After Prominent Roles in Hollins’ Model UN/Model Arab League Program, Katie Grandelli ’20 Joins National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations

Katie Grandelli ’20 is an international studies major and a history and economics double-minor from Goldvein, Virginia.

The story of how I became the National Council on US-Arab Relations’ newest student programs coordinator is really the story of my four years within Hollins’ Model UN/Model Arab League program.

Model Arab League is the flagship youth leadership development program of the National Council on US-Arab Relations (NCUSAR). The program helps students learn about the politics and history of the Arab world, and the arts of diplomacy and public speech. It further prepares students to be knowledgeable, well-trained, and effective citizens as well as civic and public affairs leaders. The National Council hosts over a dozen conferences every academic year, and these conferences are overseen and organized by the student programs coordinator.

While Hollins continues to find success at large Model UN conferences (read about our success last November here), our program has consistently thrived at Model Arab League conferences. Since the real Arab League is only made up of 22 Arabic speaking nations, council rooms at MAL conferences are quite reflective of the Hollins dynamic—much more time and space for collaboration and cooperation. Students who experience smaller university environments with significant interaction with their peers and professors excel in Model Arab League.

My very first semester at Hollins found me sitting in Wednesday night’s Model UN/Model Arab League class, surrounded by fellow students with various degrees of model program experience. Even after three years of Model UN in high school, I knew I had still so much to learn. Hollins was hosting the Appalachia Regional Model Arab League (ARMAL) conference, and I spent the three days of my first collegiate conference as a permanent vice-chair for the Council on Palestinian Affairs, picking up the parliamentary procedure and learning to run a council as smoothly as I could.

The first half of my sophomore year found me in a very similar situation—Wednesday night Model UN/Model Arab League class, but now that the MUN/MAL club was functional again, there were club meetings to attend. ARMAL came around in the fall, and this time I was the chair for Palestinian Affairs. Our entire conference looked very different this year than years prior. We had moved to an innovative paperless system to cut down on the excessive printing that happens throughout the three days; Google Docs was (and continues to be) a friend of Model Arab League. Spring semester saw me as the second in command of the MUN/MAL club, where I planned meeting agendas, led debate preparation work for our spring conferences, and coordinated the mass of logistics it takes to put 12 Hollins delegates on the road. Even though I no longer needed it for credit, I continued to spend Wednesday night in the class, taking in any extra knowledge I could. I started learning how to anticipate the needs of the program and how to advocate for our success.

Junior year is when things got fun. Monday and Thursday nights were MUN/MAL club meetings; Wednesday continued my near-traditional presence in the Model UN/Model Arab League class. It was turning into something more than simply a learning opportunity for me; I was now there to provide data and support from club meetings for class members. I again served as Chair for Palestinian Affairs at ARMAL that fall and was much more involved in the planning for the entirety of the conference due to my role as co-president of the club. I also spearheaded the selection and training for the five other council chairs, spending more and more of my time poring over parliamentary procedure and learning how to teach it best to others.

Spring semester came, and I was off to London for what I thought was going to be a semester without Model UN/Model Arab League. I was wrong. I flew back to Washington, DC, for a jet-lagged and coffee-filled three and a half days to be part of Hollins’ delegation at the National University Model Arab League conference in early April. Three weeks later, I again left London for an eight-day trip to Saudi Arabia, made possible by both the National Council and the Saudi NGO, GatewayKSA. It was one of the most interesting and eye-opening weeks of my life, and I wrote about my time here. My time abroad in London and in Saudi Arabia gave me a truly international gaze and the great understanding that every single person I am interacting with brings something unique to the table.

In the fall of my senior year, I was not only president of the MUN/MAL club, I was also the secretary general of Hollins’ 2019 ARMAL. While staring down the beginning of my honors thesis and other academic requirements, my weeknights still looked like they had in years past. Monday, club meeting where we held practice debates. Wednesday, Model UN class. Thursday, another club meeting that was much more open ended; they usually turned into research and preparation meetings. ARMAL came and went in a flurry of Google Docs; we had hosted another successful conference yet again.

