President's Blog

Archive for August 2011

Holla Holla Engineering!

Yesterday we received official confirmation that the Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 Engineering Program‘s engineering sciences degree has been accredited by ABET for a period of five years.

From the press release:

“(Professor Hank) Yochum, who guided the program through the ABET review once it graduated its first class and became eligible for accreditation in 2009, says the endorsement lets employers, graduate schools and prospective students know they can trust the quality of the education. In some cases, it is a requirement for employment or licensure.

“We are eager for our students to enjoy the increased employment opportunities associated with graduating from an ABET-accredited degree program,” he said. “While our graduates have done well with jobs and graduate school placement, this will certainly open new doors to them.””

Achieving ABET accreditation is a major distinction for Sweet Briar. The nation needs more and more graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math. And I would argue that the nation needs more women in those fields — and more liberally-educated scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians. An engineering education in a liberal arts context produces graduates who are able to grapple with the historical, ethical, social, political, economic, cultural, and aesthetic implications of their work — and therefore graduates who are positioned to become leaders in the profession.  Sweet Briar, by graduating liberally-educated women engineers, is addressing a pressing need while helping individual students realize their dreams.

Holla holla, Sweet Briar engineers!

Convocation Again: ROSE awards

ROSE awards (Recognition Of Staff Excellence) are given to shine a spotlight on the wonderful work that members of staff do day in and day out to support the College. They’re especially meaningful because nominations come from fellow staff members — they recognize individuals whose peers appreciate what they do and the example they set.

Theresa McNabb, Executive Assistant in Finance and Administration, was recognized for her calm, efficient, and graceful way of managing complex processes and coordinating multiple priorities. Her contribution to creating “the A-Team,” a lunchtime group of administrative professionals who meet to exchange information and advice, was cited, as was her leadership on Sweet Day of Service last year.

The appropriately-named Jimmy Rose, Postal Clerk, was recognized for more than 26 years of service. Jimmy was recognized for his consistently cheerful and friendly demeanor, his knowledge of everyone and every place on campus, and his ability to keep mail service running like a top. (Rick suggests that my internet shopping habits may have created new levels of challenge for Jimmy in the package delivery area. . . )

Grounds Superintendent Donna Meeks was applauded for her ability to keep our spectacular environment looking its best, improving the daily experience of everyone on campus through landscaping and maintenance. Her preference for natural (and reusable) decorative arrangements and her emphasis on perennials have helped control costs and increase sustainability.

Holla holla to the ROSE award winners, and to all the other members of staff whose contributions keep Sweet Briar operating at the top of our game. . .

Convocation 2011-2012

Convocation yesterday! I’d be hard pressed to say whether I like Opening Convocation or Graduation better. Gathering faculty, staff, and students together to recognize achievement and welcome the new academic year is the best kind of opening-of-school moment, celebrating our reconnection and our mission.

Yesterday’s Convocation was especially special, if that’s possible, because it was the first time that Dean Amy Jessen-Marshall formally addressed the community. Her remarks drew their inspiration from this week’s earthquake; she talked about the “fault lines” on which higher education sits and the need to build fundamental strength and flexibility into academic institutions to make sure they can withstand environmental shocks. She also managed to work Charlton Heston and Shia LaBeouf into her comments, proving once again that a liberally educated mind ranges widely indeed!

Professor Holly Gould was honored by the student body with the Excellence in Teaching award. Her remarks were wonderful; she drew her theme from The Little Prince, and particularly from the experience of the Vixen (sorry, I mean fox) in that story. She talked about the importance of exploration and the ultimate meaning of connection, and the ways in which a Sweet Briar education depends on both. She encouraged the students to form deep and lasting connections with each other and their faculty mentors in order to support and ground their intellectual explorations.

All gathered in the Lower Quad for a picnic after the ceremony. I noticed that conversations were lively, no one seemed in a hurry to get back into their classrooms and offices, and people enjoyed the sunshine and the fellowship well into the afternoon . . .

Only at Sweet Briar!

Here’s a great “only at Sweet Briar” story.

Saturday, two new students arrived on campus rather later than planned because of travel difficulties. They just happened to arrive within a few minutes of each other: both had traveled on their own and when they finally pulled up registration was over, other students were busily attending orientation sessions, and the dining hall had closed for lunch and not yet reopened for dinner.

