“Communication, Organization, and a Little Bit of Luck and Magic”: Emma Thomas ’22 Successfully Balances Full-Time Work with Full-Time College

When asked what she plans to do first after she graduates from Hollins this spring, Emma Thomas ’22 simply responded, “Breathe.” No wonder: The English major and communication studies minor from Roanoke has spent the past three years taking a full course load while putting in 27.5 hours a week (sometimes more during peak periods) working nights as a supervisor at United Parcel Service (UPS). The journey has often been challenging, but Thomas is quick to cite her appreciation for “all the help I’ve been given across the board” to ensure her success.

When she was originally exploring her options for higher learning, Thomas was disheartened by the potential price tag until she discovered that her high school participated in the Community College Access Program with nearby Virginia Western Community College. The public/private partnership offers free tuition for qualified students to earn an associate degree. “I realized I could go to college for free for two years and satisfy most of my general education requirements for a four-year institution,” Thomas explained.

Financial assistance was a major consideration when Thomas opted to transfer to Hollins after finishing at Virginia Western. “Hollins was willing to offer me a ton of financial aid,” she said. The university was also close to home and she would be able to continue her job with UPS, with whom she begun working a year earlier. The company provided her with $5,000 per calendar year to help pay for college.

But from the moment she toured the campus as a prospective student, Thomas said choosing Hollins went beyond economics. “They allowed us to sit in on classes and when I saw what instruction is like here, I really fell in love with Hollins. I’d always kind of hated school because you were just there to have stuff dumped into your brain. A Hollins education doesn’t feel like that. They’re going to tailor things to you, your experiences, and your interests. Once I saw the small class sizes and how interactive everything is, I knew I would be fine.”

A lover of both reading and writing, Thomas decided she would major in English. “The thing that strikes me the most about the English department is how passionate the professors are about their subject,” she said. “You could walk into Swan (Swannanoa Hall, home to the English department and the Jackson Center for Creative Writing) and pop into any office and say, ‘Hey, tell me about your favorite book’ or ‘Tell me about your area of study,’ and you’d probably be in their office for hours, which is great. I’ve had instructors in the past where teaching is just a job for them. That’s not how it feels in the English department.”

Thomas added that she has treasured the encouragement she has received from the English department faculty to write in her own voice. “My brain doesn’t go in a straight line. It takes detours. But even when my writing style wasn’t quite what a particular professor was looking for, if what I wrote was thought out and the threads could be followed, I was never going to get a bad grade.”

Thomas also declared a minor in communication studies because it “married the things I like. Yes, there was a little bit of writing, but I also like to talk.” Thomas said she has enjoyed the opportunity to delve into human interactions and gain “a little better understanding of why people are the way they are. Everything they teach in communication studies is applicable to your daily life. As someone who has been working while I am in school, pretty much every day I learned interpersonal communication skills that I could implement to make my working life better, especially in an environment where I’m one of just a handful of women and probably the youngest person there.”

Those strategies have also contributed to Thomas’ ability to juggle taking day classes at Hollins with working a regular weeknight schedule of 5 to 11 p.m. at UPS. Her daily routine requires “scheduling my life to the nth degree.” Often, she has to forego socializing with friends or taking part in other activities to tackle school and work responsibilities. She admits it has been difficult at times.

“From the outset, I let my professors know my situation. I was going to show up and try, but there were going to be occasions when I might slip behind or have to turn an assignment in late. At UPS, my supervisors allowed me to use my downtime for homework. So, it really has been communication and organization that has kept me afloat. And, a little bit of luck and magic, because I really don’t know sometimes how it all got done.”

Among Thomas’ achievements at Hollins are two podcast projects she developed this year in courses taught by Visiting Lecturer of Communication Studies and Director of Oral Communication Across the Curriculum Heather Derrick, whom Thomas called “a wonderful teacher.” The first occurred during Derrick’s January Short Term class entitled “Listening in the Modern World.” It gave Thomas and other students a crash course in podcast production.

“We had about a week to do research, organize interviews, learn how to use recording equipment, and build our editing skills to produce several short episodes,” she said. The work resulted in a podcast series called “Listening for Life,” where students focused on aspects of listening theory that they learned about in class, interviewed outside guests about those aspects, and concluded each episode by delivering tips on how people could employ listening skills in their daily lives.

Derrick’s spring term course, “Argumentation and Advocacy,” offered Thomas an entire semester to help in preparing a longer, more in-depth podcast series. “It was more like what you would be doing for a real-life podcast. It was a lot of research and a lot of drafting.”

Inspired by the acclaimed, bestselling book Dopesick by Beth Macy M.A. ’93, The class produced a podcast series entitled “Miracle Drug,” which focuses on the deception used by the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma to persuade people that the drug Oxycontin was safe and effective. “We mainly focused on why this happened, the arguments that allowed this to happen, and what to do next. Faculty and outside voices helped us to contextualize our information and advocate for those who are struggling with opioid addiction. Even though Purdue is now facing consequences, the effects of those consequences may punish the company but they really aren’t helping people addicted to opioids who need treatment. So, our goal was to highlight what had occurred and then bring in a human lens.” Thomas produced the episode entitled “Purdue v. America,” and the “Miracle Drug” podcast will premiere in June.

While taking some time to catch her breath after graduation, Thomas will be figuring out what she wants to do next. “I’m interested in project or program management, and I want to make connections with people who are already doing that in this area to see if they’d be willing to mentor me or offer me an internship.” In the meantime, she plans to keep working at UPS.

