“They Empower Women to Believe in Themselves”: A Proud Dad Reflects on His Daughter’s Hollins Experience


Everett Sesker always knew his daughter Tyler, class of 2022, was going places – but he wanted to let her choose where.

“I told her to find a school that she was comfortable with. She’s always attended small, private schools, so I told her I wanted her to find a school where she felt she was able to achieve her goals,” says Everett.

During her junior and senior years of high school, the Seskers toured many excellent schools, including the University of North Carolina, Boston College, and Harvard University.

“I really wanted to encourage her to go somewhere new, away from home,” says Everett. “Having new experiences allows you to grow.”

At that point, however, Hollins University was an unknown option. It wasn’t until the volleyball coach came to watch Tyler’s high school game that they learned what Hollins could offer. After speaking with the coach and hearing about the student-athlete experience, they decided to attend an admission event and learn more about the athletic programs, academics, and community.

“We went to Hollins to see the campus and get a feel for the university, and I fell in love,” Everett recalls. “I felt that this school would provide everything that I wanted for my daughter.”

It was clear upon their visit that Hollins would be an environment where Tyler would thrive. The opportunity to have one-on-one relationships with the professors, continue to play sports, and have a safe, tight-knit community to support her was exactly what they were looking for in a best-fit school.

Additionally, the location of Hollins University was ideal, only four hours south of Tyler’s hometown in Maryland. Everett liked that it was close enough that Tyler could come home when she needed but far enough away that she could really immerse herself in everything the school had to offer.

It was the perfect fit. And so, Tyler embraced the Hollins experience.

Upon arrival, she dove right into the athletics program, joining both the volleyball and basketball teams during her first two years while also taking on leadership positions in the student government, Model UN, and as president of the Black Student Alliance.

At the same time, Tyler flourished academically. The small class sizes and personal attention she had from professors provided the structure and support she needed to excel as she followed the pre-law track and pursued her degree in gender and women’s studies with a minor in social justice.

Throughout the last four years, Everett has been pleased at the continued involvement and support that he has had as a parent from many of the offices around campus. He worked closely with the Office of Scholarship and Financial Aid to secure additional academic and sports scholarships.

“It’s nice because now we’re to the point that they know me by name, which isn’t always the case for a lot of schools,” says Everett.

Possibly the biggest show of support the Seskers received from Hollins was when Everett faced a health scare back at home. He wanted to notify and comfort Tyler, but couldn’t do so in person.

“I called the president’s office and spoke with President Hinton. She was so great with the whole situation,” says Everett.

“President Hinton took the time out of her busy schedule to be with my daughter and reassure her that I was going to be okay. All she had to say was, ‘Don’t worry; we’ve got her,’ and that put my mind at rest.”

With only a few months remaining of her senior year, Tyler has big plans for her future.

“She’s applying for different fellowships right now in New York, DC, and Georgia,” says Everett. “I wanted to encourage her not to come back home immediately. Of course, home should be a place that you visit often, but I want my daughter to make a life for herself.”

After her fellowship, Tyler will begin applying for law schools.

Everett is proud of the woman Tyler has become through her time at Hollins. He notices that she speaks up for herself more and that she’s gotten involved in many opportunities she wouldn’t have received anywhere else.

“When I first heard of Hollins, I had some reservations about sending her to an all-women’s institution. I wanted her to get the full college experience,” Everett reflects. “They proved me wrong. Hollins does something other schools don’t: they empower women to believe in themselves, that they can achieve anything they want to achieve. Women at Hollins don’t come second; they lead.”

While Tyler is working toward graduating in May, her younger sister, Ryan, has begun her search for a college. This time, Hollins is high on the list.

“She’s the wild card,” says Everett. “You never know what to expect from her. She wants to be a veterinarian and has already been accepted to a lot of great schools, including Hollins.”

Ryan has become quite familiar with Hollins, visiting her sister frequently and taking a tour of campus to get to know what’s available for her personal interests. The equestrian facilities have been the main draw, and she has been embraced by the trainers and coaches there.

“It will ultimately be her choice, but right now, I think she’ll end up choosing Hollins,” he adds.



Scientist, Artist, & Entrepreneur: Jennifer Spencer ’23 Uses Psychology Background and Small Business to Spread Compassion

Even though Jennifer Spencer ’23 decided to switch her major from art to psychology, she never left her creativity behind. In fact, now it’s stronger than ever.

