One sign of “normalcy” on campus is the return of in-person events. Our fall theatre production, Red Noses, a timely comedy about the bubonic plague sweeping across Europe in 1348, was presented over four shows to a live audience during the last weekend in October. While most of last year’s cultural events were “live,” they were presented over Zoom. It was therefore wonderful for Red Noses to be performed for an intimate audience seated on the stage of the Murchison Lane Auditorium. We required all audience members to wear masks and thoroughly tested the cast and crew for COVID. My congratulations to the cast, crew, and guest director, Temidayo Amay, for such a successful and entertaining production. We look forward to many more live cultural events throughout the year.
Our campus was the site of the fall retreat of the Virginia Senate’s Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee, which is chaired by Virginia State Senator Chap Petersen, a member of the Sweet Briar Board of Directors. After being on hold for a year due to the pandemic, we were delighted to have the senators, their staff members, and other distinguished guests with us from October 24 – 26, show them our campus and our burgeoning agricultural enterprises, and benefit from their expertise and wise counsel.
We announced in October that Sweet Briar would conduct a campus climate assessment to ensure that all students, faculty, and staff feel welcomed and accepted as integral parts of the community. The Climate Assessment Working Group, comprised of faculty, staff, and students, is working closely with our partners, Rankin & Associates, on this vital effort.
Now let me share with you the College updates for the month of October.
The first Early Decision (ED) deadline (these are applicants for whom Sweet Briar is their first choice and they commit to enrolling here) was November 1. As of November 7, we are on track with last year’s ED numbers: applications are 65 (this year) vs 65 (last year), admits 48 vs 51, and deposits 29 vs 26. We continue to encourage admits who know that Sweet Briar is their “first choice” college to commit to Early Decision. Our second ED deadline is January 3.
We have reinstated Early Action as an application deadline for December 1. Early Action (EA) is a non-binding deadline that provides students with an option to learn of their college acceptance early. We offered it last fall, with the result that 50 of the more than 200 students who entered in the fall of 2021 were EA admits.
Overall, as of November 7, submitted applications are 426 this year vs. 468 last year; admitted are 283 vs. 263, and deposits are 45 vs. 40. Although submitted applications are down compared to last year, applicants are completing their files at a higher rate.
Starting this week, we will begin to send financial aid awards to the admitted students who have filed the FAFSA (about 94 students to date). The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) opened for students and families on October 1. Last year, at least 80% of the first-year class had filed the FAFSA. Its completion is another strong indicator of a student’s interest in Sweet Briar.
We hosted 23 high school counselors and independent educational consultants on October 28 and 29 for a full program of events and campus tours. The majority were from Virginia with out-of-state counselors from New York, Texas, Michigan, and Colorado; they visited using our fly-in program. Verbal feedback was very positive. All participants will receive a survey and additional follow-up, as cultivating these relationships will result in increased student recommendations. We expect a strong turnout for our March 24-25 event, which already has 31 counselors registered.
On Saturday, October 23, we hosted our second fall Open House, with 25 students and their guests, for a total of 65 people. On Saturday, November 6, we hosted our third fall Open House with 38 students plus guests. Senior student attendees included those who have already deposited, as well as those who have been accepted or who have applied. Campus visits are a compelling recruiting initiative – we yield approximately 50 to 60 percent of the admitted students who make a campus visit – and many of them use the fly-in program to do so.
Academics, Student Life, Athletics
After a week and a half of advising in the middle of the month for the upcoming spring semester, spring registration is taking place this week on November 9 and 10.
In October, Sweet Briar students were making their mark as women leaders in a variety of venues. This year’s Honors Summer Research students presented their findings at MARCUS, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference for Undergraduate Scholarship. Seven engineering students and engineering professor Bryan Kuhr attended the Society of Women Engineers conference in Indianapolis, attending sessions and hosting an SBC engineering booth as part of the Invent It Build It expo for K-12 students. And a contingent of 12 students represented the College at the Virginia Foundation for Independent College’s Women’s Leadership Development Summit in Richmond.
The Falls on Nose tap club hosted a period product collection drive to support the Central Virginia Period Access Distribution Center. The Young Democrats hosted a voter registration drive and registered 30 new voters. To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, LatinX and the SGA Diversity and Inclusion Committee hosted a screening and roundtable discussion of the documentary Paper Children, about a refugee family in Miami, while sharing Hispanic snacks. LatinX also held a screen-printing workshop with art studio professor Shawn O’Connor; students could select an empowering phrase from the LatinX community to screen print on their own t-shirt.