A week later, the then-current student programs coordinator asked if Hollins could send two chairs and a secretary general for the upcoming Capital Area Regional MAL conference. So  two of the council chairs from ARMAL and I spent the next weekend at Georgetown University, again filled with coffee, staffing and driving a conference that was completely unknown to us. Those two days at CARMAL brought out our ability to adapt, overcome, and generally figure it out. Maria Jdid ’21 brought home the Outstanding Chair award, and much to my surprise, I was honored as the Best Secretary General of 2019 by NCUSAR. My hours in the Secretariat Offices at both ARMAL and CARMAL were spent sitting with the student programs coordinators, gaining a wider perspective on NCUSAR’s role in conference preparation and greater MAL outreach as a whole.

My last semester of Model UN/Model Arab League at Hollins was a doozy. Right when I was deep into the logistics and preparation work for our final two conferences of the year, conferences were cancelled across the board, and students who could leave campus were sent home. Coincidentally, some of the news regarding the unraveling of the school year due to COVID-19 broke on a Wednesday night, when I was sitting in Model UN class for what would be my last time.

Throughout my four years, I was constantly surrounded by inspiring leadership within our Model UN/Model Arab League program. Those who came before me laid the groundwork and were invaluable resources; those coming after me bring new ideas, dedication, and renewed enthusiasm for the program’s future. I know that the Hollins MUN/MAL program will reach points higher than I could have ever imagined.

What I learned from serving in various leadership positions in Model Arab League is that a program can only succeed if all members know that their voices are heard and that they are an important part of the success of the entire organization. Recalling my lessons learned in Saudi Arabia, I strove to make our MUN/MAL program as accessible to all interested students as possible. Hollins is one of the only institutions at the national Model Arab League level that receives no direct funding (unlike the majority of schools we debate against), so I made sure that our team had as much access and help as possible to grant opportunities to fund our conference expenses. This drive for even more of an inclusive program is something that I will carry with me into my new position and into this new era of online conferencing.

And now I am continuing within the organization that gave me so many opportunities during my undergraduate studies. As the student programs coordinator for NCUSAR, I will facilitate and act as the main point of contact regarding the entirety of the Model Arab League program, as well as working within the Council’s larger initiatives. I hope to use this opportunity to build Model Arab League into even more of an accessible learning and leadership opportunity for interested students all across the nation as well as at international universities.

My conference friends who graduated in the years before me usually saw the end of their undergraduate studies as their adjournment from Model Arab League. But much to my excitement, it’s not a motion to adjourn for me just yet.

Photo Credit: Carly Lewis Photography


Hollins Announces Eleanor Ray as 2021 Niederer Artist-In-Residence

Brooklyn-based painter Eleanor Ray is the Frances Niederer Artist-in-Residence at Hollins University for 2021.

Each year, the artist-in-residence program brings to campus a nationally recognized artist who produces work and teaches a special seminar. The program is named for a beloved art historian who taught for many years at Hollins.

Ray makes small-scale paintings of encounters with specific places, including well-known or art-historically significant sites, and others more anonymous. As art critic and curator John Yau described her work, “The unoccupied interior or landscape becomes a sacred space, a place of solitude and reflection. The windows remind us that there is an exterior and interior world, and that we always occupy both.”

Ray earned her B.A. in English and art and the history of art from Amherst College, and her M.F.A. in painting from the New York Studio School. Her work has been shown in solo exhibitions at Nicelle Beauchene Galler, New York; Howard’s, Athens, Georgia; and Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, New York. She has been the recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase Prize and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Painting, and her work has been supported by residencies at Steep Rock, the Motello Foundation, Yaddo, Ucross, Jentel, The Edward Albee Foundation, and the BAU Institute. Her work is in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.

 

 


Hollins Student-Athletes Earn Unprecedented ODAC All-Academic Honors

In acknowledgement of their excellence off the field of competition, a record number of Hollins University student-athletes have been named to the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) All-Academic Team.

Hollins boasts 60 honorees this year among the more than 2,600 student-athletes cited by the ODAC for 2019-20, an all-time high for the conference.

Eligibility for the ODAC All-Academic Team is open to any student-athlete that competes in a conference-sponsored sport, regardless of academic class. Prospective honorees must achieve at least a 3.25 grade point average for the academic year to be considered for ODAC All-Academic Team recognition.


Marilyn Chin Named Louis D. Rubin Jr. Writer-in-Residence for 2021

An award-winning author whose books have become Asian American classics and are taught in classrooms internationally has been announced as Hollins University’s Louis D. Rubin Jr. Writer-in-Residence for 2021.

