Virginia Journal of Public Health Features Research Directed by Hollins Professor

Two research projects led by a Hollins University professor have been published by the official journal of the Virginia Public Health Association.

“Learning Modalities and Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Literature Review,” a paper coauthored by Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh and Annie Morgan ’22, and “Examining the [Social] Determinants of Health Among Immigrant and Refugee Families: Lessons Learned from the Field,” a poster presentation by Jalloh, appear in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of the peer-reviewed Virginia Journal of Public Health.

“Learning Modalities and Mental Health During COVID-19” grew out of Jalloh and Morgan’s faculty-student research fellowship at Hollins in 2021. With an emphasis on Virginia, they looked at the potential impact of learning modalities (in person/face-to-face, virtual/online, or a hybrid of the two) during the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of K-12 students between March 2020 and May 2021. The authors examined 39 data sources, including health and educational sources from two government agencies and three school districts in southwest Virginia.

“The literature reviewed for this study suggests a possible link between some learning modalities and K-12 students’ mental health during the pandemic,” the authors conclude. “While virtual instruction was more likely to lead to negative mental or emotional health (including anxiety, depression, sense of helplessness, isolation, and others), the literature implies a possible link between in-person learning and positive mental health for students, which may be attributed to social interaction and receiving mental health services at school. Hybrid learning has been the least studied of all learning modalities. [It] may be a critical component in addressing the gaps described with virtual and in-person instruction.”

Jalloh and Morgan say their study’s findings should be interpreted “with caution because they are not based on a correlational research design, and thus cannot establish a relationship between any particular learning modality and mental health outcomes. More research is needed in Virginia and across the country to foster our understanding of the potential impact of different learning modalities…in order to come up with recommendations on best practices with a focus on addressing students’ mental health.”

“Examining the [Social] Determinants of Health Among Immigrant and Refugee Families: Lessons Learned from the Field” reflects Jalloh’s extensive background working with immigrant/refugee families, students, and out-of-school youth from diverse ethnicities and nationalities. He drew upon his first-hand experience with migrant agricultural workers across Iowa and his collaborative endeavors with healthcare providers in bridging the gap that often emerges due to sociocultural differences between migrant families and local healthcare providers.

“These families frequently move across the U.S. in search of agricultural work,” Jalloh explains in the poster presentation’s abstract. “This migration exposes them to a myriad of challenges and opportunities related to social determinants of health.”

Jalloh cites the language barrier; deficits in insurance, transportation, and information about how and where to access essential social services; and confusion regarding medical and dental bills as some of the primary obstacles faced by migrant agricultural workers in Iowa. Still, most migrant workers in the state reported gains they had made regarding income, improved educational options for their children, a greater ability to support families back home with money, and meeting new people from different places and learning about other cultures.

“Understanding the social determinants of health that impact the lives of migrant agricultural workers and families would help tailor public health interventions, policies, and social services to address the unique challenges experienced by this underserved population,” Jalloh noted. “For example, providing affordable housing and better working conditions are critical to improve their livelihoods and health outcomes.” He stresses the need for further studies of migrant workers’ experiences to better understand their needs.




Jacquelyne Abe ’24 Prepares for a Public Health Career with Healthcare Workforce Internship, Major Conference Presentation

Since arriving on campus two years ago, Jacquelyne Abe ’24 has enjoyed a transformative Hollins experience.

She has embraced two majors she never considered before coming to the university, and they have sparked her interest in becoming, in the parlance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a “disease detective.” She just completed a summer internship with the government agency responsible for collecting and measuring data on Virginia’s healthcare workforce, and this fall at a prestigious conference, she will present a paper based on research she conducted during that internship.

Jacquelyne hails from the Ivory Coast in West Africa, and her academic odyssey began in high school when, through the U.S. Embassy in the city of Abidjan, she connected with EducationUSA. The network, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, provides guidance on accredited American colleges and universities to prospective students in more than 175 countries. An EducationUSA representative “thought a women’s college would be perfect for me,” she said. “She knew that I liked family and being close to people, and she believed I would thrive in that setting over a big university.”

After doing some exploration, Jacquelyne chose to apply to Hollins and was accepted. During her first year, she discovered and “fell in love with public health,” and then was pleasantly surprised to learn that “I could double major in the U.S. So, I decided to see what else I could be doing.” Ultimately, she realized that environmental science and public health would be “the perfect combination for me.”

