha Lambda Delta. Outside of the classroom, Zak followed her academic interests abroad, completing archaeological internships in Kazakhstan and Italy.

Much of it, she knows, would not be possible without the Sweet Briar community.

“I am going to miss the incredible support system from trusted faculty and classmates, as well as the countless friendships I have made,” Zak says when thinking about her graduation in May.

But there is also a lot to look forward to. Zak has applied to a number of graduate schools for maritime classical archaeology and is now eagerly awaiting those admissions decisions.

Sarah Cahoone
Sarah Cahoone ’18

Meanwhile, classmate and fellow swimmer Sarah Cahoone already has a clear picture of her future, having recently accepted a job at NAVAIR. The engineering major and mathematics minor will be working as a mechanical engineer — an internship with the company last summer sealed the deal for the Sarasota, Fla., native. A member of Tau Phi, Cahoone, like Zak, values Sweet Briar’s close-knit community and the opportunities that come with it.

“The small class sizes at Sweet Briar allow for lots of discussion and hands-on learning,” Cahoone says. “Also, our athletics teams are small enough that, even though I hadn’t swum a full season since high school, I’m able to score points for my team.”

Cahoone engineering
Cahoone in the engineering lab at Sweet Briar

A shoulder injury prevented Cahoone from completing a full season at Sweet Briar, but this year, head coach Donna Hodgert and the College’s sports medicine team “worked to manage it so that she could come back and compete her senior season,” Hodgert says.

Cahoone looks forward to the home stretch, and the opportunity to swim an entire season as a college athlete.

Admissions Blog: Top 5 campus resources at Sweet Briar

Engineering classThere are many perks to attending a small liberal arts college. Here’s a big one: seemingly endless resources. You are more than just a number when you are a student at Sweet Briar College. I have never felt like I couldn’t ask for help when I had a question about my future career path, or an assignment I just couldn’t seem to wrap my head around.

Sweet Briar isn’t like other colleges. As a small women’s college, we encourage students to reach out and get answers, take risks and say “yes” to opportunities. This environment infuses courage and strength, and it’s amplified by the resources available to each student.

  1. The ARC

    We have the Academic Resource Center, or ARC for short. Here, you will find student tutors who can help you with time management, general study skills or a subject you are struggling in. If writing isn’t your strong suit, you can come here to get a fresh set of eyes on a paper or improve the overall quality of your writing. (Professors encourage students to take their work to the ARC, but if you want feedback from the professors themselves, they are always happy to provide constructive criticism, too.)

    Jules Sudol and Laura Pharis

  2. Faculty and Staff

    I am close to my mentors, so naturally, I have to mention our amazing faculty and staff. These men and women are some of the kindest and most intelligent people I have ever encountered. At Sweet Briar, we are a community of scholars where conversations and relationships between students and mentors thrive. I personally have four advisors and a mentor who manages Sweet Briar’s Pannell Gallery, where I intern. That’s five people I can go to about my studies, interests and goals in life. Having such strong relationships makes it fun to come to class because I feel comfortable to ask questions about all kinds of things, including: How can I take full advantage of my all-women’s education? And how can I optimize my college experience within a four-year time frame?

    Lacrosse team

  3. Your Coaches

    Though I am not part of an athletic team on campus, I do have many friends who are involved with two to four sports a year. Our coaches are persistent and responsible. They value their players not only as athletes, but as students and individuals. Our coaches know that academics are the most important thing at Sweet Briar and require study time in addition to practice time. It’s not a coincidence so many of our student-athletes regularly make the ODAC’s All-Academic Team!

    Students in library

  4. Other Students

    Never. Forget. Your peers. One of the most relatable and valuable resources you have in your corner on campus are the other students in your residence halls, in class or even in passing. I don’t know where I would be without the motivation of my peers and the knowledge that they understand my struggles and strengths. The women I call my friends are the women who put a smile on my face every day because of their endless support. We congratulate each other on our successes — from small ones like getting out of bed early on a weekend to big ones like acing an exam or making dean’s list.

    Alumnae in Richmond

  5. Our Alumnae Network and Career Services

    Sweet Briar women help each other. You’ll find yourself growing as an individual with all the constant positive energy in our community. As a Sweet Briar woman, you will find success for yourself, but you’ll never forget to reach down and help the next young woman achieve her goals, too. Our alumnae form a large network of empowering women who have earned their roses, and they’re eager to help the young women who are currently attending Sweet Briar. These amazing women are professionals who are also mothers, grandmothers, sisters and so much more. Year after year, alumnae look out for their Vixens and reach out to students who live near them. Their connection with our career services office creates a perfect resource to help you find summer internships, or that first job after graduation.

There are many reasons to attend Sweet Briar College. Our tight-knit community, the beautiful campus, our traditions … But one thing is for sure, asking for help should be the least of your worries. Taking a chance is welcomed here, and just know: You’ll never have to do it alone.

Olympia LeHotaOlympia LeHota ’20 is a student admissions ambassador from Asheville, N.C. (but originally from Denver, Colo.). A double major in art history and dance, Olympia is also pursuing an Arts Management Certificate in museum studies.

National Engineers Week Banquet at Sweet Briar to feature Christine Darden of ‘Hidden Figures’

Christine Darden
Christine Darden. Photo courtesy of NASA

Sweet Briar College is recognizing National Engineers Week with two programs on Thursday, Feb. 22. An afternoon session for high school girls in honor of Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day will be followed by the region’s National Engineers Week Banquet.

This year’s keynote speaker is Christine Darden, a retired NASA aeronautical engineer, data analyst and mathematician featured in “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race.” Margo Lee Shetterly’s 2016 book became a New York Times Best Seller and was the basis for a film by the same name, which garnered three Oscar nominations.

Darden earned an M.S. in applied mathematics from Virginia State University and began working at NASA in 1967. In 1983, she completed her Ph.D. at George Washington University. During her distinguished 40-year career at NASA, Darden developed the organization’s sonic boom research program, led research in NASA’s aeronautics programs and published numerous articles on high-lift wing design in supersonic flow, flap design, sonic boom prediction and sonic boom minimization. She was the first African-American woman at NASA’s Langley Research Center to be promoted into the Senior Executive Service, the top rank in the federal civil service, and received three Certificates of Outstanding Performance from Langley Research Center (1989, 1991 and 1992).

“We’re honored  to be able to bring such an inspiring and accomplished scientist to campus,” said Hank Yochum, director of the College’s Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 Engineering Program. “Darden was one of only a few female aerospace engineers at NASA Langley and went on to become one of the most prominent sonic boom researchers. She is an incredible leader and role model for our students and for engineers everywhere.”

This is the third year in a row the College is hosting the banquet, an annual event that brings together industry professionals, high school and college students, educators and business leaders. The 2018 dinner will take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Fitness and Athletics Center’s Upchurch Field House. The event will kick off with hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar at 5:30 p.m., followed by the dinner and program from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Tickets are $35 general admission, $25 for college students with I.D., and $15 for high school students with I.D. Reserved tables for eight in a priority location and with custom signage are also available for $350. There is no charge for Sweet Briar faculty, staff or students. Advanced registration is required and will close at 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 19. Pop-up exhibits, including display tables, are available at no extra cost. To purchase tickets and learn more, visit our website.

Before the evening program gets underway, Sweet Briar will host a free afternoon event for high school girls to celebrate the 17th annual Introduce A Girl To Engineering Day. Activities will begin at 3 p.m. and include hands-on design projects led by Sweet Briar engineering faculty and students, a Q&A session with Darden, a campus tour from 5 to 6 p.m., and free dinner tickets to the National Engineers Week Banquet. Space is limited to 20 students, so participants should register in advance on the event website.

For more information about both events, contact Rebecca Girten at (434) 381-6447 or rgirten@sbc.edu.

Admissions Blog: Why I transferred to Sweet Briar from a large school

Quad Rocks
Ashton Mays (center) found several clubs to join — and lead — at Sweet Briar.

For many of our students, Sweet Briar was love at first sight — and not just because of our stunning campus. They immediately knew that our tight-knit community, small classes and dedicated professors would be just the right fit. Others fell in love later — after experiencing what college is like at a large state school. Hear from two transfers on why they would choose Sweet Briar again and again.

Emma Thom ’18, English and creative writing major

Transferred to Sweet Briar from a large public university in Virginia in 2016

Emma Thom
Emma Thom at the children’s museum in Richmond during her Virginia Business Magazine Journalism Internship last summer

Why I transferred:

“I had spent my first year at the University of Paris in France and decided that I wanted to be closer to home, but [my university] was not what I’d expected. Academically, it was challenging and engaging, but I had difficulty adjusting to the lecture-style classes with close to 200 students in each lecture hall. I was unable to get the attention I needed to be successful, and I did not have the happiness I felt I deserved.”

What I’ve found at Sweet Briar:

“My mom, a long-time professor at Sweet Briar, encouraged me to apply and to transfer. As I walked onto campus for transfer orientation, I was greeted by an array of smiles and welcomed by a group of people I would come to know and love. The small classroom environment allowed me to grow and thrive and, most importantly, allowed me to find my voice. The faculty and staff could not be more considerate and compassionate. They expect excellence and give the same in return.”

Ashton Mays ’18, psychology major/sociology minor

Transferred to Sweet Briar from a large public university in Virginia in January 2016

Why I transferred:

“This had been my dream school from a very young age, but it was very different from my expectations. I was in classes of 300 to 500 students and had no real interaction with any of my professors, as there were TAs to answer all of the questions we had. Between the large class sizes, lack of interaction with professors and cold interactions with others in the community, I was ready to leave.”

Ashton Mays
Mays at orientation

How I found Sweet Briar:

“I told my mom in October of 2015 that I wanted to transfer. She offered a list of colleges in the area for me to choose from, specifically not listing Sweet Briar as a possibility because I had been so resistant to the idea of attending Sweet Briar during my senior year of high school. [My mom works at Sweet Briar.] I completely ignored her list and immediately responded that Sweet Briar was the only place I wanted to be!”

