A Passion for Activism: Summer Allison ’23 Makes a Difference on Campus as an FLI Guide, Public Health Advocate

As a high school senior in Texas, Summer Allison ’23 produced a paper for her dual credit English course that would have an enormous effect on her future.

“I wrote about the benefits of women’s colleges and how they foster leadership in women,” she says. “Since that paper, I always wanted to come to a women’s college because I thought it would be the best option for myself, particularly because I’m first generation, low income. I thought that the best option for me would be having the ability to create leadership within myself. I also thought Virginia would be a nice change of pace from Texas, and maybe Hollins would be right up my alley.”

As fate would have it, Hollins was launching a new program called FLI, designed to serve first-generation, limited-income students. Allison was invited to be part of FLI’s first cohort during her first year.

“I think the attributes that attracted me to FLI was that I knew I wouldn’t have my mother to depend on here. Also, I grew up in a small town where you go to school with the same people you’ve always known. I wouldn’t have that here and there was no one for me to fall back on. I knew I had to establish relationships early on, and if there is one characteristic of myself where I wanted to belong, it’s definitely first generation and low income.”

FLI is led by sophomore, junior, and 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. Drawing upon their own first-hand experiences, the guides had a profound impact on Allison. “They relied on what they personally knew about campus to give us knowledge rather than something that was just cut-and-dried like, ‘This is what our training says to tell you.’ It was very insightful and really cool.”

For Allison, having those connections throughout her first year made a major difference in her adjustment to college life. “I knew I always had at least one person that I could ask questions without feeling like an idiot, feeling like I don’t belong, or feeling like I should already know that answer. That was big, being able to communicate with a person like me enough to understand my perspective and not make me feel as though I were an outsider.”

When Allison made the transition to FLI Guide her sophomore year, she was able to draw upon more than just her first-year Hollins experience to help new students. For a number of years, Allison has been supported by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which is devoted “to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need.” She applied to the organization’s Young Scholars Program when she became eligible at age 12, and subsequently was accepted into the Cooke Foundation College Scholarship Program, which will enable her to graduate from Hollins debt-free. (Read more about the Cooke Foundation’s impact on Allison.)

“I thought there were aspects of what I knew from being in the Cooke Foundation and working my way to be able to go to college in the first place that I could add to the FLI program,” she explains. “I never wanted my position to just be ‘guide.’ I genuinely wanted to be friends with the students. It’s about being nurturing as much as it is understanding what I have from training and being able to apply it.”

When FLI students first arrive on campus, Allison focuses significant effort on helping them make the switch from the high school to the college environment. “They don’t always understand that within the university, it’s actually a little town, a community. They don’t know the layout of the campus and they have no idea about the offices and services that are most beneficial to them. They don’t know how to look for those things, but I also don’t think they were given the skills necessary to even think to look for those things. The way that you depend on your parents when you’re not in college, transitioning to a college where you may be miles away from your parents is incredibly daunting.”

So, Allison gives her students a crash course in learning the Hollins campus, inside and out. “I tell them, ‘I’m going to take you to the library, the IT department, Health and Counseling Center, and Career Center. I’m going to show you where the business office, registrar, and financial aid are located.’ I’m always here to help, but this is what they are going to need in their own arsenal to navigate college life.”

Allison is double majoring in sociology and public health, and has helped establish a public health club at Hollins. “We want to provide practical knowledge such as how to have safe sex or how to apply for health insurance, especially if you’re from out of state and you might need something like Medicaid. We also want to inform students about policies that are being enacted, how those affect them directly, and why it’s in their best interest to vote for people who would create the most beneficial policies for us particularly as a student body.”

With the Cooke Foundation’s continued financial support, Allison plans to attend graduate school after Hollins and is considering careers in environmental law (“Climate change is having a big impact on public health.”) and public policy analysis.

Allison’s passion for activism, particularly on one’s own behalf, is something she seeks to instill in FLI students. “If you’re absolutely itching to go to college, you’ve got to take that into your own hands. You cannot wish, hope, or pray that someone else will do it for you. You have to represent yourself as a first-generation, low-income student who is worthy to go to college. Advocate for yourself. Find a network of people that is willing to help you realize that dream.”

