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The Fondest of Farewells

OfficialRegaliacropped150Friends, the time has come for me to bid you farewell — with warm affection and many, many thanks. Rick and I will be traveling to Stratford, Ontario, in a few days to take in some plays and enjoy a bit of vacation before moving to Pittsburgh, where I will assume my new duties as President of the Carnegie Museums. (Sweet Briar friends, do promise to let me know if you ever find yourselves in Pittsburgh!)

Me and Rick

Me and Rick at a Founder’s Day dance

It’s been a privilege and an honor to serve this wonderful college for the last five years and to share many of the daily joys of life on campus with readers of this blog. Thank you for your reading-list suggestions, your questions, and your abiding interest in our beloved Sweet Briar.

Last night, I thought it would be nice to select a few pictures to sum up the memories I will carry with me. Half an hour’s effort persuaded me of how utterly impossible a task that (obviously) is! So, just one or two. . . 


Graduation 2012 me Alex Grobman

A New Environmental Initiative

Dam with FlowThere’s a good story in this morning’s newspaper about an initiative I recently posted about: you can find it here. Here’s a quick quote:

“Sweet Briar long has been taking steps toward sustainability and Scott Shank, Sweet Briar College’s vice president for finance and administration, said the agreement was a perfect fit for the college given its property and desire to become carbon neutral. Warm season grasses — which produce large amounts of biomass, help with soil erosion and water quality, don’t have to planted year after year and require little to no fertilization — sequester carbon more than the cool seasons grasses that were in place.”

And the article goes on to note that not only is this project good for the environment, it is good for students — who will gain access to important research opportunities — and for the bottom line, as Sweet Briar will be able to sell harvested grasses for biofuel.

Those who have spent time on our spectacular campus develop an appreciation for our environmental legacy and the importance of environmental stewardship. We’re proud to be leaders in innovative projects such as this one!

Awards Convocation 2014

Yesterday was Awards Convocation — the day when we celebrate the academic accomplishments of Sweet Briar students.

In my opening remarks, I pointed out that those receiving awards are far from the only students who achieved meaningful  things this year. During the course of the year, every student on campus has fulfilled some aspiration, realized a personal best, or attained a new level in her field. When we gather for Convocation we celebrate an academic year full of daily successes and hard-won victories.

Congratulating an honoree with Professor Cheryl Mares

Congratulating an honoree with Professor Cheryl Mares

Many recognitions are given at Convocation: you can find the list of all awards on our web site.  As each student is recognized, the chair of her program or department joins me on the stage to shake her hand — and often to offer a hug and an appreciative word. It really is a lovely moment, acknowledging the ties forged by years of shared study.

Spencer Beall Me

I have the privilege of awarding the Presidential Medal, which recognizes academic excellence as well as dedication to other key educational values — such as appreciation for the arts, a global perspective, athletic excellence, community service, leadership, integrity of character. This year’s medalist is Spencer Beall, recognized for her outstanding work in French and cultural studies, her dedication to the humanities in an international framework, and her unfailing graciousness and warmth.

And, as is fitting, Convocation is a joyous  event!

Skiffle Band MeThe faculty procession was welcomed into Babcock by the concert choir, singing a rousing version of “Let The River Run.” (Senior professors were clapping and swaying, marvelous.) And afterwards, we had a reception on the lawn featuring the music of Skiffle USA. When you’re the only women’s college with a steel pan drum ensemble, you want to make sure the world knows about it. What better occasion than awards convocation to make a joyful noise?




A Bittersweet Moment

JEP Portrait December 2013As I suspect many readers of this blog already know, Sweet Briar has announced that I will be leaving this summer to assume the presidency of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

Such a moment is the very definition of “bittersweet.” As I said in a recent Facebook post, “if only new opportunities could be embraced without leaving other joys behind!” There are so many things and especially people that make it difficult to leave Sweet Briar — but I am extraordinarily proud of the work that has been accomplished here over the last five years and confident in the direction and momentum we’ve established.

