Student/Faculty Research Team Applauded at Academic Conference

When she learned that as a rising sophomore she was one of just 12 students selected for Hollins’ Summer Fellowship program this year, Kayla Richardson ’24 was both excited and grateful. “The fellowship would represent my first big research project,” she explained. “I was really flattered that I was chosen, especially since I felt like I didn’t have as much experience as other students.”

Working with Professor of Political Science Edward Lynch, Richardson spent the summer immersed in researching Catholic social thought and free market theory. Their study resulted in a paper that the two presented this fall at the annual conference of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists (SCSS), which this year was held at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.

Richardson is a sociology major who anticipates declaring political science as her second major soon. She said the paper topic “was Dr. Lynch’s idea. He approached me about it, and I thought, ‘Oh wow, this is pretty cool.’”

Ed Lynch and Kayla Richardson
Prof. of Political Science Edward Lynch and Kayla Richardson ’24 present to the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.

Throughout the summer, Lynch searched for relevant materials, which Richardson then read and summarized. The notes they compiled became the basis for the paper they co-authored starting in August.

About midway through their research, Richardson was invited to deliver a virtual presentation at a conference at Virginia Tech on their findings. The experience was valuable preparation for the SCSS conference.

“This was the first conference I’d done in person,” she said. “I was very nervous, but it went pretty well.”

“The praise was universal,” said Lynch. “One participant, who runs a theology program at Franciscan University, said it was the best presentation she had ever heard. She asked Kayla and me if we’d be willing to reprise our presentation for her students.”

Lynch added that other conference attendees complimented Hollins for providing collaborative opportunities for faculty and undergraduate students.

“One participant was convinced, from the quality of her presentation and her knowledge, that Kayla was a grad student and was shocked to learn she’s a sophomore undergrad. The experience confirms something I’ve said many times: when Hollins students bring their ‘A Game,’ they stun the world. We have a high degree of faith in our students’ abilities, and based on what I’ve heard from my counterparts, the intellectual bonds formed between faculty and students at Hollins are almost unique in higher education.”

Richardson is now exploring various internship opportunities. “I’m trying to figure out if I’m interested in pre-law so I’ll be venturing into that area a little more. I’m just open to any opportunity that presents itself to me,” including further research. Whether she ultimately winds up at law school or grad school, she believes her summer fellowship will help her both short-term and long-term.

“I’m really happy I did it. Not only did I get to have a good experience academically, but I got to meet some really incredible people as well. Others should take part in the program if they ever get the chance.”

 

 


Aysia Brenner ’21 Sets Her Sights on Becoming a History Professor After Teaching Next Year in France

In the late winter of 2020, Aysia Brenner ’21 was among the undergraduates from Hollins and other colleges and universities across the nation enjoying what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: spending a semester studying abroad. As a second-semester junior, Brenner arrived in Paris in early February and lived and studied in France until mid-March, when she and other students abroad were suddenly told they would have to return to the U.S. due the spread of COVID-19.

Thirteen months later, Brenner is able to look at the bright side of an abroad experience that was all too short. “I still had a month and a half in Paris. It would really have been a bummer if I had got there and then a week later had to go home.”

Fortunately, Brenner is getting the chance this fall to go back to France and in many respects finish what she started last year. Beginning in October, she will spend seven months with the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF), a program of France Éducation international. Recruiting and promotion of TAPIF is managed by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States, and participants receive a monthly stipend that covers most living expenses.

“They usually get about 2,000 applicants for roughly 1,500 American English language teaching assistant positions, which are located in elementary and secondary schools throughout the country,” Brenner explained. While she’s still waiting on confirmation on the specific town or towns where she’ll be teaching, she does know the school district: the Academy of Versailles (L’académie de Versailles) near Paris, part of the Île-de-France academic region. “I’ll be working at the primary school level, which I’m excited about. I could be helping out at one or more schools.”

Brenner’s work and life in France will be aided considerably by the fact that she is conversationally fluent in the French language. “I’ve had about two and a half years of formal instruction here at Hollins, and interacting with my host family while I was abroad last year did so much to improve my fluency.”

Before going to Paris, Brenner, a history major and art history minor, was already intrigued by the possibility of engaging in an international program after earning her degree, thanks to Assistant Professor of History Christopher Florio. “He was constantly sharing with me different opportunities that I could pursue after graduation, from the Fulbright Program to teaching fellowships. I’m really grateful he did that for me.” Brenner ultimately decided that she might want to have some kind of abroad experience before she stared applying to grad school. “Once I got home early from Paris and was getting closer to my senior year, I started looking at various options more closely with Professor Florio. That’s when I discovered the specifics of the TAPIF program and I applied last October.”

Florio’s guidance is one example of the “really great support” Brenner noted she has received throughout her undergraduate career from the history department faculty. “[Associate Professor of History] Rachel Nuñez is my advisor and the professor I’ve known the longest since I’ve been at Hollins. I knew I was going to study history when I enrolled here, but taking her first-year seminar confirmed to me it was the right choice.” Brenner was particularly drawn to 18th century American history as her field of study, but she said Nuñez’s frequent focus on European and world history broadened her interests. “Her classes fascinated me and helped me connect what I knew about U.S. history to more of an Atlantic world history.”

