Letter to the Community: Mid-winter Update From Campus

March 13, 2018

Dear Sweet Briar Community,

Our students, having escaped the nor’easter in the nick of time as the spring break began, have returned to campus. And what fun they missed! As all of central Virginia was plunged into the Dark Ages, some of the students who stayed behind chose to sleep on air mattresses in Prothro — and played card games late into the night, making the most of the situation as young people are wont to do.

As it turns out, the excitement continues: we are getting three to six inches of snow today — and with that, do-it-yourself sleighing on dinner trays, sliding merrily down the dells in what has become a winter wonderland.

February — the Black History Month — already seems like a distant memory but it produced some extraordinary moments. Our students — especially the members of the Black Student Alliance — worked hard to excavate stories that all too often remain in the shadow of more familiar histories. The events and discussions they produced — from the works and lives of black artists and athletes to reflections on the legacies of Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King — often gave us pause, allowing us a surprised double-take on American history.

Then there were visitors to remind us of the remarkable history of 11,000 women code breakers during World War II — some of whom were our own from Sweet Briar — and who helped us to win the Battle of Midway, among others. True heroines, these code breakers remained silent to the last days of their lives, keeping to the code of silence they had signed. Christine Darden, the retired NASA aeronautical engineer who was one of the central characters depicted in the film, “Hidden Figures,” also came to celebrate the National Engineers Week held on campus, along with 350 attendees from nearby schools and colleges.

As Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead was performed to a packed house in Babcock, we also got the good news that our riding team had won the IHSA regional championship.

The College has made important strides in the roadmap for excellence, relevance and affordability that was laid out in September. Details of courses and majors, summarized in 260 pages of document, are moving through the governance process at the College. Draft course descriptions will be ready this week for a faculty vote. The slate of fall offerings will be made available to students in the third week of March in time to register for courses in early April. Throughout the rest of the spring and early summer, faculty will make final adjustments to their course descriptions and the complete course catalog will be available in June.

Applications are up 23 percent compared to last year, with the Admissions team working now on yield and nurturing high school juniors to prime them for the fall. Campus visits have increased and attendance is up at all open houses. In January and February, Admissions hosted 67 accepted students for the Class of 2022 to compete for Presidential Scholarship awards.

Fundraising for the College is going well with nearly $7 million raised for the Sweet Briar Fund toward a $13 million goal. Gifts postmarked March 10 are still coming in, but the total raised so far through the March Days of Giving is $1,272,237, catalyzed by an additional $500,000 matching gift from an anonymous alumna and her family foundation. The work of Sweet Briar’s fundraising team was recently highlighted in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Support from foundations is increasing. The Al Stroobants Foundation and the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation in Atlanta recently provided significant scholarship support for the College, and three national foundations have requested proposals ranging from curriculum updates and planning to student and faculty research collaborations. We have submitted more than 30 grant proposals to other foundations so far this fiscal year and reached out with updates to more than 70 foundations, including private foundations, family foundations, corporate and community foundations.

Finally, the winter meeting of the Board of Directors ended with a panel discussion on the state of the College moderated by Board Chair Teresa Pike Tomlinson ’87. The recording can be watched here.

In addition to the usual committee reports, the Board heard directly from three important constituencies. The members of the Alumnae Alliance, joined by co-chairs Debra Elkins and Sarah von Rosenberg, presented an overview of their remarkable work, including admissions ambassadors, communications team, Alumnifire, and the Young Alumnae Squad. Sweet Work Weeks and Back to School events have doubled in number over the past year. Most notable was Debra and Sarah’s distillation of our experience, summarized as the “Sweet Briar Effect.”

The student leaders were upbeat in sharing their perceptions of the new dining vendor — Meriwether Godsey — as well RA efforts, and various events. The faculty leaders discussed the work of the three Centers of Excellence. The chair of the Faculty Senate noted that in spite of the painful transition in faculty, the faculty understand the necessity for it, and remain deeply committed to the success of the College.

Finally, I announced the completion of my leadership team: Lori Husein will be joining Sweet Briar as its Vice President of Finance and Administration. A valedictorian with a degree in Economics and Accounting from Claremont McKenna College, Lori was Vice President of Finance and Controller at Loyola Marymont College; and more recently as Vice President of Finance at Claremont University Consortium. She brings profound background in financial management and proven record of innovation. She will start on April 1, and we will be celebrating the indispensable leadership that Rocky Query provided as interim head of finance when the College really needed him most.

Lynn Rainville, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, has agreed to serve as Acting Dean as Rob Granger returns to full-time teaching. We are most grateful to Rob for his leadership at the critical time in the history of the College. Lynn is a graduate of Dartmouth College (BA) and the University of Michigan (PhD). She is an archaeologist and preservationist, and as most of you are aware through her remarkable book of Sweet Briar, an informal historian of the College.

Till my next dispatch, please do take care.

Sincerely,

Meredith Woo