During Her Summer Internship, Margarite Fisher ’22 Is Helping Veterans Access Quality Healthcare Close to Home

For years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been committed to providing veterans with timely and convenient access to healthcare. As the number of veterans grow and VA enrollees become more dispersed across the nation, appointment backlogs and significant travel necessary to attend appointments challenged the VA to create a solution that better served this deserving population of American citizens. Previously, referring veterans to physicians within their own communities was often a time-consuming task for VA staff that presented obstacles impacting everything from follow-up treatment to reimbursement procedures.

Since 2017, the VA, in partnership with Cognosante, a leading technology provider based in Falls Church, Virginia, has been working to solve that problem. Cognosante launched the Community Care Referral and Authorization Program (CCR&A), which, through user-friendly software technology, is streamlining the VA’s patient referral process for millions of veterans. For ten weeks this summer, Margarite Fisher ’22, who graduated from Hollins University this spring with a bachelor’s degree in business, is serving on the team created to help veterans get the care they need faster.

The CCR&A system allows VA caregivers to more quickly refer veterans to local healthcare providers, including the coordination of treatment with doctors the patients already know and trust. The results have been dramatic: Over the past three years, CCR&A has generated more than 17 million community referrals and authorizations for more than three million veterans and reduced wait times by 75 percent, all while reducing costs for both the veteran and the VA.

Senior Program Director Sue Burke noted that Fisher, who will pursue a master’s degree in digital marketing beginning this fall at the Rennes School of Business in France, has played a key role on the CCR&A Project Team. “Margarite is using her strong marketing background to create an interactive team newsletter, while also working on long-needed updates to project standard operating procedures (SOPs) and other mission critical process templates. Her ‘can do’ attitude and willingness to dive into various facets of project management on a large and highly visible government project have proven valuable to our progress as a team this summer. We’re incredibly grateful to have her as part of the CCR&A team.”

Fisher’s opportunity to enhance the public healthcare experience comes through her participation in Cognosante’s inaugural Women in STEM Alliance – a program in which Hollins is a founding member. In partnership with women’s colleges, this unique diversity program is designed to increase access to IT careers for women technologists and offers non-technologists a front row seat to the skills needed for a successful career in business, strategy, or operations. Students apply academic studies to real-world projects, gain marketable career experience, and learn to collaborate with peers and professionals across the organization.

“Our University Engagement partnerships help develop the workforce of the future,” said Jennifer Bailey, chief administration officer at Cognosante. “Through mentoring, power skills training, and project leadership responsibility, these transformative opportunities set young professionals on a path to long-term career success. We’re excited that Hollins recognizes the value of the program and look forward to deepening this partnership to serve the university’s students for years to come.”


Hollins, Roanoke College Welcome Nominations for the 2022 Perry F. Kendig Awards

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2022 Perry F. Kendig Arts and Culture Awards, which recognize individuals, businesses, and organizations in the greater Roanoke region that provide exemplary leadership in or support for the arts.

The deadline for nominations is Monday, August 15, at 4 p.m. EDT. The nomination form and other information can be found at https://kendigawards.com/.


Celebrating 37 years of honoring excellence in arts and culture, the Kendig Awards have been co-sponsored by Hollins University and Roanoke College since 2013. This year, the awards presentation and celebration will be held at Hollins in October; more details about the event will be announced at a later date.

Kendig Awards are presented in each of the following categories:

  • Individual Artist (selected from all disciplines, including dance, literature, music, media arts, visual arts, and theatre)
  • Arts and/or Cultural Organization
  • Individual or Business Arts Supporter

Individuals, businesses, and organizations from the greater Roanoke region (which includes the counties of Botetourt, Franklin, and Roanoke, the cities of Roanoke and Salem, and the town of Vinton) are eligible, as are past Kendig Award recipients from 1985 – 2012. Programs and full-time employees of Hollins University and Roanoke College are eligible to be nominated as well.

“Hollins University and Roanoke College have actively sought ways for students to immerse themselves in the Roanoke Region’s vibrant arts and cultural community,” said Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton. “Our students are often fortunate to find themselves working alongside a local visual artist in their studio or in the community, performing in a local theatrical production, or learning about arts administration during an internship at a non-profit organization.”

“When the Perry F. Kendig Awards found itself without a home in 2013, Hollins and Roanoke came together to keep the tradition alive in appreciation to the Roanoke region’s cultural community resources,” added Roanoke College President Mike Maxey. “In addition, Hollins and Roanoke hope that in presenting this annual program it will build an even stronger arts and culture bridge between the campus environment and community at large.”

Named for the late Perry F. Kendig, who served as president of Roanoke College and was an avid supporter and patron of the arts, the awards were presented by the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge for 27 years.

Meet Sydney Light, a HOPE Scholarship Recipient

Hollins University fosters an environment where young women have the opportunity to become leaders, decision makers, and cultural shapers.

