President's Blog

Archive for January 2010

Student Leadership Conference Yesterday

Yesterday more than 100 students and several guests from off campus made it through swirling snow for this year’s leadership conference. It was wonderful to see them bright and early on a Saturday morning, laughing and shaking the snow off their hoods and boots.

I thought you might be interested in the main points I made in welcoming them to the day. Shortly I’ll be meeting with one of Professor Ross Mecham’s business classes to talk about leadership and will probably expand on these points then.

I told the students:

  • The first question to think about is WHY you want to, and then why you should, lead. What good do you hope to create through your leadership? We can all cite hundreds of examples of leadership used for negative, destructive, or self-interested purposes. What are your purposes?
  • Leadership isn’t simply a personal attribute or skill. It’s a relationship between someone who inspires and helps others to act and those who are inspired, encouraged, and empowered. So ask yourselves: who is encouraging you and who needs your encouragement? Who has empowered you, and whom can you empower?
  • Leadership isn’t something you hope to have tomorrow. It’s something you do today. If you can leave this conference with an idea about two or three things that you can do in the next days and weeks to improve matters in your residence halls, classes, tap clubs, families, hometowns, congregations, or any other community that matters to you, it will have been a great conference and a good day.

At the time, I didn’t think to tell them that I was simply saying to them the things that I say to myself daily. . .

More Snow Pictures

Today when I was out walking the dogs I ran into student Alaina McKee, who took these pictures and gave me permission to blog them. Thanks, Alaina!

It’s Still Winter!

This week I’ve been feeling quietly celebratory. Late January and early February mark a wonderful anniversary for me; that’s the period of time last year in which I first visited campus as a finalist for my dream job, met so many people I looked forward to working with, and received and accepted the Board’s invitation to serve.

Rick and I have been chuckling, though. One of the points frequently made during that series of discussions was that we would certainly appreciate the milder winters in Virginia and enjoy relief from the cold and snow of Michigan!

When Coco, Tazz, and I went out this morning it was 17 degrees, and this is what things looked like:

On reflection, I imagine this is a sign of the boundlessness of Virginia hospitality. Surely this a gracious gesture on the part of the state to make sure two Michigan transplants feel at home?

Big Good News

The wonderful couple pictured here with me and Engineering Professor Hank Yochum are Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 and her husband Jesse.

Today I had the pleasure of announcing to the community that Peggy and Jesse have made an enormously generous gift to Sweet Briar in support of engineering. Specifically, they have given the College $3 million to endow the program, which will henceforth be called the Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 Engineering Program. It’s the first named academic program in Sweet Briar’s history, and it honors a remarkable woman.

Peggy has told me that she would have loved to be an engineer herself, but in her generation it was quite difficult for young women to enter engineering school. She graduated from Sweet Briar as a chemistry major and pursued graduate study at Johns Hopkins (which is where she met Jesse). She and Jesse have now made sure that new generations of Sweet Briar students will be able to pursue careers in engineering.

Recently, the Wyllies visited Rick and me at Sweet Briar House. We had a wonderful dinner for them with Professors Yochum, Sanadgol, Scott, Hyman, and Pierce, along with some current students and recent alums from the engineering program. The Wyllies visited a class, spent time in the labs, and came away excited and impressed by what our students and faculty are doing. What a tribute this is to Sweet Briar engineers, both faculty and student!  Holla holla.

Courses I Wish I Could Take

From time to time I find out about a course on campus that makes me wish with all my heart that I were an undergraduate again.

Check out Professor Cathy Gutierrez’s blog. She’s teaching a course in the Honors Program on Religion and Comedy. The Honors Program allows faculty to put together courses that may not fit, exactly, within departmental curricula or interdepartmental programs. Rather, Honors courses address intellectually challenging topics that appeal to students with a range of interests. Or to presidents, with precious little time to read. . .

Professor Gutierrez asked students to bring a joke to the first class session for discussion. Check out her blog post to learn which one was her favorite!