“I initially thought I couldn’t do science,” she says. “I’ve always been into art. I chose to take an art class every year throughout elementary school and high school. That’s why I wanted to study art in college. But once I got into science, it just brought art to life in a whole new way. There’s art in all the little things in science. Even in chemistry — you can find things that look just as beautiful as if you went to an art museum.”

After her graduation from Hollins, Spencer hopes to go into neuropsychology, which focuses on how certain brain conditions affect human behavior and cognitive functions. Her ultimate goal is to obtain a Ph.D. and work in a hospital with patients who have mental illnesses. She’s particularly passionate about helping patients with schizophrenia.

“Those with schizophrenia don’t have a lot of options. They don’t have a lot of medications and therapies to choose from. There’s so much happening within their brains, and I just feel like I have a need to help them. It’s so sad to see people suffering, and you can’t help them unless you study really hard to become the person who can.”

Spencer is even more sure about her calling ever since she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) a year ago. “I wanted to help people who have problems with their brains even before doctors told me that I had a problem with my own brain,” she says. “But now I have this other side of my life where I live with a chronic illness, which I want people to know about, just so there’s representation of it in the world.

“I’ve gone blind once a day for the past nine months, which is related to my MS. It’s a brain and spinal cord disease where you get lesions on different parts of your brain, but it has over 50 symptoms, so it affects people in many ways. The biggest thing for me is my vision. I’ve had full-blown blindness, partial blindness, double vision, blurry vision, I even lost my colored vision once — which was actually pretty cool because it was like a black-and-white movie. I saw everything in blue one time, and I have to go to physical therapy twice a week because I can’t walk down stairs anymore.”

Spencer is open about how her health condition has impacted her own mental state. “When I was first diagnosed, it was kind of like a big slap in the face. I thought I wouldn’t be able to graduate. Doing art projects has become a very therapeutic thing for me.”

Last spring, she started taking medication that required her to stay home for two months, and she used the time to teach herself how to crochet. After watching YouTube tutorials, she began making her own stuffed animals, eventually launching her own small business. “I don’t know what it is, but I’m just really into activities that I do with my hands. I sit down and don’t have to think about anything else except making this stuffed animal,” Spencer says. “Everyone loved the animals, so after a while I decided I would try to sell them to friends and family. Now it’s become a second job for me. I have an Etsy shop, TikTok, and Instagram, though I mostly get custom orders from people I know personally or from people who my friends and family know. You’d be surprised how many 30-year-olds want to buy a stuffed animal.”

Spencer hopes to continue to grow her business in the coming years. “I want to make tiny stuffed animals and donate them to children’s hospitals, but I just don’t have the time right now. Hopefully after I graduate college I can visit hospitals and ask kids what they want and make it for them.”

While the joy that Spencer’s creativity sparks in others is important, the joy it sparks within herself remains unparalleled: “Sometimes my dorm room looks like a Build-A-Bear Workshop exploded, but honestly, there’s something so empowering in that.”

To learn more about Jennifer’s business, visit her Etsy shop, @HookedOnJen


Marin Harrington is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. She is pursuing her M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.



“Engagement Is Constant”: Hannah Slusser ’24 Talks About The Transformational Power of FLI

Hannah Slusser ’24 was all set to attend a college other than Hollins. At the last minute, however, she experienced a change of heart.

“I was in a group chat on social media for both schools. The students in the session for the other college were really not nice, but the people at Hollins were sweet and kind,” she recalls. “So, I decided to come here.”

Shortly thereafter, the Bedford, Virginia, native came across a page on Hollins’ website devoted to the university’s FLI program, which welcomes first-generation and limited-income students. “I thought, ‘That’s interesting, I want to do that.’ I emailed [Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students] Patty O’Toole and asked her how to join and she said, ‘You’re in.’”

For Slusser, being a part of FLI’s year-long programming and activities during her first year at Hollins meant “instant friends. You meet these people and they have the same background as you. I definitely was a shy person before I came here, but now I definitely talk a lot more and I know how to express myself to other people.”

Slusser says she thoroughly enjoys the social aspects of FLI, which include group meals and game nights, but there are other qualities of the program that are equally beneficial.