Marilyn Chin, whose most recent book is A Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems, will work with graduate and selected undergraduate students next spring.

Born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Oregon, Chin’s other books of poetry include Hard Love Province, Rhapsody in Plain Yellow, Dwarf Bamboo, and The Phoenix Gone, the Terrace Empty. She has also written a book of wild girl fiction, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen. Her honors include the Anisfield-Wolf Award, the United States Artist Foundation Award, the Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard, the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts awards, the Stegner Fellowship, the PEN/Josephine Miles Award, five Pushcart Prizes, and others. In 2017, she was recognized by the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus and the California Assembly for her activism and excellence in education.

Chin is featured in a variety of literary anthologies and appeared in Bill Moyers’ PBS series The Language of Life and in the 2020 series Poetry in America. She has read and taught workshops all over the world and has served as guest poet and lecturer at universities in Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Manchester, Sydney, Berlin, and elsewhere.

The poet Adrienne Rich said, “Marilyn Chin’s poems excite and incite the imagination through their brilliant cultural interfacings, their theatre of anger, ‘fierce and tender,’ their compassion, and their high mockery of wit. Reading her, our sense of the possibilities of poetry is opened further, and we feel again what an active, powerful art it can be.”

Chin is professor emerita at San Diego State University and is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

 

 


Interim President Gray Updates Plans For Fall Reopening

Hollins University Interim President Nancy Oliver Gray has shared further details on the school’s progress in preparing to resume in person instruction in late August.

The update follows Hollins’ announcement on June 12 that the university would reopen as a residential campus this fall, starting classes on August 31 and ending in-person instruction on November 20, the Friday before Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving, there will be one more week of remote instruction (November 30 – December 4), followed by Reading Day (December 5) and five days of virtual exams and projects (December 6 – 10). The last day of fall term will be December 10. The change in the calendar allows students to leave campus before Thanksgiving and not return until the university’s January Short Term begins. Fall Break, originally scheduled for October 15 – 16, has been cancelled, and classes will take place during that period.

“Although the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic means that these plans may have to change, we are preparing carefully and working to ensure our plans align with our institutional mission and the Culture of Care philosophy that helps to guide us,” Gray said.

Hollins’ updated plans include the following:

Student move-in and orientation

Hollins is implementing a phased move-in schedule for residential students and extending the number of days during which students may return to campus in order to adhere to physical distancing requirements and maximize community safety. A phased and hybrid orientation model will be offered that includes in person and online activities.

Plans to ensure the well-being of community members

Students and employees are required to wear face coverings (facial shields or masks) in campus interior spaces, including classrooms. When outside, community members are required to wear a face covering whenever it is difficult to maintain six feet of physical distance. Students and employees will be provided one washable face mask, a thermometer, and hand sanitizer, and will be expected to monitor their own health daily via a checklist of symptoms, including a temperature check. Students will be tested for COVID-19 at the Student Health and Counseling Center if they are symptomatic or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. After being tested, residential students will be quarantined in the Williamson Road Apartments until test results are known. Symptomatic employees will be required to stay at home and expected to contact their health providers for further guidance.

Teaching modalities and changes to classrooms

Classes will be taught during the fall term using a variety of teaching modalities including in person (while allowing for permitted students to learn remotely); hybrid, meaning partially in person and partially online; and completely online. “Offering a variety of delivery methods helps to reduce overcrowding in classroom spaces for health and safety purposes and to accommodate individual needs,” Gray explained. “Regardless of the teaching modality, we are committed to offering the interactive and close-knit Hollins community experience.” The layout of classrooms will be adjusted to ensure six feet of physical distancing between students in classroom spaces and between the students and the instructor. The use of shared objects in classrooms and lab spaces will be minimized, and increased emphasis will be placed on cleaning and disinfecting in all campus buildings.

Adjustments to residence life and dining services

Dining services will be open for residential students only. The exercise room/weight room and pool in the gymnasium will be available to students only.

Policy changes related to campus visitors and events

Only current Hollins students, faculty, and staff are permitted within any building. No outside visitors or guests, including family members, may enter campus buildings other than prearranged essential institutional partners and vendors, and guests of the admission office. Events and public spaces such as the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum and the Wyndham Robertson Library are closed to outside visitors. Performances held on campus will be exclusively for the Hollins community following physical distancing guidelines. The general public will not be allowed to access the main part of campus or any campus buildings, but they are permitted to walk the loop road following proper physical distancing and face covering protocols.