Allison encourages other Hollins students to join FLI and argues the program should not be stigmatizing. “Changing the name ‘first generation, low income’ would be concealing our identity in a way that harms us more than it benefits us. I don’t think participating in a program that is meant to help you and only you in your particular circumstances is a bad thing. What we do is so integral to first-year students.”

In light of the fact that she had to overcome so many obstacles to attend Hollins, Allison says she chooses to view FLI “as a symbol of pride. I think other people should do the same.”

 

 

 


“My True Calling Is Helping People”: Hanna DeVarona ’21 Prepares for a Career in Public Health

As a veteran of 34 meets, including four Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) championship competitions, and co-holder of multiple relay event records, Hanna DeVarona ’21 of the Hollins University swim team is one of the school’s most accomplished student-athletes. She has placed in the top 16 in multiple events each year at the ODAC Championships, and this March the conference recognized her with one of its highest honors, the Bonnie Kestner Sportsmanship Award, which recognizes ODAC swimmers who “have demonstrated consistently good sportsmanship, ethical behavior, and unselfishness in his/her daily participation in intercollegiate athletics.”

Competing in a sport she loves convinced DeVarona that athletics would be her vocation. However, taking Associate Professor of Communication Studies Lori Joseph’s Health Communication course as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged during her junior year gave the business major a new perspective. After graduating from Hollins this spring, DeVarona will begin her Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in communication and marketing at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

“I had never considered public health before, and that class made me realize that in the past I had actually been afraid to learn about health myself. When I was able to study it, I was no longer afraid,” DeVarona explained. “I know there are people out there who are just as afraid as I was to learn about health, but I don’t want them to fear something that isn’t fearful.”

DeVarona’s aspiration of becoming a health communication specialist may be a departure from her previous, long-standing career goal, but she remains steadfastly committed to what she describes as “my true calling, which is helping people as much as I can. I enjoy it, and that’s the whole reason why I’m drawn to public health.”

For the Woodbridge, Virginia, native, “being a true student-athlete has been absolutely wonderful. When I was looking at Hollins what stood out to me was that I could find that balance. Hollins does such a great job of that. The coaches understand that you are a student before you are an athlete, and the professors are supportive and accommodating as well. I really give credit to my professors and my coaches as well as my teammates for being able to get things done throughout my four years here.”

DeVarona’s list of accomplishments is indeed impressive. In addition to majoring in business with a concentration in marketing, she is minoring in both communication studies and economics. She’s a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee; Omicron Delta Epsilon (the academic honor society in economics); and the Honor, Conduct, and Appeal Board. She’s been a lead admissions ambassador and an orientation team leader, and she’s pursuing a certificate in leadership from the Batten Leadership Institute. This year, she’s serving as the Hollins Student Government Association’s athletic chair and has been inducted into Chi Alpha Sigma, the student-athlete national honor society. For the 2019-20 academic year, she was awarded the Hollins Athletics Service Award, which honors the individual who has best shown the true character of Hollins in rendering service to the athletic department while demonstrating a high degree of leadership, initiative, and dedication.

DeVarona has also completed three internships during her undergraduate career, one each on campus with the university’s alumnae relations and athletic departments, and a virtual internship during this year’s January Short Term in global communications at The Estée Lauder Companies in New York City.

“Even though it was remote, I learned a lot,” she said. One of the highlights was attending virtually an international summit in Hong Kong, where she got a global outlook on dealing with reputation and issues management. During the month, she also participated in researching and drafting briefings for Leonard Lauder, chairman emeritus and former CEO of Estée Lauder, as he prepared for media interviews in conjunction with the release of his new book, The Company I Keep: My Life in Beauty.

“I got to meet a lot of great people, some of whom studied health communications in graduate school and offered to help me with making connections in the D.C. area if I chose to pursue that career path,” she added.