While the EducationUSA network encouraged her to pursue a women’s college, the Hollins alumnae network helped lead Jacquelyne to the summer internship that would have a profound impact on her academic and career development. Through Rebecca Smith ’04, a senior adjudication specialist with the Virginia Department of Health Professions (DHP), Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh learned of an opportunity with the DHP’s Healthcare Workforce Data Center. Located in Henrico, DHP licenses and regulates over 380,000 healthcare practitioners across 62 professions in the commonwealth, and the Healthcare Workforce Data Center regularly assesses workforce supply and demand issues among those licensed practitioners.

When Jalloh shared the internship with a class she was taking last semester, Jacquelyne said she “thought it sounded really interesting and I wanted to dive into it. I needed to find out if this was something that would be good for me and my future career. It was time for me to experience something instead of just thinking I might like it.”

Supervised by Yetty Shobo, director of the Healthcare Workforce Data Center, Jacquelyne immersed herself in multiple projects over 10 weeks, most notably the dashboard tools that, according to the center, “inform students, policymakers, program designers, healthcare practitioners, and the general public about issues related to Virginia’s healthcare workforce.” During Jacquelyne’s internship, the center received a data request from Shillpa Naavaal, a board-certified dental public health and health services researcher with Virginia Commonwealth University’s Philips Institute for Oral Health Research.

“Dr. Naavaal was interested in seeing how the oral healthcare workforce evolved from 2013 to 2021, and I researched the data and prepared graphs,” Jacquelyne explained. “We saw significant disparities in race and gender, issues that needed to be addressed in order to achieve better health outcomes.”

Shobo was so impressed with Jacquelyne’s work that she encouraged her submit an abstract to the Southern Demographic Association (SDA), a scientific and educational organization composed of demography and population studies professionals. The SDA accepted Jacquelyne’s abstract, “Uncovering Racial/Ethnic Gaps in a State Oral Healthcare Workforce,” for presentation at the 2022 SDA Annual Meeting, which will be held October 17-19 in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Jacquelyne is excited to represent Hollins at the conference and see her project showcased. But she is equally proud of what else she has gained through her summer internship. “It helped me improve my skills and enabled me to grow as a person. I made a lot of mistakes, but Dr. Shobo said, ‘That’s okay, we’re here to learn from each other.’ And I thought, ‘You have a Ph.D. and I haven’t even graduated from college, and you say you want to learn from me?’ Her humility taught me to be humble, to understand that you don’t have to know everything. You just have to put your heart in what you do.”

This year, Jacquelyne is hoping to participate in “Ecuador: A Bio-cultural Journey on the Equator,” a January Short Term course that will offer Hollins students the chance to spend two weeks immersing themselves in one of the most biologically and culturally rich countries on Earth. She is confident that exploring the biological and cultural diversity of the Andean highlands and the Amazon jungle will further prepare her to pursue a Master of Science degree in epidemiology, “the science part of public health,” after she finishes her undergraduate career.

“I really see myself doing something in research and looking at the distribution of a disease across a population. I want to find out what happened and why so you can address the problem and prevent new incidences.” Still, as she demonstrated when she first enrolled at Hollins, Jacquelyne is leaving the door open to other possibilities.

“For my future career I can do anything I want, and if I change my mind tomorrow, I know it’s okay. I just have to put in the work and believe in myself.”

Hollins Students Showcase Projects at Summer Research Symposium

Twelve Hollins University students were among the 240 undergraduates from across the country presenting at the 11th annual Summer Research Symposium at Virginia Tech on July 28.

Over the past 10 weeks, the students “engaged in a wide variety of projects tackling real world problems in many disciplines,” said Keri Swaby, director of Virginia Tech’s Office of Undergraduate Research. “I am humbled by the quality of work, and I hope [these students] have been inspired to continue exploring.”

The 240 students collaborated with 24 organized funded programs and a number of independent labs and gave a record-breaking 206 poster presentations.VT Symposium Poster 1

“Summer affords undergraduates the opportunities to dedicate significant time and effort to the planning, execution, and analysis of a research project,” explained Jill Sible, associate vice provost for undergraduate education and professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech. “They have also had the chance to become authentic members of research teams by working with faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and research staff.” She shared the university’s appreciation for “the diversity of ideas and cultures that [these students] have brought to our research programs.”


