Learning on the Land: Program Descriptions

Orientation 2014




“The Hills Are Alive!”

Led by Marcia Thom-Kaley, Assistant Professor of Music

Indeed, this phrase — boldly stolen from the movie “The Sound of Music” — is expressed every single day on the campus of Sweet Briar. In this adventure, students will hike and explore the nooks and crannies of the surrounding countryside, choosing elements of nature to create their own orchestra. Participants will be encouraged to think outside of the box and discover their own sense of music – instrumental and vocal. Students will also be introduced to the “Songs of Sweet Briar.” These time-honored pieces have been a rich and essential part of the culture of the College since the turn of the century. We may even sing a bit!


A Taste of Virginia

Led by Cathy Gutierrez, associate professor of religion and director of the y:1 Program

Join us for a culinary experience in the Garden Cottage. We will discuss current issues in food, ranging from genetically modified seeds to fast food and the popularity of cooking in television and the media. Seasonal local foods obtained at the farmers’ market will be simply prepared by you and your group for an afternoon snack as we consider the importance of local farming on the quality of food, the life of animals and the environment.


Constructing a Great College for Women

Led by Kimberly Jones, visiting assisting professor of art history

Join us for an interactive tour to learn what makes our College architecturally distinctive. Many of our academic buildings were designed by Ralph Adams Cram and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Along the way, we will learn some simple architectural terms, which will be applied when we finish off the afternoon with an architectural scavenger hunt.


Wet & Wild 

Led by Rebecca Ambers, associate professor of environmental science

Sweet Briar’s lakes have provided a source of water, wildlife habitat and recreation since the College first opened its doors over a hundred years ago. Learn about the history and science of these water bodies in this hands-on adventure. After visiting the buildings around the Lower Lake, we will hop in canoes to explore the lake itself and examine water quality. Be on the lookout for fish, turtles, beaver and waterfowl — maybe even an otter or a jellyfish! Bring shoes that can get wet and will stay on your feet in the water. No flip-flops. Wear sunscreen and a bathing suit under your clothes because you’re likely to go for a swim.


Introduction to Mountain Biking on the Sweet Briar Campus

Led by Scott Pierce, assistant professor of engineering

This program is for students who are interested in mountain biking at Sweet Briar. The program is open to beginners who want to try mountain biking and experienced mountain bikers who want to learn where to ride at SBC. Routes will consist mainly of gravel and dirt roads, and we will point out plenty of single-track trails for you to try on your own. The group will be led by engineering professor Scott Pierce and his Golden Retriever Stanley. You are encouraged to bring your own bike; however, bikes will be available to rent for $30. If you rent a bike, bring a check or cash to your Learning on the Land program.



Led by Rob Alexander, professor of environmental studies

Geocaching combines the skills of map reading, orienteering, hiking and good old-fashioned treasure hunts in a single game. Players are given global positioning system (GPS) coordinates and clues to the location of a hidden cache of treasure, and they use handheld GPS receivers, and their own wits, to help them locate the cache. Students will learn the basics of map-reading and GPS navigation and then will strike off through Sweet Briar’s many trails in search of cached treasures and stories of Sweet Briar’s history and traditions.

Legacy of Our Plantation Past

Led by Jessica Salvator, assistant professor of psychology

This beautiful campus was once a plantation where African-Americans and Native Americans were enslaved. How should we live our lives here in a way that honors this history and its continuing impact? Do we have any special obligations on, and to, this land? We will walk to the campus’ slave cabin and burial ground, and spend some time in each place writing and thinking in quiet contemplation. When we return indoors, we will discuss how these experiences should inform our lives here at Sweet Briar. Bring paper and pen and come prepared for a short walk off the main trails. 

Building from the Land

Led by Bethany Brinkman, assistant professor of engineering

Welcome to Virginia clay, and get ready to get your hands muddy. We’ll be collecting clay samples and bringing them back to the lab to mold into bricks. We’ll explore the intersection of science and culture — how brick making was done on this campus and how we can look for physical and chemical structures within the bricks to gain a sense of the history of the structures in which they were used. With our new knowledge we’ll take off for a tour of campus to explore some of the brick buildings on campus. 


Fishes of Sweet Briar

Led by John Morrissey, professor of biology

Our group will sample campus fishes in three locations: Guion Pond, Williams Creek and below the dam in Hunt Creek.  Sampling methods will include kick seining and electroshocking. Both methods will ensure 100 percent survival and release of all fishes captured. The objectives of our ichthyological tour will be to (a) acquaint first-year students with the wide variety of beautiful fishes that call SBC home, (b) assess the impact of the campus dam on fishes within Hunt Creek, (c) consider the impact of exotic species of fishes that have been introduced to campus, and (d) consider the ways that stream ecology might be changed if logging were to occur on SBC’s campus.