On a personal level, DeVarona says she has benefited from the camaraderie she’s enjoyed as a member of the swim team. “We’re all equals, we’re all here to swim with each other, and our goal has been to have as much fun with each other as possible.” Those bonds have become even stronger during the pandemic. “This year our team has definitely grown more into a family. That’s something that I want to take along with me in the future. Even when we went home during Winter Break, we all got together regularly on Zoom calls and even played games online. Among Us (an online multiplayer social deduction game) was the most popular.”

At GW, DeVarona is hoping to continue swimming competitively. The university has a club team, but “there’s a chance I could compete with their varsity team since I still have eligibility.”

When DeVarona was recruited to swim at Hollins, “the moment I first stepped on campus, it felt like home. When I heard about the connections you make with the professors and alumnae, that put everything in place for me. I don’t think I’d be where I am, or who I am, today if I went somewhere else. I’m just really thankful to Hollins for giving me so many opportunities and helping me pursue things I’m so passionate about.”

 


From HOP to the Firehouse: Maria Vest ’21 Uses Her Outdoor Skills and Training to Become a Fire Department Volunteer

The spirit of community outreach at Hollins manifests itself in so many ways.

Some of the examples include Students Helping Achieve Rewarding Experiences (SHARE), which recruits and places student volunteers with a variety of community agencies and organizations; Sandusky Service House, a campus residence hall where students are required to perform at least ten hours of volunteer work each month and promote service activities on campus and in the community; and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which seeks to serve the Hollins and surrounding community through volunteerism and leadership presence.

The Hollins commitment to helping others added a new chapter last month when Maria Vest ’21 became a volunteer at the fire department in the nearby town of Troutville in Botetourt County.

“I spend my free time at the firehouse,” the biology major and chemistry minor from southern Maryland explained.

Wilderness Orientation Program 2018
Canoeing during the Wilderness Orientation Program, 2018. “One of the best and most fun trips I’ve lead with HOP,” said Vest.

Vest’s interest in becoming a first responder stemmed from her involvement with the Hollins Outdoor Program (HOP). It began her first year when she took part in HOP’s Wilderness Orientation Program, a five-day excursion that blends instruction in outdoor living skills with activities such as canoeing and a high ropes course. In subsequent years, Vest has led the Wilderness Orientation Program as well as other HOP trips, and ultimately she became interested in completing her Outdoor Leadership Certificate. Part of the qualification for the certificate is earning the Wilderness First Responder designation, which provides the tools to make critical medical and evacuation decisions in remote locations. This January, Vest and her roommates traveled to Brevard, North Carolina, to complete the nine-day, 80-hour course.

After the intense training, Vest was eager “to do rescue/EMT kinds of things. But here in Roanoke, the vast majority of those positions are paid. I wasn’t qualified to compete with people who get paid to do that kind of work.”

Troutville Vol. Fire Department
The Troutville Volunteer Fire Department is the busiest fire department in Botetourt County. (Photo credit: TVFD)

HOP Director Jon Guy Owens was driving home one day when he saw a billboard advertising that the Troutville Volunteer Fire Department was looking for volunteers. Vest had suddenly found “the next best thing. I applied on their website, and after an interview I joined the department. I had to go through a training process as well as a background check. Then, I learned all there is about the different trucks, equipment, and procedures.”

Vest coordinates her service as a fire department volunteer around her academic responsibilities at Hollins. “I have a couple of late days of classes, but on my lighter days I’m usually finished around 1 p.m. I’ll go to the fire station for anywhere from two to eight hours. If things are quiet, I’ll sit and do homework. But if the bell rings, I’ll throw on my gear and hop on the truck.”

Vest is not technically a firefighter yet, but she’s hoping to take classes to earn that certification this May. Nevertheless, in the meantime she will play a vital role should anything happen. “I will be working outside with everything from helping access fire hydrants to giving the firefighters the tools they need. I had to learn every single tool that is on every truck, where it’s located and how it works. My focus will be on how I can be helpful and doing whatever they tell me.”