The following undergraduates represented Hollins at the 2022 Summer Research Symposium:

VT Symposium Poster 2Malaika Amin ’25/ Biology
Fullerene-functionalized Metal Chalcogenide Nanosheets for New Electron Transport Material in Flexible Solar Cells

Ashree Bhatta ’24/Chemistry & Tram Nguyen ’24/Chemistry
Stereoselective Glycosylation via Dynamic Kinetic Resolution

Aqsa Fazal ’23/Chemistry with a Concentration in Biochemistry
Amphibian Feeding Mosquitoes Are Potential Vectors of Viruses

Kiran Gautam ’23/Mathematics with a Concentration in Data Science and Applied Economics
How Do Wars Affect the Stock Market?

Vanity Hernandez ’24/PsychologyVT Symposium Poster 3
The Impact of Childhood Poverty on US Latinx Adults’ Financial Literacy and Management

Makda Kalayu ’23/International Studies
Erasing Tigray: Ethiopia and the Use of Cultural Erasure as a Tool for Ethnic Cleansing

Jennifer Noyes ’23/Biology
Detection of Taeniid Cestodes in Wild Canids in Virginia

Olivia Sacci ’24/Biology
Changes in the American Toad Microbiome During Development

Yareli Sosa Antunez ’23/Psychology
Investigating the Impact of Latine Ethnicity on Public Stigma Toward Men with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Depression

Nina Lauren Valdisimo ’24/Business (Finance Track)
As Inflation Surges, How Long will this Inflationary Episode Last Compared to Other Episodes in History?

Jessica Willebeek-LeMair ’23/Environmental Science
Investigating Factors of Perceptions of State Fish and Wildlife Agency Prioritization of Wildlife Viewing


Top Photo: Ten of the 12 Hollins undergraduates who presented at the Summer Research Symposium

Photos Credit: Brenda Hale 


Autumn Green ’24 Uncovers Marginalized Peoples’ Stories Through Digital Legal Research Lab

During the United States’ Antebellum Period, considered by some historians to have lasted from the late 18th century to the American Civil War, Indigenous and enslaved peoples engaged in widespread legal mobilization as a means of challenging the exploitation they endured. Their suits for freedom, and habeas corpus petitions for remedy against wrongful imprisonment on both institutional and interpersonal levels, are crucial to the principles of the American legal system. However, the details behind those actions for the most part have not been studied or circulated.

This summer, Autumn Green ’24 is among eight undergraduates from across the U.S. conducting historical legal research through the Digital Legal Research Lab at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. The initiative is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) site and is considered an interdisciplinary hub for the social scientific study of freedom making in the United States during the 19th century.

“I’m very, very interested in social and historical context in relation to complex legal civil rights issues rather than just doctrinal rule of law,” said Green, an English major who plans to become a lawyer. She is one of three students this summer working with University of Nebraska Professor of History William G. Thomas III on “O Say Can You See: Early Washington, D.C., Law and Family,” a project documenting the challenge to slavery and the quest for freedom in early Washington, D.C. Green and her fellow students have been examining digitized records from petitions and suits filed between 1800 and 1862, as well as tracing multigenerational family networks.

At the same time, Green is learning about the findings of the other five peers in her cohort who are working with University of Nebraska Associate Professor of History Katrina Jagodinsky, the primary investigator for a second project underway this summer. “Petitioning for Freedom: Habeas Corpus in the American West” is looking at more than 8,000 habeas corpus petitions from Black, Indigenous, immigrant, institutionalized, and dependent petitioners over the 19th century in Washington, Oregon, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona.

In an article for Nebraska Today, Jagodinsky noted, “We’re unique in that there aren’t a lot of REUs that are history focused. [Thomas] and I really saw a gap in training in legal history, and legal research generally, that we felt we could address. In graduate school, researchers are expected to be able to navigate legal archival research, digital databases for legal research, and then also apply sophisticated methods and methodologies to that work, but there’s very little undergraduate training or preparation for that work.”

Since June 1, Green has immersed herself in learning and performing raw data collection and processing, archive interpretation, and transcription and encoding. She’s also receiving seminar-style instruction on relevant literature, research methods, professional development, and developing her own research questions. “It’s a five-day-a-week, all-day kind of thing,” she said. “I have been transcribing documents that aren’t on main online legal databases. Our primary investigators had to go to D.C. to collect them from the National Archives and Records Administration as well as from the Supreme Court, which tried a number of the freedom suits we are working with, and local court archives.”

Green’s work has not been without obstacles. “Many of the documents are severely damaged. I had one case that was rescued from a fire. So, when I was transcribing I had to encode it with a note to that effect and add that the language was unclear and the data could not be recovered.”

