President's Blog

Archive for April 2010

A Festive Weekend

Senior dinner was this weekend; this is an occasion when the Board of Directors and Alumnae Board joins together to celebrate the accomplishments of the Senior Class.

I told the students how much I appreciate being part of their Sweet Briar experience and how sorry I am that just as I’m getting to know the Class of 2010 they are graduating! But I am sure they will return to campus often and keep us up to date on their achievements.

I also observed that while some of them have clear plans for next year, others have multiple options to consider and still others are completely unsure of what comes next.  (That was my situation when I was in their shoes!) But even those who think they know exactly what they are going to do will find that many surprises await them, professionally and personally. Whatever comes their way, though, they will also find they have an education and a network that will grow with them, and sustain them, throughout their post-collegiate lives.

The next night we had a small dinner at Sweet Briar House for the Alumnae Board, which surprised Louise Zingaro with a party in honor of her 25 years of service to Sweet Briar Alumae. Here’s Lou, with some of her many admirers. Alumnae are wonderful sources of stories about how Sweet Briar and the relationships they forged here have been part of many, many adventures!

Sweet Briar Honors Justice Scalia

Last week I had the honor, and great pleasure, of attending a lecture by Justice Antonin Scalia. Our own Professor Barbara Perry introduced the Justice; fittingly so, since the lecture was one of a series honoring Henry J. Abraham, renowned scholar and teacher and Professor Perry’s mentor.

Even better, Justice Scalia agreed to receive the Center for Civic Renewal’s Public Service Medal. Here’s a picture of Professor Perry, Justice Scalia, and me during the presentation:

It’s evident, I think, that the evening was a lot of fun.

I especially enjoyed it because, when I was a faculty member and dean at Bryn Mawr, one of my favorite students was Mary Clare Scalia. In fact, she was my son’s favorite babysitter for nearly four years, starting when he was just a little over two years old. Naturally, I was delighted to see the Justice and Mrs. Scalia again and find out from them what Mary Clare is up to these days. It was especially gratifying to hear Mrs. Scalia reflect on how valuable education at a women’s college had been for her daughter. (Of course, Mrs. Scalia herself went to Radcliffe, so she knows all about the advantages of a women’s college.)

Employee Recognition

With my whopping 9 months of service, this week I had the honor of handing recognition awards to 16 staff members who together represent 250 years of service to Sweet Briar.

As I pondered what to say to them, I realized that all Sweet Briar really is — all any organization really is — is the cumulative actions, large and small, of individuals. These wonderful staff members are the people whose daily and hourly actions make this place what it is. They decide, day to day, moment to moment, year by year, to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, treat their colleagues respectfully, and show affection and support for the students. When we say what a wonderful place Sweet Briar is, we are really saying what wonderful decisions these staff leaders have made and continue to make; what constructive and helpful actions they take day in and day out.

Those recognized this year work in advising, buildings and grounds, the bookshop, housekeeping, alumnae relations, the honors program, telecommunications, information services, the business office, career services. . . and wherever they work, they serve the College well and make us proud.

An experiment we’re trying

I just sent out this announcement to the faculty.

“With the encouragement of the Digital Sophistication study group, and with the support of presidential discretionary funds recently awarded by Mellon, I’d like to propose a small pilot project for next year. I’m looking for up to 12 members of the teaching faculty who would like to explore the potential of iPads for their teaching, in and out of the classroom.

What you get: an iPad. I’ll buy each selected faculty member an iPad. If you’ve already bought or ordered one and are selected, I’ll reimburse you.

What you’ll do: determine whether or how it could be a useful tool in your teaching, in company with other faculty innovators. A few times during the year next year, all participants will meet to share their experiences, tips, ideas, and perhaps to use each other as guinea pigs. At the end of the year, participants will make presentations to the entire faculty summarizing what’s been learned.

How to participate: write to me (as soon as possible) and tell me why you want to.

We’ll run this pilot if as many as eight faculty members are willing to participate, and I can consider expanding it to as many as 15 if there is enough interest.

This is entirely voluntary and should be regarded as an opportunity for exploration and experimentation for interested faculty.  Of course, faculty who are not in the pilot group but who would like to follow along will be welcome to join in the discussion.”

I look forward to letting you know who wants to participate and what they plan to do! Should be fun.

Ander Monson

He’s an “essayist,” but your experience of reading his work may not be what you’re used to. And certainly the experience of hearing (well, hearing/watching) him read (well, read/present) his work may not be what you’re used to.

Ander Monson was on campus this week as the last in this year’s visiting writers series. The Boxwood Room was packed to hear him read from Vanishing Point. which he describes as “a book and website by Ander Monson.” He did indeed read from the book, but he also moved back and forth between the printed text and a variety of images, videos, and texts on the Web, especially this youtube video.

As I followed his reading back and forth, the essay commenting on the video and the video commenting on the essay, I began to see new things in both. My internal interrogation of the relationships and implications of multiple media became the “text” of the evening for me, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since the reading.If you’re interested in innovative, multimedia forms of non-fiction, you might consider spending some time with his work.

Mr. Monson kindly incribed a copy of Vanishing Point for me, with one of the most gracious inscriptions a visiting writer has ever offered: he wrote about “the excellence of your students, faculty, staff, and grounds. Few places make me jealous like this.” I read that and thought that few things make me jealous like what he can do with ideas and media.

Pizza, Pretzels, Popcorn, PJs, all of that!

Close to 40 students at the House last night, many of them really in PJs!