“Throughout the summer, our COVID-coordinating campus team will continue to work diligently to address additional details and complexities,” Gray said. “As plans are finalized, they will be shared with the campus community.”

Read in its entirety Interim President Gray’s June 30 update to the campus community on how Hollins is getting ready for the fall term. Additional information on the university’s plans to reopen can be found at www.hollins.edu/onward.

 

 


Hollins Welcomes Fulbright Scholar-In-Residence for 2021-22

A public health expert from Kenya with particular expertise in parasitic diseases will be spending a full academic year at Hollins as a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence (S-I-R).

Isabell Kingori, who teaches in the School of Public Health at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, is coming to Hollins for the 2021-22 academic session to further infuse a global perspective into the university’s public health curriculum.

In January, the Fulbright S-I-R program, which supports international academic exchange between the United States and more than 160 countries around the world, approved a joint proposal by Hollins and Virginia Tech to bring an S-I-R to their respective campuses, with the individual spending 80 percent of their time at Hollins. The S-I-R will provide an international point of view to the undergraduate public health programs launched at both universities during the 2019-20 academic year.

The residency, which was originally scheduled to occur during the 2020-21 academic session, was postponed for one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kingori, who also serves as the curriculum coordinator in Kenyatta’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, holds both a Master’s degree and a Ph.D. in applied parasitology. Between earning her advanced degrees, she taught part-time for eight years and also worked at the African Medical and Research Foundation.

Kingori Immunological Study
Kingori works with primary school children in Kenya on an immunological study.

“Dr. Kingori has taught a lot of different undergraduate and graduate courses and units during her teaching career, including parasitology, immunology, epidemiology, environmental health, and much more. We’re excited by the breadth of options she might be able to cover,” said Elizabeth Gleim, an assistant professor of biology and environmental studies at Hollins who co-authored the proposal to bring an S-I-R to Hollins and Virginia Tech with Gillian Eastwood, an assistant professor of entomology at VT.

“The Fulbright program requires applicants to select two specific countries from a particular continent from which to draw potential candidates for the Scholar position,” Gleim explained. “Gillian and I narrowed our choices to Kenya and South Africa. Africa has so many fascinating disease systems, and in those two countries, scientists are conducting some very interesting research. Also, approaches to and access to healthcare in Africa are different than what students might be familiar with here in the U.S. Because diseases don’t recognize borders or boundaries, it’s important that our public health students have an understanding of these different health care settings around the globe and that they are familiar with disease systems outside of the U.S. regardless of whether one plans to work domestically or internationally.”

Gleim noted that the existence of an endowed fund created specifically to bring international faculty members to campus was instrumental in gaining approval from the Fulbright program. “Without a doubt, Hollins’ financial support of the S-I-R via the Jack and Tifi W. Bierley International Professorship significantly enhanced our proposal.” She added that small liberal arts colleges are among the colleges and universities to whom the S-I-R program gives preference, particularly those who are seeking to grow service to minority populations.

Established in 1946, the Fulbright Program is funded by an annual appropriation from the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State. Its goal is to increase mutual understanding and support between the people of the United States and other countries while transforming lives, bridging geographic and cultural boundaries, and promoting a more peaceful and prosperous world.

 

 


Committed To “A Culture Of Care,” Hollins Announces Plans To Reopen This Fall

Hollins University has announced plans to reopen as a residential campus this fall, starting classes on August 31 and ending in-person instruction on November 20, the Friday before Thanksgiving.

After Thanksgiving, there will be one more week of remote instruction (November 30 – December 4), followed by Reading Day (December 5) and five days of virtual exams and projects (December 6 – 10). The last day of fall term will be December 10. The change in the calendar allows students to leave campus before Thanksgiving and not return until the university’s January Short Term begins.

Fall Break, originally scheduled for October 15 – 16, has been cancelled, and classes will take place during that period.

“Over the last several weeks, President-elect Mary Dana Hinton and I, along with members of our faculty, staff, and administration, have been assessing the evolving public health situation, studying guidance for higher education from the CDC and the Virginia Department of Health, and planning for the coming year,” said Interim President Nancy Oliver Gray.