As she reflects on a very hectic, very demanding, but ultimately satisfying three years at Hollins, Thomas is proud of what she has been able to accomplish. She is also grateful to the many people who have advocated for her along the way. “I am so thankful for the faculty and staff here at Hollins who have made this a lot easier for me. They supported me when I came to them for help, but even if I hadn’t said anything I would have been given similar grace. I also appreciate how they run their classrooms in general – our professors make students feel like people instead of numbers. I don’t think I would have made it this far anywhere else.”



For Faith Clarkson ’22, the Path to Becoming a Historian Runs through Hollins

As she wrapped up her high school career, Faith Clarkson ’22 wasn’t sure what she wanted to study in college. But, after visiting Hollins University’s website, she was convinced she had found the perfect school to guide her.

“It just seemed like they had a lot of options. I could go and figure out there what I wanted to, and I thought that would be a really good thing for me,” she recalled. “When I came to visit, that settled it.”

Clarkson’s approach her first year was to “take a lot of diverse classes. I wanted to get a taste for everything.” But nothing clicked until the first semester of her sophomore year.

“I took African American History with [Ruth Alden Doan Assistant Professor of History] Christopher Florio and I just completely fell in love with it. I’ve always been interested in history, but Professor Florio’s class just changed my whole outlook on the subject. We were being taught history in a different way than you are in high school. It’s not just memorization of dates and such. I fell in love with African American history in particular and then I just could not take enough history classes. I’m so fascinated with it.”

Clarkson considers Hollins’ history department “one of the best. There are a lot of different aspects of history you can take. They all get into the nitty-gritty of analyzing the people and understanding the trends.” She cited both Florio and Associate Professor of History Rachel Nuñez for their expertise in “introducing students to primary sources and trying to create arguments and gain different perspectives from those sources. It’s in line with my ideas about history and how it should be studied.”

Applying those lessons and philosophy, Clarkson took on her first major research project during her sophomore year: “Interpretresses: Native American Women Translators in Colonial America.” She became intrigued with the topic after her class on American colonial history read a book about Pocahontas. “The author talked about how Pocahontas had worked as a translator for some of the colonists while she was being held captive. I thought that was interesting and did a little more research on it.”

Clarkson discovered other women who served as interpretresses at the time. “It gave them a lot of privileges, but it was also a difficult life, obviously, because they had to live in between these two cultures that had a lot of antipathy toward each other.” With help from Florio, Nuñez, and Wyndham Robertson Library, she began in earnest researching a full-fledged paper. “It’s always a difficult process to find sources, especially from that far back. Often you have to do a lot of digging. You also have to take into account what people thought about Native American women at the time and the fact that you don’t agree with those attitudes. You have to extrapolate what you can from those sources.”

In celebration of her work, Clarkson won the Wyndham Robertson Library Undergraduate Research Award in 2021. As one judge commented, “By filling historical gaps and giving a voice to the people pushed to the margins, this essay brings into the spotlight three exceptional Native American women translators. The author of the essay took on a challenging topic and produced successfully a well-written and well-articulated text supported by in-depth research. Bravo!”

This winter, Clarkson got the opportunity to write in tandem with one of her professors. “I’m from Pittsburgh, but as a Hollins student I also try to keep up with what’s happening in Roanoke.” She was dismayed when she learned that Roanoke’s city council had passed an ordinance that made camping or sleeping on downtown sidewalks a misdemeanor subject to a $250 fine. “I thought it was awful, and Professor Florio reached out to me and asked if I wanted to work on an op-ed piece with him about it.” Clarkson and Florio each wrote different sections and worked together through emails. “It was interesting. I’d never written collaboratively with anyone before and it was really cool to have that feedback and input. We came up with a unified response against the ordinance.” The article, entitled “The Crime of Poverty,” was published in The Roanoke Times in January.

Clarkson’s interest in the city that has been her home for the past four years has also manifested itself in her senior thesis. “I’m looking at the history of the civil rights movement here in Roanoke. It’s not talked about a lot, and many people, especially here on campus, don’t know how much happened in the 1950s and 1960s that is still affecting the community here today. Urban renewal, for example, is one of the issues I’m focusing on.”

With a goal of completing a Ph.D. in history after graduating from Hollins, Clarkson is taking part in the Berkeley History Ph.D. Pipeline Program, an initiative sponsored by the University of California that “aims to empower a new generation of historians and scholars.” She meets online weekly with Ph.D. students and professors of history at Berkeley. “We talk about what goes into applying for and participating in a Ph.D. program. I’m hopeful that the mentorship and this program are going to help me decide where I want to go.”

Clarkson emphasized that she wouldn’t even be considering a Ph.D. in history in the first place if it weren’t for the history department at Hollins. “I am really, really grateful for all the professors I’ve worked with over these four years. That has stuck out to me as one of the best things about Hollins. They’ve helped me develop the skills that I’ve used to get this far.”

Through Design Thinking, Zahin Mahbuba ’22 Seeks to Transform the World – One Person at a Time

Zahin Mahbuba ’22 has enjoyed an especially memorable – and impactful – senior year at Hollins.

During the 2021-22 academic session, the international studies major and economics minor from Bangladesh furthered her aspiration of becoming a trendsetter at Hollins and beyond through the University Innovation Fellows (UIF) program sponsored by Stanford University’s Hass Plattner Institute of Design (d.school).