Last fall, Hollins announced a new scholarship that prioritizes lifting the burden of private college tuition for students with financial need. Designed for students living in the Roanoke Valley region, the Hollins Opportunity for Promise through Education (HOPE) scholarship program supports young women who wish to pursue a Hollins degree with zero tuition debt.

We are excited to introduce another recipient of the HOPE scholarship program: Sydney Light, a senior at Roanoke’s Patrick Henry High School. We sat down to chat with Sydney to discuss the scholarship and what it means to her and her family.

Q: Tell us about yourself: Where do you go to school, what do you do for fun?

I am currently a senior at Patrick Henry. I play stand up bass at my school, in the Roanoke Youth Symphony Orchestra, and with my praise team at church. I’ve been playing since I was in sixth grade. A big reason I was drawn to Hollins was due to their prestigious fine arts programs.

I love dance, I’ve been dancing since I was two years old. I’ve also been a member of a competitive dance team for the last six years. I take dance classes for all genres including ballet, jazz, contemporary, hip hop, tap, and modern dance.

I am a certified lifeguard and swim instructor at the YMCA. I love teaching children. I learned how to swim at the YMCA so it’s my way of giving back. Swim lessons really do save lives, and I teach all ages. However, I mostly teach children.

When I want to relax, I enjoy going to Starbucks to just sit and be. I really like to color and play my bass when I get stressed out, too. I have a zero-period class at school where I can come in and play my instrument, and that’s really relaxing.

Q: What are you thinking about studying at Hollins?

My intended major is psychology, but I’d like to double minor in music and dance because I want to keep progressing and learning through the programs offered at Hollins. I’m interested in psychology because being a person who has anxiety, I want to learn more about helping others who also have a mental illness.

Q: What made you choose Hollins?

I applied to eight different colleges because I wanted a wide range of options. I went to Hollins on a tour and just fell in love with the campus, it’s gorgeous. One of the professors came and talked to me and made me feel like I was right at home. I feel like it’s a very inclusive school because of the student-to-professor ratio; I’m a visual and hands-on learner, so that kind of attention will help me along my journey. I thought about going to other schools out of town, but I visited Hollins and it clicked; it felt right. The study abroad program really piqued my interest because I haven’t really traveled very far; the farthest being Georgia. I’m ready for a new chapter and I feel like Hollins is the perfect place to do start.

The faculty and advisors I’ve met really solidified my decision, they were knowledgeable about what classes I’ll have to take and my workload. I felt safe and supported like I was in good hands so I didn’t have to stress. I’m really excited to start my journey at Hollins.

Q: What made you decide to apply for the HOPE scholarship?

It was a combination of personal and financial motivation; I really want to represent my college well. When I found Hollins University, I knew deep down that I wanted to go there but never actually said it out loud. When I found out about the HOPE scholarship, all I had to do was fill out this little form and I thought, “That’s it?” Then I found out I got it, and it was an easy decision from there on out.

Q: When you learned you got the scholarship, how did you feel?

I submitted my application for Hollins, expecting to hear back in a few weeks. Dance had me very preoccupied so I just let everything flow. When I finally checked my email, I saw that one of the advisors had emailed me introducing herself and suggested I come up for a tour. When I toured the campus and met with my advisor, my biggest question was, “If I do this, how much money will I have to pay?” I currently live with my mom and don’t have a relationship with my father, so financial planning is really important to me. Dance is not cheap so I have been employed since I was sixteen years old. I wanted to help my mom pay for dance class tuition, costumes, and other necessities.

My advisor mentioned the HOPE scholarship and helped guide me to apply for other scholarships to help pay for more things, too. I filled out the HOPE scholarship form, got it, and cried. It’s a big deal for me and I’m extremely proud of myself.

Q: What does the HOPE scholarship mean to you and your family?

For me, it’s a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Everything is super expensive and I lack some of the financial resources available to others; so for me and my family, it’s a big deal. My mom cried when she found out, she’s very proud of me and the person I am. COVID was a very difficult few years for me. I had surgery, I couldn’t finish my dance season, I barely touched my instrument, and the world was very small. I’ve had a lot of close friends pass away these past two years, so it’s been rough. But I’m glad I have people to talk to at Hollins and places I can go to get help. I already feel very loved at Hollins.

Q: What extracurricular activities are you looking at getting involved with at Hollins?

I think I’ll start by getting involved with volunteering. Right now, I’m in the National Honor Society at my school and I like to help out. I’d like to take advantage of the study abroad program, too. I’ll likely get involved with clubs pertaining to the music and dance programs. All the things I do now, I’d like to take with me; that was the most important thing to me when I was looking for schools.

The Power of HOPE

From psychology to dance and music, to helping those in need, there is no doubt Sydney will pave her own path of self-discovery and success at Hollins University.

