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 

 


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 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)

 

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 


Virginia Academy of Science Honors Hollins Student Researchers

Two research projects conducted by three Hollins University chemistry majors were recognized at the 2021 Virginia Academy of Science (VAS) Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting, held recently at Hampden-Sydney College.

Megan Brown ’23, Nupur Sehgal ’23, and Tram Nguyen ’24 earned the event’s top award in the Medicine category ($750 in research funding) for “Let’s Go Fishing: Catching Cysteine-Containing Proteins in Cytoplasmic Pools.”

Megan Brown '23 and Tram Nguyen '24
Megan Brown ’23 (left) and Tram Nguyen ’24

They also received honorable mention in the same category for “C-glycosylation Through Reductive Halide Atom Transfer Reaction with Photo-Irradiation.”

The three students are all enrolled in a research lab of Assistant Professor of Chemistry Son Nguyen, who also attended the Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting and served as a judge in the event’s Biochemistry category.

“I am so proud of Megan, Nupur, and Tram, and am lucky to have them in the research lab,” Nguyen said. “They work very hard and very productively.”

Nupur Sehgal '23
Nupur Sehgal ’23

 

Nguyen and the three students will present at the national American Chemical Society meeting in San Diego in March 2022. Brown, Sehgal, and Tram Nguyen will share their research results at the 2022 VAS Spring Undergraduate Research Meeting at the University of Richmond in May 2022.

 

Top photo (left to right): Tram Nguyen ’24, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Son Nguyen, Nupur Sehgal ’23, and Megan Brown ’23 at Hampden-Sydney College for the 2021 VAS Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting.


Isabell Kingori Brings Public Health Expertise to Hollins as Fulbright Scholar-In-Residence

Most people might not think of studying infectious diseases as a pleasant endeavor, but public health expert and parasitologist Isabell Kingori believes that sharing her knowledge with the world is one of the most fulfilling things she can do.

After a year-long delay to her arrival due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kingori has finally joined the Hollins community for the 2021-22 academic year as a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence. Kingori, who earned her bachelor’s degree in applied biology from Kenya Methodist University and her master’s degree and Ph.D. in applied parasitology from the University of Nairobi, is bringing an international perspective to Hollins’ own public health curriculum. She has taught both undergraduate and graduate students at Kenyatta University’s School of Public Health in Nairobi since 2018, with course topics including immunology, communicable diseases, and vector control.

“I first wanted to study parasitology because people in Kenya are affected by a lot of different diseases — and in order to control a disease, you must first understand it, how it’s spread, and at what part of the transmission cycle you want to stop it,” Kingori said. “I was motivated to do the Fulbright program because I felt the need to share my knowledge with a country that doesn’t face the same diseases that my country does. Any time I gain new information by researching, I want to share it with people who don’t know anything about it.”

Kingori’s expertise is certainly on display in the Vectors of Public Health Importance course that she is currently teaching. The class focuses on diseases that are transmitted to humans by organisms, particularly biting insects. “In Africa, we have so many diseases that are transmitted by insects, like malaria, sleeping sickness, and bilharzia. I’m teaching the students about the particular organisms that are responsible for these diseases, and how they can be controlled through methods such as trapping the insects,” she explained. “For example, malaria is transmitted by the anopheles mosquito, and mosquitoes breed in water. So there are environmental management measures we can take to make sure that mosquitos are not able to breed in the water.”

“I also want to help my students understand the importance of development in a nation, because the more a country is developed, the more it is able to tackle simple infections and diseases that would otherwise kill people in an underdeveloped nation. It’s so valuable to learn the milestones that have been met by certain countries in terms of improving health, education, and social systems because those are milestones that some countries still need to meet.”

Kingori isn’t the only one who’s passionate about her teaching opportunities at Hollins. “Dr. Kingori is able to provide incredible insights on health care disparities and disease systems in Africa,” said Elizabeth Gleim, assistant professor of biology and environmental studies. “Ensuring that our students going into health care and public health have a global perspective and understanding of systems outside of the U.S. is so incredibly important as we are cognizant more than ever of the international efforts that are often needed to address public health issues and the ability of diseases to so easily cross international borders thanks to modern-day travel.”

While studying diseases matters a great deal to Kingori, she’s equally as eager to be a mentor who can support her students in whatever ways they need. “What I value most about teaching is giving. As a teacher, you give a lot. Sometimes teachers don’t realize this, but students can carry what you give them for the rest of their lives. It could be something different from what you teach them in class, like the way you talk or handle yourself. Maybe they learn something from teachers who always come to class on time or mark the assignments on time,” she said. “A teacher who talks to students and encourages them and tells them that they’re going to make it in life has a heavy impact.

“I just want to give students hope that there’s going to be a better future. That’s why I’m always so happy when I see my former students working. I’ll learn that they’re giving immunizations or working in public health offices, and it’s a really good feeling. It motivates me.”

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