Staff photographer Meredith deAvila Khan and Vice President Louise Zingaro happened to be on hand when they arrived. Seeing two hungry, tired, and probably slightly discombobulated students, Lou and Meredith immediately swung into action. Meredith led an expedition to find the ATM and Lou invited them to the Farmhouse, where she had a full larder and fridge from which to offer them a late lunch. When it became clear that one student’s bedding had not arrived with her, an armful of sheets and towels was promptly produced, and within a couple of hours both students were refreshed, renewed, and ready to join their new classmates. And, because Meredith is after all a photographer, she snapped these great pictures.

Students in the Farmhouse kitchen

There are, of course, many many stories of extraordinary Sweet Briar hospitality and care for students, and I love every one. On how many campuses can a brand-new student who arrives to find the dining hall closed be invited on the spot for a home-cooked lunch at a Vice-President’s house?

Buddy Zingaro added his welcome

Welcome, Class of 2015!

Indy welcomes 2015

Yesterday the class of 2015 arrived on campus, 207 strong. By the end of the day, everyone was remarking on what a great energy and positive spirit the new students brought to campus — along with all the other stuff they brought! (This was no surprise to anyone who’d been following their wonderful facebook group for the last few weeks. . . ) What fun it’s going to be to get to know them.

In the afternoon, at welcome convocation, Dean Ken Huus gave some “fun facts” about the class. For example, collectively they have 194 siblings; 96 brothers and 98 sisters. There are 7 Emilys (all spelled the same way), 7 Katherines (with 3 different spellings), and 6 Kaitlyns (4 spellings.) And together they scored 264,300 points on the SAT!

In a slightly more serious vein, I offered a few words of advice.

“And so today we start out together. The most important single thing I can tell you this afternoon is that YOUR Sweet Briar will be largely what you make it. The faculty will offer you great courses, but only you will decide how hard you’ll work at them. Student organizations will provide you with wonderful leadership opportunities, but only you will decide whether or not you seize them. The College maintains a gorgeous campus, but only you will be able to make it the kind of community where you and women like you can thrive.

Make YOUR Sweet Briar a place that brings out the best in you and in all your wonderful and diverse new classmates. Inspire yourself and each other to new levels of academic, athletic, and extracurricular achievement. Dream big dreams, set ambitious goals, uphold noble ideals – for yourselves and for your fellow students. You are now Sweet Briar women, and this is your time to flourish!”

Welcome Convocation, 2011

Sweet Briar’s Student Leaders

This year Co-Curricular Life and Athletics introduced a new approach to leadership training, bringing together student leaders from across the campus for joint sessions on topics such as wellness, diversity and civility, and leadership. Team captains, peer health educators, STARS, student government officers, Sweet Spirits, RAs, and other student leaders spent time together earlier this week sharing their thoughts about how to make this year a great one for everyone on campus. (The colored T-shirts in the photo represent the different groups participating.)

These are the students who organize social events, run student government and the Honor Code, educate their peers about health and wellness, establish a spirit of camaraderie in the residence halls, develop community and campus service programs, represent the College in athletic competitions across the conference, and in general make Sweet Briar a welcoming and supportive place at the essential peer-to-peer level.

I couldn’t be prouder of them. The other day I joined the group at lunch in Prothro and asked them to give themselves a well-deserved Holla Holla. They raised the roof, to hearty applause from Co-Curricular Life and Athletics staff.

In the closing session of their training, I pointed out that leadership, when you think about, is ethically neutral. We can all mention examples of people with considerable leadership ability who used it for negative or selfish purposes. So I encouraged them to think not only about how to lead, but about why they want to lead — to think about the good things they want use their leadership to advance. And I told them that Sweet Briar is extraordinarily lucky that they have chosen to invest their leadership here. . .

Welcome back, athletes!

Last night Dean Cheryl Steele hosted a picnic for athletes and coaches over at Red Top. The weather was perfect and the view spectacular.

Today, workouts and drills begin in earnest for those playing fall sports. It’s wonderful to see life return to the fields and courts, to hear the shouts of encouragement rising over the thuds of balls and sticks.

As a person who grew up before Title IX increased the resources dedicated to girl’s and women’s sports across the country, I still find it remarkable to watch young women exercising their bodies, minds, and spirits on the athletic field simply assuming that sports will be part of their educational experience. And, as the outstanding GPAs of Sweet Briar athletes attest, it seems clear that the discipline, judgment, perseverance, and teamwork required for athletic excellence pay off in the classroom. 

Sweet Briar subscribes wholeheartedly to the NCAA’s Division III philosophy of the scholar-athlete and the role of athletics in the development of the whole person. To quote from their statement of mission and philosophy, a  DIII school should “establish and maintain an environment in which a student-athlete’s athletics activities are conducted as an integral part of the student-athlete’s educational experience, and in which coaches play a significant role as educators.”