If you are a young woman living in the greater Roanoke Valley and desire a college degree, but worry that the cost of tuition puts this dream out of reach, you have HOPE, the Hollins Opportunity for Promise through Education. Visit our HOPE program website to learn more about the requirements.

For Championing Mental Health Advocacy, Charvi Gangwani ’24 Is Named a 2022 Global Teen Leader

Charvi Gangwani ’24 is among the 34 young people representing 23 countries on five continents announced as the 2022 Three Dot Dash Global Teen Leaders (GTLs) by the We Are Family Foundation (WAFF).

The WAFF selected the GTLs based on their social good innovations, organizations, projects, and promise for a more just, equitable, and peaceful future.

In response to what she felt was a huge gap in mental heath resources available to students in her home country of India, Gangwani founded The Amygdala, an organization raising awareness about mental health issues, advocating for access to mental services in schools, and helping adolescents achieve psychological resilience through education and resources.

The Amygdala has become an international movement comprised of psychological education and mental health workshops and webinars, a speaker series that connects mental health professionals to students, and a series that highlights the stories of young mental health advocates. To date, they have led 74 sessions impacting more than 3,000 students worldwide, and their education guides have been used in 43 schools across India.

“This would not have been possible without the unconditional support that I have received from Hollins’ faculty and my peers,” stated Gangwani, a biology major and chemistry minor. “Hollins’ innovative classes such as “Social Media and Social Activism” (taught by Associate Professor of Communication Studies Vladimir Bratic) greatly supported me in my endeavors and instilled in me the 21st century skills needed to succeed with my social enterprise.”

The 2022 GTLs will convene virtually from July 11 – August 12 for WAFF’s Three Dot Dash Just Peace Summit. “I cannot wait to represent Hollins at the Summit,” Gangwani said.

The WAFF is a not-for-profit organization co-founded by legendary musician Nile Rodgers and is dedicated to the visions of a global family by creating programs that promote cultural diversity while nurturing and mentoring the vision, talents, and ideas of young people who are positively changing the world.

“The world is in a very dangerous place – environmentally, economically, politically, combined with systemic inequality and injustice permeating throughout,” said Rodgers and WAFF co-founder Nancy Hunt. “We need global cooperation to effectively address these issues, and we need to look to our global youth for their ideas, solutions, and actions to save our planet. They don’t believe in the word “NO.” They believe that anything is possible, and they ACT on it.”

Collectively, the work of this year’s GTLs addresses all 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.




“It Isn’t Enough to Say, ‘I Want to Create Change.’ I Want to be a Leader As I Create that Change.” Tyler Sesker ’22 Preps for a Career in Law/Public Policy

Black Student Alliance President. Student-Athlete. Student Success Leader. Batten Leadership Institute Participant. In making the most of her undergraduate experience at Hollins, Tyler Sesker ’22 has charted her own unique course. And with such a wide range of interests, it’s not surprising that she chose to major in gender and women’s studies (GWS).

“I never felt like I wasn’t being supported in what I wanted to do, and while GWS is a space where social justice work is very important, the department recognizes it happens in different ways for each student,” she explained. “Everybody’s attitude is, ‘Okay, if you want to do something that presses the bubble, let’s try all the things.’ GWS allows you to tailor your talents into how you want to change the world once you graduate.” Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette, who is a member of the GWS program faculty, introduced her to the criminal justice system and the idea of practicing law, resulting in Sesker’s pursuit of a pre-law concentration in tandem with her major. “I honestly would not have any of the experiences I had as an undergraduate without the support and guidance Professor Chenette has given me,” she said.

Sesker has felt called to bring a lasting impact to both individuals and communities. She interned during the summer of 2020 with the Democratic Attorneys General Association, where she worked on various campaigns related to policing. That experience piqued her interest in a Signature Internship with the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C., which was being offered during the 2021 January Short Term.

“When I applied, I thought I wanted to do work in housing. But when I interviewed, since my background was in policing, they told me they have a whole committee dedicated toward police work and people who are facing injustices within the justice system. So, I spent that entire internship looking into the law enforcement bill of rights – what states had it and what they were doing with it. I also researched states where defendants had been incarcerated for a long period of time because they couldn’t make bail or they had a ticket or fine they couldn’t afford to pay.” How juveniles fared under those circumstances became of particular concern to Sesker. “What happened if their parents couldn’t pay or simply couldn’t be found? They stayed in the system.”

In the summer of 2021, Sesker became one of only six undergraduates from across the nation chosen for pre-law positions in the Investigative Internship Program at the Georgetown University Law Center’s Criminal Justice Clinic. She focused on pre-trial evidence gathering and defense strategy building and assisted both adult and juvenile clients.

“I worked with their attorneys on a day-to-day basis, investigating what happened and finding and interviewing witnesses,” Sesker said.