The Troutville Volunteer Fire Department may be located in a very small town (the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the population at less than 430 people), but that doesn’t diminish its importance and skillset as first responders. Because of the department’s proximity to Interstate 81, “they get called into a lot of vehicle accidents to help ensure traffic safety or even to extract people from cars and trucks. They have giant saws to cut guardrails and hydraulic tools to remove metal from vehicles or open doors,” Vest said. “They also monitor a section of the Appalachian Trail and help rescue people who have hiked too far out or were underprepared. That’s more of what I am trained to do with the Wilderness First Responder certificate, how to react and provide the best care possible when you’re in a situation with limited resources. They even rescue large animals – if a cow or a horse gets stuck in a ditch, it’s the fire department that gets them out.”

Vest has tremendous respect for her fellow fire department volunteers. “The people who do this, they’re really good people and they care. There are many interesting things you don’t ever think about where they help the community.”

Kayla Deur '16 & Maria Vest '21
Leading the GEMS Camp at Mountain Shepherd in 2018, Kayla Deur ’16 (left) and Vest wore onesies to add some fun to a caving activity (Deur is Stitch and Vest is a cat).

She feels the same admiration for the colleagues she’s established through HOP, beginning with Owens. “Jon Guy has been a great advisor and mentor over the past four years. He is such a huge asset in what makes HOP, HOP. He’s so involved and really cares about his students, and his enthusiasm plays a big part in making HOP so much fun.” Working closely with Owens her sophomore year was part of her motivation for saving Outdoor Athletics, Hollins’ club for whitewater racing and rock climbing. The club began floundering when all its officers were studying abroad, so Vest jumped into the leadership void. Starting with just four members, she helped make Outdoor Athletics vibrant again, and continues as club president today. “We worked so hard to spread the awareness of it,” she recalled.

Vest also praises Dina Bennett, owner of Mountain Shepherd Adventure School in Catawba, Virginia, where Vest took a J-Term course her sophomore year called Survival in the Modern World. Bennett subsequently offered her a summer job with Mountain Shepherd’s GEMS (Girls Empowered by Mountain Shepherd) program. “I taught middle school girls how to grow with courage, confidence, and compassion. We have all different levels, and each year they get to come back to have another experience. We did everything from basic survival training to hiking on the Appalachian Trail, caving, rock climbing, and canoeing on the New River.”

Maria Vest '21 Rock Climbing
Vest (right) and roommates Claire Hintz ’21 (left) and Grace Davis ’21 (center) practice their rock climbing skills on a weekend trip to West Virginia.

In addition to the connections she’s made with Owens and Bennett, Vest is grateful for the friendships she’s formed through HOP. “They became the people that were really most influential in my Hollins experience and cared about me the most.” When Vest had to take a year off from school due to illness, “all my friends that I made through HOP reached out to me. Dina and Jon Guy, they were huge in that part of my life.”

Vest had originally planned to pursue a pre-vet track at Hollins, but dealing with her health challenges and “getting involved in that world made me think about medical for people. So, I’m applying for graduate programs in biochemical and molecular medical biology.” This summer, she hopes to engage in lab work through a partnership between Hollins and Virginia Tech that enables Hollins students to take part in VT’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program. It’s a demanding educational and career path, but Vest is confident that the influence of her HOP experience will continue to provide balance in her life.

“Being involved with HOP has made me focus on the things that truly make me happy. I am good at science and I enjoy it, but it’s definitely a lot more fun to be out hiking than organizing molecular structures.”

 

Top photo: Maria Vest ’21 (left) and HOP Director Jon Guy Owens canoeing on the New River during a HOP Fall Break camping trip in 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 


“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.”

 

 

 


Te’ya Mitchell ’21 Earns Urban Teachers Fellowship, Will Uphold Their Mission to “Teach for a Just Future”

Throughout her time as a Hollins undergraduate, Te’ya Mitchell ’21 has been guided by a passion for transformative change. She launches a new chapter in that commitment this July when she embarks on a four-year fellowship with Urban Teachers, an inclusive organization whose mission is preparing educators to improve the lives of children in urban schools. Over the past ten years, Urban Teachers has brought more than 1,500 aspiring, culturally competent teachers to three of the nation’s cities with the highest need: Baltimore, Dallas, and Washington, D.C.

“You get to work closely with a teacher as well as a whole team of mentors that follows you throughout your four years with the program,” Mitchell, who will teach in D.C., explains. “The goal is not only to help you become a good teacher in the classroom, but also become invested in students’ lives outside the classroom.”