UIF empowers student leaders to help their peers build the creative confidence and entrepreneurial mindset needed to address global challenges. “It is absolutely life changing,” said Mahbuba, who was accepted into the program last fall after successfully completing UIF’s rigorous application process with her faculty sponsor, Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette. She remotely completed UIF’s four-week training program, where she learned “how you can build stuff, how you gather resources, how you get people on board.”

Mahbuba and Chenette spent the next several months focusing on how immigrant populations and refugees often become entrepreneurs after arriving in America or other Western countries, an innovative mindset that Mahbuba thought could be used to develop experiential learning opportunities for Hollins students. “How can you create things in your environment and ecosystem that don’t exist yet, but you know should be there?” she summarized in an October 2021 interview.

To that end, Mahbuba served as a student success leader for the Fall Term 2021 first-year seminar “Sustainability and Social Innovation,” where she engaged in a design-thinking framework. “One of my major goals last semester was to get as many people as I could to understand design thinking, especially in our first-year seminar where that was our entire focus,” she explained.

University Innovation Fellows
Zahin Mahbuba ’22 (second from left) traveled to Stanford in March.

Supported by a $5,500 grant she received when she was honored last summer with Hollins’ first-ever Changemaker Award for entrepreneurship, Mahbuba’s UIF experience culminated this March when she traveled to Stanford with Chenette to spend five days working with a cohort of 200 people from around the world. “This was a bunch of students my age in college who have amazing ideas and are doing amazing things. If you just left them in a room or in the school for a year, I think they could literally change the world.” She also got to meet professors from d.school who, even though they were from different departments and represented different disciplines, “all shared a strong belief in how design can be an agent for change.”

From the beginning, Mahbuba said, the UIF sessions “put innovation in the space of understanding how it can benefit communities.” Mahbuba’s group was given the task of solving a real-life problem for a rural family with financial restrictions that suffered from asthma. “One of the students created an inexpensive air pollution detector that you can put in your room to measure air quality. It can alert the family to open a window, turn on a fan, or just stop cooking for a couple of hours. Another team I met developed a software program that was installed in a village that had never had an internet connection. Through that, they were able to provide internet access to children for remote schooling.”

She noted that innovation “doesn’t always look like a product. It can be changing a specific system or working toward affordably helping people in the community.”

Mahbuba presented to her cohort her passion for “relearning how to learn. It’s about educational systems and how things are not always in silos. In order for design thinking to become the next transformative tool in the world, we have to integrate learning beginning at a very young age. By the time we get to college, we’re already trying to figure out how to connect the dots and we miss out on what the bigger picture looks like. You walk out of a math class and into an English class with no focus on connecting what you’ve learned from math and how that might relate to English.” If such a mindset is adopted, she concluded, it becomes easier to “understand the situational problems that we face on a day-to-day basis.”

University Innovation Fellows at Stanford
Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette (left) and Zahin Mahbuba ’22 on the Stanford campus.

The students in Mahbuba’s cohort were creative and driven. The sessions in which she participated were intense. But, she emphasized that “nothing about this was competition. Our competition was to beat the problem we were facing. We had to actively and continuously work together to find simple solutions, and we shared this worldly view of what we can do to better the community.”

Nevertheless, the UIF program sought to balance the often-frenetic schedule. “There were many opportunities for self-reflection and mindfulness,” Mahbuba said. “We did one activity where we just went outside, laid down on the grass, and looked at the sky. It taught me to see the beauty of slowing down. When you do that, you see things more for what they are. Hustling 24/7 actually wears you down and keeps you from completing meaningful work.”


Mahbuba said she has come out of the UIF program with an even greater appreciation for making impressions on a personal level. “Impacting one life at a time is something. It’s developing relationships with communities and people to implement transformative change instead of thinking, ‘Oh, this is an entire population I need to help.’ Being able to go to Stanford and work with these people and at the same time work on an individual basis with communities and families and households has shown me that impact starts with bite-size pieces. It’s how these people can benefit and then take the opportunity to develop that even more.”

Recently inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, Mahbuba has been accepted into graduate school programs at the University of Pennsylvania, Emory University, Northeastern University, and Florida International University. However, she’s decided to defer going to grad school. “The programs in which I am interested center mostly around educational development and a process toward a lot of institutionalized change,” she explained. “They require fieldwork above and beyond the internship experiences that I’ve had at Hollins. So, I think its important for me to join the workforce for a year. One of the companies I’m pursuing is a legal firm that works with marginalized communities on educational and legal development, an area I’m very interested in.”

At the same time, Mahbuba is actively working with Chenette on making the UIF program an ongoing opportunity for future generations on campus. “I don’t want this to be a one-off thing for me. We’d like the next cohort to contain a group of Hollins students who are innovative thinkers with diverse backgrounds.”


With a Passion for Working in Reproductive Health, Alea Rodriguez ’23 Earns Both Internship and Research Experience

Alea Rodriguez ’23 is a self-described “go-getter,” and that quality is a major reason why she’s on her way to achieving her goal of a career in women’s health and the treatment of infertility.

Since high school, the biology major/chemistry minor from Santa Clarita, California, has been drawn to human embryology, which seeks to help couples who are having difficulty achieving a pregnancy. “Human embryologists perform procedures such as in vitro fertilization or intracytoplasmic sperm injection,” she explained.

Throughout her time at Hollins, Rodriguez’s keen interest in reproductive health has underscored her commitment to advocate for herself both in the classroom and beyond. “If you know what you really want to do, you should definitely figure out a way to make it happen,” she said. “If you don’t put that out there, no one is going to know. Let yourself be seen.”