“As a first-gen student, I didn’t really know how financial aid works or how to sign up for classes. With FLI, I could get information quickly and on a personal level.”

FLI’s emphasis on sharing knowledge helped convince Slusser to become an FLI Guide, a sophomore, junior, or senior mentor who works closely with students during pre-orientation and throughout the academic year to enable them to build relationships, connect with valuable resources, and learn important tips for success. “My group and I hang out every day, and I am advising them as we go through the year. Engagement is constant.”

One of Slusser’s goals at the outset of becoming a FLI Guide was “to introduce new students to Hollins and help them know their way around.” Prior to the beginning of fall term, she took her group of FLI students on a tour of campus, including where their classes were located. She’s also focused on showing them how they can successfully make the transition from high school to college classes. “There’s a lot bigger workload and many other differences. I sort of just coasted through classes in high school, but now I feel like I can challenge myself, and I actually learned how to study.”

Slusser offers other practical advice. “First, don’t be afraid to ask questions. I get on so many people’s nerves because I email them constantly, but if I have a question I have to ask! Second, don’t feel guilty for going to college. I know it’s a lot of money, but it’s worth it in the end to go because you’re gaining something from it. You’ll have a degree and you’ll have the knowledge to further yourself even more. It will work out in the end. Third, make sure you talk to your advisor. They are there to help you.”

Slusser had told her own advisor, Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette, that she wanted to be a librarian, “and she has arranged for her college roommate, who is a librarian, to come to campus to talk with me. She is the best.”

Along with serving as a FLI Guide, Slusser is active in other activities on campus and beyond. In support of her dream of becoming a librarian, she works at Hollins’ Wyndham Robertson Library as a student peer coordinator, where her duties encompass everything from training new library assistants and making sure everything is in the right place on the library shelves to opening and closing the library itself. She also is a member of the Hollins Activity Board (HAB) formals committee and is running for SGA Senate and HAB positions.

In addition, “some of the people in my FLI group and I are trying to start a book club focusing on young adult literature and reading for fun outside of class. The library just got a new section of young adult novels, so we may try to partner with them.”

Through a grant from Hollins, Slusser completed an internship with the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford this summer.




“It’s All About Finding Their Place of Belonging”: By Sharing Her Own Experiences, Carlia Kearney ’23 Inspires Students as a FLI Guide

Carlia Kearney ’23 wasn’t part of Hollins’ FLI program for first-generation, limited-income students during her first year at the university, but that didn’t disqualify or discourage her from eventually becoming an enthusiastic participant.

“I honestly didn’t know the FLI program existed until [Assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students] Trina Johnson reached out to me the summer before my sophomore year. She thought I’d be a good candidate to be a FLI Guide, and I thought it would be a good experience.”

FLI Guides are sophomore, junior, or senior mentors who work closely with students during pre-orientation and throughout the academic year to enable them to build relationships, connect with valuable resources, and learn important tips for success.

“I knew how I felt as a first-generation, low-income student when I entered my first year here,” says Kearney, who hails from Franklin, Virginia. “So I wanted to be there for anyone facing similar challenges.”

Kearney believes her most important role as an FLI Guide is “validating students’ feelings while questioning their way of thinking to broaden their perspective. I want to make sure they know their doubts and their long-term and short-term goals are being heard. I just want to be a part of their support system.”

In addition to gathering for weekly dinners and other activities sponsored by FLI, Kearney says she is in constant touch with the five students she mentors through group chats and seeing and talking to them individually almost every day.

“It’s all about helping them find their place of belonging, which is hard in a new environment,” she explains. “They may not know where they fit in or are fully aware of the groups that are available to them. A lot of people are so withdrawn and afraid that they won’t push into those outlets. What we do is, we try to expand their comfort level.” She adds that one of FLI’s goals this year is getting the campus community involved in program activities. “We hope to expand their networking to meeting people outside of FLI.”

Kearney encourages students to “take advantage of any and every resource. Create your own path and take control of your happiness. Have faith, because there is something special in you, whether you see it or not. Believe in yourself because you deserve everything positive that life offers. In FLI, we understand each other’s doubts, fears, and insecurities, and there’s no shame in talking to one another because we’re very comfortable and it’s a safe environment. There’s that encouragement element that comes from having those conversations and knowing, ‘Hey, this person’s gone through the same thing, and they’re thriving.’ We tell those doubts and fears to shut up. Your purpose is bigger than a little fear telling you that you can’t go to college.”