Brenner is devoting her senior thesis to exploring late 18th century constructions and understandings of patriotism and national identity, and she said Associate Professor of History Peter Coogan “has been a really great help with editing the different chapters and helping me make the broader connections between each individual chapters.” She will showcase one of those chapters at the Student Performance and Academic Research Conference (SPARC) on May 8, an opportunity for all Hollins undergraduate students to present academic research or creative work to the larger campus community that has been completed under the guidance of a faculty or staff member.

Brenner will present the second chapter of her thesis, “‘And can I then but pray/Others may never feel tyrannic sway?’: Patriotism and National Identity in the Writing of Phillis Wheatley.” The 18th century poet was the first African American and first enslaved person in the American colonies to publish a book of poems. “Wheatley broadly challenged mainstream life and constructions of patriotism and national identity that worked to keep out African Americans,” Brenner explained. “A lot of my work has been exploring how she appropriated the rhetoric that many of the white founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson were using to exclude them from the national body. She worked to turn that rhetoric on its head and argue not only for her and other free and enslaved African Americans’ inclusion in the nation, but also for the abolition of slavery.”

In researching his writings, Brenner found that Jefferson echoed the common belief in colonial America that patriotism was the sole provenance of white men. “In writing and publishing her poetry, Wheatley served as a counterargument to that idea. She reclaimed the humanity denied to her and other African Americans, and forcibly brought the contradictions and tyranny of slavery to the attention of a white public who would have preferred to keep them buried under their own purely rhetorical use of slavery. Because she had been enslaved, she didn’t want anyone else to experience oppression.”

“Among the foremost strengths of Aysia’s thesis is her approach to writing intellectual history,” said Florio. “She embeds her study of some of the biggest historiographical subjects – patriotism, national identity – in people and place; hers is an analysis of ideas grounded in lived experience and the energy of the times in which the ideas emerged. Her thesis is expansive in its scope, attentive to both ideas and experiences, and written with a broad and sophisticated understanding of the transatlantic ages of revolutions. This is an exceptionally ambitious and successful thesis.”

Each year, Hollins recognizes students for high academic achievement during its Honors Convocation. This spring, Brenner received the Mary Williamson Award, which is presented for the best study submitted in the field of humanities. She was also just inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.

“Aysia is quite simply one of the brightest students Chris Florio and I have ever encountered,” said Nuñez.

When she returns from France next spring, Brenner plans to begin her graduate school search in earnest. “My ultimate goal is to earn my Ph.D. Obviously, I’m interested doing my own research, but teaching history students is what I’ve wanted to do in some form for a long time. I want to be a college professor. And, I want to teach at a small liberal arts college like Hollins because I had such a great experience in the Hollins environment.”

 

 

 


With a Passion for Academia and Social Justice Advocacy, Emily Lauletta ’22 “Invigorates the Feminist Community Through Her Research”

Emily Lauletta ’22 was recently awarded the opportunity to showcase two of her research projects at a prestigious academic conference.

The Southeastern Women’s Studies Association, a feminist organization that actively supports and promotes all aspects of women’s studies at every level of involvement, invited Lauletta to present “‘Radical Feminist Nuns’: Spiritual Activism, Catholicism, and the Power of (Sister)hood” and “Women and Femininity in the Modern Superhero Film” at their 2021 conference, which was held virtually this year. Both projects began as research papers in Hollins classes taught by Professor of Anthropology and Gender & Women’s Studies LeeRay Costa and Associate Professor of Communication Studies Lori Joseph.

As a gender and women’s studies major and social justice minor, Lauletta noted that her studies at Hollins motivate her research. She added that her courses inspire what she describes as her “passion for equity and liberation, and to pursue feminist research through an intersectional lens.” Last year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to interview Sister Emily TeKolsie of the social justice organization NETWORK to augment her study of religious leaders and spiritual activism.

Over nearly two years, Lauletta has practiced her love of academia and social justice advocacy as an intern with the League of Women Voters of Hudson, Ohio. “I learned that fostering community and bearing witness to the experiences of others is key to both feminist research and social justice work,” she said of her experience.

“From campus organizing and her partnership with the League of Women Voters to presenting at regional conferences in her field, Emily invigorates the feminist community through her research,” said Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette.

Lauletta will also present “‘Radical Feminist Nuns’: Spiritual Activism, Catholicism, and the Power of (Sister)hood” at Hollins’ Student Performance and Academic Research Conference (SPARC) on May 8. She looks forward to continuing her research in the future.

 

 


Wyndham Robertson Library Announces 2021 Undergraduate Research Awards

For the tenth consecutive year, Wyndham Robertson Library has recognized exemplary student projects completed in Hollins courses with the presentation of the 2021 Undergraduate Research Awards.

