President's Blog

Archive for January 2013

February Fitness!

Leading a fitness class

It’s no secret that I believe that physical fitness and the more holistic concept of wellness are essential to academic, professional, and personal success. As a woman who came of age before Title IX revolutionized the way girls engaged with sports in school, and as someone who remembers participating in President Kennedy’s Fitness Challenge, I am especially aware of the importance of fitness and wellness for women and for young people.

Here on campus, February is a time when we give special focus to wellness, broadly defined, for all members of the community — students, staff, and faculty. Here are some of the things that are going on this month:

  • A free kickboxing class for those who would like to try out this invigorating form of exercise.
  • A workshop on “financial fitness” for students.
  • Wear Red Day. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. Wear Red, Raise Awareness on February 1st.
  • Guided lunchtime walk every Friday in February. See an interesting aspect of campus, meet some new people, restore your energy with time outdoors.
  • Classes in NIA, Zumba, and Kickboxing return to the schedule. (If you haven’t tried one of my NIA classes, I promise you it’s lots of fun.)
  • Lunchtime indoor soccer on Tuesdays and Fridays.
  • And coming up: workshops on emotional health, career transitions, and smoking cessation; blood pressure checks; a chair massage day; a mini-health fair, and much in addition.

Every member of the Sweet Briar community has a different level of fitness and a different set of personal health concerns. Each person enjoys different kinds and levels of physical activity and benefits from different modes of health education. Our goal is to help each student and employee identify one or two simple things that will promote health and well-being — because we know that wellness supports the ability to succeed in all areas of life.

Alumnae, parents, and friends, you can join in too! Even if you’re far from campus, why not join us in spirit and seek out one or two fitness or wellness experiences to enjoy in the coming month?

PBS NewsHour Features Sweet Briar STEM Education

Click here to see a great story and video about the way Sweet Briar is helping change math education in local communities.

The story features a project in which two teachers, both participants in our STEM education program, developed a lesson plan to help students understand number patterns through dance. (And yes, homework included watching “America’s Best Dance Crew” on television!)

“Lewis, a STEM specialist for Virginia’s Lynchburg city schools, and Steele, who teaches gifted education in Bedford county, Virginia, are both math enthusiasts eager to instill in their students a love of the subject. And dancing, they hoped, might be just the thing to help tackle a common fifth-grade learning deficit — number patterns.

“Dances are patterns,” Lewis said. “We had identified that our students had trouble with patterns and this was a way to get them involved in it.”

Both teachers are part of Sweet Briar College’s STEM teacher education program, where they worked together to design “dance by numbers,” a lesson plan that relies on dance to teach pattern recognition. In the video above, Lewis explains how the lesson works.

Math, education, and a dash of the arts — stronger STEM programs for elementary schools.

Sweet Briar Days!

The holidays are over and it’s nearly time for the second semester to start, which means ’tis the season for Sweet Briar Days — those wonderful events at which alumnae, current students, prospective students, and other friends of Sweet Briar gather to share stories as they reconnect with old friends and maybe make a few new ones! Whether they take place over coffee or cocktails, in the morning, afternoon, or evening, in large gatherings or small, Sweet Briar Days are one of the ways that our vigorous alumnae network is strengthened and extended.

This year’s schedule included 32 Sweet Briar Day events in locations such as Charlottesville, Denver, Hampton Roads, New York, Richmond, Boston, Lynchburg, Houston, and about 25 other towns and cities across the country. I’m hearing wonderful feedback about each and every event. Here’s a comment from a message we received from a father who attended a Sweet Briar Day in California:

“It was an honor for us to be surrounded by so many wonderful representatives of the college – we’re talking major league devotion and love for their alma mater.  There were two fifty-year anniversary gals and one SIXTY year celebrant!  Plus the recent grad who is studying for her Masters. . .” He goes on to talk about the prospective student he met who’s on pins and needles as she waits, and hopes, to get a letter of acceptance, and said that his daughter “got a whole new perspective of the ‘sisterhood’ and belonging to such an awesome group of people.”
Those of us who spend most of our time on campus can tend to think of Sweet Briar as the students, faculty, and staff we see every day. What I love about Sweet Briar Days is the way they remind me that Sweet Briar extends far beyond the campus, in a lively and extensive network of women who love sharing the Sweet Briar experience and supporting each other throughout their impressive lives and interesting careers.

Looking Around and Forward

The time after the holidays and before students return to campus is when many professional conferences and meetings take place. For example, I’ve just come back from the President’s Institute of the Council of Independent Colleges, which was held concurrently with the annual meeting of the Women’s College Coalition.

Like folks in all other professions, college presidents find it valuable from time to time to raise their heads from the daily agenda in order to look around at the larger context shaping that agenda and forward toward whatever might be coming next. There is much to be learned from the experiences and ideas of educational leaders from across the country who share Sweet Briar’s commitment to liberal education and student success. America’s liberal arts colleges share many values, commitments, and challanges. What makes them stronger as a community makes each college individually stronger as well.

Here are things I especially appreciated during my time at the conference:

  • I heard a keynote address by Andrew DelBanco on the value of liberal education. Many of the ideas he shared with the assembled presidents are developed in his book, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be. DelBanco’s main point is that residential undergraduate education plays an essential role in preparing students for citizenship and community life by sustaining an environment in which they can practice leadership, decision-making, debate, and self-government under the guidance of role models and mentors.


  • I participated in a robust discussion about financial aid policy. This session has received some press coverage; the question is whether financial aid is appropriately allocated between two purposes — to meet the financial need of families and to provide non-need-based aid to students with particular qualifications.





Of course, I also valued the opportunity to pick the brains of other college presidents, hear about interesting innovations moving forward on other campuses, and reflect on the national picture of opportunity for students.

It goes without saying that leading an academic institution in this day and age is challenging work. But a conference like these is just one more occasion on which I realize how lucky I am to have the chance to do it! Providing the kind of education Sweet Briar offers to new generations of women, and advancing the proud tradition of the American liberal arts college as an option for all students, is endlessly interesting and unquestionably important.