Reflective Nature Hike

Led by Tony Lilly, assistant professor of English and director of the Honors Summer Research Program

In this Learning on the Land group, we will hike for about 90 minutes on some of the beautiful nature trails that meander through Sweet Briar’s 3,250 acres of land. As we walk, we will use all our senses to appreciate the unique natural environment of our large campus. We will stop along the way at a few significant, beautiful or thought-provoking sites in order to read, write, reflect on and share some ideas about our relationship to the rich and spacious land we’ll be sharing for the next four years. The hike won’t be too difficult, but wear sturdy, comfortable shoes. Also bring paper and a pen. 


Outing Cabin Certification

Led by Ashley Carroll, library executive assistant

Join Ashley Carroll on a hike to the Outing Cabin, located on Paul Mountain, just off Smokey Hollow Road. Sweet Briar women who desired to get away from campus helped build the rustic cabin in the 1930s. Today, the Outing Cabin still serves as a rustic retreat in the woods for students. The cabin is available for use by Sweet Briar College students, faculty, staff and their guests. During the hike we will look at the cabin’s past and share hopes for its future; then we'll enjoy the present by relaxing and roast s'mores over a fire at the cabin before we hike back. To use the Outing Cabin, students must successfully complete an orientation administered by the Outdoor Program. Completing this program will count as a cabin orientation.


Changing Landscapes, Leaving Footprints

Led by Anne Marie Clark, Amherst watershed coordinator for the Robert E Lee Soil & Water Conservation District

Did you know that we used to have a dairy on campus? Do you know what the deal is with these tall grasses in our fields? Join me as we explore the history of our campus landscapes and look at creative and sustainable uses for the future. Our exploration will include touring the riparian buffer project, switch grass plantings and Wiley’s Way Creek. We will discuss the transition of the landscapes on campus and how this relates to environmental improvement to, and impacts on, the land. Then we’ll spend some time brainstorming what kind of footprint, environmental or other, we want to leave. How will these landscapes affect our experience on campus?


Finding Your Path

Led by Dori Baker, campus chaplain and director of student spiritual life

We will explore ways to play, meditate, relax and create friendships that arise from teachers of the world’s religions. By exploring numerous practices — arising from Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, Christian, Pagan, Jewish and secular world views — we will experience Sweet Briar as a place to find a path that creates meaning, purpose and community.


Bloom Where You’re Planted

Led by Amy Payne in the chaplain’s office and office of student spiritual life

We will take a walk to significant locations on campus and learn about some of the people who have made a difference in the history of the college. On the way to each stop, you’ll get a new walking partner with whom you’ll take turns asking and answering questions about where you’ve come from and what you’re leaving behind. As we consider how we would like to blossom here at Sweet Briar, friendships will be born and will help us begin to feel at home. Our afternoon with each other will culminate at the Hubbard House.


The Land as Art

Led by Tracy Hamilton, associate professor of art history

In the past four years, students who enrolled in the class The Land as Art learned of cultures who have used the land or been inspired by it to create art. As part of that class, we also walked the campus and eventually chose locations to create our own response to the land of Sweet Briar. In this session of Learning on the Land, we will retrace their footsteps and talk about how we, too, can merge the study of art and sustainability.


Sweet Briar Ghost Tour

Led by Sheila Alexander, development grants officer

Sweet Briar ghost stories are a fun part of the culture on campus. Learn about Daisy, for whom SBC was founded, her mother, Indiana Fletcher Williams, and the many stories of their hauntings on campus. Wear comfortable shoes for an afternoon of walking and standing on gravel and pavement as we visit the most popular locations of our ghost stories.


Where Am I & Who Are These People?

Led by Katie Jo Hamre and Marianne Ramsey, alumnae & development office

You have arrived at Sweet Briar College — now where are you? What is that building? Who or where is Fletcher? Does anyone know where Guion is? What the heck is Prothro?! Natatorium??? These questions and more will be answered on our walk around campus. You will learn your way around campus and come to know some of the incredible women who over the years have formed, supported and continue to serve Sweet Briar.


Welcoming Butterflies

Led by Dr. Linda Fink, Dorys McConnell Duberg Professor of Ecology

Sweet Briar wants to attract butterflies and other friendly pollinators by providing foodplants for caterpillars and nectar for adult insects. Let’s see how well we are doing. We will ramble through a warm-season grass field where we are improving pollinator habitat by adding dozens of wildflowers. We’ll learn how to identify some of the summer butterfly and wildflower species. Then we will spruce up our butterfly garden to get it in good shape for the monarch butterflies who are en route to Mexico. Wear walking shoes and a sun hat.