March 2022 Community Update

Dear Colleagues,

The spring semester continues. In late March, the students met with their advisors and registered for the fall. The last day of classes for the 12-week session is April 11, followed by a reading day, final exams, a break on the 18th and the start of the 3-week session on the 19th. Before we know it, Commencement will be here!

Former Board members joined me and members of my team on March 17 for a Zoom update on the College. Our discussion of the five-year strategic Plan, “Our Sustainable Future,” was followed by a lively question and answer session.

On March 25, our consultants from Rankin & Associates presented the results of the campus climate study to our community. The study, which builds upon the work of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion taskforce, conducted focus groups with 56 students, 23 faculty, and 21 staff to gather perceptions about living, learning, and working at Sweet Briar. The actions we take in response to these perceptions, in addition to the recommendations made earlier by the taskforce, will help Sweet Briar be a better, more inclusive place for all. I want to remind you that we are holding a community meeting on April 8, from 12-1 p.m. in the Josey dining room to continue the conversations the study has stimulated. I hope to see you there.

As you know, in response to downward trends nationally and regionally in the numbers of reported COVID cases, we announced an easing of restrictions and have become mask optional throughout campus, including in our classrooms and public spaces. It’s great to see one another’s faces again, isn’t it? We will continue to monitor the situation and if we need to adjust our policies, we’ll inform everyone.

Let me share with you other College updates for March.

Admissions

As of April 4, we have 152 total deposits, equal to the number at this time last year. We continue to focus on generating new applications and admits from domestic first years, transfer, and international students and converting admits into deposits. It’s “all hands on deck” as we push toward May 1. To aid our efforts to recruit transfers, I gave a talk and met with students at Northern Virginia Community College.

Twenty-two admitted presidential and dean’s scholars joined us for a virtual Scholars event on Saturday, March 12.  On Saturday, March 19, we hosted 49 students (111 guests total) for the Admitted Student Open House. On March 24 and 25, we hosted 20 high school guidance counselors and independent educational consultants from 13 states and the District of Columbia for an in-depth look at our campus and meetings with me and my team. My thanks to everyone who took part in these events.

Academics, Student Life, Athletics

We had spring break week! That is noteworthy, as we didn’t have one last year, due to COVID.

We have made new faculty hires in economics, engineering, English and creative writing, political science, and psychology.

We held many arts and cultural events. In collaboration with the Amherst Glebe Arts Response (AGAR), the Monacan Cultural Foundation, and other regional partners, U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo joined us virtually for a public lecture. The VCCA salon featured talks by Addie Tsai, a queer nonbinary artist and writer of color, and Barrie Kaufman, an artist who works in print media, painting, glass and ceramics. Visiting Phi Beta Kappa Scholar Adriana Zavala visited campus virtually, meeting with a section of CORE 130, Women and Gender in the World, and presenting the public lecture, “Frida Kahlo’s Creativity: Staging Art, Staging Life.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist, member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and bestselling author of Braiding Sweetgrass, our 2021-2022 Common Read selection, visited campus on March 23. She participated in classes, held a Q & A with students and community members, and gave a public talk that evening, followed by a Q & A and book signing. In a related event, Karen Ann Hoffman, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and a Haudenosaunee beadwork artist, gave a talk followed by a luncheon. The Spring Dance Concert took place on March 31 and April 1. Professor Shawn O’Connor and students in the ceramics classes conducted another multi-day, around-the-clock firing in the outdoor wood burning kiln. During their campus tour, the visiting high school and independent counselors stopped by the firing and were wowed by what they saw.

Students enjoyed the spring Step Singing. At the Junior Banquet, the juniors received their class rings and senior robes, read aloud odes they written for one another, and heard remarks from Mary Pope Hutson. We recognized Women’s History Month with activities including a trivia night, a feminist movie night, and a keynote address by Tianna Sota, who spoke on women’s empowerment. In honor of International Women’s Day, students held a Quilts for Kids Nepal fundraiser. The Culture Club held its celebration of Holi, the Hindu holiday also known as the Festival of Colors. We hosted an Open House at Reid Pit and an international flag celebration in Prothro so that everyone could learn more about our international student community and the resources now available for students in Reid Pit, including the new Multicultural Center.

We have contracted with Vector Solutions to provide faculty, staff, and students with online training on workplace issues relating to Title IX, alcohol and drug abuse, harassment, discrimination, workplace safety, and more, including a course on mental health for students. The programs will launch in the fall.

March was a very busy and successful month for athletics and riding. Lacrosse started the season strong with four wins, including their first over CSAC league opponent Keystone College. In early March, Zerah Chase and Jamison Tarver were respectively named CSAC Player of the Week and Defensive Player of the Week. The lacrosse team looks to improve upon their record with key conference games in April.

The tennis team has also continued their dominance with a 13-3 start to the season, with ten of those wins being 9-0 sweeps of the competition. In April they have competition at the Dennis Van Der Meer Tennis Center and they travel to NC for matches with William Peace, Pfeiffer, and Johnson & Wales.

