SWEET BRIAR – For Sweet Briar College the forthcoming fall semester will be one of all new experiences.
A new scheduling system, core curriculum and reduced tuition costs will be in place this academic year after months of planning, with the aim of revitalizing the historic women’s college.
“We did a lot of things the same, for many decades here, and then we got to 2015 — for a wide variety of reasons. Clearly, some of that wasn’t working,” said Lynn Rainville, dean of the college, in reference to the series of changes made in the wake of Sweet Briar’s near closure.
After surviving the shutdown attempt by former administrators — thanks to millions in financial support from alumnae — Sweet Briar installed new President Meredith Woo, who tasked faculty members with introducing sweeping changes at the school, last May. After faculty group deliberations, the new calendar and core curriculum were released late last year.
Fifteen-week semesters will now be split into two parts. The school year begins with a three-week stretch of classes, followed by a short break, before shifting to the 12-week schedule. The spring semester is in the opposite order, beginning with 12 weeks of classes followed by three weeks.
First-year students, who began moving into the Meta Glass Residence Hall Friday, are a mix of excited and unsure about being part of the experiment that launches with the class of 2022.
“I’m super excited to try something new like that. I think it’s going to be fun and interesting, and the three-week session is going to give me a nice break from long classes,” said Sydney Campbell, a first-year student from Amherst who plans to major in math and engineering.
With classes starting on Thursday, Jennifer Markey, a first-year computer science student from Montpelier, said it is too soon for her to form an opinion on the new calendar system.
Campbell and Markey are among the 125 new students enrolled at Sweet Briar this fall.
Move in at Sweet Briar marked the return of college students to the area.
First-year students begin moving in at the University of Lynchburg, formerly Lynchburg College on Saturday, and at Liberty University and Randolph College on Wednesday.
According to Melissa Richards, vice president for communications and enrollment management, Sweet Briar currently projects 327 students for this semester. Of those, 113 are first-year students and 12 are transfers. An official enrollment census is scheduled for early September.
In part of an email, Richards wrote that “Sweet Briar's brand refresh, innovation of academic programs and new semester calendar really resonated with prospective students.”
The three-week session will offer 12 classes in total. Options for first-year students are Design Thinking, which focuses on problem-solving and critical thinking, and Introduction to the Literary Studio, which aims to develop students’ analytical and creative writing skills. Other courses, available to students who already have completed their first year, include topics such as smartphone photography, negotiation, global politics, dance and more.
“Many of our faculty are taking this opportunity to do half-day or day-long field trips to sites of interest for their class,” Rainville said regarding the inaugural three-week sessions.
President Woo will join faculty ranks in the first session to teach a course on global politics.
Students will take one course over the three-week stretch, which is worth three credit hours.
The first session of the fall semester comes to an end with exams on Sept. 13, giving students a one-day break before the 12-week portion begins on the following Monday, Sept. 17.
Sweet Briar also will shift away from traditional general-education courses this academic year and to a new core curriculum that offers courses with a focus on argument and persuasion, environmental sustainability, ethics and leadership, among other areas of study.
The new core curriculum is stretched across 10 classes and 30 total credit hours.
Similarly, the college has reduced its majors, shifting from offering 33 to 17. When details were announced in December, Sweet Briar officials said students have the option to finish their majors as well as the general education requirements or shift to the new core curriculum.
Students also will pay lower tuition prices this year. According to the Sweet Briar website, that number comes in at $34,000 a year for undergraduates, including room, board, and fees.
Sweet Briar tuition previously was listed at $50,055.
Josh Moody covers higher education for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5556.