The senior from Little Rock, Arkansas, began her Hollins journey considering three possible majors, ultimately deciding that gender and women’s studies would be the best route to realizing her goal of addressing institutions that disadvantage marginalized people (she is also minoring in English and social justice). “What stands out about gender and women’s studies is it concerns itself with your perspectives, your lived experiences, where you come from, and how all of that shapes your view of the world. The skills I learned in this major – research skills, conversation skills, critical thinking skills – are skills I’ll be able to take with me for the rest of my life. Also, I wanted to study racism and classism and the gender and women’s studies program focuses on these issues.”

“Te’ya is a brilliant and tenacious advocate for educational equity and opportunity,” says Assistant Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies Courtney Chenette. For an assignment in Chenette’s Gender and the Law course last year, Mitchell researched and proposed a future application of the law and theory introduced in the class. “Te’ya wrote of her aspiration to apply to Urban Teachers, noting that ‘education is about people…and they acknowledge that structural racism and inequality have kept generations of urban children from receiving the education they deserve.’”

Mitchell admires Urban Teachers for its willingness to challenge those power structures and its acknowledgment that racism and classism have an impact on education. “Urban Teachers is going into schools and instead of just fitting into the existing system, they are looking at the ways that system can be changed to make it more sustainable and a really empowering place for students. When there’s a teacher who is an authority figure and a student at the bottom, you are just telling stuff to them. Education should be about building connections with students based on their backgrounds, their culture, and their home life, and teach them that way rather than from a perspective of, ‘I’m so far removed from you that we can’t communicate.’”

One example of Urban Teachers’ tangible success in making a difference that Mitchell cites is their efforts to further initiatives that have been put into place over the past five to ten years “to deal with conflict in the classroom in ways that make sure students have methods to calm themselves rather than punishing them with suspensions.”

Mitchell believes there is an even greater sense of urgency to meet students’ needs in light of the impact of  COVID-19. “Even before the pandemic, there was a huge gap in technology. Now, with online learning, a lot of students just don’t have access to computers or the computers they have are broken. The pandemic has definitely created a barrier between class space and home space, and there’s a race gap and a wealth gap involved with that. Since we don’t know at what point we will go back to in-person learning, how do we help students who have things going on at home? How do we work with them instead of punishing them for not having the perfect home space or being the perfect student? They need to be seen as people and not as bad students.”

Urban Teachers is highly selective and acceptance involves a rigorous application procedure that requires essay writing, personal recommendations, and a lengthy interview process that includes an all-day session with teaching, group exercises, and individual interviews. Not only are prospective fellows seeking to work with the organization itself, they are also applying simultaneously to the master’s program in education at Johns Hopkins University. Fellows complete their master’s degrees during their first two years with Urban Teachers.

“I’m very excited about that,” Mitchell says, noting that she will pursue certificates in special education and in teaching English as a second language at JHU. After finishing her fellowship with Urban Teachers, she says her next stop will be law school to prepare for a career in either education law or family and children’s law.

Mitchell sees tremendous potential for how her studies at Hollins will intersect with the goals of Urban Teachers. “I think there are lot of overlaps between Urban Teachers and the gender and women’s studies program,” she explains. “Communication and a lot of other skills I have learned are directly transferable – they don’t have to be translated to fit into education because they are a natural part of education. At the same time, having a better understanding of power and privilege in this country will make me a better teacher and advocate for my students.”

 

 

 

 


Record Number of Hollins Students Earn Honors at Appalachia Regional Model Arab League

Eight members of Hollins’ Model Arab League delegation won awards at the Appalachia Regional Model Arab League (ARMAL), held November 13-15.

The number of Hollins students recognized this year is a record for the university.

Model Arab League (MAL) is a project of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations (NCUSAR), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., that seeks to foster greater understanding of the Arabic-speaking world by U.S. students. NCUSAR also sponsors internships, study trips to the region, international conferences, and networking opportunities, and the organization’s student programs coordinator is a Hollins alumna: Katie Grandelli ’20. Hollins has taken part in MAL conferences since 2015. (The university has also participated in Model United Nations [MUN] conferences since 2000.) John P. Wheeler Professor of Political Science Edward Lynch teaches the MUN/MAL class and advises the MUN/MAL Club.