Above all, Kearney says, “I want to help other people adopt a growth mindset. There’s always room to grow in anything, so just helping people realize that and have them share it from person to person, that’s what I want to do. I want everyone to be on the same page and succeed.”

Throughout her Hollins career, Kearney has tried to embody that advice and feels “I’m at a place where I’m my most authentic self. And because it’s so genuine, I can share it with others. I can spread the same joy and optimism, and I’m way better at being a mindful listener.” She says she still wants “to keep growing as a person,” and her involvement in Hollins’ Batten Leadership Institute is “providing me with the tools I need to be the best version of myself.” She’s also taking a diverse array of classes that she is confident will help create opportunities for her after graduation when she plans to attend law school.

“I’m not sure yet what type of law,” she notes, “but it’s going to be something challenging.”





After 40 Years, The Rock Gets a Cleaning

The Rock, one of Hollins’ most beloved campus landmarks, has received a much-needed restoration with the removal of nearly four decades of paint.

The shale sitting near West Campus Drive got a cleaning and a fresh coat of primer from the university’s paint crew. The Rock has stalwartly served as Hollins’ community billboard, but the layer of  paint from 40 years of student-generated celebrations, proclamations, and other announcements had become so thick that it had begun cracking and separating from the stone.

Rock PreCleaning
The Rock’s paint layer had become so thick that it was cracking and separating from the stone.

The first painting of the Rock is attributed to Hollins’ class of 1982. According to “Rock of Ages,” an article in the Fall 1995 issue of Hollins magazine by Karen Adams, “It began as a harmless bit of fun when Wayne and Pam Reilly (professor of political science and director of institutional research, respectively), who were advisors to the Class of ’82, suggested that it would be amusing if each member of the senior class painted her name on the Rock. When, afterward, some folks on campus disagreed, the Rock was washed clean.

“Nonetheless, another ‘instant tradition’ was born. One by one, students sneaked up to the Rock in darkness and secrecy to emblazon their special messages. Over and over the Rock was washed and painted, washed and painted. At some point students began using enamel paint and from then on the messages were permanent – until they were painted over.”

Rock Paint Layer Removal
Members of Hollins’ paint crew remove the paint layer from the front of the Rock.

While the Rock’s role as a message center dates back to the early 1980s, its campus “debut” occurred much earlier. Adams wrote, “Professor emeritus of chemistry and champion of rocks Betty Gushee, who first adopted the Rock, says that it was dragged with some difficulty from the bowels of the earth when the Dana [Science Building] basement was dug in 1965.

“Gushee remembers the day it appeared. ‘A look at fresh, unweathered rock, particularly shale, is hard to get, so occasionally I happened over from Pleasants, where the natural sciences were housed then, to look at the excavation. One day while I was there a backhoe was having a hard time moving a large hunk of rock to be loaded onto a truck, so I asked the operator to leave it as a free-standing sample of our native rock. He did…and I used it as a geology teaching tool for a number of years.’”

Rock Cleaned
Thoroughly cleaned, the Rock will be ready for painting again after receiving a coat of primer.

Hollins Honored As Tree Campus Higher Education Institution


The Arbor Day Foundation has recognized Hollins University as a 2020 Tree Campus Higher Education institution.

Launched in 2008, the program honors colleges and universities and their leaders for promoting healthy trees and engaging students and staff in the spirit of conservation.

“Over the past year, many have been reminded of the importance of nature to our physical and mental health,” said Arbor Day Foundation President Dan Lambe. “[Hollins’] campus trees provide spaces of refuge and reflection to students, staff, faculty, and the community.”

To obtain this distinction, Hollins met the five core standards for effective forest management, including establishment of a tree advisory committee, evidence of a campus tree care plan, dedicated annual expenditures for its campus tree program, an Arbor Day observance, and the sponsorship of student service learning projects.

“Your entire campus should be proud of this work and the leadership of [Assistant Professor of Biology] Elizabeth Gleim and the committee,” Lambe noted.


Alumnae/i Offer Sage Advice to New Hollins Students

To celebrate the beginning of the 2021-22 academic year, the Hollins Alumnae Association took to social media to ask alumnae/i: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to new Hollins students? 