Rodriguez’s initiative has paid valuable dividends. In her sophomore year, she landed a January Short Term internship at a human embryology lab in California, an opportunity that she continued last summer. For J-term 2022, she shadowed a reproductive endocrinologist. And this spring, she embarked on research in a bovine embryology lab at Virginia Tech.

“I wanted to start planning my senior thesis as soon as possible and I was trying to come up with something on my own,” she recalled. “But then I thought, ‘Let me check with some of the professors at Virginia Tech and see what they do.’ I just cold emailed a bunch of faculty researchers, and Alan Ealy (associate professor of reproductive biology in VT’s department of animal and poultry sciences and the advisor for the bovine embryology lab) responded. He said, ‘I’d like for you to come in and shadow one of our grad students.’ I thought I was just going to watch her. But literally on my first day there, we were talking as she was preparing to do some lab work and suddenly she asked, ‘Do you want to do something? Put on some gloves, let’s go!’”

That “something” involved the extraction of oocytes, or eggs, from cow ovaries that are shipped to the lab from South Carolina. Rodriguez has engaged in that work for the past several weeks. “On the ovaries, you can see dots, which are follicles. Within each follicle is an oocyte, so you have to cut each of those little spots to release the oocytes.”

Rodriguez noted that the ovaries are transported in a cooler and processed immediately upon arrival at the lab to ensure good oocyte quality. “Once each follicle is opened, the ovaries are then swished in an oocyte collection media. Afterward, we filter that solution so that we get the oocytes and other debris that’s in there, and then it’s all transferred onto a search plate. From there, we use a microscope to search for and collect all the eggs. From start to finish, it’s about a 90-minute to two-hour process.”

Observing semen analysis with bull sperm and the subsequent fertilization process in the lab is informing Rodriguez’s senior thesis planning. “Dr. Ealy, (Hollins Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science) Mary Jane Carmichael, and I are looking at this sperm separating device that divides the sperm based on sex. The sperm is then used to fertilize the oocytes we’ve collected. Then, we’ll watch the growth and see if it works. We’re also planning on exploring the role of certain inflammatory cytokines of the Interleukin 6 family (which are important in regulating immune systems) in embryo development. Dr. Ealy’s lab particularly focuses on that, and so to be able to incorporate it into my own work would be nice.”

Rodriguez’s research at Virginia Tech will continue through spring term this year and then resume for the fall and spring terms of the 2022-23 academic year. The title and details of her senior thesis are still in progress, but thanks to her collaboration with Ealy and Carmichael, “I’m able to do what I want, which is great.”

Calling the Dana Science Building her “second home,” Rodriguez praises both the biology and chemistry departments at Hollins. “They’re filled with a lot of great professors, and one of the main things I definitely appreciate about being at Hollins is your close relationship with them. Dr. Carmichael encouraged me to reach out and see what professors are doing at Virginia Tech and other universities. My advisor, (Janet W. Spear Professor of Biology) Morgan Wilson, is absolutely amazing. And every semester I’ve been at Hollins, I’ve taken a class with (Assistant Professor of Chemistry) Son Nguyen, who has been very supportive.”

On the cusp of fulfilling her dream of becoming a human embryologist, Rodriguez is considering what might also lie ahead in her future. Shadowing the reproductive endocrinologist this January, she was impressed with how the physician and the lab embryologists interacted and the bond the physician formed with the patients themselves. “I would love to be an embryologist, but my deep, deep passion, my calling, is telling me to go even further beyond that and pursue reproductive endocrinology. I’m thinking of going to medical school someday.”

Hollins Students Present Research on Cross-Race Effect to the Southeastern Psychological Association

Hana Olof ’22 and Soha Munir ’23 joined Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Alex Wooten in representing Hollins at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA), held March 23 – 26 at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Olof and Munir presented a poster on eyewitness memory research they conducted over the past year entitled, “The Influence of Prior Suspect Familiarity on the Cross-Race Effect.”

Munir Olof SEPA
Soha Munir ’23 and Hana Olof ’22 chat with SEPA attendees about their poster presentation.

“Their work was motivated by the large number of wrongful convictions that have been due to the cross-race effect, which is the finding that witnesses to a crime are worse at correctly identifying a suspect of a different race than their own,” Wooten explained. “This has unfortunately led to a disproportionate amount of innocent Black individuals being falsely identified.”

Wooten noted that Olof and Munir’s research is significant in that it establishes that “the cross-race effect also applies to situations where the suspect is casually familiar, which has yet to be shown before. The findings suggest that just because an eyewitness says they are familiar with a suspect following a crime does not guarantee they will make an accurate identification, particularly when the suspect is of a different race.”

Preliminary data from Olof and Munir’s work was presented by Olof at the Virginia Tech Summer Undergraduate Research Conference, while Munir will do a poster presentation at Hollins’ Student Performance and Academic Research Conference (SPARC) on May 8. Their research will also be featured as part of the celebration of President Mary Dana Hinton’s inauguration on April 22. Currently, they are working on a follow-up study and plan to submit it to a peer-reviewed journal, either this summer or in early fall.

A senior from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Olof is a biology major and psychology minor. She is also working on a research project that examines how glucose levels influence eyewitness accuracy. Her other interests include host-microbe interactions, specifically how microflora and dietary factors interact with the immune system to shape response to diseases. She plans on continuing her research in immunology after graduating from Hollins this spring.