ARMAL, normally held on the Hollins campus, was conducted virtually this year. For the first time, the conference included a simulation of the Arab Court of Justice (ACJ), and Hollins is the first host of a regional MAL conference to have an ACJ; students who participated were assisted by Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette, a practicing attorney.

Hollins students earning honors at ARMAL this year include:

  • Lillian Albrecht ’24, who won two awards for her work on the ACJ: Outstanding Justice and Outstanding Advocate.
  • Salima Driss ’23, Jaiya McMillan ’23, and Susanna Helms ’24, who were recognized with Outstanding Advocate awards.
  • Acadia Czeizinger ’22, Mollie Davis ’22, Maggie McCroby ’22, and Bianca Vallebrignoni ’23, who received Distinguished Chair awards for leading various conference councils.

In addition, Carly Jo Collins ’21 and Delia O’Grady ’22 served as ARMAL’s Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General, respectively.

 

 

 

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Carly Lewis Photography


Hollins Alumna Recalls First Job With Rep. John Lewis

As we remember Congressman John Lewis and his incredible life devoted to social justice and equality, Mary Kate Vick Fuller ’88 remembers the civil rights icon as her first boss and the unforgettable lessons he taught her.

I worked for Mr. Lewis for my first job out of Hollins in Washington, D.C. I had completed a short-term internship with Sen. Sam Nunn in January 1988. After graduation in May 1988, there was an opening in John Lewis’ office. I knew I wanted to work on Capitol Hill and didn’t care if it was for a Republican or Democrat. I just wanted to stay with Georgia representation, since I was born and raised in Rome.

Mr. Lewis was a great boss and always took the time to teach me about the Civil Rights Movement and how he led the Selma march with Martin Luther King. He was very humble and quiet, but when the words flowed, it was amazing. He considered himself a minister and talked to me about how we were all in “one house,” as he called it, under God. He was passionate about teaching young people the history of [race in] our country and how he wanted to make changes so our children’s children would live in a great country.

He had a wall of photos in his office and loved telling me about his 40-plus arrests. He would point to each photo and tell the story. The one I really remember is of him getting beaten and pushed into a car. I can still see the photo. What courage he had. It was just incredible.

I was in charge of all the tours, opening mail, and dispersing it to legislation [department for the office]. He hated it when constituents came to his office and wanted to tour the Capitol, but the tours were already booked. I asked him if I could memorize the guided tour and give tours myself. He agreed, and we never had to turn people away. I had really turned my receptionist’s job into something more, and he appreciated it.

When there were dinners in D.C. and he was in Atlanta, he often chose me to represent him. He said, “I like how you shake hands and look people in the eye.” I loved representing him to constituents.

I read an article about him the other week where he talked about looking people in the eye when you shook their hand. I remembered having a conversation about that with Mr. Lewis. He listened intently to people and talked about how important it was to hear what people have to say. My dad always said that you treat the president of the company and the janitor the same, and that was the kind of man Mr. Lewis was.

I was also in charge of answering the phones for the office. When the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 was being voted on – [the law prohibits manufacturing, importing, selling, etc. firearms undetectable to metal detectors] – the phones were ringing off the hook. That same day, Barbara Bush had invited all the secretaries on the House of Representatives’ side to the White House for tea and cookies and to see her dog Millie’s puppies.

When Mr. Lewis came from the floor from voting, he asked me why I wasn’t at the White House meeting Barbara Bush. I said the office was too busy to leave and that I had stayed to answer all the calls. He replied, “Mary Kate, this is a chance of a lifetime, and I don’t want you to miss it. Forward your phone to my office, and I will personally answer your calls myself while you are gone. I hugged him and ran out the door to the White House. He was right. It was the chance of a lifetime.

At that time, I knew Mr. Lewis was important and had shaped our country, but I really didn’t know how big his role was until later. When I was an elementary school teacher in Rome years later, I taught my students about him.