Not surprisingly, the responses were plentiful, creative, thoughtful, and most of all, full of joy and excitement for the newest members of the Hollins family. Here’s a sampling:

“Talk to everyone. These people will be the best friends you’ll ever have.”

“Go to office hours and get to know your professors! They are fantastic human beings in addition to being wonderful instructors.”

“Enjoy your time at Hollins! Those four years will go by so quickly and will be some of the best years of your life. Milk for all it’s worth. Participate in as many traditions/events as possible. And take loooooooots of photos!”

“Make sure to communicate with your classmates and professors! If you’re not understanding a concept, are struggling, or need help, let them know!”

“Go to the new student events with an open mind and heart even if you don’t feel like going. You’ll make some lifelong friends!”

“Follow your passion and learn all you can! Take advantage of opportunities that present themselves to you.”

“Make good friends…lifelong friendships are the best.”

“Study outside as much as you can as it is likely one of the most beautiful places and views you may ever have while you ‘work.’ And meet as many people as you can – smile and say ‘hi’ to all.”

“It’s okay if you are totally different than how you were in high school. Be open and forgiving to yourself and others. There’s so much change and adjusting for everyone!”

“Just enjoy each other, the campus…Tinker [Mountain], and beauty that surrounds!”

“Take advantage of all that Hollins has to offer including meeting people outside your own experiences. Sit on the porches of Main often just to soak up the beauty of Hollins. Enjoy your time at Hollins because it will fly by fast.”

“Be open minded…everything’s an experience from which to learn, and go to all your classes!”

“Take advantage of everything Hollins has to offer. Do not limit yourself, say yes! Because this is the time to try new things with such a support system to catch you if you fall.”

“Levavi oculos! Make the most of the years you are going to spend in the best place ever. Learn, make lifelong friends, enjoy, grow and…have fun!”

“Read the Student Handbook!!!!”

“Make time for rest, remember to laugh, and don’t take yourself too seriously!”

“Gallop horses in the mornings, swim in the afternoons, write poetry in French, plan to take that year or semester abroad, practice piano in Bradley on that fantastic Steinway until security wants to lock up at 9 p.m. (they’ll sit in the back and listen for awhile before checking their watches and telling you it’s over), but most of all: eat the blueberry pie. For breakfast. Eat pie. The best pie ever.”

“Enjoy it all! It feels like forever but goes by so fast.”

“Do all the things you’re afraid to do – go abroad, ride a horse, climb a mountain.”

“Get involved!! Join a club, sport, theatre, music, whatever your interests are. Hollins is what you make it, and so much personal growth can happen if you are willing to take a risk.”

“Treasure this time and use mindfulness to stay present. These years fly by! Don’t worry too much about the finish line, just live in the moment!”

“…the hard classes are the best ones because that’s how you learn, grow and challenge yourself.”

“…remember that college isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

“It’s okay to sleep. There’s no prize for all nighters, take care of your brain.”

“Soak it all up, time there goes by too fast!”

“DO be open to new people, places, ideas, and things. Some of these will surprise, shape, and support you in ways you can’t begin to imagine.”

“Go on a hike! You’ll miss those mountains later!”

“Don’t commit to too much at once. Choose one or two things. Tend to your spiritual life.”

“When you’re having a tough day, look up. The motto isn’t ‘Levavi oculos’ for nothing….”

“Get outside your comfort zone! It’s now or never.”

“Dream bigger than you think possible – you’ll be surprised at what is possible at Hollins!”

“Have a healthy work/play balance…now and forever!”

“Everything you never thought you would do (fencing, hiking, traveling abroad) DO IT!!!!”

“Try one new thing a week!”

“Smile and speak to everyone.”

“Spend time on the porch in the rocking chairs!”

“Come back whenever you can after graduation.”



Hollins Announces “Culture of Care 2.0” for Fall 2021

A vaccination requirement, indoor masking, limitations on visitors to campus, and parameters for special guests and speakers are among the key guidelines Hollins University is instituting for the 2021-22 academic year in response to the evolving challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hollins’ Culture of Care 2.0 builds upon the Culture of Care approach the university initiated during the 2020-21 academic year that ensured a vast majority of students and employees were able to enjoy an in-person learning experience. Hollins saw just 21 positive cases of COVID-19 last year (13 in the fall; eight in the spring), which were detected through the school’s weekly randomized testing protocol or self-reported.