Why Sweet Briar is home:

“I transferred to Sweet Briar because it’s truly home. Having grown up on campus and after seeing the events following the attempted closure, the sense of community was evident to me. Because of the small class sizes, I am able to have personal interactions with all of my professors, which allows for better communication and understanding on both ends. My professors know me as a person, rather than just a student, and that is such a special part of attending a small school.”

Why I’m not a number at Sweet Briar:

“My decision to transfer was the best decision I have ever made. Attending Sweet Briar has allowed me opportunities that a large state university would not. Over the past two years, I have become a member of five tap clubs (holding officer positions in all but one), a Sweet PEA, a Sweet Spirit, the SGA vice president, an orientation leader and a resident advisor. In addition, I have been honored as a member of five honor societies (helping to reactivate one just this semester) and recognized in Who’s Who Among American Colleges and Universities. In a large state school, I would have been just another number in a sea of students, but here I am known by name for my contributions to and accomplishments in the college community.”

Sweet Briar employee helps to build school in Haiti

Colleen Jaeger in Haiti
Colleen Jaeger (from left) with the project manager and contractor for her school in Haiti

Colleen Jaeger was 8 years old when she fell in love with Haiti, sight unseen. It took her 14 years to make it there, and another five to fulfill her dream of building a school. Earlier this month, Jaeger, who works in Sweet Briar’s human resources office, traveled to Leogane near Port-au-Prince to break ground on the Ecole Notre Dame de Fatima.

Leogane was the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake that destroyed large parts of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. When Jaeger arrived in March 2012 with the nonprofit organization Food for the Poor, she had been planning the trip most of her life — years before the earthquake happened.

“When I was young, around 8 years old, I told my parents I wanted to go to Haiti,” Jaeger says. “I remember hearing a classmate tell us she went to Haiti, and it was as if God immediately placed Haiti on my heart that day. The country has been on my heart and mind ever since.”

Her parents, she adds, encouraged her “adventurous heart,” but told her she needed to wait until she was “a little older.”

Jaeger was 22 when she visited Haiti for the first time in 2012. At the time, she was a business major at Liberty University and was accompanied by her grandmother, who traveled to 98 countries in her lifetime and, among other things, built numerous drinking wells in Africa and houses in Haiti.

Colleen and kids in Haiti
Jaeger met many old and new friends during her visit in December.

“Simply put, the trip changed my life,” Jaeger says.

Born in Winnipeg, Canada, she had moved to the U.S. at age 13. Her family settled in Richmond, a city not too different from her hometown — at least culturally. Haiti, on the other hand, was a whole new world.

“It was humbling and impactful,” Jaeger says. “I felt as though I had discovered a huge piece of my heart in Haiti. Upon returning home from our trip, I signed up to go back again in December of that year.”

When Jaeger got back to Haiti, it became clear to her that she wanted to make a lasting impact, and she found there was something practical she could do to address a widespread problem.

“As we visited various communities, I began to clearly see the need for education,” Jaeger explains. “Haiti’s literacy rate is about 60 percent. Fifty percent of the children do not attend school, while approximately 30 percent of children attending primary school will not make it to third grade. Sixty percent of children abandon school before sixth grade. Specifically, the average girl only attends school until the age of 7.”

The numbers — combined with what she experienced on the ground — told Jaeger everything she needed to know. She decided that she would build a school. As soon as Jaeger returned home, she began raising money. Her goal: $100,000.

“I have a heart for helping others and making a difference,” Jaeger says. “I want to help the children in Haiti and make a difference in their lives.”

It’s that same desire to make a positive impact that led Jaeger to focus her business degree in the field of human resources.

The site of Jaeger’s school in Haiti
The site of Jaeger’s school in Haiti: the Ecole Notre Dame de Fatima

“I remember first going to college knowing that I wanted to major in business, but not being sure about my focus. When I took my first HR class, it clicked,” says Jaeger, who began working at Sweet Briar earlier this year while completing her law degree at Liberty. “I quickly realized I could put my passion for helping others and making a difference, and working in business, together.”

Jaeger returned to Haiti in March 2014 to reconnect with the people there, and to keep pushing herself to reach her goal.

“The truth is, progress those first few years was slow,” Jaeger admits. “I would write letters to various companies and news stations to try to bring awareness to my school, but never heard back. Still, I continued sharing my dream with friends and family and would frequently make updates on my social media accounts. Giving up was never an option. Whether it took me five years or 50 years, I was going to build this school.”

And perhaps she needed to look at it from a different angle. When strategizing with Food for the Poor about her plans, the nonprofit suggested that rather than building a brand-new school from the ground up, Jaeger consider reviving a closed school. After all, many schools had been forced to close — or were in danger of closing — because of unsafe structural conditions.

“This immediately caught my attention, and I decided to refocus my project,” Jaeger says.

While Food for the Poor narrowed in on potential schools that needed rebuilding, Jaeger continued fundraising. Partnering with the nonprofit, she posted her fundraiser on their website — to a section called “Champion’s Page.” Sharing that link frequently on her social media accounts, along with photos of her work in Haiti, really made a difference, Jaeger says. She also received a lot of support from family, friends, neighbors and co-workers, and Food for the Poor’s donor relations team made calls to potential contributors on her behalf. Finally, Jaeger herself donated as often as she could.

Ground-breaking in Leogane, Haiti
Jaeger and Food for the Poor broke ground on the new school in Leogane in early December.

In June of this year, the phone call she had been waiting for finally came. Food for the Poor had found a school they wanted to present to her: the Ecole Notre Dame de Fatima. It was located about one hour away from the capital Port-au-Prince in a town called Leogane. Following the 2010 earthquake that leveled much of Leogane, the school was in desperate need of a new building.

“In fact, they had been waiting for four years for someone to select their school,” Jaeger says.

The total cost was more than she had originally planned for, but Jaeger accepted the challenge. By November, she had raised all $163,993 and in December, Jaeger flew to Haiti to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for “her” new school.

The renovations will include demolishing the current structure, as it is unsafe, and building six classrooms, as well as an administrative block, a cafeteria, a sanitation center and more. Jaeger says it will take about five months to build the school.

“It’s one thing to see pictures of the school; it’s a whole other thing to see it in person,” she says. “Meeting the project manager, contractor, parents, staff and children who will be attending was so meaningful. It took exactly five years to raise the money, but we did it!”

When Jaeger left Haiti on Dec. 8, her eyes “filled with tears” — joyous ones, mostly. It’s hard to leave a place one has loved since childhood. But, she adds, “My heart filled with hope in knowing I’ll be back.”

Jaeger plans to return to Haiti in 2018 to attend the school’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Sweet Briar College and Girl Scouts announce scholarship for Gold Award achievers

Girl Scouts Gold Award Scholarship announcement
Roanoke’s vice mayor Anita Price (from left), Sweet Briar’s vice president for communications and enrollment management Melissa Richards and Girl Scouts VSC CEO Nikki Williams

Sweet Briar College has announced a new scholarship in partnership with the Girl Scouts of the USA for girls who have completed the Gold Award. The announcement was made at the Virginia Skyline Council’s Gold Award Ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 16, in Roanoke.

“Sweet Briar College and the Girl Scouts share a commitment to supporting young women who are go-getters, innovators, risk-takers and leaders. With these values in common we have come together in a national partnership to establish a Girl Scouts Gold Award Scholarship at Sweet Briar College,” said Melissa Farmer Richards, vice president for communications and enrollment management at Sweet Briar College.

Two awards, each valued at $2,500, are available for eligible incoming first-year students who have achieved the Girl Scout Gold Award. One is designated for a student who is a member of a Girl Scout troop in Virginia, while the other is open to a Girl Scout troop member anywhere in the United States.

The scholarship is renewable for four years of study at Sweet Briar if a grade point average of 3.0 is maintained. Scholarship winners will be judged on the following criteria:

  1. Acceptance to Sweet Briar College and a commitment to attend
  2. Current (or recent) active membership in a Girl Scout troop and completion of the Girl Scout Gold Award (Please provide copy of the certificate or letter)
  3. Letter of recommendation from the troop leader
  4. Essay on how you have demonstrated a commitment to community service, leadership and/or sustainability

The scholarship is funded by several generous Sweet Briar alumnae who are former Girl Scouts and who care deeply about advancing women’s leadership.

“The Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline Council is honored that Sweet Briar College will announce this new scholarship initiative at our Gold Award Ceremony so that our girls will be among the first to know they are eligible,” said Nikki Williams, chief executive officer for Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline. “Sweet Briar’s new core curriculum focused on women’s leadership and the Girl Scout leadership experience have a compelling synergy.”

Gold Award winners can apply to Sweet Briar College at sbc.edu/admissions/apply-now. After submitting your application, you can submit the required Gold Award essay inside your Sweet Briar admissions portal.

For questions, contact Richards at mrichards@sbc.edu or 434-381-6326.

In September, Sweet Briar announced a reduced tuition of $21,000 for the 2018-2019 academic year, now competitive with public institutions. The goal is to make the cost of attending a private institution more transparent by eliminating the confusion over discount rates, a term that describes how institutions discount published rates. Sweet Briar’s 32 percent tuition reduction is part of a comprehensive “reset” in the College’s pursuit of academic excellence, relevance and affordability. Sweet Briar has been recognized nationwide for announcing plans to replace its general education curriculum with a core set of courses focused on women’s leadership.

For more information about joining Girl Scouts, visit girlscouts.org.

Sweet Briar reveals academic investments in liberal arts and sciences including core curriculum focused on leadership

Library and studentsToday Sweet Briar College published its new core curriculum focused on women’s leadership, along with its liberal arts and sciences offerings. These new offerings are tailored to meet student demand for 21st-century relevancy and to their academic interests and career choices.