The awards were established in 2011 to honor research projects that showcase extensive and creative use of the library’s resources; the ability to synthesize those resources in completing each project; and growth in the student’s research skills. All current Hollins undergraduate students are eligible and two awards are given: one for a first-year/sophomore and the second for a junior/senior. Winners receive a $250 cash prize and publication/archiving of their work on the Hollins Digital Commons.

The winners and finalists for the 2021 Undergraduate Research Awards include:

First-Year/Sophomore

Winner: “Interpretresses: Native American Women Translators in Colonial America” by Faith Clarkson, recommended by Assistant Professor of History Christopher Florio

Finalist: “The Impact of Patriarchy on Stud Lesbians” by Meilin Miller, recommended by Professor of Anthropology and Gender & Women’s Studies LeeRay Costa

Junior/Senior

Winner: “The Creature in The Looking Glass: Miltonic Marriage and The Female Self in Breaking Dawn”  by Jay Wright, recommended by Professor of English & Creative Writing Julie Pfeiffer

Finalist: “The Relationship Between Parasocial Relationships and Chronic Ostracism Among Differing Belongingness Needs” by Kaitlin Mitchell, recommended by Professor of Psychology Bonnie Bowers


With Microbiome Study, Geneva Waynick ’21 Prepares to Launch a Career in Biological Research

The microbiome is one of humanity’s unsung heroes. A community of microorganisms that includes trillions of bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses may not necessarily sound like a good thing, but as the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health notes, “In a healthy person, these ‘bugs’ coexist peacefully, with the largest numbers found in the small and large intestines but also throughout the body. The microbiome is even labeled a supporting organ because it plays so many key roles in promoting the smooth daily operations of the body.”

“It’s extremely important for human health and nobody realizes it,” explained Geneva Waynick ’21, who first became intrigued by the microbiome early in her undergraduate career. Since then, the biology major/chemistry minor has immersed herself in studying the factors that influence the composition of the human oral microbiome.

When considering college, Waynick recalled, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do.” But of all the schools she visited as a prospective student, “Hollins was definitely the most fitting for my personality. I enjoyed the fact that it was small and you matter more here as a student than at big colleges. You could make connections with your professors.”

“Lasers, Nanoparticles, and Molecular Medicine,” a first-year seminar taught by Associate Professor of Biology Rebecca Beach and Assistant Professor of Physics Brian Gentry, convinced Waynick that science was her calling. “In high school I had only taken the most basic level of science to graduate and had never been exposed to that kind of science before. I loved it so much that I decided to become a bio major.”

By the end of her sophomore year, as she got more and more involved with science at Hollins, Waynick realized that above all, “I loved the lab aspect of my classes. I talked to my professors and they suggested I start my own research project.” Assistant Professor of Biology Mary Jane Carmichael, “one of my favorite teachers,” agreed to help Waynick, “and at the start of my junior year I started working on getting together a fully formed research project on the oral microbiome.”

Geneva Waynick Atlanta Botanical Garden
Geneva Waynick ’21 interned at the Atlanta Botanical Garden during the January 2020 Short Term, studying orchid seeds. “It solidified that I love doing research.”

Waynick and Carmichael spent the entire 2019-20 academic year carefully creating the project that was intended to be Waynick’s honors thesis, the capstone of completing her biology degree. Another of the year’s highlights was interning during January Short Term at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. “That was the first internship I’d ever done and it was so amazing, one of my favorite experiences at Hollins. I worked in the conservation lab down there, looking at the viability of orchid seeds stored in a seed bank. It solidified that I love doing research.”

At the outset of the spring term, Waynick looked forward to serving as a summer research fellow at Hollins between her junior and senior years. As a crucial part of her microbiome research, she would be identifying and quantifying the bacteria that are naturally present in human saliva samples and answering questions based on that data. The COVID-19 pandemic however would have a profound and unfortunate impact on that plan: Safety concerns surrounding the virus prevented the use of human biological matter in her research, meaning Waynick had to go back to drawing board and “shift the method by which I approached those questions.”

Rather than be discouraged, Waynick recognized an opportunity. “I was somewhat disappointed when I had to start over, but I was not going to give up. I was going to get something out of this. I didn’t know what I was going to do next until I started reading papers and I stumbled upon this subsection on infant health. I was drawn in by the complexity of the factors that influence the acquisition of the oral microbiome through infancy. In addition, there was a plethora of unanswered questions on the subject that interested me, including how different brands and types of commercially available infant formulas affect the composition of the oral microbiome.”

Waynick realized that infant research in this subject was conducive to using culture-dependent methods. “The difference between working with collected samples and a culture-dependent model is kind of comparable to the difference between ‘in vivo’ and ‘in vitro’ methods,” she explained, noting that “in vivo” refers to processes occurring within a living organism (i.e., in nature) and “in vitro” refers to processes occurring within a controlled environment (i.e., a test tube). “With culture-depended lab work, we purchased the species of bacteria that were pertinent to my research and cultured them in the lab under experimental conditions. I could grow the bacteria that I selected to represent commensal (beneficial) and pathogenic (detrimental) colonizers or the oral microbiome directly in the different infant formulas and measure how well each species grew. My final project ended up looking at how probiotic and non-probiotic infant formulas affected the growth of a commensal species and a pathogenic species.”