Sesker also discovered that working with cases involving the immediate early release of inmates through a process known as “compassionate release” was especially rewarding. According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, inmates may be eligible for compassionate release in situations where there are “particularly extraordinary or compelling circumstances which could not reasonably have been foreseen by the court at the time of sentencing.” These circumstances may include “medical or humanitarian changes in an inmate’s situation.”

“These clients had already been incarcerated for a number of years – 20 years is the minimum for compassionate release,” Sesker said. She would often have to spend considerable time cutting through red tape to simply find eligible inmates, and then conduct lengthy interviews with them once they were located. “It was good though to learn from people what they were like when they were first incarcerated, and who they are now as they prepare for release. Hearing those stories makes it worthwhile in understanding why this person needs to be out.” Sesker also talked to the families of both the defendant and their victims. “It was exciting getting that perspective.”

For Sesker, the insights she gained from that internship are invaluable. “It’s one thing to talk about the prison system in class, but it’s something different to physically be in there. It’s frustrating when you see how the system has failed a client, but once you’ve seen it you know exactly what you want to do to fix it and how you want to do it.” The work was demanding, Sesker noted, “but I never felt like I was tired of it. I’m tired in a good way because I know I’m doing good work and I’m doing this because I’m helping somebody else. At the end of the day, I knew what I was doing is exactly where I wanted to be and what I want to keep doing once I graduate and go on to law school.”

Sesker has also found inspiration from her peers in being an active member and leader of the Black Student Alliance and in playing on the volleyball team during all four years of her undergraduate career. “Coming here and playing for Hollins has been a great experience. The teams are so excited for each other. I live in an apartment with two basketball players, a soccer player, and another volleyball player, and we’re always cheering each other on at games. That’s not what I saw at other schools. What’s so distinct about Hollins’ athletic department is that it’s a family that really cares for each other. I don’t think I would have had that experience anywhere else.”

Working as a Student Success Leader in the first-year seminar “Disabling Ableism” taught by Professor of Religious Studies Darla Schumm showed Sesker that one should always be open to new points of view from a variety of sources. “The course is dedicated to how we live in this ableist world that doesn’t pay attention to the disabled, and it was this mixing pot of learning and experiencing things. I was the SSL for the course, but I also felt like I was a student. There were plenty of days I came in and one of the first-years would tell me something they learned from the readings and I would say, ‘Wow, I never thought about that, teach me what I’m missing.’ They impacted me as much as I impacted them.”

This fall, Sesker will build upon her involvement in Hollins’ Batten Leadership Institute as she enters the Master of Public Policy program at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. She can potentially finish her master’s degree and complete law school in four years instead of five at UVa.

“Working on my senior thesis, I’ve been looking more into public policy and how to affect the things that I’m concerned about. Prison systems, policing, LGBTQ rights, things like that are impacted by public policy. That’s what interested me in the public policy program itself at UVa, and I was drawn by the leadership component it also offers. I don’t think I would be the student I am without the Batten Leadership Institute at Hollins, so to be able to go to program where public policy and leadership intertwine with each other is important. I don’t think it’s enough to just say, ‘I want to create change.’ I also want to be a leader when I’m creating that change.”


Before Law School, Mollie Davis ’22 Is Engaging in Community Service Helping Denver’s Unhoused Find Employment 

Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette describes Mollie Davis ’22 as someone who “advocates for something bigger and beyond themselves.” She has demonstrated that kind of activism throughout her Hollins undergraduate career and is now preparing to start a new chapter in bringing impactful change to a community’s quality of life.

Since arriving her first year, the political science (pre-law focus) and theatre double major has been involved in Model United Nations and Model Arab League. Model UN simulates the UN General Assembly and its other multilateral bodies, with students taking on ambassador roles while debating topics such as gender equality, climate action, and global health. Model Arab League is a civic and public affairs leadership development program coordinated by the National Council on U.S. – Arab Relations (NCUSAR) where students learn about the politics and history of the Arab world, and the arts of diplomacy and public speech. For Davis, participation has given her newfound confidence in both academic and professional endeavors. Davis’ outside of school activities while at Hollins have included traveling to Washington, D.C., to speak at gun reform rallies and conferences, participating in the internationally recognized “Guns In America” TIME magazine project, and volunteering for a 2020 presidential primary campaign. 

“As a person who stutters, activities that involve public speaking are typically not the most welcoming environments,” she said. “But we deserve to be in those spaces just as much as fluently speaking people. Model UN and Model Arab League gave me the opportunity to push back against what society expects of people who stutter and I’m very grateful for that.”

Davis’ Model UN/Model Arab League experiences culminated this March when she joined 13 other Hollins students at the National University Model Arab League Conference in Washington, D.C., and was named Outstanding Delegate, the top honor given by NCUSAR. She was recognized for her representation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the Joint Defense Council, and at the time reflected that her success “had an impact on more than just myself.”

