January 2022 Community Update

Dear Colleagues,

I want to thank all of you for getting your booster shots and providing evidence of a negative COVID test before the start of the spring semester. I appreciate that our community continues to follow our protocols, so that we will keep each other safe while living and learning in txhe midst of the pandemic. The handful of students who tested positive for COVID after returning to campus were isolated in Patteson House or at the Inn, with meals delivered to them. Student Life is providing free shuttle service to the CVS in Amherst for students to get booster shots, to further ensure our community’s health.

January’s second major snowstorm compelled us to cancel classes on the 17th.  Our essential employees came in to cover operations and clear roads and parking lots (we arranged for many of them to stay at the Inn on Sunday night so they wouldn’t have to drive in on treacherous roadways), while other employees worked remotely from home. I am grateful to everyone for keeping the campus running during the storm and its aftermath.

We hosted a number of consultants on campus in January to help us move various priorities forward. On January 24, facilitators from Rankin and Associates held focus groups with students, faculty, and staff to help us improve our campus climate for diversity and inclusion. Rankin will present their findings and recommendations to the community later this spring. White Whale, the firm advising us on the College’s website, visited campus for a series of conversations with the community, soliciting feedback for a website redesign. They will be sending us their report later this month. We held interviews with six architectural firms that are bidding to provide a scoping study for renovations to Pannell and Gray, two of the Ralph Adams Cram buildings that are part of our Historic District, and we interviewed firms that are bidding on the turf field project. If you participated in any of these meetings, thank you so much – your input is vital to these initiatives.

Let me share with you other College updates for the month of January.

Admissions

As of February 7, we have pulled ahead of last year in terms of total deposits (123 this year vs. 110 last year) and in total submitted applications (1,046 vs. 1,039). We are behind in total admits (766 vs. 801). To help close this gap, we have been sending out a series of targeted messages across various media (emails, texts, letters) to prospective students and have instituted a second Early Action application deadline for February 15. Financial aid remains critical to yield; as of February 3, we had sent out 345 complete financial aid awards.

Thanks to January’s winter storms, we had to reschedule two admissions events. The Winter Open House on January 17 transitioned to a virtual event held that afternoon as well as a make-up in-person event on Saturday, February 5, with 14 students plus guests. The January 22 event for presidential and dean’s scholars is rescheduled for February 21, with 40 registered students. The date for previously scheduled February 19 event for scholars remains unchanged and has 49 students registered.

Academics, Student Life, Athletics

All students are fully enrolled for the 12-week term; we are working on getting the last few enrolled for the 3-week term that will begin in April.

Despite the blustery conditions, students enjoyed the snow day on the 17th, although the Martin Luther King Day of Service events had to be rescheduled for the following day. Students participated in a range of service opportunities, including: collecting and distributing donations to area animal shelters; creating and distributing hygiene/COVID kits and bed mats for homeless individuals in the greater Lynchburg area; packing and donating birthday cake kits to a local food bank; and organizing a food, school supplies and card writing drive for K-12 students in need served by Amherst Cares. On January 19 in the fieldhouse, student clubs and organizations held their spring Quad Rocks activity fair, where students can learn about and get involved with these various groups.

On January 24, we hosted a virtual talk by Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, an educator and visionary leader who is the founder/director of the Afghan Institute of Learning. Prior to the Taliban’s return, the Institute’s schools and clinics provided services to 350,000 girls and women annually. Dr. Yacoobi spoke and answered questions about the importance of education for advancing the status of women in society, as well as the implications of the Taliban’s takeover on women and girls.  Other cultural events in January included the opening of artist Lacey Leonard’s exhibition of collages and drawings, “Walkway to Being,” in the Cochran Library’s Vaulted Gallery.

We welcomed Anna Johnson as registrar specialist and Meghan Gladle joins us as multicultural student services manager, to work on supporting international students and building global engagement and cultural competencies.

Swimming continues to do well with Acadia Elz-Howe setting more records. The team looks forward to competing in the ODAC Championships February 10 -13.  Field hockey gained more accolades for their fall season with Brynna Hughes and Avery Jones being named to the Virginia Sports Information Directors (VaSID) All State teams. Swimming and field hockey excelled in the classroom, too, with each team receiving honors.