Waynick believes changing her project was “actually kind of a good thing, I ended up learning a lot of things I never would have learned otherwise.” Still, revamping her honors thesis was “a long and challenging process,” and she praises Carmichael for her unwavering support. “I deeply appreciate how much she has helped me throughout my evolution as a student and as a researcher. During the summer fellowship, we were in contact multiple times a week. Even though it was all on Zoom, she really helped me make sure I could still get a project completed, and when we finally decided on the infant oral microbiome project, it was a ‘hallelujah’ moment.” Over the summer, Waynick and Carmichael performed substantial literature review and then finalized the project’s introduction and proposed research methods so that they could “hit the ground running in the fall.”

Waynick presented the preliminary results of her work, “The Influence of Infant Formulas on the Growth of Commensal and Pathogenic Streptococcus Species in the Infant Oral Cavity,” in early April at Hollins’ 63rd Annual Science Seminar. “The results of this study may assist mothers in selecting alternatives to breastfeeding that will support the proper development of the infant oral microbiome by favoring the growth of commensal bacteria,” she reported. Waynick will deliver the final results of her honors thesis in May. “There are so many questions to ask about the microbiome,” she stated. “I really enjoy learning about it.”

Waynick credits having had a work-study position within the biology department during her undergraduate career as being “the most important factor in helping me build a close relationship with both the department and with science as a discipline.” In addition to her professors, she cites Biology Lab Technician Cheryl Taylor for helping her grow her research capabilities. “I have worked for Cheryl since my first year at Hollins and having that stable connection with the department has kept me really engaged. In addition to my constant exposure to all things biology, I have learned so many valuable skills from Cheryl. I believe I am ahead of the curve because I have been exposed to so many different lab techniques.”

After graduating from Hollins, Waynick plans to bolster her experience for graduate school applications, and pinpoint the schools and programs she’d like to pursue, by spending a year working as a lab assistant.

“It would be amazing to make a career out of research,” she said. “I just really, really enjoy learning about the intricacies of the physical world.”

 

 

 


Hollins Sociologist Explores How Black Mothers Talk to Their Children About Race

“I’m scared for you. I love you. I’m going to teach you how to be a gentleman. I’m going to teach you how not to be a statistic. I’m going to teach you the skills I know to make you successful in this world. The world already has three fingers against you: You’re supposed to already be in jail, you’re supposed to be a dad, and you’re supposed to be a deadbeat and not take care of your kids. I don’t want that for you. I want you to be able to go to college. I want you to succeed. I want you to have a family, I want you to love people, I want you to be able to show love, I want you to be able to cry. I want you to enjoy this world, but this world will never enjoy you because they are scared of you.”

Tamara, a 26-year-old mother of one son, was among the low-income Black single mothers who shared their hopes and concerns for their children with Assistant Professor of Sociology Jennifer Turner as part of her dissertation, “#BlackMamasMatter: The Significance of Motherhood and Mothering for Low-Income Black Single Mothers.”

“It’s important that we talk about what it means to be Black in the United States and how that impacts Black mothers and Black motherhood,” Turner said. “For Tamara, the fear that her son would be stereotyped, criminalized, and/or become a target of racist state or vigilante violence manifested itself in this diary entry before her son was even born. This passage illustrates the significance race, class, and gender play in shaping the anxieties of low-income Black single mothers. Tamara recognizes that she will have to work hard to protect her son from the racialized class and gender discrimination that he will likely face for a lifetime.”

Recent statistics demonstrate why those fears are present for all Black mothers. A database established by The Washington Post to track fatal police shootings since 2015 shows that Black Americans are killed by police at more than twice the rate of White Americans. The journal Pediatrics reported in 2020 that Black children, especially those between the ages of 12 and 17, were six times more likely to be shot to death by police than White children.

Turner also cites the disproportionate rates at which Black children are punished in schools. “Scholars call the phenomenon the ‘School-to-Prison Pipeline.’ Black students represent 31% of school-related arrests. They are three times more likely than White students to be suspended or expelled, and then three times more likely to enter the juvenile justice system in the year following. Later in life they are more likely to enter the criminal justice system. All of this shows us that Black children are not seen in the same way as White children. Black children are presumed to be bad or criminals at a very young age. Black mothers of all social classes grapple with how to protect their children from discrimination.”

In her research, Turner sought to learn more about how low-income Black single mothers talk to their children about race. “Racial socialization is a significant component of Black parenthood. Primarily, Black mothers are doing this work and these conversations begin with their children at a very young age. It’s not only talking with them about how to interact with police, it’s also teaching them how to interact with educators and other authority figures in the hope that their children will not be subject to racist stereotypes and/or violence.”

Turner also addressed what she sees as a deficit in Black parenting studies. “So much of the previous research on the racial socialization practices of Black mothers has focused on middle-class mothers, and I wondered, ‘What’s the difference here with low-income moms, and why isn’t there more focus on them?’”