Becoming the first woman to serve in this leadership position — and one of the few women leading museums of this importance — is, I believe, yet one more piece of testimony about the value of both the liberal arts and women’s education as preparation for a lifetime of meaningful and influential work. And, Sweet Briar being the wonderful community it is, I’ve already heard from Pittsburgh area alumnae kindly offering to welcome me to their terrific city.

I’ll continue to blog about College life until I depart. Time to say goodbye will come later —

More News About Environmental Stewardship

Monarch with MountainI hope readers recall that we recently announced Sweet Briar’s conversion to “green” electricity. As legions of students, faculty, alumnae, and neighbors will attest, one of the truly special aspects of the Sweet Briar experience is the expansive and lovely environment we enjoy here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. We are proud of being good stewards of that legacy. Today I’d like to share news of another important environmental-stewardship initiative. I’ll quote a message Vice President Scott Shank recently circulated:

“It is with great pleasure that I announce Sweet Briar has taken another step in our environmental stewardship.  The College has entered into an agreement with FDC Enterprises Grassland Services to convert approximately 250 acres of our current hayfields to native warm season grasses with perennial borders.  The grasses will be sold as biofuel, and the borders will become pollinator habitat.  In addition to the extra income the College will earn from the sale of the grass for biofuel, the project has the potential to provide substantial educational opportunities for us in the areas of biology, chemistry, environmental studies, engineering and perhaps others. . .”

This initiative was planned in consultation with the Campus Environment Committee, and the fields selected for use were identified after careful consideration of the needs of the riding program, ongoing research projects, campus aesthetics, and recreational uses.

It’s the best kind of project. It supports our educational mission by connecting us with larger research initiatives and providing opportunities for research and teaching right here on campus. It allows us to realize increased income from the land through the sale of grass for biofuel. And it expresses our ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship.

It does mean that if you visit campus in the late summer or early fall you may notice a changed appearance in some fields; I think the perennial borders and tall grasses will be quite lovely. . .

Honoring Sweet Briar Staff

DSC_8074This week Sweet Briar honored several members of staff at the annual “Unsung Heroes and Staff Recognition Banquet.” It’s always a pleasure and an honor to recognize the people who make this wonderful community work, day in and day out: if you’ve spent any time on campus at all you know it’s the people who work here who make it what it is.

DSC_8080The banquets celebrates those who are celebrating milestone anniversaries — 10, 20, 30, and even 40 years of employment. Among this year’s honorees were ten staff members who, together have contributed 230 years of service to Sweet Briar. Gloria Higginbotham, who came to work here in 1973-74, was applauded for 40 continuous years of service. Think about the changes she has seen during that time, and all she knows about Sweet Briar’s recent history!

Other awards are given by students: they recognize an Unsung Hero and Heroine, as well as Mr. and Ms. Sunshine, Most Dependable, Hardest Working, and Most Encouraging.

The "Superlatives"

The “Superlatives”

I don’t think there is a single member of staff on campus who sees her or his work here as simply a job. At yesterday’s banquet, the pride and dedication of these employees was evident. They know that, whatever their specific  responsibilities, their work support a mission and a community that has great meaning. And ultimately, doing meaningful work is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences life has to offer. As I told the honorees yesterday, I am proud and happy to serve alongside them.

So, holla holla to yesterday’s honorees, and to all staff members whose excellence and commitment they represent.

Anniversary Honorees

Anniversary Honorees

Just Because

One of the joys of this campus is the way nature continually surprises and delights. So, just to share: this morning a bear cub was spotted on campus. Animal control is keeping an eye on him (or her) and assures us he (or she) doesn’t appear to be sick, injured, or in distress. The birds are singing, bulbs and trees are flowering, and the baby animals are finding their feet. Lovely!


A Couple of Cool Pilot Programs

Lots of news this week about Sweet Briar and “digital sophistication!” We’ve just announced two pilot programs that will add opportunities for students to study topics not offered on campus through on-line remote collaborations.

iPads in classOne is in the area of languages. In collaboration with several other private colleges in Virginia, we’ll be sharing instructional resources in Arabic, Mandarin, and German. Because this is a trial and a pilot, only a few seats will be available in each offering. At this early stage, obviously, students will not yet be able to complete the full Sweet Briar language requirement through this program — but they will be able to explore a new language as an elective or brush up a language with which they’re already familiar. And they can also provide invaluable feedback about how to refine and improve the on-line learning experience.