Munir, a junior from Lahore, Pakistan, is majoring in psychology with a minor in biology. Eyewitness identification issues, evaluating risk taking in decision making, and developing better treatments for neurodegenerative diseases are among her research interests. This summer, she will attend a research internship program in neuroscience at the University of Florida.

SEPA is a regional psychological association affiliated with the American Psychological Association. Founded in 1955, its purpose is to advance psychology as a science, as a profession, and as a means of promoting human welfare. SEPA is the largest psychological organization in the southeast and one of largest in the United States.


Top photo (left to right): Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Alex Wooten, Soha Munir ’23, and Hana Olof ’22 at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Psychological Association.

Hollins Chemistry Students, Faculty Featured at ACS National Meeting

Three Hollins University students and their professor were among the presenters at this spring’s national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Megan Brown ’23, Tram Nguyen ’24, Nupur Sehgal ’23, and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Son Nguyen attended ACS Spring 2022, which was held March 19-22 in San Diego.

“Last September, I was invited to be a speaker at the symposium, ‘Next Generation Glycoscientists: Glycoscience Research at Predominantly Undergraduate Institutions” in the Carbohydrate Division (CARB) at ACS,” Dr. Nguyen said. “This symposium was designed to provide faculty with the opportunity to present the work they do with their students.”

Megan Brown ’23 (left) and Nupur Sehgal ’23 with their poster presentation at ACS Spring 2022.

Dr. Nguyen gave an oral presentation on “Stereoselectivity in Glycosylation through Dynamic Kinetic Resolution,” a project done by Uyen Thanh Nguyen ’23 and Tram Nguyen ’24. Meanwhile, Brown and Sehgal delivered a poster presentation on their work, “Synthesis and Evaluation of the Rhodamine- and Biotin- Probes for Detection of Cysteine-Containing Proteins” in the Current Topics in Biological Chemistry section of  the Division of Biological Chemistry. The Hollins representatives also attended other scholars’ presentations, visited ACS exhibitions, and attended an ACS CARB banquet. Their presentation of their work at last October’s Virginia Academy of Science Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting at Hampden-Sydney College is highlighted in the ACS CARB Spring 2022 Newsletter.

“Attending the national meeting was a great opportunity for my students and me to showcase our work at Hollins, learn more about research at other universities, and expand our connections with chemists in the fields of biochemistry and carbohydrate chemistry,” Dr. Nguyen stated. “Most importantly, the students gained information about Ph.D. programs, chemistry-related job opportunities with a bachelor’s degree, and accessing research equipment at Virginia Tech’s Fralin Life Sciences Institute.”

American Chemical Society National Meeting
Hollins’ ACS representatives with Distinguished Research Scientist Muthiah Manoharan (center) of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.

Dr. Nguyen and his students interacted with a number of well-known carbohydrate chemists, including Zhongwu Guo (University of Florida); Steven J. Sucheck and Peter R. Adreana (University of Toledo); Clay Bennett (Tufts University); Kamil Godula (University of California at San Diego); Nicole Snyder (Davidson College); Brady Hall (technical manager at the Fralin Life Sciences Institute); Matt Amicucci (principal scientist at BCD Bioscience); and Muthiah Manoharan (senior vice president of drug innovation, a Scientific Advisory Board member, and a Distinguished Research Scientist at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals).

“They gave us valuable advice that benefited my research and informed my students’ plans for attending a Ph.D. program after Hollins,” Dr. Nguyen said.

The professor also made sure the group took time to explore San Diego and learn about the city’s history and culture. “Balancing study life and personal life is what I also want my students to do, and this was a great chance to practice that habit,” he explained.

Dr. Nguyen concluded, “Overall, this was a successful trip for my students and me. We would like to thank Hollins administrators, especially the Office of the Provost, the chemistry department, the Faculty Development and Student Research Funds Committee, and others in financially and spiritually supporting us. Without their tremendous support, we would not be able to carry out our research work or attend this wonderful ACS meeting.”



Hollins Student Delegation Typifies “Collaboration, Cooperation, and Celebration” at NUMAL Conference

A 14-student delegation represented Hollins University at the three-day National University Model Arab League (NUMAL) Conference in Washington, D.C., including the winner of the event’s highest award.

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations (NCUSAR) welcomed 22 colleges and universities to the 2022 conference, which was held March 24-27. The goal of the NUMAL Conference is to simulate the diplomacy and decision making of the Arab League, an alliance of  more than 20 Arab countries formed in 1945 to promote economic, political, cultural, and scientific cooperation as well as independence and sovereignty among its member nations.

Bianca Vallebrignoni ’23, president of the Model UN/Model Arab League club at Hollins, coordinated the delegation’s trip to the conference with the support and attendance of Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette and John P. Wheeler Professor of Political Science Edward Lynch, the club’s faculty advisors. All students who participated in the conference successfully applied for grants from the Warren W. Hobbie Ethics and Service Endowment, whose purpose is to facilitate experiential or service learning opportunities that require students to confront values or ethical issues.

Mollie Davis '22
Mollie Davis ’22 was named the 2022 NUMAL Conference’s Outstanding Delegate.

Mollie Davis ’22 was named the conference’s Outstanding Delegate, the top honor bestowed by NCUSAR. Davis was recognized for her representation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the Joint Defense Council. The senior called her four years on the Hollins Model UN/Model Arab League team “the biggest opportunity I’ve had to push back against what society expects of people who stutter, and I’m grateful for that.” Motivated to make space for all advocates, Davis further reflected that her success “had an impact on more than just myself.”