The 10 courses for the new core are:

  • CORE 110 Design Thinking (3 credits)
  • CORE 120 Argument and Persuasion (3)
  • CORE 130 Women and Gender in the World (3)
  • CORE 140 Sustainable Systems (3)
  • CORE 150 Expression and the Arts (3)
  • CORE 160 STEM in Society (3)
  • CORE 170 Decisions in a Data-driven World (3)
  • CORE 210 Contemporary Questions in Ethics and Human Difference (3)
  • CORE 220 Leadership Realized I (3)
  • CORE 310 Leadership Realized II (3)

“Sweet Briar’s curriculum invites students to look squarely upon the problems that our world faces,” said Meredith Woo, president of Sweet Briar. “It empowers women to craft the solutions that our world needs by creating an inclusive environment, and one that seeks out diverse perspectives to address diverse challenges. We’re also giving students what they have shown us they want through their enrollment in majors and minors — the academic programs they have deemed relevant for today and tomorrow.”

Accordingly, Sweet Briar is restructuring its academic programs, staying true to liberal arts and sciences and the College’s areas of distinction. The new offerings are well-balanced across the sciences, humanities, social sciences and the arts as follows:

Undergraduate programs:

Arts and Humanities

  • English and creative writing
  • Modern languages
  • Philosophy
  • Classics and archaeology
  • Art and art history [includes studio art]
  • Performing arts (music, theatre, dance)


  • Engineering and physics
  • Computational sciences [includes mathematics]
  • Biology and biochemistry
  • Psychology
  • Environmental sciences

Social Sciences

  • History
  • Government and international affairs
  • Liberal studies (education)
  • Economics
  • Business

Self-designed major

  • Interdisciplinary studies

Pre-professional tracks:


Graduate program:

  • Master of Arts in Teaching

In September, the College announced a comprehensive vision focused on excellence, relevance and affordability, creating a new business model for liberal arts institutions.

“Faculty leadership worked diligently throughout the fall 2017 semester on a set of 10 courses designed to help students develop habits of lifelong learning, innovation, ethical conduct, problem solving, collaboration and empathy,” said Rob Granger, dean of the College. The faculty voted on Dec. 8 to carry forward the new core, which will replace the general education requirement beginning with the 2018-19 academic year. “The new courses will encourage student engagement, identify interdisciplinary connections and stimulate intellectual open-mindedness. Now more than ever, this is an invigorating time to study at Sweet Briar.”

The College expects to hire approximately five new faculty members within the next two years. The exact positions will be decided by the faculty based on what they deem strategic to support the curriculum, but may include investment in economics, history and modern languages.

Considered a critical field for contemporary study, modern languages will be created to add important languages of the future and to concentrate on language proficiency. English instruction will focus on creative and persuasive writing in line with the new core. Chemistry will better support engineering, biology and pre-med. Existing minors under these programs will remain. All curriculum changes are effective beginning with the 2018-19 academic year. All current students who have declared majors will have pathways to complete them.

“We have a relentless focus on students, so in 2018 we also will be rolling out new student life initiatives,”  Woo said. Initiatives will include living-learning communities, a formalized team approach to advising (faculty, career, alumnae) and career planning from year one.

Woo also reaffirmed the College’s commitment to sustainability and stewardship of the campus’s resources, both natural and built. The College is working with the local community and passionate alumnae on multiple projects in the areas of renewable energy, land conservation and preservation of its historic assets. Twenty-one buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Also this week, S&P Global Ratings raised its long-term rating to “B+” from “B” on bonds issued for Sweet Briar College, with an outlook of “stable.” The ratings report cited that the rating reflects the company’s “view of the college’s new board and senior leadership team, including a new president who officially took office in May 2017, who have taken a number of actions to stabilize the college.” The report specifically named Sweet Briar’s overhaul of strategic initiatives and developing related objectives to address the College’s immediate and intermediate priorities that include curriculum restructuring; reexamination of the tuition policy; implementation of multi-year planning; continued elevated fundraising support; and astute financial management and budgeting practices.

Admissions Blog: My home away from home — Studying at Sweet Briar as an international student

Shift Kamal and friends
Shifti Kamal ’20 (right) and her Sweet Briar friends at Opening Convocation 2017

Wanting to leave home and travel 8,000 miles for college cannot be a spontaneous decision. There was a lot that went into it for me. Would I get to study what I want? Would I be able to follow my professor in class? Would I be able to make friends? How would I live without the best food in the world?

My experience at Sweet Briar College made me realize that this was exactly what I was looking for all along. All I ever cared about was to find a place that would push me, make me work, and help me discover myself. I was never looking for comfort; I was looking for a challenge. And this is it for me.

My first semester here was a roller coaster ride. Not only did I have to adjust to a new country, but also to a new academic structure. My curriculum back home was entirely different from the U.S. It was different to the point where I did not even know how credit hours worked. I had never written a paper before. I was still using British spellings and the “wrong” date format.

Shifti and friends in Bangladesh
Kamal (sitting, right) and her high school friends in Dhaka, Bangladesh

I knew I had to speed up in order to keep up with all my peers. But of course, it was more stressful than I anticipated. I was scared to share my problems with anyone. Until one day, I bumped into my yoga professor, and I know she could tell I was nervous. She asked me to calm down and not be so hard on myself, and that it was okay to talk to my professors about my difficulties. That was all I needed to get back up and remind myself that this is the challenge I had always asked for.

Since then, I have gone to my professors without hesitation for anything I need. My professors have always been there for me. Sometimes they explain an entire class’ worth of topics to me over email on a Saturday morning, sometimes they ask me to join them in taking their dog for a walk while they help me with a case briefing, and sometimes they just want to check in on me.

It is indeed a home away from home. To me, home is where your family is. And I found my second family here.

Shifti at Step Singing
Kamal and her class at Fall Step Singing, one of many Sweet Briar traditions

When I was upset about spending a religious holiday without my family for the first time, my hall mates surprised me with desserts, incense and random music they got off the internet thinking that was what I listened to. When I was worried about my finals, my friends left me encouraging notes on my whiteboard. Whenever I missed breakfast because I was running late for my 8 a.m., the cafeteria staff saved me some waffles.

Being an international student at Sweet Briar is not an experience found anywhere else. Here, you will find a home, no matter where you’re from. You will find your voice — I know I have. At Sweet Briar, you are a leader. You are a woman with vision. At Sweet Briar, you are fierce.

Shifti KamalShifti Kamal is an international affairs and psychology double major with a philosophy minor from Dhaka, Bangladesh. She’s a resident advisor and was an admissions ambassador. She also serves as the international students representative on campus, is president of the Model UN club and loves teaching her friends weird words in Bangla. 

Women veterans and Sweet Briar College: An Interview with Melanie Campbell ’06

Melanie Campbell at inauguration
Melanie Campbell ’06 at President Meredith Woo’s inauguration in September

Enrollment of U.S. military veterans in colleges and universities around the country has been substantially increasing in recent years, and experts predict that trend will continue.

A recent story in the Washington Post pinpoints another, parallel trend.

“Women are the fastest-growing cohort in the veteran community,” writes Ashley Nguyen. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are currently 2.2 million women veterans, 700,000 of whom have served in the armed forces just since 9/11.

Among the women veterans currently at Sweet Briar College is Melanie Campbell ’06, director of admissions operations and a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force. Campbell completed her B.A. at Sweet Briar and well understands what this college has to offer women veterans who want to pursue higher education.

In a recent interview, Campbell explained that women veterans are used to living and working in an inclusive community whose members have a strong commitment to shared values and shared goals, a community where both leadership and teamwork are high priorities. Such an environment can be hard to come by in the civilian workplace and in larger institutions.

Students in class
Classes at Sweet Briar average just eight students, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 5:1.

Inclusivity, collaborative learning, teamwork and respect for differences are shared values in and outside the classroom at Sweet Briar. These values should make the transition to academic life easier for veterans in particular because they come from an environment where a sense of solidarity is essential to successful missions and even, in some situations, to individual and group survival.

Campbell points out that places like Sweet Briar are especially valuable for women who have served in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. After serving in a war zone, veterans need to know that they are in a safe place. The small size of the College, caring professors, an extensive support network available to students, and the beauty of the campus and its natural surroundings all foster a sense of security and well-being.

“It is a place where you can ask questions and start discussions without being judged,” she observes. “Sweet Briar gives you the opportunity to try many different areas of interest before deciding on a major, prepares you for public speaking and writing as well as giving you a global perspective.”

Sweet Briar is also a good fit for women veterans in that they are used to being held to high standards and are expected to be strong and confident and not to conform readily to traditional gender stereotypes. These qualities are also true of Sweet Briar women.

Melanie Campbell
Campbell carries the flag at President Woo’s inauguration.

Campbell notes that women join the service for different reasons — money, a way out of poverty, educational opportunities, a desire to travel and see the world, love of country and a desire to serve. She acknowledges that military service is not for everybody, but still finds it the best thing she ever did.

Her father was career Air Force, and Campbell decided at the age of 7, immediately upon seeing a woman in an Air Force uniform, that she wanted to join the Air Force when she grew up. That is exactly what she did at the age of 22. She scored in the 99th percentile in the Air Force’s aptitude tests for administrative work, but training more women to be aircraft mechanics was a priority then, and Campbell, rising to the challenge, became one of the few women in the Air Force at the time to become a fighter aircraft crew chief/mechanic.

Campbell worked on fighter jets, the F4E’s and F5E’s, for 3 1/2 years while stationed in Las Vegas, Nev., before being promoted and retrained for an administrative position involving flight operations. She was then stationed at Myrtle Beach, S.C., where she met her husband, who was serving as an aircraft mechanic in the Air Force. They were eventually stationed in Japan and later deployed to the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Alaska and Germany.

At her last two duty stations, Campbell was the most senior-ranking person within her career field. By the time she retired, she had risen to the E-8 rank as a senior master sergeant, another impressive achievement. Only 3 percent of enlistees make that rank; there is only one rank above it for enlisted Air Force members, and only 1 percent of them attain it.

Melanie Campbell

Campbell believes not only that women veterans will appreciate Sweet Briar, but that they will be appreciated in turn. After all, who wouldn’t welcome more students and colleagues who know how to learn, how to face complicated questions and situations, how to accomplish difficult, long-term goals through hard work and perseverance, how to be both a valuable leader and team player? These strengths women veterans commonly possess. They are women of consequence and role models for other young women to emulate.

Veterans would like to know that Sweet Briar College honors the Yellow Ribbon Program and works with the veterans affairs office to ensure educational benefits are utilized and managed properly.