“In keeping with our mission, our campus community is entering the new year with a continued focus on mutual accountability, collective responsibility, hope, and optimism,” said Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton. “By requiring COVID-19 vaccination for all who will learn and work on campus, we committed to the first and most effective means of reducing the possibility of contracting and/or transmitting this disease. As research continues, and as our understanding shifts over time about the highly contagious Delta variant and other risks, we will remain flexible and responsive to this changing landscape, all while privileging the well-being of our community.”

Established on the baseline of being a fully vaccinated community, Culture of Care 2.0 is designed to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and will be reevaluated regularly. “We will seek input from within and outside the the community, and updates will be shared as soon as any change in protocol is made,” Hinton explained. Reevaluation criteria include regional COVID-19 cases, hospitalization trends, and vaccination rates in the Roanoke Valley region, as well as guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and the Virginia governor’s office. Hinton also recently announced the six guiding principles Hollins will use in its decision-making process regarding its Culture of Care 2.0 approach this year.

University officials consulted with regional VDH officials about the CDC guidance encouraging masks indoors for vaccinated individuals. “Based upon the significant increase in and high transmission rates of COVID-19 in the Roanoke Valley region, VDH recommended that Hollins require masks for all campus community members in all indoor areas,” Hinton said. “The only exception is in private spaces, such as residence hall rooms or individual offices. Masks should be worn when students are gathered in common areas of residence halls. In the dining hall masks will be required while standing in line but may be removed while eating or drinking at a table.”

Students may have up to two off-campus visitors at a time to their residence halls or outdoors on campus at any given time. Hinton emphasized that “these visitors are required to be fully vaccinated in order to visit campus. Current Hollins students are responsible for affirmatively verifying the vaccination status of guests. During their time on campus, guests are expected to adhere to our Culture of Care. In addition, a residential students must obtain the expressed permission of their roommate or roommates for a visitor to be in their shared residence hall room or apartment space.”

Hollins, Hinton stated, welcomes the opportunity to invite guest speakers, authors, and artists to campus to enrich the university’s academic programs, but “no more than two guest speakers, authors, or artists should be invited to campus for the same event. All guests of academic programs must provide proof of vaccination before coming to campus and must wear a mask at all times while visiting indoor spaces on campus.”

Hinton concluded, “We know that we learn and grow best as individuals when we are together, for and with one another in community, and we continue to take steps to support that experience. Nurturing the best community we can create, within a Culture of Care for one another, has been and must continue to be our overarching priority.”

Fall classes begin at Hollins on September 1.


“I Had No Idea I Would be the Person I Am Today:” Senior Aditi Sharma’s “Leap of Faith” from Nepal to Hollins


After graduating from high school in her native city of Kathmandu, Nepal, Aditi Sharma ’21 wasn’t sure how she wanted to further her studies. But there was one thing at the time of which she was absolutely certain.

“I had little intention of coming to America” to go to college, she said. “I wanted to stay near to my family.”


The events that led to Sharma taking what she calls a “leap of faith” to venture on her own to the United States and attend Hollins University began during the gap year she took after finishing high school.

“In Nepal, the subjects you take in high school are usually what you are going to do for life,” Sharma explained. “I took accounting, so during my gap year I worked as a finance assistant to see if that field was actually for me before jumping into college.”

Sharma was employed by a nonprofit organization in the public health sector. She interacted with clients from around the globe, and it was a representative from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) who first suggested that she consider institutions of higher learning in the U.S. “He felt that there were many more programs in America that would be beneficial for me as well as some good scholarship opportunities. Financial considerations were big for me coming from a developing country.”

While not totally convinced, Sharma nevertheless applied to several U.S. universities. “My parents had studied in India and Nepal, so they had no idea what was involved. My high school counselor was very helpful, but mostly I was navigating everything from financial aid to applying for a visa by myself. It was very daunting.”

As the time to make a decision approached, Sharma found herself increasingly drawn to Hollins. “I took a virtual tour of campus and saw how beautiful it was,” she said, but what impressed her most was the personal approach of the Office of Admission.