“Model conferences deepen students’ understanding of diversity within the Arab world through research,” noted Chenette, “but also strengthen and amplify the voices of diverse leaders through debate.”

Hollins delegates served in critical roles at every level of conference planning and execution, The Secretariate student leadership included Susanna Helms ’24, who was chief justice in the Arab Court of Justice simulation and adjudicated cases designed and prepared over the last year by Salima Driss ’23. NCUSAR’s student program coordinator, Katie Grandelli ’20, continued her Model Arab League leadership legacy in her professional capacity, “extending the Hollins dynamic of collaboration, cooperation, and celebration to all participants,” said Chenette.

Held annually, NUMAL celebrated its 39th year in 2022. Started as an informal demonstration simulation at Georgetown University in 1983, NUMAL has grown to host over 400 students from approximately 25 colleges and universities annually. Delegates train year-round through mock simulations, course-structured research, and participation in regional Model Arab League conferences to prepare for this highly competitive international simulation. The 2022 conference was hosted by the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center in Washington.


“Every Day Was a Different Kind of Adventure”: Environmental Science Major Studies Wolves in Minnesota

In her first year at Hollins, Virginia Lucey ’24 experienced an epiphany after taking classes and labs in environmental science and ecology. “I really got into it,” the sophomore from Great Falls, Virginia, said. “I was definitely interested in pursuing environmental science as my major.”

For her ecology lab, Lucey got a taste of experiential work beyond the classroom when she and a friend tracked bird migration. She realized, “My favorite part of science is getting my hands dirty, the going outside part,” and she set her sights on performing field research during this year’s January Short Term. Because of the richness in biodiversity there, she learned there were numerous opportunities for field work in locations around the equator. She intended to pursue such projects someday, but for the moment, Lucey wanted something a little closer to home. In addition, she was more interested in how northern species have evolved and was drawn to studying more about them.

Struggling to find programs that focused on northern ecology, Lucey contacted her advisor, Assistant Professor of Biology Elizabeth Gleim. “She reached out to some Hollins alumnae, and one of the opportunities she quickly found involved researching wolves in Minnesota. I thought, ‘That sounds amazing.’”

For J-term 2022, Lucey was accepted at Osprey Wilds, a private, nonprofit residential environmental learning center located in east central Minnesota. Blending classroom instruction with extensive hands-on research, the center “allows students to come in and get field experience for the first time,” she explained. “The student research actively contributes to the work of Osprey Wilds.”

Wolf Ambassadors
Axel and Grayson, wolf ambassadors at the International Wolf Center.

After arriving in early January, Lucey worked an intensive schedule of ten-hour days for two weeks. She and approximately 40 other students from across the country began by absorbing the basics of everything from wolf ecology and the politics of wolf conservation to tracking wolves and other northern animals such as bears and birds. With this foundational knowledge, the group headed north to Ely, Minnesota, home of the International Wolf Center, which “advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands, and the human role in their future.” There, the students observed the ambassador wolves Axel, Grayson, and the seven-month-old pup, Rieka.

Lucey aboard a four-seater plane conducting a telemetry flight. (Photo: Autumn Pozniak)

“Every day was a different kind of adventure,” she recalled. At the Wildlife Science Center near Osprey Wilds, the students observed the behavior of more than 100 wolves. “About half of the wolves had been born at the research center and were bottle-fed, and the other half came from wolfpacks that had been rescued after they had become a problem in a certain area. It was cool to see the difference in how they behaved. Bottle-fed wolves are much more dangerous than wild wolves. To a fully wild wolf, humans are an unknown so they tend to avoid us. Bottle-fed wolves don’t fear us and almost see us as part of the wolf hierarchy.” Thus, Lucey noted, it’s humans trying to “domesticate” or “tame” wolves that leads to dangerous interactions, not wolves themselves. Wild wolves will avoid humans, whereas wolves that have been raised around them will interact more closely. They do not see humans as a source of food, but close interaction can be dangerous if they think a human is threatening their pack position or territory.

After working at the Wildlife Science Center and International Wolf Center, Lucey and her group traveled still farther north, where they actively tracked wild wolves, both in the air and on the ground. “We did telemetry flights, where we went up in little four-seater planes and tracked wolfpacks based off of radio collars,” she said. They also spent extensive time hiking in forests and on ice. “We’d be like, ‘It’s so warm today!’ when the temperature rose to minus-15 degrees. Wolf research is mainly done in the winter. The main time you can see wolves from the air is when they are traveling over frozen lakes. That’s the only time you’re going to catch them from out under the trees, where they blend in completely. When it comes to tracking them in the woods, you can follow their step-by-step paw prints through the snow. During the summer you really can’t do that unless of course you’re an exceptionally skilled tracker.”

Boundary Waters Minnesota
Minnesota’s Boundary Waters wilderness area.




In the Minnesota wilderness in January, weather conditions are generally the biggest potential hazard. “We spent a lot of time in advance studying about winter survival, how to avoid frostbite and warm up different appendages.” But just because wild wolves weren’t a significant threat didn’t mean she and her group could let down their guard. The students were eager to find moose tracks, but they wanted to avoid any close interactions with a live moose, particularly if they had a calf with them, which makes a moose more dangerous than wolves.

Wolf Track Plaster Mold
A plaster mold of a paw print from a wolf Lucey tracked at Lake Superior.

“A wolf will see you and think, ‘You’re not worth the trouble’” Lucey explained. “A moose will see you and think, ‘If I don’t attack you, you may attack me,’ or its calf.”