Further, just this morning Sweet Briar was featured in a story on Inside Higher Education about a collaborative project in which we very much hope to participate. This project will connect 20 select institutions in a “Consortium for Online Humanities Instruction.” Here’s a quote:

Leaders of the most enthusiastic institutions, however, said they believe collaboration may be the best strategy for small colleges to pool their resources and create a small-school approach to online education.

“It helps us go bigger by not going big,” said Jo Ellen Parker, president of Sweet Briar College. “We want to teach more than we can. We know that the strength [of small colleges] is the very personalized kind of learning — the high level of learning, the intensity of the relationships. We know there’s that strength, but operating at that scale that we’re deeply committed to, it does sometimes limit some of the topics, some of the courses that we might be able to offer.”

(Please overlook the rather rambling syntax of the quote: it’s an excerpt from an interesting conversation rather than a crisp sound bite!)


Community Update

JEP Portrait December 2013After each meeting of Sweet Briar’s Board of Directors, I provide a brief update to the campus community on key actions and decisions — and then I buy lunch in Prothro for anyone who wants to come out and talk about the report!

The reports are also posted on my office’s web page: click here to find the most recent one.

In the usual course of business, there were several actions taken when the Board met at the end of February.

Professor Coopamah

Professor Coopamah

Tenure and promotion was awarded to Professor Padmini Coopamah (congratulations!) and retired professors Jim Alouf, Gerry Berg, Rebecca McCord, and Margaret Stanton were awarded the state of professor emerita or emeritus (congratulations to them too!)

The Board also lent its support to a renewed research and planning process to support strategic decision-making. Here’s an excerpt from the update:

At its recent meeting, the Board of Directors endorsed a proposal from the administration for a renewed planning initiative in which three interrelated projects will be undertaken in the next 15 – 18 months. The three components are market research, renewed strategic planning, and a fundraising/campaign feasibility study. . . As we continue to build on the good work and many successes of The Shape of the Future and Sustainable Excellence, this research and analysis will provide current information and updated perspectives to guide us through what continue to be extraordinarily challenging times for colleges of our type.

The goal of this initiative is to enable the community and Board, to review, in the spring and summer of 2015, well-researched answers to these questions: What changes to our programs might have the best chance of attracting larger numbers of talented students? What kinds of program innovations and models do Sweet Briar faculty and staff think are consistent with our educational values, academically inspiring, and feasible? And, to support program development and address campus preservation and maintenance, what might our fundraising aspirations realistically be?”

Over the next year and half, information and announcements regarding this process will circulate regularly. We hope that all members of the extended Sweet Briar community will follow along with interest.

Check Out “Project 306″

Students in the Business department have started a blog called Project 306. Here’s a quote from their statement of purpose:

“Our goal is to stimulate a conversation about women in innovation and all of the things that help us attain success. We’re exploring #womenhelpingwomen, experiential learning, professional & personal growth.”

If you check it out, you’ll find stories about Professor Tom Scott’s recent trip to Tanzania, recommendations about “don’t miss” TED talks (click here for one interesting example) a recent young female entrepreneurs panel, and lots more.

I was pleased that they recently asked me to contribute some thoughts on career planning. Here are the first couple of paragraphs of my post:

“In my conversations with students about their career aspirations – and I’ve had a lot of those, over the years! – I often hear them taking one of two approaches to career planning.

The first is goal-driven. These students decide where they want to end up and are determined to do whatever it takes to get there. (“I want to be a vet, so even though labs aren’t my favorite thing I’ll take all the required courses and then some.”) The second is more intrinsically-motivated. These students do what they love and trust that a rewarding career will emerge from their choices. (“Nothing could be more fun than mastering four different languages, and there are lots of interesting things multilingual people can do.”)

I am and always have been one of the second kind.”

If you want to read the rest, visit the Project 306 blog!