I’m very proud to be able to say that here at Sweet Briar we do exactly that. So, here’s to the beginning of a new athletic season. If you want to follow the season with us, check out the Vixen athletics web site.

Holla Holla Vixens and Up Up Sweet!

Welcome back, faculty!

This week both students and faculty are gradually arriving back on campus; a week from today we’ll be officially kicking off the year with Convocation.

Hearing about faculty activities over the summer is one of the greatest pleasures of the new school year. Yesterday, for example, here’s what I learned simply through the serendipity of running into people:

Early in the morning, walking my dogs by the Boathouse, I ran into Professors Chang and Tourtellotte, who told me about the remarkable number of artifacts they unearthed during their summer dig in Kazakhstan. (And also the extraordinary heat in which they had to work.) I think they said 16,000 artifacts, although by that point in the conversation the dogs were pulling me toward something they found more compelling.

Later Professor (and chair of the Faculty Executive Committee) Hamilton came by for a meeting and told me about the entries on medieval sculpture she’s written for a reference volume — and of course we chatted about the wonderful study tour she led with Professor Laufenberg for their Medieval/Renaissance Studies students. (Here‘s an article Hamilton wrote about pilgrimage art, and the importance of the interaction of art and place, which will give you a sense of her work.)

I saw Professor Ashbrook later in the day. He’s spent the summer in Croatia and Germany and been at a seminar in which political and policy leaders from the EU met with scholars from Europe and the States to discuss political and economic issues facing both EU member and non-member states. He and I began thinking together about the possibilities for building relationships between Sweet Briar and Eastern European universities. . .

In the evening, I ran into Professors Honeycutt and Morrissey at the FAC. Honeycutt spent the summer in libraries, working on a manuscript on Niccolo Machiavelli and doing some research on Plato’s Republic. Morrissey was in the field, advancing his work on sting rays — and doing a very interesting project to make sure that each individual specimen was used to support as many research initiatives as possible.

And those are just the people I happened to see yesterday. Their colleagues have been doing equally valuable and interesting work all summer, and I look forward to hearing more about what everyone has accomplished. As I was walking home at the end of the day, I reflected on what an enormous privilege it is to be among people who live and work in the world of ideas, for me and for our students. Welcome back, faculty!

Third video released

Yesterday we released the third video in our new series: this one is called “A Leader of Tomorrow.” You can find it on our home page or on the YouTube channel or by clicking on the image below.

Those of you who’ve been watching the videos as they’ve come out will have a sense of the trajectory of the sequence. The first one, “Sweet Briar Woman,” introduces viewers to the campus as a spectacular place where young women strive for excellence. The second one, “She Will Change The World,” showcases the transformative relationships students establish with Sweet Briar faculty members. And this third and newest one emphasizes students’ intellectual and professional aspirations for their lives after graduation.

I’ll confess that every time I watch any of them I get a little misty-eyed and my pride in and enthusiasm for the College are turned up yet another notch. I hope you feel the same way! And I hope that you’ll pass them along to others who should know why we all love Sweet Briar so much. In the mean time, enjoy!

Back and Getting Ready!

Rick and I got back to campus last night after a seeing a wonderful variety of plays at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival!

I found myself reflecting on how wonderful it is to see both familiar and unfamiliar plays produced in interesting and unexpected combinations. One example: this season included productions of both Titus Andronicus (which I have rarely seen) and Merry Wives of Windsor (which I have frequently seen.) But it wasn’t until seeing the two just days apart that I had an “aha!” moment, realizing how often the word “revenge” appears in the text of Merry Wives and how that comedy can be seen as a parody of revenge tragedies like Titus. (OK, maybe everybody else saw that a long time ago, but it was a new and engaging thought for me.)

Similarly, I saw a very familiar play made unfamiliar by cross-gender casting — the marvelous Seana McKenna playing Richard III — alongside an unfamiliar-to-me play about a drag queen (Hosanna, featuring the equally marvelous Gareth Potter.) Both actors raised complex questions about gender as performance, and because I saw the two plays during the same week the issues of identity, sincerity, and “nature” in both plays were sharpened and focused for me.

I suppose the point is simply that being exposed to new work, and being exposed to familiar work newly interpreted, are both extraordinarily valuable experiences, and perhaps especially valuable in conjunction. This is an important educational idea, I think, with implications for both curriculum and pedagogy.

But now, it’s time to start getting ready for the new school year, which will start before we know it. I look forward to sharing the excitement of the first days of 2011-12 with you.