Conducting research at sites where wolves killed prey such as deer offered Lucey some of the most fascinating learning experiences. However, finding those sites often depended on happenstance. “We would be driving somewhere and would suddenly stop because our instructor had seen vultures or ravens. He would take us out to where they were and we’d find kill sites that were sometimes still in process – a wolf will come back to one several times if it’s a big prey. In one case, we got to do an informal dissection to gather information such as how healthy a deer was at the time of the kill.”

Tracking Group
Lucey’s tracking group warms up during a wilderness excursion. (Photo: Bryan Wood, executive director and program director, Osprey Wilds)






Lucey described her two weeks in Minnesota as “an amazing opportunity for anyone who wants to look into field research and prepare for what it’s really like. It’s not always pretty – a lot of wild animal research is dealing with blood and guts and scat – but our instructors and others made sure we got to listen to a lot of cool people, leading experts who are running a lot of different wolf projects all over the world. We got to learn about opportunities that you can’t find out about online.”

Grayson Wolf Ambassador
Grayson, wolf ambassador at the International Wolf Center.



She added, “Wolves are one of those big charismatic animals that field researchers dream of working with, and the reality of getting into that selective field is small. So, this was definitely a step into that. It was just an awesome experience.”




Top photo: Virginia Lucey ’24 (far left) with members of her wolf tracking group (photo by Autumn Pozniak)



Omicron Delta Kappa Welcomes Hollins Students



Ten Hollins University students are among the 342 new initiates from 11 universities welcomed into Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK), the National Leadership Honor Society, for 2022.

Students initiated into the society must be sophomores, juniors, seniors, or graduate/professional students in the top 35% of their class; demonstrate experience in at least one of the five pillars of leadership celebrated by ODK (academics, athletics, service, communications, and arts); and embrace the ODK ideals. Fewer than five percent of students on a campus are invited to join each year.

Hollins students joining ODK this year include:

Regina Davis ’22, English major, Blackstone, Virginia

Fanny Estrada Lugo ’22, Spanish major, Cassatt, South Carolina

Natalia Sarram ’22, English major, Carlsbad, California

Adarra Blount ’23, history major, Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina

Jasmine Carmichael ’23, public health major, North Chesterfield, Virginia

Margaret Gildersleeve ’23, communication studies major, Woodbridge, Virginia

Egypt Matthews ’23, business major, Fayetteville, North Carolina

Claire Ross ’23, English major, Ashburn, Virginia

Aden Watts ’23, psychology major, Fort Gay, West Virginia

Leah Wilkins ’23, political science major, Beaumont, Texas

Headquartered in Lexington, Virginia, ODK has 313 circles of record at colleges and universities across the United States. The society honors and develops leaders through scholarships, workshops, career development, leadership resources, and a lifelong connection to other members. ODK also champions its leadership values of collaboration, inclusivity, integrity, scholarship, and service. Among the society’s distinguished members are Presidents Joseph R. Biden Jr., George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Gerald R. Ford, Richard M. Nixon, and Franklin D. Roosevelt; physicians Michael DeBakey and Jonas Salk; journalists Ann Compton (Hollins class of 1969), Walter Cronkite, Roger Mudd, Cokie Roberts, and George F. Will; authors Pat Conroy, James Dickey, and Tom Wolfe; and athletes/coaches Peyton Manning, Arnold Palmer, Dawn Staley, and Pat Summitt.

Hollins Faculty Lead Teach-In to Enhance Understanding of War in Ukraine

The national anthems of Ukraine and its neighbor Poland bear a remarkable similarity. The first line of the Ukrainian national anthem is, “Ukraine has not yet perished, nor its glory, nor its freedom,” while the Polish national anthem begins, “Poland has not yet perished while we still live.”

The reason why both national anthems open with an emphasis on perishing was the starting point for Hollins’ War on Ukraine Teach-In, conducted via Zoom on March 7 and featuring the expertise of three faculty members: Visiting Assistant Professor of Modern European History Julia Riegel, who studies Polish – Jewish and Eastern European history; Visiting Assistant Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies Sandra Russell, a literary and cultural studies scholar who focuses on gender and sexuality in Eastern Europe and particularly in Ukraine, where she worked as a Peace Corps volunteer from 2012 – 2014; and Visiting Assistant Professor in Global Politics and Societies Ashleigh Breske, who studies and teaches in the areas of refugees and forced migration as well as cultural property protections. The goal was to offer context and background on the war in Ukraine and explore the ideas of national and cultural identity that have persisted across centuries.

Riegel argued that Ukraine and Poland’s location between major empires underscores the “perishing” theme in their anthems. “In both cases, their modern national identities arose while they were partitioned between different empires. Imperial rule denied both Poles and Ukrainians the opportunity to create their own nation-states, but both had their own national movements.”

Ukraine and Poland “engaged in a process of historical imagination,” Riegel noted. “They looked to the past for a sense of identity and even inspiration.”

Julia Riegel
Visiting Assistant Professor of Modern European History Julia Riegel

The history of Ukraine goes back to Kyivan Rus’, a loose, medieval federation, probably led by Vikings, that began in the ninth century and continued until 1240. “The modern states of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus all claim Kyivan Rus’ as their cultural ancestor, and Russia and Belarus derive their names from it,” Riegel said. “The real question today in some ways between Ukraine and Russia is, who ‘owns’ the legacy of Kyivan Rus’? When Putin says that Ukraine has no legitimate history, this is precisely what he’s talking about. He’s claiming Kyivan Rus’ for Russia.”

