Sweet Briar exceeds alumnae donor expectations | Education

Sweet Briar College had a successful fundraising year.

Through gifts — including unrestricted gifts of more than $7 million from alumnae and friends as well as restricted funds for scholarships, capital, endowment and other needs — the private women’s college in Amherst County raised $25.6 million in fiscal year 2022.

That’s an increase of nearly $5 million over one year ago.

“Sweet Briar is a unique institution — a category of one, really,” Sweet Briar College President Meredith Woo said in a news release. “It challenges and inspires women to lead with the skill, compassion and vision to create a more just and sustainable world. Our alumnae know in their bones the importance of this mission, and I am most grateful for the partnership.”

The donations not only help with expansions and new projects but also with the upkeep of campus.

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Over the past year, Sweet Briar had a series of ribbon-cuttings made possible by various donor gifts from alumni and supporters of the college.

There were extensive renovations in the two stable wings and the Bailey Room of the Harriet Howell Rogers Riding Center and the new water-based turf field — which will benefit the field hockey and lacrosse teams. The soccer team will also benefit from a new grass field and lights, according to a release.

Sweet Briar added landscaping additions to the student commons courtyard and dorms as well.

Over the years, through donations from the alumnae, Sweet Briar has been able to add a vineyard and create the Willits Food Systems Summer Fellows program, which allows students to work in the greenhouse over the summer.

“I think the alumnae showed that the educational experience that they had at Sweet Briar College is something that they want young women to have today,” Claire Griffith, senior director of alumni and development, said in an interview.

The college also received gifts for capital projects, such as its bird observation deck made possible by the Class of 1976 in honor of their classmate Martha Hayes Cooper and new scholarships for local students from Foster Fuels and other Sweet Briar Friends.

Sweet Briar College has about 14,000 alumnae, Mary Pope Maybank Hutson, vice president for alumnae relations and development, said in an interview.

“At Sweet Briar, we’re very inspired by the alumnae giving to the college,” Hutson said. “It has propelled the college forward in unique ways to support the vision of president Meredith Woo.”

According to Hutson, Woo’s vision is an emphasis on women’s leadership and its importance in today’s society. The president has a focus on engineering, creativity in the arts and sustainability.

“The alumnae fully support president Woo’s vision for this college,” Hutson said.

Seven years ago, Sweet Briar College was at the brink of closing. On March 3, 2015, the college’s administration and board at the time attempted to close the school due to financial difficulties. Shortly after the announcement was made, Sweet Briar alumnae and other supporters stepped in to keep the college open. Those alumnae raised more than $21 million in gifts in pledges in just 90 days.

“The alumnae saved the college seven years ago and since that time, the alumni have donated over $125 million to this college,” Hutson said.

Griffith said the gifts and donations from alumnae and friends of the college will create more opportunities for students.

For example, students can be a beekeeper or even work inside of the greenhouse on campus.

“It enhances the educational opportunities but it also enhances all … other opportunities,” Griffith.

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