Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, a 1987 graduate of Sweet Briar College, led the search committee that has resulted in the institution’s 13th president.
The college, located in Sweet Briar, Va., announced Monday that Meredith Woo — a noted scholar, liberal arts advocate, and experienced administrator — had been appointed to the position.
Tomlinson, who chairs the college’s board of directors, traveled to Virginia for activities introducing Woo to faculty, staff and the wider community.
“Meredith stood out as a star among stars in our search process, but what was undeniable was her passion for women’s education, her commitment to innovation and solution-making and her desire to be part of a close-knit community,” said Tomlinson in a college news release. “She is our ideal fit. She can see a vision of strength for this College and has the capability to lead us there.”
Sweet Briar, an all-female college in the mountains of Lynchburg, Va., almost closed down in 2015 due to financial problems and a dwindling number of applicants.
At the time, Tomlinson was selected as the speaker for what was expected to be the school’s last commencement. In her speech, she challenged the school’s leadership to explore every possible avenue to save the 114-year-old institution.
Alumnae, faculty, and students successfully challenged the planned closure in Virginia courts. That led to a mediation effort that resulted in the college remaining open under a new president, Phillip C. Stone, and a new board of directors, headed by Tomlinson.
Woo replaces Stone, who will retire in May 2017. Woo holds a Ph.D. in political science, as well as a master’s in international affairs, both from Columbia University; and a bachelor’s from Bowdoin College in Maine. Her specialty is international and comparative politics with a focus on East Asia.
A native of Seoul, Korea, Woo speaks Korean and Japanese and is proficient in Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese. She has authored or edited six books and numerous scholarly articles, and she is the executive producer of an award-winning film which premiered at the Smithsonian Institution in 2006.
From 2008 to 2014, Woo served as the Buckner W. Clay Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia. Prior to UVa, Woo was the associate dean for social sciences at the University of Michigan and a tenured professor of political science. She was a visiting scholar at the Ministry of Finance in Tokyo. She also taught at Northwestern University in Illinois and at Columbia University in New York.
Most recently, Woo has been in London working as director of the Higher Education Support Program for the Open Society Foundations, which is responsible for creating and supporting more than 50 liberal arts colleges in the former Soviet bloc and supporting higher education for refugee populations in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.
“It is a privilege to have the opportunity to work with a college so beloved,” Woo said in a news release. “Educating women is like educating generations. Around the world, I have seen the demand for superior women’s education and the demand for the graduates of those institutions. Here at Sweet Briar, we have a real opportunity to recast the significance of single-sex higher education in today’s world, and I’m excited to be a part of that effort.”