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President's Blog

Archive for September 2010

Remarks at the Madeira School

Last weekend was packed with activity! In addition to our own Homecoming (some great pictures at that link) I was a keynote speaker at the installation of my Bryn Mawr classmate, Pilar Cabeza de Vaca, as Head of School at Madeira.

The event was a wonderful reminder of the power of the women’s college/girls’ school network. There are a number of women who graduated from both Madeira and Sweet Briar, of course. Pilar, during our undergraduate years, went on Sweet Briar’s Junior Year in France. A Sweet Briar alum is the new head of the riding program at Madeira. And so on. . .

I was asked to speak about women’s education. The text from which I spoke has been posted, if you’d like to read the whole thing. But the essence of what I had to say is in these paragraphs:

“Often we think about girls’ schools and women’s colleges as existing for the education of girls and women. But increasingly I find myself thinking about them as providing education FOR girls and women. I’d like to spend my last minute or two saying a bit about what that means to me, and what I think it means for Madeira.

Education FOR girls and women means that schools like Madeira and colleges like Sweet Briar can say something that no coeducational institution can say – which is that every program, every resource, every activity is directed toward to the success of female students. If you want to be someplace where your ambitions, your abilities, and your achievements are at the center, a girl’s school or women’s college is that place. And, yes, I would say the same thing for single sex institutions for males; I think it is fair to say that for many young men a single sex option can be extremely beneficial. Madeira is entirely FOR its women students as no coeducational school could ever be.

But an education FOR women means something larger as well. As Madeira students and faculty, or alumnae of women’s colleges, we here today enjoy enormous educational privilege. As people dedicated to education for women, we must make sure that we remain mindful of women who are less educationally privileged than we. If anyone is to teach and learn about the status of women and girls around the world, we should. If anyone is to support community programs to benefit girls and women near our campuses, we should. If anyone should go on to do medical research on women’s health issues, to pursue legal careers in human rights, to make public policy that is family and environment friendly, to develop economic programs that empower women financially, to create legislation that protects the youngest and the oldest, to bring peace and safety to war zones, it should be graduates of girls’ schools and women’s colleges.

So, to Madeira, I say this: don’t simply educate women students here. Educate students FOR women here, educate students FOR women in a global society in which the economic, educational, and citizenship rights of women are still in many places contested and insecure.”

Homecoming 2010, Part 2

I was very pleased to be able to make a special announcement at the Founder’s Day convocation. My full remarks are on line, but here’s the relevant paragraph:

“Lavinia and James Fletcher . . . were among the enslaved individuals whose history is intertwined with Sweet Briar Plantation’s. Through their son Patrick Henry Fletcher and his wife Jennie Carter, they gave rise to a family which honored Sweet Briar by choosing to hold its reunions here in 2008 and again  in 2010. This year, the Fletcher family also made a donation to the College, from which a new fund has been created – the Lavinia and James Fletcher Fund for the Preservation of African American Heritage at Sweet Briar.”

Several of the members of this extended family joined us for Homecoming weekend this year, and I am happy to report that they received enthusiastic applause in recognition of their wonderful gesture.  As we celebrate the history of Sweet Briar and the many communities which have shared in that history, the presence of the descendants of Lavinia and James Fletcher added richness to our ceremony of commemoration.

New Interpretive Sign at the Burial Ground

If you’re interested, you can see local television coverage here, and our own press release is here.

Oh, and I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Fletcher Family Fund welcomes additional contributions from any and all supporters at any time. . . our new “African American Heritage at Sweet Briar” signs are just one of the projects we have in mind.

Homecoming 2010, Part 1

Well, Homecoming is going beautifully! The weather is gorgeous, if a little hot, and there’s lots of activity all across campus.

Honoree Sarah Boehmler, me, Director Ellen Saunders

Yesterday, among other things, Sarah Porter Boehmler, ’65, received the Distinguished Alumna Award. The full citation will be posted soon; suffice it to say that Sarah told a couple of charming stories (she’s a donkey master and a bee keeper: who knew?) and offered some great advice to our current students.

One of the stories she told involved a corporate retreat, during which she and 15 male colleagues were taken up on a mountaintop for some “team building.” Dean Jonathan Green observed that she clearly had a very perceptive boss who understood that it takes 15 men to equal one Sweet Briar woman!

Holla Holla, Sarah Porter Boehmler.

The evening ended with a wonderful fireworks display.

Photo courtesy Aaron Mahler

Riding Program Video Released

As you know, we’ve been filling up our YouTube channel with great videos! Today, a new Riding Program video was released: check it out, and forward it to all the riders you know.

Education, Technology, Sweet Briar

Sweet Briar students with their iPads

This weekend the New York Times published a number of articles about education and technology in the Education Issue of the Sunday magazine.