Turner set out to build upon that previous scholarship. The literature shows that class status doesn’t insulate middle-class Black families from racism. They worry that their children, particularly their sons, will be mistreated by their White teachers and targeted in their predominantly White neighborhoods. These families also face racist stereotypes that associate Blackness with poverty. However, middle-class families are still able to draw upon their status to avoid discrimination.

“[University of Maryland sociologist] Dawn Marie Dow found that these mothers engage in what she calls ‘experience management,’” Turner said. “They encourage their sons to develop skills in athletics and the performing arts that will allow them to traverse racialized class and gender boundaries. They expose them to aspects of Black history, culture, and Black male role models that affirm positive messages regarding Black masculinity. They also pursue ‘environment management,’ in which they scrutinize their sons’ everyday social environment to eliminate discriminatory sources, and enact ‘image and emotion management,’ which involves helping their sons contain their anger, frustration, and excitement, and monitor their dress and appearance.”

Turner argues that these practices fall under the umbrella of “‘respectability politics,’ which essentially is an attempt to counter negative stereotypes of Black people as poor, lazy, and uneducated, emphasizing middle class values of hard work, education, dressing tidily, using proper English, and respecting authority figures.” Respectability politics has its roots in the early 20th century and the Black church. “The idea was, if we could try to dismantle those stereotypes about Black people, and achieve a proximity to Whiteness, we can avoid racial discrimination.”

According to Turner, previous studies of low-income Black single mothers haven’t necessarily examined their parenting concerns, but looked primarily at problems these women experience,  how they view and navigate motherhood generally, and/or the resources upon which they draw. “So, I really wanted to focus on mothering from the perspective of low-income Black single mothers and what it means to them to be a mother. I also wanted to study their parenting practices. I illustrate the work they do every day to negotiate their specific challenges to teach their children about issues they deem important.”

Turner interviewed 21 mothers from Central and Southwest Virginia in 2017 who participate in, or had previously taken part in, Social Services benefit programs. These mothers often face increased scrutiny and are stigmatized for seeking out food stamps and other social welfare services.

“The findings of my research suggest that the practices of low-income Black single mothers are heavily informed by social class,” Turner said. “As in previous studies, the mothers in my research often invoke respectability politics when racially socializing their children. Specifically, as previous research on Black motherhood demonstrates, the mothers in my study fear for their children’s safety, especially their sons, and they often discussed encouraging their children to behave in certain ways in an effort to prevent them from facing discrimination on the basis of their race, class, and gender. Unlike middle-class mothers, however, low-income Black single mothers are unable to assert their class status to avoid racism and discrimination. For these mothers, their employment of respectability politics seems to be more about helping their children surpass their current class status in order to achieve a level of respectability that may help them avoid becoming targets of racism, specifically racist state violence, and also to help them ultimately have a better life than what they currently have.”

The participants in Turner’s study echo similar concerns as those expressed in previous research indicating “that in a lot of ways, race may trump class, at least in some cases, when it comes to the experiences of Black mothers. That is, it appears that Black mothers of all social classes are united in their anxieties about raising Black children in a racist society. Nevertheless, low-income Black single mothers do not have access to the same social, political, and economic resources as middle-class mothers to help them protect their children from racism.”

Turner believes that this study “enhances our understanding of racial socialization by illuminating how race, class, and gender are interconnected in influencing low-income Black single mothers.” She is currently working in collaboration with a Hollins student on a paper that spotlights the racial socialization of Black girls.

“Racial socialization practices look very different when we’re talking about sons and daughters. Typically when socializing boys, Black families tend to emphasize racial barriers. But, when talking to their daughters, Black parents tend to instill messages of racial pride and self-esteem to combat the negative messages that Black girls and women are less feminine and less beautiful than White girls and women. They face disproportionate threats of becoming victims of domestic or intimate partner violence, and threats of sexual assault at the hands of police officers. I’m interested in the role that racial gendered socialization can play in helping Black girls avoid or deal with these threats, and how Black mothers are talking to them.”

Watch Turner’s presentation, “To Be Black and a Mother: The Significance of Black Mothers’ Racial Socialization Practices,” part of the Faculty Authors and Achievers series sponsored by the Wyndham Robertson Library.

 

 

 

 


SW Virginia Is A Lyme Disease Hotspot. Hollins’ “Tick Lady” And Student Researchers Are Discovering Why.

Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Elizabeth Gleim is a disease ecologist whose research centers on the study of zoonotic diseases (those that can be directly transmitted between animals and humans) and vector-borne diseases (infections that require transmission through vectors such as ticks or mosquitoes). But a lot of people at Hollins and beyond who are familiar with her work simply know her as the “Tick Lady.”

Ever since she was pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Georgia, Gleim, who is also a Hollins alumna (class of 2006), has investigated tick-borne diseases. “There are three main areas on which my research questions focus,” she explained. “The first is identifying ways to better control and prevent tick-borne diseases, especially in the human population but also in domestic animals. I also do a lot of work in vector and disease dynamics, which can vary dramatically based on the ecosystem or the region of the country, and even just from year to year. The other piece is trying to better understand anthropogenic drivers, which is how humans are affecting tick-borne disease risk with their actions or behaviors, and then understanding environmental drivers of disease risk, which can include changes in weather, forest management practices, wildlife population changes, and other factors.”