“Veterans would also like to know that Sweet Briar is a community,” Campbell concludes, “and that there are other women veterans here seeking similar goals. They will make lifelong friends here, and they will form a new ‘family.’”

Cheryl Mares is the Sara Shallenberger Brown Professor of English at Sweet Briar College. She teaches modern and contemporary fiction and poetry, including postcolonial literature. Her research interests involve connections between literature, history and politics in contemporary fiction and in works by modernist writers, especially Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust, on whom she has published a number of articles.

Sweet Briar’s VP for development recognized as Fundraiser of the Year

The Piedmont Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals awarded Mary Pope Maybank Hutson ’83 one of its highest honors in November, when it recognized her as Fundraiser of the Year.

Mary Pope Hutston '83Hutson serves as Sweet Briar’s vice president for alumnae relations and development and was instrumental in saving the College from closing in 2015. She led the Saving Sweet Briar Inc. campaign’s major donor task force and delivered payments as part of the agreement to keep the College open. As a result of those efforts, Hutson was named to the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors and in January 2016, she took over as head of alumnae relations and development. Since March 2015, Hutson has raised more than $44.6 million for Sweet Briar. In June, she and her team received the 2017 CASE Educational Fundraising Award.

The AFP award is yet another well-deserved honor, says Sweet Briar president Meredith Woo.

“Mary Pope is one of the finest fundraising executives I have ever worked with,” Woo said. “She is a consummate professional, expert manager, and a great friend to all whose lives she touches. Sweet Briar is most fortunate that it has had Mary Pope raise the resources that saw it through the difficult days; and that it can rely on her to lay the foundation for a secure future. She is a great alumna for whom we are grateful.”

Claire Dennison Griffith ’80, senior director of alumnae relations and development at the College, echoed the president’s sentiments. “We are thrilled to have Mary Pope recognized by AFP for her tremendous efforts for Sweet Briar College. She is not only an excellent fundraiser, she also exemplifies the best qualities of leadership by giving much of the credit to her team and motivating each of us to do our best work.”

Prior to her work at Sweet Briar, Hutson spent 13 years as executive vice president of the Land Trust Alliance in Washington, D.C., where she worked tirelessly on land conservation and historic preservation issues and led major fundraising efforts. Throughout her professional life, Hutson has built relationships with individuals and fostered coalitions in both the public and private sectors.

As a Sweet Briar student, Hutson was a nationally ranked athlete as a member of both the varsity tennis and basketball teams and was inducted into the College’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.

Caity Gladstone ’09 brings together Hollins and Sweet Briar alumnae to help kids

Caity Gladstone's middle school classAfter Caity Gladstone graduated from Sweet Briar College in 2009, she pursued an M.F.A. at Hollins University in Roanoke. These days, she’s teaching 8th-grade writing classes at Carver Middle School in Chester.

About a month ago, she partnered with one of her colleagues to register their students to attend the Virginia Children’s Book Festival, which is hosted each October by Longwood University. After all, what better way to foster a love of reading in their young students? They ran into a problem, however: All the buses were spoken for and they would have to hire a chartered bus.

Hiring a bus was outside of their budget, so Gladstone and her colleague asked their students’ parents to contribute. It soon became clear that the money for the charter bus was going to be hard to come by and that they wouldn’t be able to make the trip happen.

In true Sweet Briar fashion, Gladstone wasn’t willing to accept defeat. She knew that she could call on the alumnae from both of her alma maters to help make the trip possible.

“I have always believed in the amazing support of both of these small liberal arts colleges, and they really came through,” she said.

The Hollins and Sweet Briar alumnae communities raised enough money to not only refund the parents who had already contributed, but also create a fund for future trips. Even better, they raised the amount in a mere eight hours. Such generosity and support is a hallmark of both schools, which emphasize leadership, problem-solving and service to society.

Because of these alumnae, Gladstone’s students were able to attend the festival and get inspiration for their own writing. They got to meet several authors — including Aisha Saeed, Meg Medina, Lamar Giles, Dhonielle Clayton, Liz Garton Scanlon and Jarret Krosoczka — and learn about their writing processes

“Many of the students got to speak with authors one-on-one after the sessions,” Gladstone said. “More than a couple of them said the workshops were especially useful and that they planned on using the authors’ techniques in the future when they need inspiration or have writer’s block. I think they also got a great message that authors are diverse, and so is my student population.”

One student, Abbey Colomb, said, “I think I came away from that field trip knowing that I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Everyone starts somewhere and though you may have a talent for writing, nobody is going to be writing publishing-worthy books in the eighth grade. We can’t let that stop up us. We need to keep writing so that we can learn from mistakes.”

Admissions Blog: How to write an amazing admissions essay

BLUR writerWhen I was a senior in high school, I was obsessed with getting into all the colleges to which I applied (16). As a result, I wrote college essays constantly and stressed myself out more than was ever required. To begin with, applying to 16 colleges was stupid, especially when I knew I had no real interest in attending some of them. Based on my experience, I would recommend getting the number under 10 before starting your essays. After that, it’s just a matter of getting them done.

  1.  Be honest.

    Don’t write a paper about how fulfilling something was if you didn’t get anything out of it. The people who are reading your applications are doing so to get to know you. They want to hear something interesting about you and your life, not an exaggerated story about the life-changing experience of working at JC Penney.

  2. Write something original.

    Try to pick a topic you believe to be unique. Due to the large equestrian program at Sweet Briar College, the admissions counselors read tons of essays about falling off a horse and being afraid to get back on. While that might have been a meaningful event in your life, they’ve already heard it about a thousand times. Instead, write about an important conversation you’ve had, the reason you want to go to college, or a great failure you’ve experienced.

  3. Proofread, and then have two other people proofread your essay.

    The admission essay you write for any college will be used to not only show what’s interesting about you, but also to showcase your writing ability. I find it helpful to read the paper sentence by sentence first for grammatical errors, and then all at once to check for voice and flow. Put your best font forward. Don’t use Comic Sans, but instead opt for something like Calibri or Times New Roman.

  4. Relax.

    While an essay may influence your scholarship if you’re right on the edge, it is typically not the difference between getting the big envelope (acceptance packet) or the small business-sized letter (the dreaded rejection). Trust that you have done everything you can up to this point and that your essay is just a snapshot of who you are as a person. Enjoy your last few months in high school and start picking out a rug for your new dorm.

Most of the factors that will affect your admission to college are already over. All that is left to do once you’ve hit “submit” is to admit that you are powerless over your application; no fearless moral inventory is necessary. Do the best you can, and allow yourself to go to your graduation stress-free and ready for the next step.

McKenna SnyderMcKenna Snyder ’20 is a double major in philosophy and government with a minor in religion. She is from “the greatest city on Earth” — Knoxville, Tenn. — and the only problem she has with Sweet Briar is that it’s a Pepsi campus. 

Pannell Scholars bridge the arts, humanities, social studies and STEM in 2017 projects

Engineering students honors project
Ryanna Runyon (left) and classmate Clara Rogers work on a joint engineering project during the 2017 Honors Summer Research Program.

Nine lucky sophomores will spend an entire year delving into a research project of their choice, thanks to Sweet Briar’s Anne Gary Pannell Merit Scholarship. Sponsored by the Honors Program, the scholarship rewards first-year students of exceptional initiative and ability with the opportunity to explore an area of interest more fully during their sophomore year.

The 2017-2018 Pannell Scholars are Casey Atkins, Gwendolyn Bekisz, Kayleigh Bekisz, Jessica Bell, Jordan Elliott, DaZané Cole, Raven Minyard, Ryanna Runyon and Macey Stearns.

Sweet Briar students are known for their wide range of academic interests, and Pannell Scholars are no different. From Scottish folk music to the Great Famine, from sound localization to modern medicine, diversity is the unifying element for the Class of 2020. Some, like Atkins and Kayleigh Bekisz, are using the opportunity to explore possible career choices, while others, like Gwendolyn Bekisz, want to satisfy an intellectual curiosity that goes beyond the classroom.

“I’m proud of our Pannell Scholars because their projects are challenging, interesting, creative and meaningful,” said Bethany Brinkman, chair of the Honors Committee and an assistant professor of engineering. “I look forward to hearing them present their findings in the spring.”

Pannell Scholars receive a merit award of up to $3,000, which is applied to their tuition. In addition, each student receives funding to support her proposed project. While the maximum budget is $3,000 per project, budgets usually range from $750 to $1,000. In many cases, those funds are used for travel expenses. Several scholars in this year’s class are planning trips, including to Yale University, Boston and Georgia. Two will travel abroad — one is going to Scotland; the other is flying to Dublin, Ireland.

Here’s the complete list of abstracts:

Casey Atkins: Modern Medicine: A Comparison of Osteopathic Practices to Traditional Allopathic Care”
“The purpose of this project is to perform a firsthand comparison of osteopathic practices to traditional allopathic medical practices. By comparing the two fields of medicine through observation and hands-on shadowing, I hope to find out why osteopathic medicine has risen in popularity over the past few years and how osteopathic physicians are viewed by patients in rural communities. In addition, I want to see if osteopathic medicine has benefits over the traditional family practice many people are accustomed to or if the recent residency merger of the two fields should be taken a step further to combine the two disciplines. Answering these questions will allow me to look into the lifestyle of each type of physician: D.O. and M.D. respectively, as well as find out which type of doctor I would like to become in the future.”

Atkins is a biochemistry and molecular biology major with an economics minor from Newport, Va.

Gwendolyn Bekisz: “Play Me a Song of Time Gone By: A Study of Scottish Folk Music in The Early 20th Century”
“I believe this project to be worth pursuing because music is an important part of culture, which in turn is an important element that can further understanding of the people to whom the culture belongs. Music can reflect what a person believes and feels; it can convey emotions, tell stories and legends, be a form of cultural identity, and aid in rituals, which makes it an incredibly powerful cultural medium. From an anthropological viewpoint, to be able to compare the elements of the past and their relation to the present is necessary to understanding why we as humans are at the point we are today. By studying folk music, one can examine the very nature of the individual, and how each individual relates to the culture as a whole. Relating this to music style, each Scottish folk musician has his or her own variation of musical technique, which makes up the structure of what the music as a whole means and how it sounds. What I want to accomplish in this project is to further the understanding of culture through music, and to emphasize the important influence that music has on humankind.”