As a result of her work this summer, Green said she has acquired new research skills and the ability to apply quantitative analysis to humanities data. She’s also learned how to think of more creative ways of structuring humanities data without losing personal and important historical context. “We use a lot of spreadsheets to notate the characteristics of a suit, the arguments the individual brought, the kind of plaintiffs in a certain type of case, and the characteristics of cases that succeeded and those that failed.”

Green noted that “a significant portion” of the data set in the “O Say Can You See” project consists of “Black mothers using petitions for freedom or habeas suits to sue for custodies civilly of their children, which is not something you would expect from a modern understanding of what habeas corpus is. They’re suing for custody on the basis that their children were being wrongfully imprisoned.”

She emphasized that “while reading the decisions of different courts with a deeper understanding of case-specific circumstances has given context to what we know to be the racist and discriminatory history of the law, the focus really is on creating accessible databases that emphasize marginalized people’s legal strategies and stories recenters historical legal analysis to promote forward-facing scholarship, which recognizes communities and people that legal systems work against, or attempt to exclude.”

The culmination of the Digital Legal Research Lab will be a research fair on August 5 in which Green and the other members of her cohort will make presentations based on their work. In the future, she is “definitely interested in exploring other research experiences in the legal history realm, or the legal realm, or the history realm,” and is looking forward to applying the skills she’s learned this summer to her undergraduate studies at Hollins. “I can definitely see using more quantitative data structures and looking at raw data for research in my classes, or if I want to do a thesis.”

She is also excited about the ways in which her experience this summer will be an asset as she goes on to pursue a law career. “I feel like the knowledge of the law that I’ve gained in this program and how to conceptualize data and fact in creative and quantitative ways will be helpful.”


Hollins Students to Conduct Summer Research through Virginia Tech’s Global Change Center

Aqsa Fazal ’23, Olivia Sacci ’24, and Jessica Willebeek-LeMair ’23 will be spending this summer collaborating with faculty from the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech.

The opportunity is made possible through the Hollins Partnership program, which gives select Hollins University undergraduates the opportunity to identify possible mentor-mentee connections/relationships for their future graduate training.

Aqsa Fazal '23
Aqsa Fazal ’23

Fazal, Sacci, and Willebeek-LeMair will gain summer undergraduate research experiences through the Fralin Life Science Institute’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program in conjunction with activities organized by the Virginia Tech Office of Undergraduate Research.

A rising senior majoring in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry and minors in biology and physics, Fazal will work with Assistant Professor of Biochemistry Chloé Lahondère on researching mosquito-borne diseases. Specifically, she will study Culex Territans mosquitos, which feed primarily on amphibians. Fazal will investigate the pathogens these animals carry and transmit. She plans to pursue graduate studies in the future.

Olivia Sacci '24
Olivia Sacci ’24


Building on her experience working with amphibians in both a clinical and zoological setting, Sacci will partner with Professor of Biological Sciences Lisa Belden to research the symbiotic microbial communities that reside on amphibian skin as well as the microbiome-parasite interactions in honeybees. A rising junior, she is a biology major and chemistry minor on the pre-veterinary track at Hollins and hopes to enroll in a dual DVM/Ph.D. program after she completes her undergraduate studies.




Jessica Willebeek-LeMair '23
Jessica Willebeek-LeMair ’23


Willebeek-LeMair, a rising senior majoring in environmental science, will work with Ashley Dayer, an assistant professor of human dimensions in Virginia Tech’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. She will assist in using data from wildlife viewer surveys to write scientific reports, which will enhance her data analysis and scientific writing skills and provide her with a new social perspective on environmental conservation issues in the Appalachian region. Through Hollins’ affiliation with the School for Field Studies, Willebeek-LeMair spent this year’s spring term studying abroad in Tanzania.


The Hollins Partnership program was initiated in 2017, but has been on hold since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Researching the Gut Microbiome, Hana Olof ’22 Seeks Ways to Strengthen Immune Systems

The gut microbiome is the community of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms that live in the human digestive system – and a very big deal in terms of our ability to fight disease.

“The gut microbiome is the most important scientific discovery for human healthcare in recent decades,” said James Kinross, a microbiome scientist and surgeon at Imperial College London, in a July 2021 article in The Guardian. “It’s a vital organ in your body and you need to look after it,” noted Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, in the same piece. “If you do that, it will look after you.”