Gleim’s passion for her work has remained constant. “One of the first things that drew me to this discipline is the fact that I get to do both lab and field work, so there’s a lot of variety that I really enjoy. It’s also been wonderful in terms of offering a wide array of research opportunities to Hollins students.”

Liz Gleim Outdoors
Gleim’s interest in tick research began in graduate school. “I get to do both lab work and field work, so there’s a lot of variety that I really enjoy.”

Over the past 18 months, Gleim has been involved with two major research projects. The first involved studying the impact of a process known as “prescribed fire” on the risk of tick-borne disease, which was published in the July 10, 2019, edition of Scientific Reports. This investigation was prompted by the fact that, over the past several decades, both the emergence and incidence of tick-borne diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease have risen dramatically. The challenge for scientists and disease ecologists has been to find ways to reduce and control tick populations and mitigate the risk of tick-borne disease, especially in humans. For years, prescribed fire has been used to successfully manage forests, grasslands, wetlands, and other types of landscapes.

The first phase of Gleim’s research looked at how fire impacts tick abundance and seasonality. The second phase, which she brought to Hollins, focused on whether fire might also affect the pathogens that circulate in the ticks. It was the first study that had ever been done to examine the effects of prescribed fire on tick-borne pathogens themselves. Gleim spent two years doing field work in Southwest Georgia and Northwest Florida, “and collected a whole lot of ticks – 50,000 of them. I then tested almost all of those ticks for all known tick-borne pathogens.” She determined that while prescribed fire did not affect all pathogens, it did impact some. Furthermore, fire greatly reduced the density of ticks infected with pathogenic bacteria in an area and showed a 98% reduction of encounter rates with infected ticks.

“The findings here were exciting and promising, and led to some interesting questions that I hope I can explore in the years to come. First, would we get the same types of dramatic reductions in ticks that we observed if we did this work in other ecosystems or other regions of the country or even the world? Second, could prescribed fire reduce Lyme disease risk specifically? Where I did this work in Georgia and Florida, Lyme is not endemic (e.g. does not occur). It’s at least possible that it could affect the pathogen that causes Lyme.”

The dynamics of Lyme disease in the United States have evolved considerably over the past two decades. As recently as 2001, Lyme cases were seen primarily on a limited basis in New England and the Midwest. However, just 16 years later, Lyme was common everywhere in the Northeast and had begun to spread to other parts of the country.

“By 2017, the western region of Virginia was at the leading edge of what would probably be considered a Lyme endemic area with a distinct hotspot developing in Southwest Virginia,” Gleim said.

Liz Gleim Ciera Morris
Ciera Morris ’19 (right) collaborated with Gleim to study black-legged tick dynamics in the Roanoke Valley.

Jory Brinkerhoff, a professor at the University of Richmond, collected black-legged tick (the vector of Lyme disease in the eastern U.S.) nymphs, the life stage particularly associated with Lyme cases in humans, at four sites on an east/west gradient across the state. He found the greatest number of nymphs at his western-most site and the highest level of the Lyme pathogen there, but it was just one site. “We all know in science that you can’t draw any firm conclusions from just one place,” Gleim said. She, Hollins Professor of Biology Morgan Wilson, and then-senior Ciera Morris ’19 set out to understand black-legged tick dynamics in the region, particularly in Southwest Virginia’s hotspot.

For Morris’ senior honors thesis, the team established 12 sites around the Roanoke Valley area to collect ticks on a monthly basis for an entire year. They collaborated with an Old Dominion University tick ecologist collecting ticks in the eastern part of the state that same year. “We found a significantly higher number of black-legged tick nymphs and larvae in the Roanoke region versus the Norfolk area,” Gleim said. “What’s notable though is that we do not have significantly more adults. It seems to indicate that we don’t necessarily have more black-legged ticks in the western portion of the state.” However, they are more forcefully engaging in a particular kind of behavior.

“It turns out ticks don’t jump or fly. The only way they get on a human or animal host is to physically brush up against them. For a tick to get on a host, they crawl up to the tops of vegetation, grass, or low-lying plants, and they wait for something to brush up against it. We call that behavior ‘questing.’”

Leemu Jackson '20
Leemu Jackson ’20 conducted genetic analysis to verify whether black-legged ticks are migrating into Southwest Virginia from the northeastern U.S.

Gleim cited previous studies that demonstrated ticks in the Northeast quest much more aggressively than those in the Southeast. “Ticks in the Southeast tend to stay down in the leaf litter and therefore are unlikely to come into contact with humans. Thus, a migration of ticks from the North into Virginia via the Appalachian Mountains is a possibility.”