Bekisz is an international affairs major from Warrenton, Va.

Kayleigh and Gwendolyn Bekisz with friends
Kayleigh (second from left) and Gwendolyn Bekisz (right) with friends at Sweet Briar’s branding celebration after Opening Convocation in August

Kayleigh Bekisz: “Rare Books and Where to Find Them: The Keeping of Special Collections”
“My Pannell proposal is dual-faceted. I would like to obtain information relating to the fields of archives, special collections and rare book collections. I will do this by conducting interviews via survey, email, telephone and face-to-face discussion whenever possible. The information that I will obtain will help me to gain more knowledge about my future career and expand the knowledge base with respect to the future of the field. During this first part of the project, I will ask questions relating to the responsibilities of the field, the potential issues of the future, and the overall goal and importance of working with and preserving rare materials.  The second part of my project will be practical. I will explore the collections of libraries with particular focus on unique religious texts. Examples of these include the Gutenberg Bible, The Book of Kells and Gaelic mythology texts. This part of my research will give me hands-on experience in the culture of library systems that deal with delicate items. I will explore the contrast between standard library issues, and those of rare books and materials. For example, special collections may place more importance on preservation than public access, which is typically a focus in a standard library.”

Bekisz is a government major from Warrenton, Va., who is also pursuing an Arts Management Certificate.

Jessica Bell and Jordan Elliott: “Saving the Sea through Artistic Expression”
“When the Pannell project opportunity was first offered to me, I knew that I wanted to combine both my love of the ocean and my love of art in some meaningful way. After meeting up with one of my classmates, Jessica Bell, we decided that we wish to undertake a group project during our sophomore year focused on creating art that raises awareness for marine life and issues, facilitated by a directed study in the fall and further independent work in the spring. Professor [John] Morgan from the studio art department has agreed to supervise our progress and undertake another semester of directed study with us in Fall 2017, as well as continue to be a point of contact for us in the spring leading up to our final show. In order to do this, Jordan and I have decided that our final showcase will be subdivided into categories for each of these issues — habitat loss, global warming and overfishing. We hope to complete several pieces for each of these issues, some of which may have surrealistic elements, but will still convey the importance of raising awareness to what is happening in our oceans. We also wish to complete a category of works focusing on the Cownose Ray.”

Bell double-majors in psychology and studio art, with an intended double minor in art history and English and creative writing. Her hometown is Blackstone, Va.

Elliott is a classics and studio art double major with an art history minor from Canal Winchester, Ohio.

DaZané Cole
DaZané Cole

DaZané Cole: “Veterinarians and Suicide: Exploring a Hidden Issue”
“The Centers for Disease Control state that ‘veterinarians are believed to be at increased risk for suicide compared with the general population.’ While research has started, there isn’t much readily available data on the occurrence of suicidal behavior and the risk factors associated with the profession or the practitioners. The purpose of this project is to explore and gather more data on suicide in the veterinary profession, focusing more closely on veterinary students and affiliates. To fully explore and investigate this issue, I will conduct a research survey, shadow and interview veterinarians and combine the mental health resources available into an easily accessible document that can be widely disseminated.”

Cole is a biology and psychology double major from Hartford, Conn.

Raven Minyard: “Modern Fairy Tales: Writing a Young Adult Fantasy Novel”
“I believe the Pannell Scholarship is the perfect opportunity for me to finally begin writing a novel. I plan to double major in English/creative writing and history, and my project will reflect on both of those subjects. The story I intend to write will involve the Celtic folklore of the fae — fairies, elves, trolls, etc. — which I will investigate intensively as I prepare my project and begin outlining the novel. I will decide which creatures and myths to develop in story and how I will put my own, modern touch on them. By investigating the Celtic folklore and fantasy novels suggested, I will be able to further explore the legends I want to include in my novel. The folklore will allow me to understand how the fae were originally viewed, and the novels will allow me to see ways in which authors transform well-known mythology and legends into their own, new versions of them. Because my novel’s intended audience is young adults and teenagers, this will help me in developing a plot that will pique their interest. The novel will be set in modern-day America rather than medieval Ireland, and therefore the story I tell and legends I include must reflect today’s world. I must know enough original folklore in order to make the creatures recognizable, and I must understand how to make the legends new and original in order to make the story my own, rather than simply repeating legends people have already heard.”

Minyard is an English and creative writing major from Hohenwald, Tenn. She is planning on another major — or a minor — in history.

Ryanna Runyon: “Improving Sound Localization”
“My little brother has microtia atresia, which means he only has hearing in one ear. However, he has a mild to severe hearing loss in that ear. He describes his hearing as ‘like having cotton’ in his ears. He has always had a hearing aid, but because he can only wear one, he can’t localize sound and ends up having trouble in social situations. Also, I plan on going into biomedical engineering research and hope to focus on audiology. This project will help me see if this is what I want to do after college. My goals for this project are to learn more in depth about how people hear, how the technology in hearing aids works, and potentially find a solution to help not only my brother, but other people with hearing loss localize sound better. I plan on working closely with my brother to have the perspective of someone with hearing loss, so that my project stays targeted towards that group of people. This is important because hearing loss is one of the disabilities that can often be overlooked, or seen as someone not trying or not paying attention when in fact they are having trouble hearing and communicating with the people around them. I am hoping to make this a little easier for this group of people.”

Runyon is an engineering major from Knoxville, Tenn.

Macey Stearns: “Irish Crocheted Lace and the Great Famine”
“I plan to study Irish crocheted lace from three interlocking angles. I first plan to study the origins of all Irish lace, but focus mainly on the crocheted variety. I will learn of the differences between multiple forms including Carrickmacross lace, Kenmare lace, Limerick lace and Clones lace. I then plan on studying how the lace became a famine relief effort during the Great Famine, and its subsequent effects on the Irish peasantry. Finally, I will create some samples of lace inspired by the styles of lace that were popular with the women of the upper class during the Great Famine. My final results will include an investigative essay on the origin and evolution of Irish lace and its eventual effects on the peasantry of Ireland and Ireland’s economy as a whole. In addition to the essay, I will have various pieces of lace inspired by the works that would have been made during the Great Famine in the 1840s and 1850s, including a matching collar, and cuffs.”

Stearns is an archaeology major with a minor in English and creative writing. Her hometown is Vienna, Va.

Admissions Blog: My life in 3-D

Mackenzie Crary at GoMeasure3DForty-two applications later I figured there must be at least one company that wants to hire me. I was looking to work as an engineer in the 3-D printing industry over the summer.

Sweet Briar College’s Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 Engineering Program requires every student to work for several months under the mentorship of professional engineers. I figured I’d take this opportunity and apply for jobs in the field of my passion: 3-D printing. I wanted to work in the future, with technology that is changing faster than I can keep up. Unfortunately, zero of the 42 companies thought I was ready to join them. But, thanks to my Sweet Briar sisters and mentors, I was not afraid to forge my own path, and I was not going to let any obstacles get in my way.

In order to get the job, I had to be a little unconventional. I called a local 3-D printing and scanning company and asked if they had room to hire one more. I was tired of filling out applications to companies I did not know in places I had never been. Instead, I took a leap of faith. I told this local company that I loved what they did, and that I was eager to learn more. Three weeks later, I started the best job I have ever had at GoMeasure3D. Take this to heart: The only job I got was the one I asked for.

GoMeasure3D is a family-run business in Amherst. They focus mainly on selling 3-D scanning systems and on providing technical support to people who use the technology. The company also sells a line of 3-D printers and accessory tools. While most of the customers are industrial organizations, GoMeasure3D has many wonderful academic connections. They’ve worked with Sweet Briar and Amherst High School, and many colleges up and down the East Coast use their systems for research.

A 3-D skull scan
A 3-D scan of a coyote skull Crary worked on this summer. More at sketchfab.com/gomeasure3d

Achieving purpose-driven work

At GoMeasure3D, I was fortunate to learn many different technologies. 3-D scanners are incredible: They aim to capture the real world in three dimensions on a computer screen. I got to help researchers scan monkey skulls in order to understand how teeth evolve in primates, and I designed automated toolpaths for mechanics used in drag racing engines. I love this job because I get to be a helper.

But that’s not my job title. I am the technical support at GoMeasure3D. This means anyone who wants to know how to accomplish their goals talks to me. This job has taught me how to communicate with people who are not engineers, as well as with those who have been engineering longer than I have been alive. Sometimes that’s challenging. I’ve gotten angry calls from customers who have spent hours trying to get one thing to work. I understood their frustrations because I was just learning this technology, too, and I got to learn it with my customers.

The more I learned, I transitioned to writing permanent support material for the website. I would find problems when I was using the technology and write pictured guides that I could send to customers if they encountered similar issues. There is something deeply satisfying about this type of work. I want to break down the barriers that prevent people from learning technology. Sometimes that’s in the form of creating YouTube videos, online tutorials or blog posts. Sometimes that means physically going to see a customer and understanding what they are trying to achieve. I learned to be patient and kind, and to listen more than I speak.

Crary and Ewing in workshop
Mackenzie Crary and Rachel Ewing ’21 show off a piece of equipment Ewing used to build a wooden calculator in Introduction to Engineering. Ewing was one of Crary’s Explore Engineering mentees in 2015 — now she’s a friend.

Connecting to a community

Learning to be patient and kind actually started at Sweet Briar. Previously I left an unstable home life in New Hampshire. I got myself into too much trouble and I did not care what others had to say about it. The community at Sweet Briar wasn’t bothered by my past. They believed in my potential. Freshman and sophomore year may have been bumpy, but they were important for my personal growth. Dr. Bethany Brinkman, Dr. Kaelyn Leake and Dr. Hank Yochum, my engineering mentors, never gave up faith and helped me find success in the department. They hired me to clean the shop and help underclasswoman labs.