The Sweet Briar golf program captured its first-ever team victory at the Marlin Invitational in Virginia Beach.  First-year Armani Narang has multiple top-five finishes this season, and the depth of the team, with returners Jayden Gawronski and Emma Winn, and first-years Haley Holzworth and Hannah Norvell, is fueling their success.

The NCEA team earned the ECAC Single Discipline Regional Championship with victories over Bridgewater College and Sewanee, and Mimi Wroten was named ECAC Coach of the Year. The NCEA team has their flights booked for the NCEA nationals held April 13-17 in Ocala, Florida. The IHSA team competes April 9 in Laurinburg, NC for the Zone IV Show.

Finance, Operations & Auxiliaries

The Book Shop delivered the $22,000 worth of class rings to the juniors for the Junior Banquet. They are now preparing for Commencement and Reunion. Hospitality hosted several external and internal events, including the Admissions Open House, the high school counselor event and the Junior Banquet.

Campus Safety successfully conducted a lock down drill and sponsored four virtual trainings for our community on civilian response and casualty care. Four officers completed their DCJS firearms requalification.

The Finance/Business Office is working on the operating budget for FY 23. They completed the finance section of the IPEDS, gathered data for the 2020 990PF tax return, and submitted it to the auditors. They processed 407 students aid awards from our American Rescue Plan student aid grant; award amounts ranged from $700 to $1,575 per student, with 30 percent of the recipients electing to apply their funding to outstanding balances. They continue to work with students on collection efforts, resulting in a 40 percent reduction in student account receivables compared to a year ago; holds on active student accounts with a current balance due of more than $5,000 are down 57 percent from last year. This has allowed us to lower the threshold on acceptable balances at this point in the semester to further improve collections.

Information Technology implemented an automatic upload of Banner data to Stellic, a degree audit tool, tested the WealthEngine Banner data feed for AR&D, tested Windows 11 with Argos and other applications, and conducted various software and server updates. They distributed new computers to faculty and staff, refreshed computers in the computer labs, created technology and email accounts for Fall 2022 incoming students, and worked with the registrar and Marist on the compilation of e-transcript project.

The Student Commons project in full gear. The masons are laying brick and electricians are running conduit. Work has also started on the Dew Resident Counselor apartment rehabilitation. We added another 15-passenger van to the SBC fleet to give us four vans for campus needs. The Babcock Lobby Project is almost completed. The wall panels are installed and painted; new wall sconces and overhead dimmable task lights are installed, with star lights to follow; the floor will be stripped and waxed.  We’ve broken ground for the Turf Field, with substantial completion expected in mid-August. We installed new LED light fixtures in the Prothro kitchen utility area and the Prothro generator is now connected to critical hoods and cooking appliances, as well as the Josey dining room. We have started discussions on a project to redesign the College’s main entry.

We are assessing the structural condition of the boathouse foundation and in-water piers. The foundation and the piers supporting the docks and upper deck are sound, so the latter has reopened, but the lower boat storage area remains closed due to the deterioration of in-water piers. Repairs will be underway soon with hopes of an early summer completion. The reports on the conditions of our two dams identified deteriorating conditions in the concrete and metal valve operators and recommended the next steps; we will discuss the recommendations and establish a repairs timetable.

We are reviewing a report of build-out deficiencies at the greenhouse. The ClearSpan, the company that built it, will return later this month for all needed repairs/replacements.

You probably saw workers pruning, and in some cases, removing, diseased and dangerous trees on campus. We planted numerous shrubs and trees, including a new Centennial Newman Fletcher Oak. Our Grounds staff welcomed Sweet Work volunteers on campus the weekend of March 25th to help with spring cleanup activities. Many thanks to those volunteers!

Alumnae Relations, Development & Communications

March resulted in a record amount of $4.7 million raised in one month. The lion’s share was contributed from March 1-10 during the March Days of Giving, when 1,359 donors gave $2.9 million. These results demonstrate the confidence our alumnae and friends have in the College. Alumnae giving participation was buoyed to 16.9%, due in large part to months of preparation with Reunion classes and the mobilization of all class leaders. I appreciate that many community members made gifts during the March Days of Giving. Thank you!

We sent an update to our foundation supporters, worked on grant reports, and submitted new proposals requesting support for student scholarships, the trails, and historic preservation. We reached out to all of our Virginia alumnae to ask that they contact the General Assembly in support of V-TAG, the tuition assistance grant for Virginia college students. The alumnae office has announced a number of summer activities for alumnae to join, including lifelong learning opportunities and the 8th annual Sweet Work Weeks. We continue to work with the preservation task force, with the Friends of Art on a catalog of the College’s art collection, with admissions on student recruitment, and on the Priorities Campaign.

Communications promoted the College’s numerous March events and continued to collaborate with admissions on recruiting students through marketing, digital communications and social media. They completed the spring issue of Sweet Briar Magazine, and managed the website redesign process as well as the implementation of the first phase of our wayfinding project.

That’s the wrap on March. Enjoy the spring weather and thanks again for all you do for Sweet Briar.

Sincerely,
Meredith Woo