IHSA, NCEA, tennis, lacrosse, and golf are all ready to start their spring campaigns; here is the Vixen Athletics composite schedule. If you can, please come out and cheer on the Vixens when they are playing at home.

Finance, Operations & Auxiliaries

January’s two snow events kept our campus safety team busy, responding to many calls for service. The grounds and building staff were also busy with extensive snow and ice removal and surface treatments. The Book Shop enlarged its health and beauty and its art and school supplies sections to help accommodate students’ needs and ordered new merchandise to be ready for the spring and the upcoming Reunion. The hospitality team installed new lights that brighten the trees at the entrance to the Elston Inn.

Finance/Business Office issued IRS tax forms before the January 31 deadline and supported students with questions about their bills, meal plans and other financial issues. We welcomed Stephanie Edwards Forsythe, Sweet Briar Class of 2013, as our new senior accountant. Human Resources developed and presented training for members of faculty search committees and implemented the LinkedIn recruiting tool. They worked with Paycom to develop an automated inclement weather pay policy and with IT to create a new on-boarding/off-boarding checklist and policy.

Information Technology applied end-of-year application and security patches to Banner, and continued to migrate ID card data to the new virtual SQL server, work with the registrar on the e-transcript project and on Stellic, the degree planning tool, and create new email accounts for incoming spring 2022 and fall 2022 students.

Physical plant completed the installation of the new HVAC system in the Josey Dining Room, which also received a paint job and a carpet cleaning. The Babcock lobby refresh continues, with new lights on order, wall coverings selected, water fountains installed, and electric conduits getting reworked – next comes painting. We completed the rough order of magnitude (ROM) construction estimates for Guion. The Lower Quad (Student Commons Quad) project continues, with a general contractor selected and core design decisions complete. We completed the Workers Compensation audit for the 2020/2021 year, with a $5000+ refund due to SBC. Finally, in partnership with Student Life, we finished and confirmed student housing density for 2022-23.

Projects/Agriculture completed the underwater dam inspections; we are awaiting diver reports, assessments, and videos. The emergency preparedness and action plans for the upper and lower lake dams are completed. We are engaging structural engineers to inspect and assess the integrity of the boathouse and dockage foundation and piers. We completed the NFT hydroponic equipment installation in the greenhouse; installation of the Dutch Bucket hydroponic equipment is on target for completion by February 11.

Alumnae Relations, Development & Communications  

Although the in-person January Sweet Briar Day events were unfortunately cancelled due to COVID, we offered several virtual events to the alumnae, including my college update on the 8th and a presentation on the 30th by Professor Dwana Waugh on the long struggle to desegregate schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Other alumnae events focused on recruiting students and planning with class leaders for the March Days of Giving and for Reunion.

Fundraising for January totaled a relatively modest $160,000, after reaching a high of $2.5 million raised in December. Current year-to-date giving to the Sweet Briar Fund has reached $3.5 million toward a $5 million dollar goal. We have also received another $400,000 in pledges for this year, primarily from the members of the Board of Directors. The College is well positioned for the upcoming March Days of Giving.

In restricted giving, we received scholarship grants totaling almost $150,000 from the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation and the Al Stroobants Foundation, along with $42,200 from the Roller-Bottimore Foundation for the conservation of a selection of Cram’s architectural drawings for the Sweet Briar campus. Student athletes helped us raise funds for the turf field and other projects by making phone-a-thon calls over two nights. We continue our outreach to members of the Virginia General Assembly concerning their consideration of a budget amendment that would provide $600,000 to the College for continuing education programs for central Virginia’s women in agriculture. For the Priorities Campaign, we are planning visits to our leading alumnae and friends over the next several months.

Communications continues to partner closely with admissions on messaging across all media to prospective students and on our digital marketing campaigns. They are also working on the website redesign with White Whale, and with the 1717 Design Group, our “wayfinding” partner, to improve campus signage.

In closing, I hope your semester is off to a good start. Many thanks for all you do on behalf of the College.

Sincerely,
Meredith Woo