She stated that Hollins “will adapt our ways of learning, living, and working in order to protect the health and well-being for all. For example, in most cases, classes will be limited to 25 persons, and there will be changes to campus dining. Informed by guidance from the CDC and the Virginia Department of Health, students will be tested for COVID-19 by Student Health if they are symptomatic or have been in contact with someone who is confirmed to have tested positive. If the test is positive, the Virginia Department of Health will initiate contact tracing.”

Gray added that everyone on campus will be required to wear facial coverings when indoors in the presence of one or more people, and maintain a physical distance of six feet from others. “Further, we will introduce more rigorous building cleaning and sanitation protocols, reconfigure some offices, and adjust teaching spaces in order to abide by the six-foot physical distancing requirements.

“We are committed to a culture of care, and as members of the Hollins community, we share a mutual responsibility to adhere to health and wellness guidelines.”

Noting that the university will keep students, faculty, and staff informed throughout the summer as additional plans and guidelines are finalized, Gray said, “We are considering not only the present situation, but also the very real possibility that dramatic changes in the trajectory of the coronavirus may require changes in our plans. Even though we place a very high priority on learning in a residential community, we must remain flexible in response to changing public health conditions and local, state, and federal guidance.”

Additional information on Hollins’ plans to reopen this fall can be found at www.hollins.edu/onward.


Classical Association of Virginia Honors Hollins Professor as Teacher of the Year

Hollins University Professor of Classical Studies Christina A. Salowey has been named the Lurlene W. Todd Teacher of the Year for 2019-20 by the Classical Association of Virginia (CAV).

First presented in 2005, the award recognizes outstanding Latin teachers and professors in Virginia. Nominees are evaluated on at least four of the following factors:

 

 

  • Evidence of the success, size, and growth of the teacher’s program.
  • Examples of innovative and creative classroom activity.
  • Evidence of improved student learning.
  • Significant numbers of students who continue their study of the classics at the next available level.
  • Examples of outreach and promotion of the classics inside and outside of the teacher’s institution.
  • Evidence of the teacher’s professional service and profession development.
  • Student success in contests and competitions, especially those offered by the CAV.
  • Examples of student travel and field trips which enhance learning and promote the program.

“We applaud Professor Salowey’s exemplary dedication to her students and to pedagogy across her career at Hollins,” said Trudy Harrington Becker, a senior instructor of history at Virginia Tech and chair of the Lurlene W. Todd Award Committee.

A member of the Hollins faculty since 1996, Salowey teaches numerous literature genres, two ancient languages, and the art, religion, history, philosophy, architecture, science, and geography of the long-lived civilizations that spoke and wrote those languages.

“There are many joys in teaching at a small, liberal arts university,” she has said, “ but a significant one for me is that I am not restricted to one sub-discipline in a broad field of study.”

Throughout her time at Hollins, Salowey and her husband, Associate Professor of Communication Studies Chris Richter, have led undergraduates to Greece during January Short Term to engage in intensive study and research. Each trip is unique and has focused on different regions, such as Crete, northern Greece, and Greece and Turkey.

In collaboration with students in her Greek 350: Greek Inscriptions class, Salowey produced a digital exhibition highlighting photographs of ancient Greek texts that were inscribed on ancient works of art. The exhibition features a commentary for those texts for elementary readers of Greek.

Professor of Classical Studies George Fredric Franko adds that Salowey “routinely teaches overloads and supervises independent studies, in which she meets with students weekly to keep them on track. As an indicator of her success in inspiring students with zeal for the study of ancient Greek, Latin, and ancient art, this year six seniors are graduating with a major in classical studies.”

Salowey also devised, implemented, and led a new summer program at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. These seminars address the needs of graduate and undergraduate students, as well as secondary and college teachers, by offering 18-day sessions on specific topics in Greece and visiting major monuments under the guidance of exceptional scholars.

In 2019, Hollins honored Salowey with the Herta T. Freitag Faculty Legacy Award, which is presented to a member of the faculty whose recent scholarly and creative accomplishments reflect the extraordinary academic standards set by Freitag, who served as professor of mathematics at Hollins from 1948 to 1971.


Model UN/Model Arab League Program Presents Honor Cords to Seven Seniors

Hollins University’s Model UN/Model Arab League program has awarded honor cords to seven graduating seniors in tribute to their achievements.