Helping underclasswomen learn about what made me excited was an incredibly rewarding experience. Paulette Porter-Stransky, the woman who convinced me to come to Sweet Briar many years prior, had a new job for me. She gave me responsibility of over 20 high school girls interested in engineering and the College. Explore Engineering is a summer program at Sweet Briar — I attended it myself when I was in high school — that lets kids work on engineering projects over a whole week. Now I had the opportunity to be a resident advisor. I lived in the dorms with the students to make sure their needs were being met 24 hours a day. I am incredibly proud to say that three of the students I mentored now attend Sweet Briar or have applied.

Crary at Explore Engineering
Crary as a high school student during the Summer 2012 Explore Engineering event

I fully believe my experiences at Sweet Briar helped me get that job at GoMeasure3D. The skills I learned will stay with me for the rest of my life. I learned how to take care of myself and the people around me. One day, I want a career that lowers barriers and opens the door to educational opportunities in technology for all kinds of people. Whether it’s students in a classroom, customers at a business or just everyday people, I believe in access to resources that can make them more successful, as well as drive their passions. That is really what I’ve learned this summer. None of it would have been possible without the love and compassion of the Sweet Briar College and GoMeasure3D communities.

Mackenzie Crary head shotMackenzie Crary ’18 is an engineering major with a math minor from Goffstown, N.H., a place known for the world’s biggest pumpkins. She enjoys being a DJ on 92.7 The Briar and also serves as the station’s general manager. Her sport of choice is competitive rock climbing.

Sweet Briar wins medals at House Mountain Horse Show in Lexington

Lily Peterson and Love Z
Lily Peterson and Sweet Briar’s Love Z

Sweet Briar riders competed at the House Mountain Horse Show in Lexington last weekend, bringing home several ribbons.

Sarah Miller ’20 and Sweet Briar’s Mulligan were champions in the special adult hunters division. The pair won the hack and an over-fences round and placed second in the Sweet Briar Medal class.

In the special children’s hunter division, the championship went to Lily Peterson ’21 on Sweet Briar’s Love Z. Katie Balding ’21 was reserve champion on Sweet Briar’s Lord of the Dance. Peterson also won the Sweet Briar Medal and both of her over-fences rounds and placed fourth in the hack. Balding won the hack, placed second over fences and fifth in the Sweet Briar Medal class.

Willa Poepsel ’21 also competed in the special children’s division. Riding Sweet Briar’s More About Me, Poepsel placed second in the hack, third over fences and sixth in the Sweet Briar Medal. Emily Schlosberg ’18 on Sweet Briar’s Theodore competed in the adult hunter division and placed third and fourth over fences.

Sweet Briar will host the Sweet Briar Medal Finals on Sunday, Oct. 15, at the Harriet Howell Rogers Riding Center. Alisa Berry ’03 will be the judge. Click here to view the prize list.

Bestselling author’s ‘Code Girls’ features early Sweet Briar grad Delia Ann Taylor

German Club Sweet Briar 1932
Sweet Briar’s German Club in the 1932 Briar Patch. One of them is Delia Ann Taylor ’34.

There is very little information on Delia Ann Taylor ’34, a Sweet Briar graduate who would later become a codebreaker during World War II. But then again, that was the point — it was a top-secret mission, nearly erased from history.

Now, Liza Mundy has uncovered what really happened in her latest book “Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II,” to be published on Oct. 10. A New York Times bestselling author, Mundy dug deep to find out how the U.S. Army and Navy recruited more than 10,000 women from small towns and elite colleges across the country. Through “dazzling research” and interviews with surviving “code girls,” Mundy helps bring to life a “riveting and vital story of American courage, service and scientific accomplishment,” according to her publisher, Hachette Books.

“In the tradition of ‘Hidden Figures,’ it is the story of an early cohort of women adept in science and math, whose efforts helped the allies win what remains the biggest, costliest and worst war in human history,” the synopsis continues.

Taylor certainly was adept in math. Sweet Briar’s 1937 Alumnae Magazine tells us she was “going to teach mathematics at Kansas University while she works on her Ph.D.” Did she? We can’t be sure. But she was good at languages, too. A member of the German club, Taylor spent the 1932-33 academic year studying abroad in Munich.

Cover of Code GirlsHer knack for numbers and the German language must have come in handy when a few years later, U.S. Army cryptographer and head of the Signal Intelligence Service William F. Friedman put out an urgent call for codebreakers. Taylor was one of his top-ranking hires, along with Genevieve Grotjan, Frank Lewis and Al Small — at least that’s what Stephen Budiansky wrote in the 2002 “Battle of the Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II.”

Mentioned briefly as a cryptanalyst in a few other documents and in the book “Selections from Cryptologia: History, People, and Technology,” Taylor made her mark on history — albeit secretly — during one of the most significant days in American memory. According to “One Day in History: December 7, 1941,” “two of the top staffers at the Signal Intelligence Service were Genevieve Grotjan and Delia Taylor. Grotjan figured out one of the most complicated patterns in PURPLE, a discovery that made the construction of MAGIC possible. Taylor helped crack a German diplomatic code known as ‘Keyword.’”

Both Taylor and Grotjan were part of something bigger — not only because they were codebreakers, but because they were women. As noted by the authors, “By 1944, about 60 percent of the army’s Signal Intelligence Service staff and 75 percent of the navy’s OP-20-G staff were female.”

Taylor married fellow codebreaker Abraham Sinkov in 1942, but it’s unclear what happened to her after the war. And not surprisingly, there is no Wikipedia page to mirror, or at least supplement, Sinkov’s. Of course Mundy might have (some of) those answers — from stories and memories known only to the women she interviewed.

Taylor died in 1983, 15 years before Sinkov. It’s where her story ends, and there is little information online to fill in the gaps. But one could say that at Sweet Briar, her legacy lives on — in some ways. A revived computer science program is making it possible for a whole new generation of women to break new codes, and new ground. And quite possibly, they will be noticed for it.

If you have more information on Taylor’s life or her family, please contact us at communications@sbc.edu.

Mundy is a staff writer at the Washington Post and the bestselling author of “Michelle: A Biography and Everything Conceivable,” among other works. She received her A.B. degree from Princeton University and earned an M.A. in English literature at the University of Virginia. She has won awards for essays, profiles and science writing from the Sunday Magazine Editors Association, the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association, the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors, The Missouri Lifestyle Journalism Awards and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. She was a 2003 Kaiser Foundation Media Fellow and a 2005 Media Fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. Mundy lives in Arlington.

Sweet Briar Theatre stages concert version of ‘Avenue Q,’ a funny musical

"Avenue Q" players and puppets. Photo by Kye Hayslette.
From left are Taylor Watson, Erin Snyder, Isabella DePaulo, Amber Snyder and Sydney Goldman. Photo by Kylene Hayslett.

Sweet Briar Theatre will present its fall production, a concert presentation of “Avenue Q,” at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12, 13 and 14, and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 15, in Murchison Lane Auditorium at Babcock Fine Arts Center. Melora Kordos, assistant professor of theater, will direct.

Billed as “the funniest show in town” on its website, “Avenue Q” is a “Tony Award Triple Crown” winner, having won Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book in 2004. Jeff Whitty wrote the book, while Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx share credit for music and lyrics.

Ben Brantley of The New York Times marveled at the staying power of the “singing, occasionally foulmouthed hand puppets of ‘Avenue Q,’” after the “‘Sesame Street’-style musical for adults who can’t quite believe they’ve grown up” reopened Off Broadway in 2009. It had lasted six years on Broadway, Brantley noted, “long after more full-bodied competition [had] bitten the dust.”

Like “Sesame Street,” the show calls for human actors to interact with puppets, who are operated by people visible on stage. Being a puppet, even in a concert version, has taken some adjustment, says Amber Snyder ’20. She plays Nicky in her first major role in a theater production.

“There isn’t as much movement as there would be in a full-staged production, but the puppets are still moving around a lot,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I need two more arms!”

The story satirizes the realities of becoming adults by characters who grew up being told they could do anything.

Bella DePaulo ’20 is Princeton, the “bright-eyed college grad” who “arrives in the city with big dreams and a tiny bank account [and] has to move into a shabby apartment all the way out on Avenue Q,” according to the website. Erin Snyder ’20 plays the girl next door, Kate Monster.

Snyder, in her first lead, agreed working with puppets was a whole new experience — but exciting, as was playing such a funny role.

“I’ve loved learning how to use [the puppet] to interact with other characters — human and puppet — on stage,” she said.

DePaulo found the show “fun and energetic” but challenging, too, pointing out there are a lot of musical numbers for the cast to learn.

“Learning how to sing and make the puppet look like it’s singing has definitely been tough. But overall, this is by far one of the most entertaining shows I have ever done,” she said.

Other Avenue Q neighbors include Lucy (“the slut,” played by Taylor Watson ’20), Rod (“the Republican,” played by Sydney Goldman ’20), Trekkie (“the internet entrepreneur,” played by Rory Lee Washington) and superintendent Gary Coleman (“yes, that Gary Coleman,” played by Haylei Libran ’20.)

“Together, they struggle to find jobs, dates, and their ever-elusive purpose in life,” according to the synopsis online.

Additional characters are Bad Idea Bear boy and girl (sophomores Sara-Jane Grubb and Macey Stearns respectively), Mrs. Thistletwat (Victoria Jemmett ’18), Brian (Kate Galbreath ’20) and Christmas Eve (Phoenix Brown ’20). Along with Jemmett, Jordan Sack ’20 and Rachel Rogers ’18 make up the ensemble.

The producers caution that thanks to “issues like sex, drinking, and surfing the web for porn,” this might not be an appropriate performance for children. It is about real life, however, so parents can determine for themselves if their teenagers are mature enough to handle it.

Visit the box office page for more information or order online at sbc.tix.com after tickets go on sale at noon Wednesday, Sept. 27.

Admission for the Oct. 12 performance is free for all area students and teachers with I.D. For all other performances, admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for non-SBC students. Children younger than 12 and SBC community members are admitted free.

For more information or to reserve tickets by phone, call 434-381-6120.