“We discovered it – or rediscovered it – in the age of genetic sequencing less than 15 years ago. The only organ which is bigger is the liver,” Kinross added, while also admitting, “We don’t really know how it works.”

Hana Olof ’22 intends to become one of the scientists who unlocks the mysteries of the gut microbiome and harnesses its potentially considerable impact. The biology major and psychology minor first learned about the investigation of gut health when she took a microbiology class at Hollins with Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Mary Jane Carmichael.

“We were encouraged to read recent articles in that field and were assigned a weekly article review. Through that, I discovered the gut microbiome,” Olof said. “It introduced me to a whole new different area of study, and since then I’ve been reading more and more about it. I’m so fascinated with it. I didn’t realize gut microbes were associated with different diseases, or that you could also use them to reduce the effect of diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome.”

Investigating the gut microbiome has solidified Olof’s burgeoning interest in biomedical research. “It has been really helpful to work with the different faculty in the biology department. My classes and lab experiences have trained me on how to do research, prepare lab reports, and analyze data. They create an environment where asking questions is encouraged.”

Wooten Olof Munir SEPA
Hana Olof ’22 (right), Soha Munir ’23 (center), and Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Alex Wooten (left) represented Hollins at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Psychological Association in March.

Olof said that foundation has been invaluable in the experiences she’s enjoyed as an undergraduate beyond the classroom. In the summer of 2020, she participated in an internship through Eastern Virginia Medical School and sponsored by the Hollins biology department where she worked with a team to develop a hypothetical treatment for COVID-19. The project was conducted entirely online with video technology due to the pandemic. Drawing on her psychology minor, she was awarded a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship the following year and conducted research on the topic of “The Influence of Prior Suspect Familiarity on Cross-Race Effect.” This March, Olof and Soha Munir ’23 presented a poster on the topic at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Psychological Association.

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

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

“I want to thank the psychology department and Dr. Wooten for all the valuable skills I learned,” Olof stated.  “The fellowship really helped me to see the steps that go into research design.”

Engaging in those remote projects served her well during the 2021 January Short Term, when she completed an internship at the Atlanta Botanical Garden remotely from her home country of Ethiopia. “I didn’t have a lot of experience in botanicals but it was a really amazing experience to work with them because they helped me to learn about the conservation of plants and grow my skills at analyzing data.” Olof added that the Garden staff graciously accommodated her circumstance working from home. “They were kind enough to factor in the time difference. So, instead of meeting in the morning, we would meet in the evening to talk about what we did throughout the day.” She was also challenged by less-than-reliable internet service, “and there were times when I had to go to different places to get a connection. But in the end it worked out well.”

For the 2022 January Short Term, Olof and two other Hollins students completed a Signature Internship with San Antonio-based Vascular Perfusion Solutions (VPS), which is developing ways to help transplanted organs last longer outside of the body. “We observed procedures related to the preservation of hearts for transplantations,” she explained. “Currently, the preservation time is only four hours and their aim is to extend that so that people in distant locations can have more of an opportunity for organ transplantation.”

Olof said the opportunity for her and her fellow students “really taught us a lot. This is when I really appreciated what I learned at Hollins. We already had so many experiences writing articles and so we were asked to edit some of VPS’s articles before they were published. We analyzed a lot of data for them as well, and our experiences through our different biology classes enabled us to do that accurately.” Because of Hollins biology department’s emphasis on query and examination, Olof was comfortable initiating a dialogue anytime she came across something she didn’t understand, and that confidence enabled her to call attention to an error she found during her VPS data analysis.

Olof’s search for the right graduate school to further her study of the gut microbiome and the immune system came to fruition when she learned of a faculty member at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg who is focusing on that area. “I reached out and said I’d really like to work with her,” Olof recalled. “She called me for an interview, we talked more, and then I got accepted to her lab and to the university.” Olof will begin her two-year master’s degree program in September and can continue at the university if she decides to go on to earn her doctorate. “They offered me an opportunity to pursue my Ph.D. work there, and if I do that then there’s a potential for me to finish it faster than the typical six years because they would take my master’s degree into account.” If Olof chooses to enter the workforce after completing her master’s degree, “they have connections with industrial companies that focus on gut microbes.”

Olof is excited about the possibilities offered by gut microbiome research. “Nowadays there are many conditions that don’t respond to the traditional method of treatment – there are so many antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Plus, in developing nations such as my home country of Ethiopia, there is no easy access to medications. So, this idea of treating disease through dietary modification or reducing disease by taking a prebiotic feels very promising to me. And if we could find innovative treatments that won’t have as many side effects on people as drugs do, I feel like that would also be a great thing to pursue.”