Rest in peace, Mr. Lewis, and thank you for all you taught me.

Mary Kate Vick Fuller ’88 lives in Rome, Ga.


Through Presidential Associate Program, Senior Aspires to Become One of The Estée Lauder Companies’ Future Leaders

Monica Osborne ’20 has always loved makeup and the beauty industry. So, when she toured Hollins during high school and learned the university offered a signature internship with The Estée Lauder Companies, one of the world’s leading manufacturers and marketers of skin care, makeup, fragrance, and hair care products, “I knew where I was going to college,” she says.

This summer, Osborne is heading to New York City to join The Estée Lauder Companies’ Presidential Associate Program. As part of the organization’s Global Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability department, she will spend the next 18 months engaged in customized professional rotations while receiving continuous leadership development, coaching, mentoring, and hands-on practical experience. “The goal of the program,” she explains, “is to help attract, retain, and develop the best future leaders of the company.”

The senior from Independence, Virginia, was selected for the program after an application process that included three rounds of interviews. She plans to use her time as a Presidential Associate to grow her knowledge of the company and determine which facet of the business she likes best to inform any possible graduate school plans.

Osborne set the stage for this opportunity in September of her junior year when she was awarded The Estée Lauder Companies’ signature internship that captured her attention as a prospective Hollins student. “My love for the company began on my first day when I met several strong, intelligent, career-driven women. I simply knew it was where I wanted to work because of their culture of supporting women.”

She adds, “I firmly believe that I was chosen for the internship due to everything I learned at Hollins.” A communication studies major with a minor in French (“I learned a brand new language and studied abroad in Paris.”), Osborne also boasts a certificate in leadership from the Batten Leadership Institute and completed seven different internships over the course of her four years at Hollins through the university’s Career Center.

“As a first-generation college student, Hollins truly allowed me to grow at my own pace and step out of my comfort zone. I learned how to advocate for myself and embrace adventure in all forms. The bonds I built with my other classmates and peers meant that I could learn and grow in a fun and supportive environment. I loved every moment.”

Osborne notes that she has been inspired throughout her undergraduate career by “the amazing number of alumnae/i who have done and are doing such impressive work in the world. I am also thankful for the professors, staff members, and everyone in-between who have had such an impact on students’ experiences like mine. The Hollins community is like none other and I am so proud to be a part of it.”

 

Photo Credit: Michael Falco


Rutherfoord Center for Experiential Learning Guarantees Access to a World of Possibilities

Hollins University is pleased to announce the creation of the Rutherfoord Center for Experiential Learning, which ensures undergraduates beginning in their first year can benefit more than ever from dynamic, real-world experiences beyond the classroom.

“The establishment of the Rutherfoord Center enables Hollins to build upon its strong foundation of experiential learning programs,” said Interim President Nancy Gray. “Bringing these programs together in a new way allows for more collaboration and interaction while at the same time expanding opportunities for students.”

Made possible by the generosity of Jean Hall Rutherfoord, Hollins class of 1974, and her husband, Thomas D. Rutherfoord Jr. (pictured), the Rutherfoord Center encompasses study abroad at an array of destinations around the world; domestic and international internships; initiatives that promote innovation and engagement while connecting academic work with practical application; leadership practice; and undergraduate research projects conducted in close partnership with Hollins faculty.

“Through the Rutherfoord Center, students can develop a global perspective and build their creative thinking and problem-solving skills in a tangible way,” Gray said. “They acquire the experience necessary to thrive in both professional and educational settings after earning their undergraduate degrees.”

The Rutherfoord Center guarantees every student can pursue each of these programs throughout all of their four years at Hollins. At the same time, they gain mentorship; receive expert help in identifying leadership, study abroad, research, and career options; and explore prospects for financial assistance.

Gray emphasized that the power of experiential learning cannot be overestimated. “Experiential learning transforms personal and social development. It enhances resiliency, tenacity, curiosity, and self-reflection. It’s an immersive process by which students gain knowledge and skills by observing, inferring, and most of all, doing.”

To learn more, visit  https://www.hollins.edu/rutherfoordcenter.