Seniors earning recognition this year include Hannah Byrum, Katie Grandelli, Amber Hilbish, Hannah Jensen, Alicia Lumbley, Shenoah Manter, and Reilly Swennes.

“Even with the cancellation of conferences this spring, this is one of the strongest groups of seniors the organization has seen,” says Grandelli, outgoing president of Model UN/Model Arab League at Hollins. “These seniors attended a combined 33 conferences, held various leadership roles at those conferences, and won nine awards.” Grandelli served as secretary-general for two conferences last fall and was honored as Best Secretary-General for 2019 by the National Council on U.S. – Arab Relations (NACUSAR). She also traveled as a representative of the NACUSAR on an all-expenses-paid trip to Saudi Arabia in April of last year. Jensen, former president of the club, was among the Hollins students who received awards at the 30th Annual American Model United Nations International Collegiate Conference, held last November in Chicago, which featured more than 900 participants.

Professor of Political Science Edward Lynch, who serves as faculty advisor to  Model UN/Model Arab League, notes, “Hollins students in the program have made their presence felt, nationally and internationally. When the Capital Area Model Arab League Conference suddenly needed a secretary-general and chairs, they immediately thought of Hollins and our students came through, saving a conference that might have been cancelled otherwise. Katie in particular has provided stellar leadership, better than anyone I have worked with in 15 years of advising Model UN.”

Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette, who is also a faculty advisor to the program, says of the graduating class, “These students are dedicated and creative advocates, representatives, and leaders. I am confident that their passions and Model UN/Model Arab League skills will help them fuel change, manage crises, and create community, far beyond Hollins.”

The Model UN/Model Arab League program will celebrate the accomplishments of these seniors during Hollins’ 178th Commencement Exercises in September.

 

 

 

 

 


“I Craved the Feeling that I Was Making a Difference”: A Senior Shares Her Journey Into the Entrepreneurial Mindset

Claire Tourigny ‘20 is an English major from Manchester, New Hampshire.

The story of how I came to discover the entrepreneurial mindset is not an unusual one, but it is strange. By that, I mean it’s a bizarre journey that includes a psychic and a trip across the ocean, but it’s one that I think a lot of people might resonate with.

I came to Hollins effectively a pre-declared English major, and in fact, the knowledge that I would be studying creative writing is what drew me to Hollins in the first place. I had spent my high school years bouncing between literary magazines and student newspapers, paying more attention to my books and journals than to my classes, and dreaming of one day becoming a successful writer.

Little has changed on that front. What stood out to me about Hollins was the English Department  –  the professors, the classes, the student involvement. Immediately after first-year orientation I filled my schedule with as many gen-ed and prereq courses as possible, just so I could get the boring stuff out of the way and devote the rest of my college experience to my writing. This would turn out to be the smartest decision I made that first semester, as it freed up the next three and half years for my winding journey through academia.

It was a dark and stormy night when my friend and I were deciding our class schedule for the fall of 2017. I’d picked three English-adjacent classes I wanted to take, but one of them was only two credits, and so I found myself a few credit hours short. So, what was a young creative writer with most of her gen-eds already over with to do, but select a class at random? I scrolled through the class catalogue, trying to find an introductory level class that fit in with my schedule, when I stumbled across “BUS 100 – Introduction to Business.”

Now, this is where things get a little bizarre.

See, the summer after high school, after I had already enrolled at Hollins and was planning my very lucrative future as a novelist, a fortune teller had told me that I was going to work in marketing. As a side note, this was one of those beach boardwalk palm readers who charged $15 for some generic rambling and told me that I would be married with children by age 20, so the validity of her claims is still a little bit up in the air. But nonetheless, I thought about that moment when reading the BUS 100 course description and thought, “Alright, I’ll bite.” Not because I had any faith at all in the predictions of the stars or whatever, but because… hey, why not?

So I signed up for the introductory business class, and like most decisions made based on the advice of a shady psychic, I immediately felt as though I had made the wrong decision. Even as sophomores, all of my classmates were so… businessy. And I was so decidedly not. There was a reason I had devoted most of my time to the written word up until that point. I stumbled and stuttered my way through classroom presentations, disappeared into my seat during discussions, and overall spent more time maintaining eye contact with the wall than my classmates.

