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.


Hollins Chemistry Students, Faculty Featured at ACS National Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boundary Waters Minnesota
Minnesota’s Boundary Waters wilderness area.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 


With Compassion for Immigrant and Refugee Populations, Sajila Kanwal ’22 Lays the Groundwork for a Career in Public Health

As a student at an all-girls’ high school in her home country of Pakistan, Sajila Kanwal ’22 thought her career path was set. She had aspirations of becoming a doctor, and was enrolled in her school’s pre-med program.

But during her first year at Hollins University, Kanwal soon discovered after taking a sociology class that she also found other fields of study equally as appealing. “It took me some time to kind of realize what I really wanted to do,” she recalled. Her educational exploration ultimately led her to classes taught by Visiting Assistant Professor in Global Politics and Societies Ashleigh Breske and Associate Professor in International Studies Jon Bohland.

With so many interests, Kanwal decided to major in international studies with a minor in social justice. Those passions coalesced last year when she took Breske’s Globalization and Local Responses course.

“I did research on women’s health in Pakistan and their access to sexual and reproductive healthcare,” she said. “I have first-hand experience of not being able to easily access those services back home because sexual and reproductive health is such a sensitive topic.” Kanwal said she hoped the subject would ultimately become her senior thesis, but a lack of available data presented obstacles. At the same time, she increasingly wanted to learn more about, and work with, refugees and immigrants in the United States. “So, I thought that focusing my thesis on undocumented immigrant and refugee women in this country, and their healthcare, would be a good idea. My research is about organizations that help women get access to sexual and reproductive services in Virginia, their policies, and what they are doing different compared to other organizations that cannot reach their goals.”

A class last spring on public health and social justice with Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh helped inform her thesis work and solidify her plans post-Hollins.

“I learned a lot about how there’s so much disparity in the healthcare system in the United States,” she explained. “Even during the pandemic, immigrants were completely ignored, even though they were bringing food to our tables. They were having to work even if they were sick. That really kind of drew me into public health, and I’m applying now to graduate school public health programs.”

In January, Kanwal will begin an internship with Ipas, a nonprofit organization based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, that promotes initiatives around the world to increase women’s ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights. She’ll work part-time and remotely in Ipas’ development department, where she will conduct individual and foundation donor research and study embassies located in countries where Ipas offices have programming. “Ipas has an office in my home country, which is amazing,” Kanwal said. “I’m going to be involved in a lot of fundraising. The contract is for one year, but I can end the internship in June if I find a full-time job after I graduate from Hollins. I definitely think it’s a great opportunity to start with in my public health career.”

“It has been such a gift to watch Sajila grow and mature during her time at Hollins,” said Ashley Browning, Hollins’ vice president for enrollment management. “She is a wonderful ambassador for our community. I am certain that her contributions at Ipas will make a meaningful impact on their work.”

Kanwal noted that she has enhanced her leadership skills through a number of extracurricular student activities. For the past three years she has served as a mentor in Hollins’ International Student Orientation Program (ISOP), and she works in the university’s Office of Admission, where her responsibilities include sharing on social media her everyday experiences with professors and her fellow students. She is a member of the Diversity Monologue Troupe, a team of student leaders that promotes understanding of the university’s rich diversity while helping to broaden perspectives on the various stereotypes common in society. She’s pursuing a Certificate in Leadership Studies from the university’s Batten Leadership Institute. And, she works as a community assistant, helping support the academic and personal development of each individual in the residence halls.

“I’ve learned a lot from my co-workers and supervisors,” she added. “Their empathy has really driven me to care for others and build my own character.”

The Hollins senior also praises her professors (“Their kindness is beyond limits. They understand you as a student, they give you honest feedback, and they want the best for you. I wouldn’t have had this at a bigger college.”) and her host parents, Marcella Griggs and Peter Trower of Blacksburg (“They have been of great support during my entire Hollins journey. They have really helped me a lot to get to where I am.”).

Kanwal is spending her Winter Break in New York City, where she will be volunteering for a refugee organization. Then, during January Short Term she’s heading to the Universidad de Alicante in Spain to immerse herself in study tours, activities, and courses in health sciences and social sciences.

“I’m proud of myself for choosing Hollins,” she said. “I wouldn’t have had this experience of self-development otherwise. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what the future brings for me in terms of opportunities and options. I’m open to everything that interests me and see the best in each possibility.”

 


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