In addition to Red Noses, on October 10, we hosted the Tetrachord Arabic Music Ensemble (one of whose members is SBC music professor Anne Elise Thomas) for a concert of instrumental and vocal music from the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. The art exhibition, “Hidden Thunder: Rock Art of the Upper Midwest” by Geri Schrab, opened in the library’s Vaulted Gallery. “The T-shirt Collection” by Hope Rovelto remains on exhibit in the Pannell Gallery through December 14, and the Amherst County Art Society’s exhibition in the Benedict Gallery continues through December 17. In anticipation of the author’s upcoming visit this March, students, faculty and staff enjoyed a community farm-to-table dinner and conversation about the 2021/2022 Common Read, Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
The students celebrated the fall season and Halloween with a variety of festivities. There was a pumpkin carving in the lower quad; an off-campus trip to Morris Orchard for apple picking; the Chung Mungs tap club hosted an evening of campus ghost stories and a bonfire; there was trick or treating; a Student Life Spooktacular with hayrides, fall crafts, and a costume contest; and a CEO Halloween Outdoor Movie Night.
Our Vixen athletics and riding teams continue to succeed. Field hockey had thirteen regular season wins and advanced to the CSAC (Colonial States Athletic Conference) playoffs. Hannah Lott was named CSAC Coach of the Year, Brynna Hughes was named Rookie of the Year, and eight players earned All-CSAC honors. Golf also had a record-breaking fall and looks forward to the spring.
The NCEA riding team started the season strong with a win over the University of Lynchburg. The ISHA team earned the title of High Point Team for the third time this season and junior Anne Rucker became the fourth member of the team to qualify for regionals.
Swimming is also off to a great start with wins over Ferrum, Greensboro, and Pfeiffer.
Finance, Operations & Auxiliaries
Thanks to on-campus events such as the Families Weekend and the October Open House, the Book Shop had October gross sales of $45,000, 35 percent more than last year. We are increasing inventory in preparation for the holidays. Juniors are ordering their junior class rings to be ready for their upcoming Junior Banquet.
Campus Safety completed and submitted their annual security report, officers completed their required certification training, and we held a campus-wide drill to test all mass communication. Four senior College leaders met with members of the Amherst County Commonwealth’s Attorney office to continue to strengthen the College’s relationships with county law enforcement.
The Finance/Business Office completed the FY21 financial statements and audit, which was then approved by the Board’s Audit Committee. They also finished the S & P Global review with the result that Sweet Briar’s bond rating increased from BB- to BB and its outlook remained stable. Still in process is the A133 Single Audit and completed finance sections of the annual DOE FISAP report in cooperation with the Financial Aid office. We closed the first quarter (ending 9/30/2021) of endowment activity with an approximate market value of $76 million.
Human Resources prepared for Open Enrollment starting November 1 and worked with the Communications on improvements to the HR website. Open Enrollment will end on November 16, so remember to go to Paycom and make your elections before the closing date.
Information Technology completed the multifactor authentication implementation, rolling out the use of the Cisco Duo Mobile app to faculty, staff, and students. IT helped with the launch of the 24/7 micro market for students in Daisy’s Café, featuring a smart fridge. They are also working on an update to the ID card database, on Banner improvements for Financial Aid, and with the Registrar’s Office to test e-transcripts and to implement Stellic cloud software, which will significantly improve degree completion audit and course management.
John Thomas has joined us as associate director of Physical Plant. We have started renovations to #3 Woodland Road. Contractors completed the painting refresh in Dew, Reid, Grammar, Meta Glass and work continues on the creation of a multicultural center and refreshed student spaces in Reid Pit. We assisted Amherst County with the highly successful Amherst County Fair, held on the College’s property across Route 29. We selected a contractor to fix the buckled floor in the fencing room and we completed the swap out of 325 soon-to-expire fire extinguishers throughout campus. Projects/Agriculture ensured that the campus was beautiful for our October events and visitors. The team is building out the hydroponics equipment in the greenhouse.
Alumnae Relations, Development & Communications
Twenty members of the class of 1976, along with members of the Cooper family, joined us in October for the dedication of the birding platform in honor of the late Martha “Ookie” Hayes Cooper (Class of 1976) and to celebrate her contributions to ornithology. The October Sweet Work Weekend crew of alumnae, friends and students helped with the Reid Pit refresh as well as campus landscaping. The Alumnae Relations office hosted an alumnae event at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, with a wonderful turnout of alumnae, government leaders and parents of current students. We are also planning upcoming events in Washington, D.C., New York, and Palm Beach, Florida.
Fundraising is on track with that of previous years, as we close in on $897,000 in gifts and $1.4 million in current year pledges. Our major gift officers are traveling to see donors once again—with caution, of course. The Sweet Briar Fund team continues to work with all the classes on outreach prior to Giving Tuesday on November 30 and the drive toward calendar year-end giving and increased alumnae participation rates. The foundations and government relations team continues to approach current and new donors in support of a variety of initiatives while also sending in reports on previous-year grants.
Communications has completed their work on the fall alumnae magazine and the latest issue of the Briar Wire. They continue to partner with Admissions on media, marketing and publications that will promote Sweet Briar nationwide and globally. They just developed the website for our Campus Climate Survey, helped AR & D with a special planned giving mini-campaign, and are also working to identify a company to audit and revise the College’s website.
In closing, as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, we all start thinking about what we are grateful for. I’m certainly thankful for your many contributions to Sweet Briar, from your hard work each day to your love for this College. I’m gratified and inspired by your dedication.