Using some of the groundwork laid by Morris and Shravani Chitineni ‘21, and in collaboration with Gleim, Brinkerhoff, and Hollins Professor of Biology Rebecca Beach, Leemu Jackson ‘20 performed her senior honors thesis last year doing a genetic analysis to compare Roanoke-area black-legged tick populations to those elsewhere in order to verify whether migration was occurring.

“We did what we call a phylogenetic analysis, which is sort of a fancy way of saying we created a family tree of all the different ticks we were testing from Roanoke as well as the state of Virginia and the entire eastern U.S.,” Gleim said. “That analysis compared the DNA sequences of all these ticks and showed how similar those sequences are and thus how related they are to one another. What we discovered was a really high genetic diversity here in the Roanoke area, more so than what we’re seeing in the eastern part of the state. This does not definitively prove that ticks are migrating into Virginia, but it certainly provides some evidence to support that hypothesis.”

Another factor that Gleim believes may be contributing to the prevalence of Lyme in the Roanoke Valley involves human dynamics. “In a lot of urban or suburbanized areas, people don’t spend a lot of time outside. But that’s simply not the case here. We have an outdoor-centered lifestyle, so there’s a large number of people who are spending a lot of time outdoors in an ideal tick habitat.”

Shravani Chitineni ‘21
Shravani Chitineni ’21 is exploring methods to effectively control Lyme disease risk.

The “Tick Lady” emphasizes there is still much work to be done. She hopes to submit Morris’ senior thesis for publication in the next month or two (“She’ll be first author on that paper, which is really exciting.”).  In addition, “Shravani has picked up where Ciera and Leemu have left off – she’s a senior who is doing her thesis with me right now. She’s getting to do what she really loves, biostatistics, and she’s working on a Lyme simulation model with an ecological mathematician at Old Dominion University and myself. We’re examining different control methods that might be used to effectively control Lyme disease risk, particularly in different regions of the country.

“My hope is that over the next six months or so, we can get published the work that Leemu and Shravani have been doing. And down the line, we may begin to examine other tick species and pathogens in addition to further exploring our questing behavior work.”

Watch Gleim’s presentation, “The Battle Against Lyme Disease and Beyond: The Fascinating Intersection of Ecology and Public Health,” part of the Faculty Authors and Achievers series sponsored by the Wyndham Robertson Library.

 

 

Photo Credits:

Elizabeth Gleim at the microscope and in the field: Nancy Evelyn

Elizabeth Gleim with Ciera Morris ’19; Leemu Jackson ’20; Shravani Chitineni ’21: Elizabeth Gleim

 


Accessing Our Network: One of Hollins’ Greatest Strengths

My Hollins University experience began differently than most students. Growing up on the campus had a significant impact on my early development. I was able to witness intelligent, strong, and creative students that went on to do amazing things. My mother, Jeri Suarez (Hollins’ associate dean of cultural and community engagement), and all of her students became the best role models a girl could ask for during her formative years. I was surrounded by love and empowering figures from an early age, and that continued to grow as I did. I have seen what Hollins can do for its students, firsthand, and when it came time for me to pick a school, I couldn’t think of a better fit for me.

The opportunities that I have had over the last four years have been unique and rewarding. Had I gone to another institution, I may not have received the tremendous mentoring, opportunities to develop strong research skills, or traveled the world as I did. At Hollins, helping students succeed and reach their fullest potential is the norm, not the exception.

I found my love of research at the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School, which provided the outlet to conduct psychological experiments and examine the real-world implications. I fell in love with the process, the emotional rollercoaster that is caring about something enough to dig deeper. Going into my first year at Hollins, I knew that I wanted to conduct research that would be impactful. Over the last four years, I had many opportunities to conduct my own research and assist in many others. In the psychology department, there are options to conduct research through classes but also working closely with professors on their research projects. At the end of my first year, I was given the chance to work in the child development laboratory with Associate Professor of Psychology Tiffany Pempek. This invaluable time in her laboratory strengthened my research abilities, interpersonal skills and confidence. The course I took on research statistics with Professor of Psychology Bonnie Bowers is something I access daily in my current position.

Each year, the Career Center and the Office of Alumnae Relations host the Career Connection Conference (C3), a wonderful event for current students to talk with alumnae and to hear their career advice. During my second year, I met Lauren Staley ’11. She worked at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Lauren spoke about her time at Hollins and the experiences she had working with the non-profit organization. I knew that was a path I wanted to pursue. She gave me her contact information and said that I could stay in touch as I explored my career path.

The summer between my junior and senior years, I received a research internship at the Addiction Recovery Research Center (Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC), while working on my senior honors thesis. It was time to explore my future plans. My goal was to gain additional work experience, conducting research at a professional level, before entering graduate school. I wrote to Lauren Staley in the fall of my senior year to ask for her advice about applying to work for AIR. She connected me to a former colleague who helped me immensely in the application process.

Applying for a job becomes more daunting in the face of a global pandemic. But, by accessing the Hollins network, as well as my college preparation, I had the confidence to pursue a position with AIR. I was offered an interview with the organization. Due to COVID-19, the process was a 2.5-hour interview over Skype with multiple researchers. Although it felt intimidating at times, I was well prepared and confident in my abilities and able to showcase them.

