AMHERST — After a full year at the helm of Sweet Briar College, President Meredith Woo met with residents and leaders of Amherst County on Tuesday to discuss the state of the school and its future.
One development she highlighted was a 40 percent increase in deposits for student applicants over last year. She declined to give an exact number since Sweet Briar has rolling applications.
Woo also noted the college is looking at how to better use the 3,250-acre campus. In addition to a previously announced academic emphasis on developing sustainability programs of study, Woo said the college is conducting a business analysis to determine the potential of orchards and vineyards on campus. She added the college plans to produce wild honey in the near future.
Woo offered updates to an audience of about 40 people on what Sweet Briar has done in the past year, including the reduction of majors by about half; the development of a new core curriculum; slashing tuition by 32 percent, cutting it from $50,055, according to the SBC website, to $34,000; and developing a new semester schedule, which shifts away from traditional 15-week semesters to periods consisting of 12 weeks of classes and three weeks of experiential learning.
With major changes, Woo said, came many sleepless nights as she wondered if the college was on the right path. Now, with deposits for potential students up, she said she believes it is.
A common theme throughout Woo’s address at Amherst’s Second Stage was the relationship between Sweet Briar, the town of Amherst and the county, which she called symbiotic.
“We cannot let each other fail or fall,” Woo said. “You have Sweet Briar; we have you.”
That sentiment was echoed by town and county leaders who spoke alongside Woo.
Claudia Tucker, chairwoman of the Amherst County Board of Supervisors, reflected on a moment in 2015 when she received a letter announcing the prior administration had decided to close the college, an effort that ultimately failed when Sweet Briar alumnae sued to keep it open.
“I literally gasped and just held my chest,” Tucker said.
She noted with the failed closure in the past, the county and school are focused on the future.
“That’s our history. That’s in our rearview mirror. What we have now is looking forward,” Tucker said.
Amherst Mayor Dwayne Tuggle described Sweet Briar as a “hidden gem” and said Woo entered the community with a level of excitement that is bringing the college into the open for all to see.
“We are all going to benefit from her knowledge and the way she leads the college into the future,” Tuggle said.
Woo was hired by Sweet Briar’s Board of Directors last February and took over leadership of the historic all-women’s college in May 2017, becoming the school’s 13th president.