With Major Conference Presentations and an Academic Journal Publication, Emily Lauletta ’22 Plans a Research Career in Gender and Women’s Studies

Thanks to some great high school teachers who helped her learn about feminism, and her leadership of her school’s Feminist Club, Emily Lauletta ’22 became fascinated with gender and women’s studies (GWS). When she discovered she could actually pursue an undergraduate major in the discipline, she was both overjoyed and pleasantly surprised.

“I was talking to a teacher about my interests and passions and she asked me, ‘What about women’s studies?’, and I said, ‘You can do that?’ That’s how I found out that field was actually a thing. A big reason why Hollins became the only place I wanted to go for college was because it has such a great GWS department. The personalized attention is really special.”

While Lauletta, who hails from the Cleveland, Ohio, area, was certain GWS was what she wanted to study, what she wanted to do with that major is something that has evolved over the course of her Hollins career. “When I came to Hollins I was thinking I’d work in the nonprofit sector,” she said, but Professor of Anthropology and Gender and Women’s Studies LeeRay Costa introduced her to other possibilities. “When I started taking classes in the GWS department,” Lauletta said, “Dr. Costa got me thinking about research and even graduate school. I took her course “Spiritual Activism” and started a research project. She was helpful and encouraging, and my confidence as a researcher grew. I ended up falling in love with gender studies research and now I’m definitely going down that path.”

Ultimately, Lauletta would transform the research project she began in her “Spiritual Activism” class into her senior honors thesis. “I was raised Catholic and when I was confirmed I spent multiple days in a convent,” she recalled. “As I began talking to the nuns, I realized how much they were committed to helping one another and helping their community.” Subsequently, she learned about “Nuns on the Bus,” an advocacy group that tours the country working for justice.  “It was very eye-opening for me, and I thought it would be cool to investigate how these women, or at least this specific group of nuns, aligned themselves with spiritual activist values. I liked it and I’m still studying it.”

Lauletta earned the opportunity to showcase her research at some prestigious academic conferences. She was invited to present “‘Radical Feminist Nuns’: Spiritual Activism, Catholicism, and the Power of (Sister)hood” at the Southeastern Women’s Studies Association spring 2021 conference, and at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in October 2021. “My first year at Hollins, I went to the national conference in Atlanta with Dr. Costa and several other students, and I got to see all this interesting research. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I would really love to present here one day.’ It was so great that I got to do that during my undergraduate career. It was not something I thought would be possible.”

During January Short Term of her sophomore year, Lauletta interned with the League of Women Voters and has been involved on and off with them ever since. “I worked with them on a two-year study on arming school personnel, and it made me realize I’m interested in a lot of different topics and in working on a team to conduct research projects. It was rewarding to do this particular study with the League and a lot of people who are older than me or just had different experiences or backgrounds. I saw how much research benefits from bringing different perspectives to a project.”

Complementing Lauletta’s GWS major is her minor in social justice. “It’s expanded the horizons of my GWS studies,” she noted. For her social justice capstone, she wrote an assignment that she thought was particularly strong and, working with Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette, converted it into an article for publication. Last fall, her piece “Reimagining the Women’s College: A Critical Analysis of Historically Women’s College Transgender Admission Policies” appeared in sprinkle: an undergraduate journal of feminist and queer studies. “It was really helpful to have something published on my resume, and I think that definitely helped me stand apart from other candidates when I applied to grad school.”

Lauletta was in fact accepted at four graduate schools and this fall will be attending Claremont Graduate University in California, where she will pursue an M.A. in applied gender studies. “The program focuses on taking what you learn in the classroom in regard to feminist theory and applying it to the real world,” she explained. “Instead of a thesis I will do an internship, which I’m excited about. As much as I love research, I think it’s going to be good for me to get out from behind a desk and do some real-world applications.”

After completed her master’s program, Lauletta hopes to get her Ph.D. and looks forward to eventually working at a research institute. Between her master’s and Ph.D., she added that she would like to explore birth work or earn certification as a doula, aspirations inspired by the course “Reproductive Justice” she took with Assistant Professor of Sociology Jennifer Turner.

“I’m very thankful for the Hollins faculty and I cannot say enough nice things about the GWS department,” she said. “I’m the first person in my family to go to graduate school and I do not think that would have been possible without Dr. Costa’s encouragement in particular.”



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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