I have been working at AIR for two months now. I split my time between two departments: the Annual Reports – Digest of Education Statistics team and the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. These two divisions are committed to increasing the effectiveness of education at every level through research, analysis, training, and assistance in the technical field. AIR’s commitment to research and evaluation provides important insight for policy makers and practitioners with which to guide implementation of certain programs, techniques, and funding. I have since gained new skills in programming, data checking, writing research proposals, and website design. I am honored to be working at this incredible organization.

Hollins helped me develop my skill set and confidence to take chances and to dream bigger. At 19 years old, I did not realize that a 15-minute conversation with an alumna would lead to my first professional position. I thank everyone who helped me on this journey.

 

 


Through Graduate Studies at American Univ., Kiki Speights ’20 seeks to “make sure communities’ voices are heard”

Uniquely blending ethics with international studies, American University’s Master of Arts in Ethics, Peace, and Human Rights focuses on “preparing students to be ethically informed thinkers and practitioners in the analysis, development, and application of policy responses to contemporary global issues.”  With her impressive aspirations, it is understandable why Kiki Speights ’20 would be drawn to a program that prides itself on producing graduates “who go on to find and facilitate peaceful and ethical solutions to the world’s most daunting international challenges.”

“I hope to gain more knowledge in international issues, the progression of human rights, and environmental degradation,” she explains. “I also hope to be able to take advantage of research and study abroad opportunities. I want to make memorable connections within the program and with the people I meet around the world.”

The environmental science major/social justice minor from Gaston, South Carolina, says she has been especially inspired by her study abroad experiences through Hollins.

“When I traveled to Tanzania through the School for Field Studies program, I originally wanted to study zoology. However, after going on a couple of expeditions, I realized that studying large wildlife was not something I wanted to do all my life. I also learned some controversial factors concerning large wildlife conservation practices that didn’t sit right with me.”

Having taken classes such as “Socioeconomics and Policy,” Speights was drawn instead to the study of communities in the East African nation on a micro level.

“I was able to obtain information through one-on-one interviews, taking part in community meetings, and just connecting with people on a human level. I learned that just because certain conservation practices can be sustainable for animals to survive doesn’t always mean they are sustainable for human life, especially for people who are native to those regions.”

Speights performed directed research on the “Impact of Habitat Degradation on Butterfly Status in Tarangire-Manyara Ecosystem in Northern Tanzania.” She says she discovered that “it is important to employ sustainable practices so that ecosystems are not degraded, but at the same time make sure that there are many sustainable alternatives so native people who live within those ecosystems are able to survive as well. Through this research I realized that I wanted to address environmental justice in marginalized communities.”

Another powerful experience for Speights was a summer internship she completed through Pre-College University, a program that gives students of color opportunities in fields in which they are demographically underrepresented such as environmental sciences. She worked as an outreach intern for the Department of Energy in Grand Junction, Colorado.

“During the internship, I assessed the effectiveness of uranium workshops that were being conducted in Navajo Nation. I sat in on chapter house meetings and federal government meetings and focused on how to communicate scientific information in a way that’s understandable. Listening to traumatic stories of the effects of uranium mining and contamination was not an easy task.” Subsequently, Speights presented her findings to the Department of Energy and offered suggestions on improving the workshops to accommodate the needs of the Navajo people.

While she admits that “doing this type of work is not for the weak-hearted,” Speights says she “loves being beside communities fighting for human rights, sustainability practices, gender rights, and public health issues to make sure their voices are heard.” After she finishes her Master’s program, she plans on living abroad for a couple of years working in the human rights career field.


Virtual Exhibit Considers Hollins’ History of Enslavement

An online exhibition developed this spring by Hollins University students is shedding important light on the institution’s past and present.

“Unveiling the Past: Reckoning with Our History of Enslavement at Hollins” is based on archival research conducted by students in the Cultural Property, Rights, and Museums course taught by Ashleigh Breske, visiting assistant professor in global politics and societies. The class collaborated with Hollins’ Eleanor D. Wilson Museum and Wyndham Robertson Library as well as members of the university’s Working Group on Slavery and Its Legacies, whose goal is to “research and educate the public about Hollins University’s historical connections to enslavement and the contemporary legacies of slavery on campus, within the neighboring historic Hollins community, and throughout the Greater Roanoke Valley.”

“The students hope their work will highlight the need for a continuing dialogue on histories of enslavement at Hollins and the legacy still experienced today,” Breske says in her foreword to the exhibition.

The Background section of the exhibit adds, “Those working on this exhibit wanted to create a public space to reckon with our Hollins past and give a forum to those who were not given a voice, name, space, or attention in the past.”

“Unveiling the Past” was originally scheduled to be displayed this month at the Wilson Museum. However, Breske’s class had to transition their research into a virtual format when the museum closed to the public as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Breske states that the students’ work in this endeavor is ongoing, noting, “The class will also later write reflection papers interpreting their experiences with this project to be included in the archival material on this exhibit for the Working Group.”