In addition to Model UN/Model Arab League, Davis has devoted significant time to immersing herself in the theatre world. “I’ve enjoyed getting to do hands-on tech work on different shows,” she noted. For her senior honors thesis, she wrote a one-act play that draws deeply upon actual events from her own personal life. “The play is about growing up in a military town and how a shooting at my high school changed how I view patriotism and politics.” 

A reading of the play, which starred Davis in the role of the narrator, was produced this spring. 

This summer, Davis will embark on a one-year fellowship with the Episcopal Service Corps, an organization that offers young adults the opportunity to perform a wide range of community outreach activities in locations throughout the United States. In August she will head to Denver, Colorado, “where I’ll be working at the employment services program of St. Francis Center, which helps unhoused men and women in the metro Denver area develop skills, gain work experience, and connect with full time employment.” 

While in Denver, she plans to start the application process for entering law school in the fall of 2023.

“After the shooting at my high school just five months before move-in (for her first year at Hollins), I was hesitant to leave my hometown (Great Mills, Maryland),” Davis said. “There were nights where I considered rescinding my acceptance and staying put in the bubble I’d come to view Great Mills as. But I didn’t do that. I moved 300 miles away to go to Hollins and have not once regretted it.” 

“I’m excited to live in the future that Mollie and other students will shape,” Chenette said.


Through Design Thinking, Zahin Mahbuba ’22 Seeks to Transform the World – One Person at a Time

Zahin Mahbuba ’22 has enjoyed an especially memorable – and impactful – senior year at Hollins.

During the 2021-22 academic session, the international studies major and economics minor from Bangladesh furthered her aspiration of becoming a trendsetter at Hollins and beyond through the University Innovation Fellows (UIF) program sponsored by Stanford University’s Hass Plattner Institute of Design (d.school).

UIF empowers student leaders to help their peers build the creative confidence and entrepreneurial mindset needed to address global challenges. “It is absolutely life changing,” said Mahbuba, who was accepted into the program last fall after successfully completing UIF’s rigorous application process with her faculty sponsor, Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette. She remotely completed UIF’s four-week training program, where she learned “how you can build stuff, how you gather resources, how you get people on board.”

Mahbuba and Chenette spent the next several months focusing on how immigrant populations and refugees often become entrepreneurs after arriving in America or other Western countries, an innovative mindset that Mahbuba thought could be used to develop experiential learning opportunities for Hollins students. “How can you create things in your environment and ecosystem that don’t exist yet, but you know should be there?” she summarized in an October 2021 interview.

To that end, Mahbuba served as a student success leader for the Fall Term 2021 first-year seminar “Sustainability and Social Innovation,” where she engaged in a design-thinking framework. “One of my major goals last semester was to get as many people as I could to understand design thinking, especially in our first-year seminar where that was our entire focus,” she explained.

University Innovation Fellows
Zahin Mahbuba ’22 (second from left) traveled to Stanford in March.

Supported by a $5,500 grant she received when she was honored last summer with Hollins’ first-ever Changemaker Award for entrepreneurship, Mahbuba’s UIF experience culminated this March when she traveled to Stanford with Chenette to spend five days working with a cohort of 200 people from around the world. “This was a bunch of students my age in college who have amazing ideas and are doing amazing things. If you just left them in a room or in the school for a year, I think they could literally change the world.” She also got to meet professors from d.school who, even though they were from different departments and represented different disciplines, “all shared a strong belief in how design can be an agent for change.”

From the beginning, Mahbuba said, the UIF sessions “put innovation in the space of understanding how it can benefit communities.” Mahbuba’s group was given the task of solving a real-life problem for a rural family with financial restrictions that suffered from asthma. “One of the students created an inexpensive air pollution detector that you can put in your room to measure air quality. It can alert the family to open a window, turn on a fan, or just stop cooking for a couple of hours. Another team I met developed a software program that was installed in a village that had never had an internet connection. Through that, they were able to provide internet access to children for remote schooling.”

She noted that innovation “doesn’t always look like a product. It can be changing a specific system or working toward affordably helping people in the community.”

Mahbuba presented to her cohort her passion for “relearning how to learn. It’s about educational systems and how things are not always in silos. In order for design thinking to become the next transformative tool in the world, we have to integrate learning beginning at a very young age. By the time we get to college, we’re already trying to figure out how to connect the dots and we miss out on what the bigger picture looks like. You walk out of a math class and into an English class with no focus on connecting what you’ve learned from math and how that might relate to English.” If such a mindset is adopted, she concluded, it becomes easier to “understand the situational problems that we face on a day-to-day basis.”

University Innovation Fellows at Stanford
Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette (left) and Zahin Mahbuba ’22 on the Stanford campus.