Later, Riegel said Ukraine found itself under the control of external powers, divided up and ruled over the years by the Polish – Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires. Still, there were moments where Ukraine got a taste of autonomy. In 1648, citizens rebelled against Polish – Lithuanian dominance and formed the Cossack Hetmanate, which lasted until 1764. “The creation of this semi-independent state is widely perceived as the precursor of modern Ukraine,” Riegel stated.

Nationalist movements spreading throughout 19th century Europe inspired Ukrainian writers and intellectuals to revive the region’s cultural traditions and promote a spirit of Ukrainian identity. But the Russian Empire, which now controlled substantial parts of Ukrainian territory, took action to prevent any kind of separatist movement. “This is the era where you see Russia apply the term ‘Little Russia’ to Ukraine,” Riegel said. “Many Ukrainians today find it offensive, but nonetheless Putin has used it in some of his recent speeches, which is no doubt purposeful.”

An independent state briefly emerged after World War I but was ultimately replaced by the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, which became one of the USSR’s founding republics in 1922 and lasted until 1991. “The 20th century was not good for Ukraine in many ways,” Riegel said, citing the devastating impact of the Great Famine in the 1930s and Nazi control during World War II. “But in 1954, following Stalin’s death, policies got friendlier, particularly after Nikita Khrushchev, who was born in Ukraine, took power. Notably, Crimea was transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.”

Finally, in 1991, Ukrainians voted for independence from the USSR. “Some scholars believe that Ukraine actually dealt the death blow to the Soviet Union. Within a couple of weeks of Ukraine’s vote, the USSR voted to dissolve. When we think again about historical imagination and what is going on today, we can see perhaps where the relevance of this lies.”

Sandra Russell
Visiting Assistant Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies Sandra Russell

Russell focused on “the continuity of the Ukrainian national project and the two most recent revolutions that punctuate this history” since 1991. The Orange Revolution, which took place between November 2004 and January 2005, was a response to corruption in the 2004 presidential election. “This was the first instance of Ukrainians coming together and advocating for themselves as a nation.” More recently, the Euromaidan Revolution/Revolution of Dignity (November 2013 – February 2014) was prompted by then-President Viktor Yanukovych breaking a promise to work more closely with the European Union and instead tightening affiliations with Russia. “Yanukovych’s government was ousted, but it paved the way for Putin to intervene in the ways he is now. Crimea was illegally annexed by Russia and breakaway states were established in Ukraine’s eastern region that are Russian puppets.”

Threatened by Ukraine’s movements toward sovereignty, Putin became determined “to create false narratives and spread disinformation within and beyond Russia’s borders.” Russell identified the four most prevalent narratives:

  • Reunifying the “Slavic brotherhood” between Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. “This leans on the concept of Ukrainians as just ‘little Russians.’ This is like saying Spain and Portugal are the same place. Ultimately, it delegitimizes Ukraine’s culture, language, and autonomy.”
  • “Denazifying” Ukraine. “The notion here is that Putin’s intentions are great and he’s going to remove Nazis from Ukraine. To be clear, ultra-nationalist movements exist there, but only about two percent of Ukrainians support them. This is not a reason to invade and cause war in a country.”
  • Reuniting a divided nation. “Since 2014, Putin has falsely claimed that Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine are being oppressed and harmed. In fact, Ukraine is a multiethnic and multilingual country, and most Ukrainians speak both Ukrainian and Russian.”
  • Claiming political and historical justification over Ukraine. “In reality, Putin is a far-right, ultranationalist authoritarian who wants to make Ukraine a puppet state. He’s explicitly said he will do whatever it takes to achieve it.”
Ashleigh Breske
Visiting Assistant Professor in Global Politics and Societies Ashleigh Breske

Breske spoke about the efforts underway to support both internally displaced (those who have had to leave their residences but have not crossed an international border) and externally displaced (those who have gone to another country) peoples. “The UN Refugee Agency is working in countries surrounding Ukraine and supplying people with clean water, sanitation, healthcare, and shelter. We’re also seeing civil society helping as well, creating shelters or taking people into their homes.” Over 2.5 million refugees have left Ukraine since February 24, with two-thirds of them currently in Poland. “The thought is that four million Ukrainians will flee in the coming weeks,” Breske said.

Organizations such as UNESCO and the International Council of Museums, Breske added, are protecting Ukraine’s artistic legacy by using international humanitarian law, most notably the 1954 Hague Convention, which sought to prevent large-scale destruction after Nazi Germany looted important works of art. But there are also grassroots efforts underway by ordinary Ukrainians: Breske told the story of Sasha, an artist who has been forced to move from his home city of Kharkiv to Lviv, while his family evacuated to Croatia. “Sasha felt he had to remain behind to help preserve Ukrainian cultural heritage. He’s in the process of reaching out to museums to see what can be done. He said he couldn’t think of any other thing to do. He had to stay and protect the art. He has now joined a group called SaveCultureUA to document the destruction of cultural heritage in his country.”

Russell summed up the essence of Ukraine’s national identity that has endured despite centuries of oppression and hardship and continues to persevere today. “Ukrainians have been fighting for sovereign statehood for a long time. Over and over again, they’ve been underestimated. As someone who has lived there, I can tell you the kind of tenacity and fortitude Ukrainians have for the culture and their country. They will not give up easily, they will not give up without a fight, and as horrific and awful as this war has unfolded, it’s one of the things that’s been so moving about this.”