“They reached out to me and were so open. I felt like I was being heard. I had no idea what I was doing, and they were so quick to respond to my questions, even the smallest ones. From filling out forms to learning what Hollins is about, what it offers, and what accommodations it has for international students. I felt like I already belonged to the community.”

Aditi Sharma '21 First Step
Bearing a cider bottle decorated for the occasion, Sharma celebrated the First Step tradition on Front Quad last fall to begin her senior year.

Bolstered by a belief in herself and support from the people who had seen her potential, particularly her family, Sharma enrolled at Hollins. “My family didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but they wanted the best education for me.” Sharma lived with her parents, paternal grandparents, and a younger sister, “and everyone was always encouraging, telling me to be the best I can be. I was so thankful that they trusted my judgement.”

After arriving at Hollins, Sharma enjoyed her freedom and learning so many new things. “I knew what I wanted to study (she would become a business and economics major pursuing a finance track). At the same time, being in a liberal arts environment I got to take all these amazing classes in sociology, environmental science, art history, and drawing.” Still, adjusting to a new environment, speaking English all the time, and missing her family were at times stressful. She credits History Rocks, her first-year seminar with Associate Professor of History Peter Coogan, with boosting her confidence.

“Professor Coogan and that class encouraged me to speak out. I’m very vocal now about a lot of things. My high school friends wouldn’t recognize me, I was so timid then and in the shadows. In Coogan’s class you were obliged to talk, and once that started happening my confidence grew. History Rocks really helped me, and I can’t thank him enough.”

Finding her voice, Sharma got actively involved with Hollins’ Student Government Association (SGA), Cultural and Community Engagement (CCE), and the International Student Orientation Program (ISOP). “I still remember contacting a Hollins senior before I arrived here. She helped me with things like, what and what not to pack, which flight to take, and what airport to fly into. You’re coming from your own comfortable home space, you’re scared and you’re nervous about moving into a new country, and I always let incoming international students know if they need anything I’m always here. CCE has a great structure for connecting international students and guiding communication and going through all these changes and opportunities together as a group really helps. I love seeing the international population at Hollins grow.”

Aditi Sharma '21 Windsor Castle
Experiencing Windsor Castle was a must for Sharma when she began her study abroad experience in London in February 2020.

One of Sharma’s most remarkable experiences occurred last spring when she embarked on a semester abroad in London. She had always been fascinated by the United Kingdom and reveled in visiting landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. She also had an internship lined up with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “As soon as I heard London had an internship program, I knew I wanted to go there. When I landed, it felt like I was walking on air.”

Sharma and her friends first began hearing about the COVID outbreak near the end of February when they learned students studying abroad in Italy were forced to return home. “I felt really bad for them, but I was still in denial,” she said. “There was no news of anything in London or the UK as a whole.”

But after coming back from a group excursion to Sweden in early March, London students were notified by the International Programs office at Hollins that Hollins Abroad-London was transitioning to online instruction due to COVID’s threat. Students could either continue living with their host families or go home.

“I wasn’t planning on returning to Nepal,” Sharma said. “I had lined up a job on campus with the Alumnae Association for the summer, so I was going to travel directly from London back to Hollins at the end of Spring Term.”

Then, Sharma and other students in London learned from International Programs that the U.S. policy had changed and that students who were not from the U.S. would not be allowed back into the country. Simultaneously, the UK announced it was going into lockdown within two days. “I had to book a flight immediately to Nepal. The trip is about 21 hours, and I would have to make a connecting flight along the way. What if the place where I’m in transit gets locked down and I can’t fly out from there? Fortunately, a fellow student from Nepal and I got the perfect flight out just before the UK lockdown began.”

Meredith Pierce Hunter '97 and Aditi Sharma '21, RBG Kew
Meredith Pierce Hunter ’97 (left) was instrumental in arranging Sharma’s internship with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London.

Sharma was relieved to touch down in Nepal, but deeply sorry to leave London and particularly her internship, which had been coordinated by Hollins alumna Meredith Pierce Hunter ’97. “I wanted to work in fundraising in the fine arts sector. Meredith was very involved in the whole process and all the people on the internship were extremely helpful. It broke my heart to leave without saying goodbye.” Fortunately, there would be good news for Sharma after she arrived back in Nepal: Hunter had worked with International Programs to ensure that Sharma could continue her international internship virtually. “I was so happy. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, a dream come true.”