A couple of them are specifically relevant to some of the pilot projects we’re working on at Sweet Briar these days. Kevin Kelly’s article, for example, makes the essential point that “as technology floods the rest of our lives, one of the chief habits a student needs to acquire is technological literacy. . . we need to be literate in the complexities of technology in general, as if it were a second nature.” And Jaron Lanier’s interesting article pays tribute to the transformative magic that happens between teachers and students and asks a great question: “How do we use the technologies of computation, statistics and networking to shed light — without killing the magic?”

Meanwhile, on Friday Sweet Briar’s iPad pilot was featured in a news story. This story gets an important point exactly right: the pilot is about education and not about specific tools. “Whether or not the iPad has staying power, Parker said, students must learn to adapt to changing technologies and use them in creative ways.” Or, as Kelly writes, “Nobody has any idea of what a new invention will really be good for. The crucial question is, what happens when everyone has one?”

In a small way, we’re learning this semester about what happens in a couple of courses when everyone has an iPad and assignments and projects are designed with them in mind. Can these new inventions enhance the magic?

Late Night at the House

Last night, another Pizza with Parker evening. This one ran on the late side, but we took pictures anyway! One of the students emailed me this one from her phone as she walked home.

I’ve been asking students to tell me about what technologies they used for academic purposes in the last twelve months, and what technologies they imagine they will be using in the next twelve. So far, their answers have tended to emphasize collaboration. They mention high school classes in which they shared documents via googledocs or other similar tools. They also tend to talk about time-shifting, being able to ask a teacher a question at any hour of the day or night and being able to get access to materials even when the library isn’t open.

Once I have all their completed survey forms, I’ll report in more detail about the experiences and expectations the entering students of Fall 2010 have brought to campus. What seems to be emerging so far, though, is that current students experience technologies as extending and enriching their personal connections, not replacing them.

A Few Alumnae Visits

Last week, I made a quick trip to meet with a few alumnae. And, as always, I came away impressed by the lives Sweet Briar women forge for themselves after graduation.

One quite recent alumna was just heading off to the Courtauld Institute in London for grad school. The National Gallery will be holding her position open for her while she’s away: she works in the sculpture department there.

Another alumna, from a class in the ’80s, practices real estate law. She also plays in a senior women’s lacrosse league — she’s a member of the Lacrosse Hall of Fame –  and has served as chair of the Board of the Quaker school she herself attended. She’s a dedicated Sweet Briar volunteer too, of course.

And an amazing woman from the class of ’50 spent an hour with me. Born in Poland, displaced and educated in Russia, she ended up at Sweet Briar when her father arrived here to teach languages. She now teaches Russian and Polish at the community college near her home and volunteers as a translator for recent immigrants. Hanging on the wall in her apartment was a commendation for her service helping trace and document the families of Holocaust victims.

Three alumnae, at three different stages of life, challenging themselves daily to learn, compete, serve, and grow. And all proud to be Sweet Briar women.

On days when the essential but less-inspiring realities are demanding (you know, parking, bandwidth, regulation compliance, and the like) it’s thinking about alumnae like these, and students like those who’ve been coming over for pizza recently, that renews my energy. All that other business matters because it supports the ambitions and the aspirations of women who go on to do great and interesting things in the world. So, thanks, alumnae, for supporting your alma mater, and for reminding me of why it’s such a gift to be able to work here.

New and Very Cool Video

As we continue to build up the Sweet Briar YouTube channel, we’re adding some great content. Here’s the latest: take a look! And please, if you like it, forward it to anyone you know who should get acquainted with our beloved Sweet Briar.

(And sorry for the formatting: I know it laps over the sidebar, but I wanted you to see a good-sized image!)

Welcome, Transfer and Turning Point Students

Last night was the first Pizza with Parker evening, when I invite entering students in small groups to come over, share some pizza, talk about a question or issue (this year, technology and how they use it) and have a tour of Sweet Briar House.

Yesterday’s guests were transfer and turning point students, a group I always especially enjoy meeting. Most of these students were enrolled elsewhere before deciding to continue their educations at Sweet Briar. Others may have held jobs or started families. All of them are slightly older than the “typical” new student. That means that they’ve thought about what they’re looking for in a college in a very intentional way.

My guests last night pointed to academic advising and curricular flexibility as reasons they’re especially glad they’re here. One spoke of wanting to be in a liberal arts college, where she could combine her interests in science and the arts. Others spoke of the way their advisers made sure they were enrolled at the appropriate level in subjects they had studied before.

After they left, I found myself reflecting. Transfer and Turning Point students are women who are not flying on autopilot. They’re women who have decided to step off one path — the school where they originally enrolled, the jobs at which they were working — onto another, a new path that will lead them to a Sweet Briar degree. I admire that, and I’m frankly not sure I would have had the moxie to do the same.

Transfer Students Meeting Miss Indie


Convocation on YouTube

For those of you who weren’t able to be with us in person at Convocation, or for those who were and would like to hear John Morrissey’s wonderful speech again, here’s a link to the YouTube video. It is, in a word, a hoot.

PS: the two handsome gentlemen on the aisle in the audience shots are Rick and (in a white shirt) my son John, who was visiting that day.

Dr. John Morrissey’s Convocation Address