IHSA team starts new season, new region as high-point team champion

IHSA team at VCUSweet Briar’s Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association team began its season on a high note. Riding for the first time in Zone 4, Region 4, Sweet Briar riders were high-point team champions at Stillmeadows Farm in a competition hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University on Saturday, Sept. 23.

The day started off successfully when Makayla Benjamin ’18 won the open flat and Aoife Magner ’19 placed third. The duo then competed in open fences, where Magner came in third and Benjamin placed fifth. Next in the ring was Jules Sudol ’18, competing in her first IHSA show. Sudol proved that she meant business and won the intermediate flat class. Courtney Barry ’18 then rode to a fourth-place finish in intermediate fences.

In novice flat, Emily Schlosberg ’19 became Sweet Briar’s first Region Finals qualifier for the year with a fourth-place finish. First-year student Katie Balding rode in her first IHSA show and placed fourth in novice flat and third in novice fences. Lauren Helber ’20 also competed in her first IHSA show and placed sixth in novice flat and fourth in novice fences. In the advanced walk, trot, canter class, Marina Biel ’18 and Abbey Narodowy ’20 placed second in their respective sections. Cassie Mills ’20 wrapped up the day with an exciting win in the walk, trot division.

“I am very pleased with how all our riders rode this weekend. They handled all the changes involved with moving into a new region with grace and confidence,” said head coach Lizzie Fisch, adding that the team enjoyed meeting the riders, coaches and horses in its new region.

Sweet Briar will compete again at Virginia Commonwealth University on Saturday, Sept. 30. Click here to view a complete calendar of upcoming riding events.

Sweet Briar inaugurates 13th president Meredith Jung-En Woo

Inauguration of President WooIf fair weather is a good omen — and some would argue that at Sweet Briar, it usually is — there was plenty of sunshine to put even the most superstitious minds at ease when Meredith Jung-En Woo was inducted as Sweet Briar College’s 13th president this afternoon.

When thanking Sweet Briar board member and Inauguration Committee chair Alice Dixon ’82, Woo joked that Dixon had successfully “commandeered every aspect of today, including the heavens.”

But first, it was up to Teresa Tomlinson ’87, chairwoman of the board, to introduce the new president, along with an array of speakers who would formally welcome her to the College.

“We knew she was the one to lead us,” Tomlinson said of Woo, whose presidential search she had led. It was obvious, Tomlinson added, that Woo understood Sweet Briar. “Welcome to the Sweet Briar family,” she added.

Inauguration flag bearersDirector of Human Resources and Community Engagement Nicole Whitehead offered a welcome on behalf of the staff, followed by a few words from Professor of Engineering and Physics Hank Yochum, who spoke for the faculty. Student Government Association President Marina Biel ’18 welcomed Woo on behalf of the students.

“It’s impossible to talk about Sweet Briar without talking about our past,” Biel said. Her “bubble,” she added, popped in March 2015, when the College announced it would close. Biel was among those who came back, taking “all those lessons of grit, determination and hope” to start over.

“As we welcome our new president, it would be easy to become jaded,” Biel said. “Change isn’t easy, and we’ve experienced a lot of it. I have questions and concerns, just as many of you do. But as we move forward, we need to let ourselves trust again. And don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean we need to stop asking questions and fighting for what we want. It just means we need to have faith in the future of our beloved college, and the tenacious woman who is making sure Sweet Briar succeeds. … Each year brings me back more of that hope and optimism that I was so full of when I was a first-year. Because just as we made the choice to save our school, we made the choice to keep looking forward, to keep fighting for its future. I cannot think of anyone better suited to lead us in this challenge than President Woo. Her vision and determination will put Sweet Briar back on young women’s top-college lists, and she will help us prove to the world that an all women’s education is, and always will be, relevant.

Alumnae spokeswoman Anna Chao Pai ’57 agreed, calling Woo the “lucky 13th president of Sweet Briar College.”

As one of two keynote speakers, John T. Casteen III — best known for his 20-year tenure as seventh president of the University of Virginia — shed light on Woo’s background as dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at UVa. Woo was hired 10 years ago, he said, because she understood the need for new leadership within liberal arts colleges. “Intellectually tough,” Woo “remade the college” in just five years, he added, raising almost twice the amount asked and hiring a cadre of talented young faculty. Through it all, the two became friends, he said.

“Each time we met, we managed to resolve all the world’s problems,” Casteen joked.

When Woo told him about Sweet Briar College, she “relished the challenge of leading a small college,” he said. She also liked the faculty, and loved the way of life.

“Sweet Briar will thrive and prosper with you. Godspeed, my friend. Flourish here.”

Inauguration class bannersArriving from about 8,000 miles away, Kamal Ahmad spoke in his keynote address about Woo’s commitment to education. As founder of the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh, Ahmad met Woo during her time with the Open Society Foundations. Together, they enrolled 75 Rohingya women from the Bangladesh-Burma border at AUW, which provides an American-style liberal arts education.

“Only Meredith could have pulled this off at such lightning speed,” Ahmad said, describing Woo as thoughtful, creative, smart, humorous and empathic. “She will transform Sweet Briar into the best it has ever been.”

Recounting his own family history — including a grandmother who was married at 11 — Ahmad stressed the importance of women’s education.

“Women’s education is the most powerful way to change the destiny of society,” he said.

Next came a special surprise — a poem written for Woo’s inauguration by award-winning writer Molly McCully Brown, daughter of Sweet Briar professors and novelists Carrie and John Gregory Brown. Carrie, who is the Margaret Banister Writer-in-Residence, stepped up to the podium to read “Perennial.” Followed by music, the recital set the stage for the main event: President Woo’s investiture.

First, Tomlinson presented Woo with three artifacts significant to the College’s history — Indiana Fletcher Williams’s will from 1899, which established Sweet Briar; the College seal; and a pen used in the 2015 settlement agreement by Amherst County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ellen Bowyer, William Hurd of Troutman Sanders and Michael Shepherd of White and Case.

Pledging the board of director’s support, Tomlinson officially declared Woo president of Sweet Briar College as she presented the final ceremonial item: the Presidential Medal.

President Meredith Jung-En Woo quickly turned her attention to the day’s first event.

President Woo at inauguration“Today is also Founders’ Day,” Woo said. “On [Monument Hill], we are always reminded of the origins of this college. On the monument it is inscribed, ‘dedicated to the sweet remembrance of Dear Daisy by her sorrowing parents, James Henry and Indie Fletcher Williams.’ They were sorrowing parents — in the present progressive — that is, they were in grief so deep and profound over the loss of their only daughter that it nearly incapacitated them.”

The Greek playwright Aeschylus, Woo added, once wrote about the kind of pain Daisy’s parents must have experienced: “And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

Born almost exactly 150 years ago, Daisy lived a life of privilege, Woo noted — and she would have continued to do so had her life not been cut short.

“She was being groomed to meet at the highest level the demands of the time for someone of her social standing,” Woo said. “But even from the perch of great wealth and privilege, she would have been witness to a most complex and baffling part of history, both here in the United States and abroad. Daisy still would have lived in the South of Jim Crow. Daisy still wouldn’t have had voting rights, well into her middle age. In fact, she would have lived at a time when women would have fought, failed, fought and failed again, before finally gaining their rights.”

Daisy also would have witnessed what historian Eric Hobsbawm called the Age of Extremes, Woo added. “This Age of Extremes was defined by massive wars including atomic bombs, communism, fascism, the Holocaust and mass exterminations.

President Woo after inauguration“However terrible our recent problems — the brutalities of terrorism, ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, nuclear proliferation in North Korea, the antediluvian Taliban and ISIS wanting to rule Afghanistan and maybe the modern world as well, and the refugees from the destruction of entire countries as in Syria, Iraq and Libya — they don’t compare with the large-scale brutalities of the organized madness of the 20th century that Daisy would have witnessed, had she lived to be an old and wise woman.”

Sweet Briar students, Woo added, are fortunate to have been born and raised outside the Age of Extremes.

“So, your citizenly duty is to make sure that these extremes and the organized madness of the 20th century remain in and of a most unfortunate past. Much as I hope some of you will one day attain the wealth that Daisy would have inherited, it is true that what you have inherited is perhaps more valuable: an open age where you can learn, grow, experiment, and ultimately find out what works for you. It is an optimistic age where, in spite of all our economic difficulties and political differences, all things worldly are open to you. As written in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor,’ the world is your oyster.

“At Sweet Briar, we prepare you, so you will have your very own oyster — and eat it too.”

Naturally, Woo had no trouble finding concrete examples — thousands, to be exact — of what it is Sweet Briar women might become when they leave the College.

“Thousands of Sweet Briar alumnae fought for or rooted for Sweet Briar, so it will continue to produce, as it has done for over a century, women of consequence,” she said. “They are women of great intelligence, experience and energy — and above all, indomitable will.”

The alumnae’s revolution two years ago made history in American higher education, Woo said, though she was not sure what to call it — given catchy phrases like “War of the Roses” and “Revolution of the Roses” were already taken.

“Whatever it is called, it altered the role of stakeholders in the American college: alumnae are no longer people who simply send checks in December and May — although I would still urge you to do that. They are protectors and guardians.”

Unlike other revolutionaries, Woo added, Sweet Briar alumnae didn’t just shake up the status quo. They have been back year after year to tend to their college, spending several weeks in July and August to weed, mulch and paint for the arrival of students.

This led Woo to another point, one that has been contested loudly in recent years: the relevance of women’s colleges. Woo sees two related trends she wants to address as Sweet Briar’s president — the growing number of women in higher education worldwide (but their absence from leadership positions), and the declining quality of education at colleges.

“Universities and colleges are bellwethers, they are incubators of leaders and the promises of the future. Around the world, they are both doing well — they are exploding with students — and really, not so well,” Woo said. The reason for this is many governments’ declining support of education, she added.

“What is to be done about the questionable quality of higher education, and about the women who are enrolled, often in greater numbers than men — even as the halls of their governments, political parties, not to mention their board rooms, remain eerily bereft of women?”

