President's Blog

Archive for May 2012

AND an equally glorious Reunion!

The Record-Setting Class of 1972

There’s no way I could summarize all the energy and fun of Reunion 2012!

(On Tuesday, May 29, a whole bank of images will be published at http://www.sbc.edu/reunion2012 if you’d like to browse them or download them for personal use.)

Popular events included an architectural tour of the campus led by Professor Tracy Hamilton and a nature walk in honor of the late Buck Edwards led by Professor Linda Fink. Alumna Patricia Beach Thompson gave an inspiring lecture on women in history, alumna Lele Casalini taught a yoga class, tours of Sweet Briar House were available, and of course there was lots of time for simply catching up with friends and enjoying the truly spectacular weather.

My “State of the College” presentation was livestreamed and I heard from several people who participated via the internet that they appreciated the opportunity to attend virtually. If you’d like to watch, you can find it at sbc.edu\live. (But I warn you, it’s rather long!) Here are a few of the highlights:

I shared several images of the library expansion/renovation, on which work will begin in August. Both these images are from the back: aren’t they spectacular? Notice how the glass allows the original rear wall — now obscured by the Dana Wing — to be revealed.

I shared some information about a sampling of graduates from the class of 2012, noting that I could have given a list three times as long:

  • 18 were Phi Beta Kappa
  • 5 completed honors degrees and 3 earned highest honors in their majors
  • 1 has a patent application pending: Engineering built the prototype & Business helped with connect with vendors
  • 7 will be getting the MAT at Sweet Briar
  • 2 are going to work at Nordstrom
  • 1 won a fellowship at Yale
  • 1 won a Fulbright


And about a range of faculty achievements, which again is only a sampling:

  • Jim Kirkwood published Mathematical Physics with Partial Differential Equations
  • Debbie Durham conducted research in a retirement facility in Izmir, Turkey
  • Jeff Frank published “Can Perfectionism Withstand the Acknowledgement of Slavery?”
  • Paige Critcher mounted shows in Charlottesville, Arlington, Lambertville NJ, and at Bridgewater College
  • Abraham Yousef won a Mednick Fellowship to study anticancer agents
  • Dan Gottlieb published a paper co-authored with a Sweet Briar student
  • Steve Wassell named among the “Best 300 Professors” in America
  • Bill Kershner placed a production in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, summer 2013

DC alumnae gathering


And, I told them about Sweet Briar’s efforts to tell more alumnae stories through the Magazine, the web site, and our facebook page. Recently, as part of this effort, we visited with a group of alumnae in the D.C. area to collect their memories and anecdotes about Sweet Briar and to capture their stories on video. We’ll be doing the same both when alumnae are back on campus and in visits to other cities around the country.

There is something wonderfully appropriate about the sequence of graduation and reunion that ends every academic year. In the span of a couple of weeks, we celebrate the young women who have earned the roses they will proudly bear throughout their lives, and we welcome back to campus the alumnae whose careers and life stories exemplify the enduring value of a Sweet Briar education. Holla holla to Sweet Briar women of all generations!

A Glorious Commencement

I’m biased, but I think Commencement this year was perfection. The weather was glorious, the speakers were outstanding, the students were delighted and their families were proud! You can find some good stories about it on sbc.edu and in the local press.

Now, of course, our ceremony has all the appropriate solemnity and dignity, but I think what I love most about it is the personal quality and genuine affection that is evident at every moment. (I can’t recall exactly what Alex Grobman and I had said to each other just before this shot was snapped, but I love this picture for capturing the joy of the moment — a joy shared with every student who crosses the platform.)

Dr. Vivian Pinn

Dr. Vivian Pinn,  former director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health, gave the Commencement address: her topic was “Embracing New Horizons.” Dr. Pinn, who was the only woman and only African-American in her medical school class, reflected on the expanded opportunities available to young women today.

“When you wisely selected Sweet Briar as the institution to prepare you for your future careers and lives, you knew that this college has as its mission to prepare young women to excel in the modern world. Today, you will be going forward to do just that — in a world that has expanded far beyond horizons that the founders of this college could even have imagined 100 years ago,” she said.

Senior Class President and Presidential Medalist Alex St. Pierre offered inspiring remarks, connecting her academic experience with the love of Star Wars she shared with her grandfather.

“When we assume that we know a group, an ideal or a person, we lose the ability to inquire and investigate,” she said. “Be confident in the knowledge you have worked hard to accrue, but never assume that you know something or someone in their entirety. Never cease to inquire, to investigate, to be curious and to be adventurous. Refuse to settle for what you think you understand and continually seek a new perspective … May you always bear the rose after conquering its thorns and may the Force be with you, always.”




Holla Holla, 2012 Vixens!

Friday evening was the annual Athletics Award banquet. There was a great turnout, as you can see.

One of the highlights of each spring, this banquet is when Sweet Briar honors its athletes for they ways they represent the values of Sweet  Briar and of NCAA Division III.

Here’s a brief excerpt from my opening remarks:

2012 Student Athlete Advisory Committee

Certainly, both academics and athletics teach you to be unafraid to compete – to put your performance out there on the line and to accept that sometimes you will succeed and sometimes you won’t. And at those times when you don’t succeed, both athletics and academics teach resilience; you learn to bounce back, to stay in the game, to regain your composure and focus. Both athletics and academics demand patience with yourself: skills simply don’t develop in a day and it can take quite some time for training or study to pay off. Both require foresight and planning, strategizing how you’ll play a match or negotiate a meet, looking a few steps ahead for where an argument or a data point might take you. And both require a sense of honor and teamwork: respecting the rules, building on the contributions of others, putting fair play and success for the endeavor above ego or impulse.

Perhaps the most uplifting aspect of the evening was watching the student athletes interact with each other. As award winners were called forward, as teams posed for group pictures, the powerful affection, respect, and mutual support Sweet Briar women develop with their teammates and fellow athletes were evident, and inspiring. Holla Holla, Vixen athletes and alumnae!

Community Update from the April Board Meeting

As regular readers may know, after each meeting of the Board of Directors I report back to the community by distributing a written report and holding open “town hall” style meetings with faculty, staff, and students. From time to time, I’ve shared those reports with all of you.

I do hope that you’ll take a few minutes to read the report from the April 2012 meeting of Sweet Briar’s Board. Several important issues were on the agenda, including the progress we’re making on the Plan for Sustainable Excellence.

Sustainable Excellence, approved by the Board a year ago, calls for enrollment growth and a review of curriculum undertaken with the goal of achieving a student:faculty ratio of 10:1. (10:1 was selected as the goal because it will allow Sweet Briar to remain among the smallest and most personal of colleges while increasing the financial sustainability of the academic program.) At the April meeting, I presented the College’s plan to achieve that goal within two years.

The plan carefully balances our mission of providing a full range of excellent liberal arts majors and a strong general education program, our desire to preserve tenure and tenure-track positions and retain outstanding faculty, and our need to make adjustments to overall levels of instructional staffing.

In coming months, you will be reading more about this plan — in the Sweet Briar Magazine, in our e-newsletters, on sbc.edu, and in other communications from the College. In the mean time, here’s an excerpt from the community report:

“Sweet Briar, like every institution of its size and type, faces challenges that can be addressed only by making difficult decisions . . . given the reality of our circumstances, we can be very proud of the way we have chosen to meet them – directly, frankly, collegially, and thoughtfully.”

Preserving excellence, increasing sustainability, so that Sweet Briar will be as distinguished for the next hundred years as it has been through the last century. That‘s the plan.