But through it all, the material engaged me in a way that few of my random gen-eds had before. Our semester-long project was to work with a few partners to create a business plan for a hypothetical startup, and while our group’s food truck/art gallery was one of the more bizarre companies pitched during the final presentations, I found myself engaged by the process of creating something from the ground up. The numbers behind it all eluded me, but the idea of finding a need in the local economy and fulfilling it was something I had never really considered to be a part of business before. See, my group and I decided that while Roanoke certainly had its fair share of art galleries and healthy restaurants, none of those were really accessible to your average student, so we created a food truck business that also displayed student art. Yes, it was a weird idea, but it was also (unbeknownst to me) my first glimpse of social entrepreneurship. I was new to the idea of the entrepreneurial mindset, and before taking the class, “business” to me was shaking hands with sweaty guys in suits and sitting at a desk inputting numbers all day. The Intro to Business class gave me my first glimpse into the big, wide world of entrepreneurship.

So I continued down the business track, thinking that if I was going to major in English, I ought to have something practical under my belt. Due to my aforementioned preconceived notion of business as sweaty handshakes, meetings about profit margins, and a lot of spreadsheets, I assumed that a businesswoman would need a head for numbers, so I took an accounting class during the spring of my sophomore year. As someone who has always struggled with numbers, this was a strange experience. I think everyone needs basic accounting competency, just like everyone should know how to write. What I learned is that math is just another type of language, and while I enjoyed the structure and stability of learning formulas, balancing equations, and filling out charts and tables, it was nothing I could imagine myself doing long-term. I am a writer, first and foremost, and I was not willing to give that up in order to fit into my skewed image of what a business student was. I completed my accounting class with an average grade and no desire to ever continue down that road.

The next stage of my journey was in London, during the first semester of my junior year. At this point, after my unsuccessful foray into accounting, I’d decided that I needed to start seriously thinking about a stable career that fell in line with both my interests and my skills. I know –  such an easy goal, right? Well, at the time, the only thing I could really think of was journalism. So I interned for a semester at a London-based tech publication. It was, all-in-all, a great experience. I enjoyed the company I was working with, and the opportunity to spend a few months living in a different country and building up a nice portfolio wasn’t anything to turn my nose up at. But journalism itself wasn’t what I thought it would be, or rather, it wasn’t what I wanted. Or, rather rather, it wasn’t what I learned that I needed.

By that, I mean simply that I learned something while spending a semester churning out tech articles and scheduling interviews. While I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as “selling out,” it wasn’t enough for me to simply spend my days writing about whatever I was told to write about. I wanted creative control over my own words. I wanted to choose what to write about based on my interests, not just trending news topics and hashtags. And more than that, I craved the feeling I got during BUS 100, when my group partners and I sat around a table, spit-firing out ideas on how to fill the need for low-cost food and accessible art in the Roanoke community –  the feeling that I was making a difference.

When I got back to Hollins in the spring of my junior year, I decided I was going to minor in business, and signed up for an e-commerce class as a way of fulfilling a graduation requirement. At this stage, I still had no idea where I wanted my business minor to take me –  I just knew that I wanted it to take me somewhere. I’ll admit, I was expecting very little from this class, solely based off of the fact that I did not think I would really engage with the material. Oh, how wrong I was.

In fact, no business class changed my perspective as much as this one, because it was this e-commerce class that introduced me to the world of inbound marketing. It hit me like an arrow –  all of a sudden, I realized that I could combine my love for writing with my interest in business. Our semester-long project was to design a website for a local small business that was just about to launch, and for the first time in my academic career, I found myself actually volunteering to take charge over the blog. I’m not good at numbers and I can’t for the life of me make a presentation without panicking, but I can write. And for the first time ever, I realized that my skills could actually be useful as an entrepreneur.

After the semester ended and senior year began, I was hired to work for the then-new Entrepreneurial Learning Institute (ELI) as a content marketer. Not only did I write the blog posts and help manage the social media presence, but I found myself at the base of something important, working beside other, frankly more talented students to help create the institute from the ground up. It was through working for ELI that I finally defined social entrepreneurship. It’s the idea that I just barely came across in BUS 100, the idea that a small startup can create powerful change just by fulfilling a need in the community. And through this definition, I realized that anyone, even a creative writer, can be an entrepreneur.

 

Photo Credit: Mary Daley Photography