President Woo after inaugurationLeaning forward, Woo lowered her voice. “Women’s colleges are a good idea,” she said conspiratorially. “It is one whose time has come, and not gone. Around the world, people look to the United States — and excellent small women’s colleges like Sweet Briar — to meaningfully provide the kind of education that allows women to find their place in the sun (or to have their oyster and eat it, too).”

Turning her attention to Ahmad and his work at AWU, Woo reiterated his plea for women’s education. “When you educate women, they will in turn educate their clans, their families and their societies.”

It’s easy to see why Sweet Briar’s mission is dear to Woo’s heart, but it probably isn’t what got her interested in the job — not entirely, anyway.

“I am preternaturally attracted to people who are resilient and tough — like women at Sweet Briar — and who say ‘no’ when they are told to say ‘yes,’ because in their gut they believe it is the right thing to do,” Woo said. “I read somewhere that more real intelligence resides in your gut than in your brain; the Sweet Briar women are probably Exhibit A in this regard. …

“I have in my heart a complicated understanding about those intelligent voices said to reside in the gut, voices that defy all principles and rules, that defy powers-that-be who tell you what you can’t do. That is why I am in awe of the women at Sweet Briar, and deeply honored to lead this venerable institution into the future. With you, I am determined to show through example how higher education can be transformed when all our stakeholders are unified with the singular purpose to create a future that is open, exciting and new.”

Watch a video of the livestream at sbc.edu/live. Read Woo’s complete speech here.

‘Keepers of hope’: Sweet Briar celebrates 2017 Founders’ Day

Students gathered at Monument Hill cemetery.“Without understanding the beginnings, we can’t truly understand where we are,” said Sweet Briar President Meredith Woo, getting right to the point of Founders’ Day.

She spoke to students, faculty, staff and alumnae gathered Friday, Sept. 22, in Murchison Lane Auditorium to observe the College’s annual rite. Founders’ Day is one of Sweet Briar’s cherished traditions to honor Indiana Fletcher Williams and her husband, James Henry Williams, who established the College as a perpetual memorial to their daughter, Daisy.

Woo noted that beginnings often determine where one is going. In the case of Sweet Briar, a grieving couple desired to establish a school that would prepare young women to be “useful members of society.”

“In that sense today is an auspicious day where we reflect upon the past, where we’ve been, where we are and think clearly and historically about where we need to be, so that we make this school what it was always meant to be and more,” Woo said.

Teresa Tomlinson ’87, chairwoman of the board of directors, also addressed the convocation. She spoke of the contributions of those assembled to Sweet Briar’s ongoing story, leaving no one out — starting with Woo, who was celebrating not only her first Founders’ Day at Sweet Briar, but her inauguration as the College’s 13th president.

Calling the faculty the “best of the best,” she noted their remarkable love for teaching and their students. She thanked the staff, pointing out the work that goes into producing campus events — printed programs and tables of food don’t just “magically appear,” she said. She commended the students’ courage, energy and potential that keep the College driving forward.

Lynn Rainville at podium.
Lynn Rainville makes the case that Sweet Briar has many founders.

She also acknowledged the alumnae who tirelessly support their alma mater, introducing one in particular: Helen Murchison Lane ’46, for whom the auditorium is named. Lane stood to be recognized to thunderous applause and cheering.

“We have a real family here and that today is what we celebrate as well as the history that we have been given,” Tomlinson said.

The Williamses had a bold vision to educate and empower women at a time and place when such opportunities were few. That’s changed over the past 40 years, Tomlinson said, yet many — like she did in 1984 — choose Sweet Briar.

“Young women thrive here; we turn out to be competent women who change the world. So let’s remember Indiana Fletcher Williams, her husband and Daisy.

“Their journey has been fulfilled. We continue the boldness of their vision and celebrate the bold story we can help weave. And yes, her vision is as relevant today as it has ever been.”

Tomlinson was followed at the podium by Dean of the College Rob Granger, who presented this year’s academic and College awards to students.

Lynn Rainville, director of Sweet Briar’s Tusculum Institute and a research professor of the humanities, gave a brief slide presentation titled “Two Centuries of Grit: Celebrating Our Founders.”

Rainville noted that Indiana is only the most recognizable of the College’s founders and briefly surveyed the stories of many others without whom there would not be a Sweet Briar. We know many of them, such as Mary K. Benedict, the first president, and Indiana’s father, Elijah Fletcher, and her husband.

Others, she said, stood in the shadows of history but were equally important: members of the enslaved community and their descendants. They labored on the plantation and made it profitable. Later, some of them literally helped build it, brick by brick.

“In the 20th century, dozens of the very first employees of this College, the earliest staff members, were both the formerly enslaved individuals and the children and grandchildren of individuals who had been enslaved here,” Rainville said.

“Some names you would recognize today because descendants of this community are still here in the community or working for the College,” she said, noting the education building is named for Dorothy Sales, a longtime employee.

Following convocation every year, a bagpiper leads the way as the assembly processes behind the president to the gravesite of the founding family on Monument Hill. There, it is tradition that students — seniors wearing their academic robes for the first time and first-years, sophomores and juniors dressed in white — lay daisies at the foot of Daisy’s grave.

As President Woo noted in her remarks at the gravesite, the gesture symbolizes one of the few directives the Williams family placed upon Sweet Briar’s trustees: that it maintain in good repair the cemetery on Monument Hill forever. The cemetery is an interesting place, she said — and one she visits regularly — because of its connection to the campus, which is visible from the hill.

Woo said that while Sweet Briar was founded upon grief, it was also founded upon hope. Indiana and James were creating a future, not for Daisy but for other young women.

“It is unusual for a college to be the keeper of graveyards,” Woo said, “but because we know the connection, we are gratified to be the keepers of graves and the keepers of hope.”

Sweet Briar’s beloved Fletcher Oak lives on in academic mace

Sun setting behind the Fletcher Oak.It happened around 10 a.m. on Aug. 9, 2005. For members of the Sweet Briar College community it was the passing of a dear friend. As the news quickly spread, people came to pay their respects.

The Fletcher Oak — still in full summer foliage and festooned with clusters of green acorns — had fallen. Since 1906, students, faculty and staff had passed beneath the massive canopy, taking comfort from its imposing presence. In 1991, Mary Oliver, then the College’s Margaret Banister Writer-in-Residence, wrote a poem about it: “There is a tree here so beautiful it even has a name. …”

The red oak, named for the College’s founding family, stood on the northwest corner of Fletcher Hall. It was at least 200 years old and even on its last day, sprawled across a rain-drenched Sweet Briar Drive, its grandeur and magnitude were on display. The jumbled branches dwarfed the workers who scrambled over them with chainsaws and trimmers to clear it from the road.

Over the years, bits and pieces of the beloved tree were carved into pens, a decorative bench, key chains and other trinkets. But some of the harvested wood remains, tucked away in a barn on campus. From these remnants comes the Fletcher Oak’s latest contribution — and perhaps its most significant — to the Sweet Briar story: a ceremonial mace handcrafted by woodturner Tom Boley. The elaborate piece will be used for the first time at the inauguration of President Meredith Jung-En Woo on Sept. 22, 2017.

The Sweet Briar College Mace is a gift from a group of unnamed donors to celebrate the investiture of the College’s 13th president. It is marked with the following inscription:

Crafted with wood from the Fletcher Oak
First used at the Inauguration of President Meredith Jung-En Woo
September 22, 2017
Given in honor of the Alumnae of the college, who kept the Faith

An academic mace is a symbol of an institution’s authority to confer a degree. It traces its history to the medieval battle mace, a weapon of war and, again, representative of authority. A king’s or queen’s scepter is similarly a symbol of authority.

Each element of the Sweet Briar Mace represents something significant to the College.

Sweet Briar College academic mace

Starting at the bottom, the small ball at the tip of the tailpiece represents Sweet Briar’s origin; the widening of the tailpiece represents its ongoing growth.

The large ring ascending from the base reflects the core curriculum of a liberal arts education centered on students, on learning, on thinking and on doing.

Three rings below the shaft represent the College’s newly created “centers of excellence” that make up the curriculum: Engineering, Science and Technology in Society; Human and Environmental Sustainability; and Creativity, Design and the Arts.

The shaft is enclosed by five flutes along the sides, representing the four undergraduate classes and the graduate degree program.

The five upper rings surrounding the student body represent growth in writing, speaking, critical thinking, proficiency in areas of study, and acquired life skills and attributes, including leadership, confidence, resilience and adaptability.

The engraved collar between the shaft and the upper section commemorates the inauguration of President Woo and honors the alumnae of the College.

The ball at top of the shaft represents the board, faculty and staff, who have significant influence on students in their academic journey, and holds medallions with the seal of Sweet Briar College.

Just above it are two rings representing the College and the alumnae, which are joined together always. The pointed finial at the top points to Sweet Briar’s future.

The finished piece is 44 inches, with a 5-inch medallion at the top. It was made with care befitting Tom Boley’s reverence for the wood and the story behind it.

“The Sweet Briar mace is No. 51 for me,” said Boley, who lives and works near Manhattan, Kan. “While for me it is a business, I also think it is really special making something like this for colleges and universities, which should last well over a hundred years.”

The alumna who commissioned the mace explained to him what the tree had meant to the campus community.

“I have had a couple schools ask to incorporate a piece of a campus tree in their mace and it has worked well,” he said. “It is quite a responsibility, as you know. Using wood from the Fletcher Oak has made this one pretty special.”

Coincidentally, red oak is one of his favorites to work with. “[It] is a good wood for turning, a wood which everyone loves, and a wood with a very attractive grain pattern,” he said.

Boley has been a woodturner since 1995. Making maces is a specialty and one of the wood projects he enjoys most. He also teaches classes and offers demonstrations to woodturning clubs around the Midwest through his business named — not coincidentally — Red Oak Hollow Lathe Works.

Fletcher Oak

There is a tree here so beautiful it even has a name. Every morning, when it is still dark, I stand under its branches. They flow from the thick and silent trunk. One can’t begin to imagine their weight. Year after year they reach, they send out smaller and smaller branches, and bunches of flat green leaves, to touch the light.

Of course this has consequences. Every year the oak tree fills with fruit. Just now, as it is September, the acor