The students in Mahbuba’s cohort were creative and driven. The sessions in which she participated were intense. But, she emphasized that “nothing about this was competition. Our competition was to beat the problem we were facing. We had to actively and continuously work together to find simple solutions, and we shared this worldly view of what we can do to better the community.”

Nevertheless, the UIF program sought to balance the often-frenetic schedule. “There were many opportunities for self-reflection and mindfulness,” Mahbuba said. “We did one activity where we just went outside, laid down on the grass, and looked at the sky. It taught me to see the beauty of slowing down. When you do that, you see things more for what they are. Hustling 24/7 actually wears you down and keeps you from completing meaningful work.”


Mahbuba said she has come out of the UIF program with an even greater appreciation for making impressions on a personal level. “Impacting one life at a time is something. It’s developing relationships with communities and people to implement transformative change instead of thinking, ‘Oh, this is an entire population I need to help.’ Being able to go to Stanford and work with these people and at the same time work on an individual basis with communities and families and households has shown me that impact starts with bite-size pieces. It’s how these people can benefit and then take the opportunity to develop that even more.”

Recently inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, Mahbuba has been accepted into graduate school programs at the University of Pennsylvania, Emory University, Northeastern University, and Florida International University. However, she’s decided to defer going to grad school. “The programs in which I am interested center mostly around educational development and a process toward a lot of institutionalized change,” she explained. “They require fieldwork above and beyond the internship experiences that I’ve had at Hollins. So, I think its important for me to join the workforce for a year. One of the companies I’m pursuing is a legal firm that works with marginalized communities on educational and legal development, an area I’m very interested in.”

At the same time, Mahbuba is actively working with Chenette on making the UIF program an ongoing opportunity for future generations on campus. “I don’t want this to be a one-off thing for me. We’d like the next cohort to contain a group of Hollins students who are innovative thinkers with diverse backgrounds.”


Meet Be Lalanne, A HOPE Scholarship Recipient

Hollins University fosters an environment where young women have the opportunity to become leaders, decision makers, and cultural shapers.

Last fall, Hollins announced a new scholarship that prioritizes lifting the burden of private college tuition for students with financial need. Designed for students living in the Roanoke Valley region, the Hollins Opportunity for Promise through Education (HOPE) scholarship program supports young women who wish to pursue a Hollins degree with zero tuition debt.

We are excited to introduce one of the first recipients of the HOPE scholarship program: Be Lalanne, a senior at Roanoke’s William Fleming High School. We sat down with Be to discuss the scholarship and what it means to her and her family.

Q: Tell us about yourself: where do you go to school, what do you do for fun?
On the weekends, I usually hang out with my friends or I like to stay home and play with my dog or be with myself sometimes. I spend most of my time at my job, Krispy Kreme. As for school activities, I got to try DECA and get involved with the Special Olympics, which was really fun.

Q: What are you thinking about studying at Hollins?
I plan on majoring in mathematics with specifics in computer science. Math is one of my favorite subjects, and I think I’m good at it. Once I understand the formula and the specifics of what’s going on, it clicks for me. Math is my strong point. I like technology in general, so it would be a good mix of majors.

I was taking French in high school, but I didn’t get the full experience because of the move to online classes during COVID. I want to minor in French because most of my family speaks the language. My family is Haitian, so most of them speak Creole or French, so I’d love to learn French. I want to study abroad in France, too. That’s something that I’m really interested in.

Q: What made you choose Hollins?
Hollins is really close to home. It was the first college I looked at because my guidance counselor suggested it. When I found out Hollins was an all-women’s college, that caught my eye because I thought that was super cool. I started looking into what Hollins was known for, the campus, the study abroad programs, and everything else; that’s what made me really like the school and want to study there.

Q: What made you decide to apply for the HOPE Scholarship?
I had gotten a lot of emails about the scholarship, but I didn’t think too much about them at first because I didn’t think I’d win. A lot of people apply and I thought the chances would be low. My mom and I were talking about how we were going to pay for college, like what loans to apply for. That’s when I mentioned the HOPE scholarship emails, and my mom encouraged me to apply and said what she always says: “You never know what could happen.”

Q: When you learned you got the scholarship, how did you feel?
It was such a big surprise. After I had applied for the scholarship, my mom and I went to visit the Hollins campus for the first time. After the tour was over, we sat down with Madeline in Admission and she asked me questions like, what other colleges am I looking at attending, am I planning on staying in the area, what am I interested in. I was answering her questions, but I mentioned that once I saw Hollins’ campus, met the people, and saw all that the university had to offer, I said, “This is where I want to be.” That’s when Madeline said, “I have something to tell you.” Then there was this long pause and I’m
thinking to myself, “Something happened. What’s happening?”, and she said, “You won the HOPE Scholarship!” I just sat there in shock and looked at my mom. My mom looked at Madeline and
said, “Are you serious?!”, and we just looked at each other and started crying. It was so heartwarming. To celebrate, we got some pizza and party confetti poppers, then we watched a movie!