London is six hours behind Nepal, but Sharma was able to successfully juggle taking two online classes while completing her internship. Typically, she would work on her internship between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. (Nepal time) and then attend classes remotely at night. “I was so grateful to continue the internship. I did so much work, there was no difficulty in communication, and they even threw me a virtual farewell party.”

Sharma remained in Nepal through the summer. When Hollins students were given the option for Fall Term 2020 to come back to campus or take classes remotely, she decided, “I wanted to experience my senior year in person.” As SGA treasurer this year, Sharma spearheaded one of her proudest accomplishments, a fund designed to help any on-campus resident who needed financial assistance to go home or live off-campus during Winter Break. “It worked out beautifully. My fellow roundtable members and the business office helped make sure the funds got into the students’ accounts. That’s why I did the fundraising internship in London, I wanted to see how I could use my financial knowledge to help others.”

Currently applying for jobs after graduation, Sharma is looking to build upon an already impressive resume that includes J-Term internships with Gilman Hill Asset Management, the International Spy Museum, and Omega Wealth Management. Ultimately, she plans to use that experience to earn acceptance to business school. As with her Royal Botanic Gardens internship, Sharma is grateful to the Hollins alumnae who curated those internships and continue to be very supportive. “Work experience is crucial to getting into business school because the finance and business fields place so much emphasis on learning and implementation. I’ve been reaching out to alumnae and they’ve been really helpful and responsive.”

When she first arrived in America, Sharma “had no idea I would be the person I am today. This is where I have had the most experiences, where I’ve been myself the most. I’ve been challenged, and I’ve challenged myself. It all happened here. It all happened at Hollins.”




Hollins Students and Faculty Reflect on Voting in the Historic 2020 Election

Though it’s uttered and written nearly every election cycle, the 2020 U.S. General Election truly might be the most significant in a lifetime. With roughly 100 million early votes already cast, polls opened this Election Day morning, Tuesday, November 3, as the last day to cast ballots. So far, early voting records have been shattered in various states (including here in Virginia), and the 2020 election is on track to have one of the highest voter turnouts ever.

Hollins students and faculty shared their experiences voting in what will no doubt go down as one of the most historic elections in U.S. history.

Angelica M. Ramos-Santa ’22, creative writing M.F.A.
I received my ballot in the mail from the Lehigh County office in Pennsylvania. At first, I was excited like, “This is awesome, my vote matters.” But then the reality of how important this election seriously is [set in]. So much is on the line, it truly feels do or die. I opened the ballot and voted. I was nervous about going to actual polls due to pre-existing health conditions. When I sealed the envelope, I felt hope and I hope our generation does the right thing [and] votes for everyone to have an equal chance.

Jessie van Eerden, associate professor, English/creative writing

I requested a ballot very early, online, for a mail-in ballot, in late September. I had never voted that way before and was surprised by the requirement of a witness, but I liked that aspect—having someone bear witness to my exercising of this right we can take for granted. I felt more keenly than usual that I was/am so deeply implicated in the fabric of my country and its institutions, even the institution of the postal service that carried my vote for me into the sea of others’ votes.

Matthew K. Burnside, visiting assistant professor, English/creative writing

I voted by mail extremely early on, along with my wife. We filled out the forms very carefully together, reading aloud instructions back and forth and nervously making sure we got everything perfect, since it feels like any excuse to not have our vote counted this time around could potentially result in invalidation. I’ve never had that fear before but it was palpable this year. My ballot was verified received over a month ago, so that’s heartening. Definitely a tense experience this time around, though! If I were doing it today, I wouldn’t mail it in—I’d deliver to the drop box or vote in person.

Jen Lazar ’21, creative writing M.F.A.

[Jen responded with a haiku of 3-5-3 syllables]

From afar
two envelopes sealed,
we got this

Isabella G. Narducci ’23

I voted in person. It was pretty easy, in and out in like ten minutes. I will say though I was caught a bit off guard by other things that were on the ballot besides the presidency, like for senate positions or on certain bills that I hadn’t heard of. But once I realized I didn’t have to vote on all positions I gave them my ballot and I was off. I voted in the primaries, but this was my first presidential election. I was excited mainly but still nervous because I was worried I’d fill it out wrong or something like that.

Jeff Dingler is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. He is pursuing his M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.