Major changes in the works at Sweet Briar College are beginning to take shape.
The school released details Friday on its new core curriculum and restructured academic offerings, outlining its core courses for women’s leadership, a list of majors going forward and those to be eliminated. The college will shift from 33 majors to 17 next academic year.
For students already in majors to be eliminated, those programs will be taught to completion.
The core curriculum marks a shift away from traditional general-education courses. In its place, the core curriculum offers courses with a focus on argument and persuasion, environmental sustainability, ethics and leadership, among other areas of study, stretched across 10 classes and 30 total credit-hours. The core curriculum will launch in fall 2018.
“The 10 courses are really designed to foster in our students particular habits of the mind about lifelong learning, innovation, ethical conduct, problem solving and empathy. They will raise questions, identify interdisciplinary connections and also encourage intellectual open-mindedness,” Sweet Briar President Meredith Woo said in an interview Friday with The News & Advance.
Woo described traditional general-education courses as “diluted” and “confusing.” She said the new core curriculum is highly integrated and aims to develop collegial, democratic leadership skills.
“We think that given our purpose in the liberal arts, that these courses that emphasize collaboration, problem solving, ethical conduct, is actually a quicker way, under one theme, to get to the purpose of general education. It’s efficacious, it’s efficient and it’s a lot of fun.”
Teresa Tomlinson, a Sweet Briar alumna and chairwoman of the board of directors, said the new core curriculum strikes a balance across the sciences, humanities, social sciences and the arts for the private women’s-only college of about 300 students.
“We have kept that as a top priority, to be true to our mission of liberal arts,” Tomlinson said.
In a Sweet Briar news release, College Dean Rob Granger said faculty voted Dec. 8, after months of deliberation, to adopt the new curriculum.
According to Melissa Richards, SBC vice president for communications and enrollment management, current students can finish out general-education requirements “or they can elect to shift to the new leadership core, or simply take a few of the courses.”
Of the 17 majors to be offered going forward, 15 fall under three main themes: humanities, sciences and social sciences. The other two are performing arts — with a focus on music, theater and dance — and interdisciplinary studies, which allows students to design their own major.
“This is a very forward-looking curriculum,” Woo said.
As the curriculum is implemented, Sweet Briar looks to hire approximately five new faculty members during the next two years. Those positions are undetermined, but according to a Sweet Briar news release, the positions will be focused on what the school considers “strategic to support the curriculum” and may be in the fields of economics, history and modern languages.
For Sweet Briar, Friday’s announcement is part of major changes first revealed in September, which — in addition to revision of curriculum — include reduced tuition and a shift away from traditional academic departments to three collaborative interdisciplinary centers.
Another change involved the academic calendar moving away from 15-week semesters to a system of periods consisting of 12 weeks of classes and three weeks of experiential learning, which administrators say will offer students chances to pursue internships, research and study-abroad opportunities.
The three collaborative disciplinary centers, dubbed the “centers of excellence,” are engineering, science and technology in society; human and environmental sustainability; and creativity, design and the arts.
Those centers are designed to tie into what the college has identified as its strengths, such as its engineering program, the natural environment that surrounds the 3,250-acre campus in Amherst County and its proximity to the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, which leases land from the college.