Truth or Dare in the Pink Parlor

I remember clearly how, when I was an undergraduate, I missed the sense of family life — spending time with people who were both younger and older, having pets around, raiding a well stocked fridge, being among furnishing and objects that had the patina of a well-loved home. I used to enjoy babysitting as much for the chance to spend a little time in a family environment as for the money.

Ghost Stories in the Kitchen

So it was real treat for me to open Sweet Briar’s home to students and, for one evening, to play Mom at the slumber party. I found out that almost all of the students who came over know the words to “Put A Ring On It,” more than half them will choose “Dare” over “Truth,” and a few of them make very cute Little Teapots.

There was a lot going on in the kitchen. Corn was popped, cupcakes baked and iced and eaten, pizza heated up, and ghost stories told; specifically, Daisy stories, with a few miscellaneous campus spirits thrown in.

We made sherbet punch, and I got out a large silver punch bowl and ladle that belonged to Meta Glass and are engraved with her initials. The students thought it was “pretty awesome” to be using them, and I very much liked the sense of having my distinguished predecessor join the party.

(P.S.: There’s some fun stuff at each of the links above — including a great picture of Meta Glass if you click on her name.)

PJs with Parker????

Late Night Vixens is a co-curricular life program sponsoring fun late-night events for any and all students who would like to participate. They do all kinds of things: this semester’s schedule includes a board game evening, a “so you think you can dance” evening, and eco-crafting.

And it includes an event billed as “PJs with Parker.” Yes, that’s right, this Saturday night Sweet Briar House will be open from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for any Vixens seeking late night entertainment. The theme is Slumber Party; I think we’ll be decorating cookies or cupcakes, maybe telling ghost stories or playing guessing games, and generally hanging out. For the record, I, personally, will NOT be in my jammies, and I can’t even promise I’ll be able to stay awake until 1. . .

Students, you’re all welcome! Call CCL to let them know if you’d like to come or to find out more about what’s planned.

Dreams Trip

Last week, SWEBOP and Career Services collaborated on an interesting program called Dreams Trip.

On an island in Chesapeake Bay (they had the whole island to themselves!) our students were guided by SWEBOP Director Laura Stamen and Director of Career Services Wayne Stark in several exercises designed to help them reflect on their passions and values. Among other things, Wayne led participants in guided imagery about the lives they want to be leading in seven years, working with on where they want to go in life and how they can begin taking steps to get there. Each student had an opportunity for solitary reflection as well as fun with the group. 

I didn’t visit this program, and I usually try to blog about things I’ve actually been part of, but I wanted to tell you about Dreams Trip because it represents something profound about Sweet Briar. First, of course, we educate women as whole persons, and the Dreams Trip experience was certainly an opportunity for students to connect wellness, values, and career aspirations.

But mainly, it made me think about learning and environment. So many alumnae have spoken to me about how being in a beautiful and natural environment affected their development during their undergraduate years! Dreams Trip is one more example of how being inspired and refreshed by the natural world enriches our thinking.

Earlier today I was wrestling with a number of work-related issues. When it seemed that mental gridlock was setting in, I put Coco and Tazz on their leashes and went for a walk in the woods. It was hot today, and the dogs were thirsty, so we clambered down a bank to the edge of a stream where they could drink. In the mud, I could see the tracks of the various other drinkers who had found their way to that same spot. Deer tracks and raccoon “handprints,” mainly. Dappled shade, cool sticky mud, running water, happy dogs, fifteen minutes to reflect; a small Dreams Trip of my own.

Spring Day on Campus

Yesterday was a gorgeous spring day on campus and we had many visitors to enjoy it with us.

It was Arts Day, which meant that 387 fifth grade students from Amherst County schools were on campus to have breakfast in Prothro and spend the morning doing a variety of workshops and events with College faculty, staff and students. One group came to Sweet Briar House to have a “Daisy tour” and learn a bit about the life of the Fletcher family. Here’s Daisy, greeting them in the entry hall.

On their way through the boxwood circle and into the house, the fifth-graders crossed paths with pre-schoolers from the Campus School, who were hunting Easter eggs around the boxwoods and in the gardens in front of the house.  I helped, or tried to. 

I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate spring than by having children all over campus. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that learning, and college, are about love and fun — the love of ideas, words, images, experiments, surprising facts; the fun of creating, exploring, understanding, sharing, exercising our intellects and imaginations as well as our bodies.  Watching children playing while they learn and learning while they play is a great reminder that, really, we love education because it’s fun.

Strategic Planning Blog Launched

We’ve launched a new blog to support the strategic planning process and to allow all interested friends of Sweet Briar to follow important discussions.

If you go there today, you’ll find a copy of my charge to the four Study Groups at the core of the process and the names of the study group co-chairs. (Each study group is being co-chaired by a member of the faculty and one of the Vice-Presidents or Deans.) Names of additional members are being added as people agree to serve. Each study group will be posting information about their meetings, their background readings, and their agendas on the blog.

One important feature of the blog is that comments are enabled. That means any reader can offer suggestions, comments, and ideas. I do promise that every comment that is submitted will be read and considered; I can’t promise that we’ll be able to respond to every comment individually.

Please notice also that you can subscribe to an RSS feed. That means you don’t have to remember to check in from time to time — you’ll receive notification when new material is posted.

This strategic planning blog is just another of our efforts to provide opportunities for the Sweet Briar community to get good, current information about what’s happening at the College. You will also see updates in the Sweet Briar Magazine, on sbc.edu, and directly from me. And you can always write old-fashioned postal letters, send email, or call me with your suggestions, ideas, and comments.