Q: What does the HOPE scholarship mean to you and your family?
The scholarship means a lot to all of us. I am a first-generation college student, so I know this takes a lot of stress off me and my mom. Knowing I don’t have to work really hard after school and find a job that pays better for school is a relief. This scholarship really encourages me to go to college and learn. My mom is so happy and I’m hoping this will encourage my sister to go to college, too.

The Power of HOPE
After speaking with Be, there is no doubt she will flourish at Hollins. From mathematics and computer science, to French and studying abroad, Be will make her family proud as a first-generation college student.

If you are a young woman living in the greater Roanoke Valley and desire a college degree, but worry that the cost of tuition puts this dream out of reach, you have HOPE, the Hollins Opportunity for Promise through Education. Visit our HOPE program website to learn more about the requirements.

Guided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, First-Year Seminar and J-term Students Meet Community Needs

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) announced “a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.” The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 interconnected global objectives intended to serve as “a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all people and the world….”

During fall term this year, Assistant Professor of Education Teri Wagner and Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Mary Jane Carmichael answered the UN’s call by launching a new first-year seminar entitled, “Ask Not What Your Community Can Do for You: Sustainability and Social Innovation.” Under Wagner’s leadership, the course was extended into the 2022 January Short Term (J-term).

The first-year seminar was also supported by a student success leader (SSL): Zahin Mahbuba ’22, who was selected as a 2021-22 University Innovation Fellow by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. Fellows design experiences to help their peers gain the creative confidence, agency, and entrepreneurial mindset needed to address global challenges.

“It was just serendipitous that Zahin ended up as our SSL,” Wagner said. “One of the reasons it worked out so well is that my dissertation centered on design-based learning and how you implement it into the classroom. With Zahin doing this internship, we spent a lot of time brainstorming and thinking through the course together.”

Wagner went on to explain that “Sustainability and Social Innovation is based on the SDGs. Students in the first-year seminar dug into those goals and ranked the three that interested them the most. From those rankings we divided the students into four groups, asked each group to focus on a specific SDG, and had them identify a problem in the local community that they’d like to solve. We then connected each group with a community organization in the Roanoke Valley that is working on initiatives related to that goal. Students in the first-year seminar spent fall term planning and designing projects, and those in the J-term extension implemented them.”

The groups chose the SDGs “Good Health and Well-being,” “Quality Education,” “Gender Equality,” and “Life on Land” for their respective projects; to secure funding, each team in the first-year seminar applied for a Warren W. Hobbie Ethics and Service Endowment grant. The purpose of the Hobbie Endowment is to provide Hollins students with a program of experiential or service learning opportunities that require students to confront values or ethical issues. “They had to specify what they intended to purchase and how much it was going to cost,” Wagner said. “Each group received a grant, and the awards ranged from $550 to more than $800.”

New Horizons Healthcare
Julia Rigney ’23 delivers bins of health and hygiene products to New Horizons Healthcare in Roanoke.

The group centering on “Good Health and Well-being” partnered with Carilion Children’s, which provides pediatric programs and services to residents of Roanoke and southwest Virginia. Carilion in turn linked the group with New Horizons Healthcare, a not-for-profit, community-based family health center that cares for underserved patients in the greater Roanoke area. The team put together “health bins” for New Horizon that contained shampoo, deodorant, soap, lotion, aspirin, ibuprofen, cough/cold medicine, sanitary products, and other items. Over $550 in supplies were donated.

For the “Quality Education” goal, the group assigned worked closely with Roanoke’s West End Center for Youth, which for 40 years has championed youth development and literacy. “The group learned about how so many children are way behind in reading due to the pandemic,” Wagner said, “so they purchased all kinds of reading materials, flash cards, games, and other supplies such as notebooks for the West End Center. They also bought them subscriptions to Hooked on Phonics and an online program where students can practice their reading skills.” A Hollins faculty member generously matched the $550 Hobbie Grant the group received, so at total of $1,100 was devoted to the project.

The “Gender Equality” group collaborated with Planned Parenthood Roanoke to address the issue of “period poverty,” a lack of access to menstrual products, hygiene tools, and education. The group used its $700 Hobbie Grant to create 250 “period packs,” zippered black pouches containing tampons, pads, hand sanitizer, and peppermint tea. The packs will be distributed to students in local schools.

The danger of invasive plant species in the region and how it impacts all kinds of ecosystems informed the work of the “Life on Land” team. “Working with the Hollins Tree Committee, this group received $862 in Hobbie Grant funds and purchased four trees that they planted on campus, two red maples and two white oaks,” Wagner said. “The students also wrote 500-word articles on different topics that will be published in an upcoming guide for Plant Southwest Virginia Natives,” a campaign intending to raise awareness, appreciation, and application of native plants in the region’s landscapes. Additional educational outreach related to the tree planting is in progress and will be announced in the near future.