Sweet Dogs

Sorry, I know this is self-indulgent, but these little guys were lying at my feet while I caught up with some email last night and I thought they were just too cute.

Brownie Science Try-It Day

Big fun on campus today — Brownie Science Try-It!  

Chemistry professor and associate dean Jill Granger organizes this effort. She’s assisted by Sweet Briar Science Outreach student volunteers, along with students from Lynchburg and Randolph Colleges who also lend a hand. (I have to apologize to our Sweet Briar volunteers: I took a photo of several of them and promised to feature them on the blog, but the picture didn’t come out. :()

Here are some of the projects I saw underway:

  • Trying to explode balloons by putting them on top of soda bottles containing baking soda and vinegar and shaking vigorously.
  • Watching milk sour and clump up when a few drops of lemon juice alter the structure of the proteins.
  • Wetting a paper on which a colored marker had been used to reveal all the colors that make up purple.
  • Wiggling across the floor without using your hands or feet to think about how a snake moves.
  • Sealing up packets of damp bread and a little dirt to see if mold will grow.

I’d have a hard time saying who was having the better time — the Brownies or the students who were helping them. Watching Sweet Briar students help younger girls discover the fun of thinking about everyday things scientifically made me very proud. Our students are good scientists, good teachers, and good citizens.

“Vixens Past, Present, and Future”

Sarah, me, and Morgan

The mother of Morgan Harris, on the right, sent the Admissions office this picture from a recent event at Sally Kitchin’s home in Virginia Beach. Ms. Harris entitled it “Vixens Past, Present, and Future.”

On the left, representing the not-very-distant past, is alumna Sarah Kingsley. In the center is proud-to-be-a-current Vixen me, and on the right is future Vixen Morgan Harris, who has been admitted (Holla Holla) and who plans to enroll this fall.

Welcome to Morgan and to all future Vixens!

Forbes Names SBC “Top Ten In The South”

Today Forbes published its list of the best colleges and universities in the South. Sweet Briar appears as #9 on the list of the top ten private colleges in the region.

What’s interesting about such lists is always the criteria by which they have been compiled. To quote from the Forbes.com article linked to above:

“To construct the list, the staff at CCAP based 25% of the rankings on student satisfaction with their course instruction; 25% on indicators of postgraduate employment success; 20% on the estimated average four-year student loan debt; 16.67% on the likelihood that students graduate within four years; and 13.33% on student and faculty success in winning nationally and internationally competitive academic and research awards.” (CCAP, by the way, is the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.)

What’s useful about these criteria is that they look at outcomes: not what students bring with them when they enter a college (their GPAs, test scores, and so on) but what they have when they leave it (a degree with which they are satisfied, a job, and relatively low debt.)

Having just spent a good deal of time meeting alumnae on the road, I’m delighted that Forbes has recognized what we already know — the outcomes of a Sweet Briar education justify our place among the top colleges in the South.

Holla holla!

New Bistro Almost Ready!

Yesterday several of us were invited over to the new Houston Bistro in the FAC for a pre-opening trial-run lunch. I had the “grilled” turkey-apple-cheese panini; I recommend it! (I also recommend the mango smoothie. Highly.)

“Grilled” is in quotes because one of the great things about the new Bistro is the equipment. Special ovens produce food which has the appealing qualities created by grilling or frying — color, crunch, a caramelized flavor — without the fat, so it’s much more healthful. I sat at table with the athletic director and several coaches. We shared an order of fries that got a thumbs up all around, both because they tasted good and because we could eat them guilt-free. Students are going to love the new space and the new menu; can’t wait for them to arrive and bring the new Bistro to life.

For the next week or so, the team will be working out a few details and making some adjustments. After all, they’re using new equipment, trying out new menu items, and implementing new processes. So if you’re on campus, go by, try it out, give your feedback, and help us launch the Houston Bistro.