Wagner will be teaching “Sustainability and Social Innovation” again next fall and during the 2023 J-term. “As soon as the students are assigned to teams, I plan on engaging them with their community partners as early in fall term as possible,” Wagner stated. “We’re also going to employ a project management framework in both the fall and J-term courses so that the students can grow their project management skills.”

The feedback she received from students in both courses this year has been gratifying. “It was eye-opening and invaluable for them to be able to work on a real project with real people in the community who had a demonstrated need they were able to help fill. They felt like they were making a difference.”


Top photo (left to right): Shakirra Payne-Felder ’23, Mai Nguyen ’25, and Hoa Nguyen ’22 in front of the West End Center for Youth in Roanoke. 

“What Hope Means”: Josh Chapman of Roanoke’s Community High School Talks about Support, Innovation at Hollins

The rising cost of college tuition can be a deterrent for many high school seniors looking to pursue higher education. However, a new scholarship program through Hollins University will alleviate that burden for some students.

The Hollins Opportunity for Promise through Education (HOPE) guarantees that select first-year students from the surrounding Roanoke area can attend Hollins tuition free, full time, for four years. Josh Chapman M.A.L.S. ’05, M.F.A. ‘07, a college counselor and the academic director and head of school at Roanoke’s Community High School, spoke about the incredible support and innovation happening at Hollins.

Q: What has been your experience working as a counselor with Hollins University? 

The Hollins University Office of Admission has always been very communicative and had great outreach. They are curious about students in a holistic and thorough way. They’ve always been a pleasure to deal with and they really care about the individuals applying to their campus.

Q: Why would you encourage a student to choose Hollins? 

I’m a little biased. I’m an alumnus of the graduate program in creative writing and also got my Master of Arts in Liberal Studies at Hollins.

My father moved here to be in the creative writing program around 1970. Hollins is what brought us here, so I know the campus really well. It is unique in the context of education compared to other liberal arts institutions in Virginia and nationwide.

If you’ve never been on the campus, go look. It’s a beautiful place. It’s pedestrian friendly and quite beautiful. The faculty are really giving of their time. Because the predominant enrollment is undergraduate paired with small class sizes, they spend a lot of time with individual students creating strong bonds.

Of course, there are some famous and celebrated programs. I am biased toward the creative writing program, but I’ve also worked with students who have gone into careers in business and research science. That said, even if you don’t know your career path forward, Hollins is a great place to find out what you want to do. Hollins helps you set goals and find who you are.

Q: What was your first take on the HOPE program?

As someone who has worked with a lot of students, as a parent of a child attending university, and as the spouse of a college professor, I understand that the price tag of a liberal arts college is high. However, it ends up being a better deal, ironically. Private liberal arts colleges are almost always more generous with financial aid. That said, the cost of a four-year college education, public or private, is becoming very difficult.

In recent years several colleges have worked to make it more affordable. The wonderful thing about the HOPE program is that it says a couple of specific and special things about the Roanoke Valley.

For starters, if you are qualified to go to Hollins academically and your gender identity is applicable, then they care about having you there. It is an international student body, but they really want to serve people in the Roanoke Valley. After a century and a half plus, that level of commitment is profound and wonderful.

Q: How is the HOPE program different from other financial aid options?

The typical financial aid system can be very confusing and off-putting to people. With the HOPE program, we get to say that a student will be tuition free upfront. It isn’t a question that something might change, and for the vast majority of families that makes this more accessible than other options. They get an undergraduate education at an institute that is nationally known and has a strong graduate program.

I am so excited that they were able to communicate this option with people. I’ve seen even in their first year, many students can breathe a sigh of relief. They have options. They now know that they don’t have to stress about affording to go to college.

For most families, paying for college is far more worrisome than getting in. My father worked his way through college at a pizza restaurant. That is simply impossible for this generation to imagine. Beginning professional life burdened with debt can have severe consequences. Hollins has just reduced that anxiety considerably.

Q: In closing, what do you hope for your students or students in the Roanoke Valley? 

We are very lucky to live here, near many higher education institutions. Hollins is relatively unique among them. My hope is that this scholarship program does the following essential things.

Hollins is full of wonderful students, many of whom are local to this beautiful area. I hope that they will stay here and help the Roanoke Valley. Also, I hope that this starts a conversation around other regional liberal arts colleges. They should all have a commitment to their home communities. One thing that they can do is to recognize that commitment to local people and not get distracted by national rankings or other competition. Hollins is at the forefront and I applaud it and I hope it spreads.

Interested in finding out more about Hollins University and the HOPE program? Visit our HOPE program website to learn more about the requirements.