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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


“What Hope Means”: President Hinton Shares What Hope Personally Means to Her In Light Of New Scholarship Opportunity

In October, Hollins University announced a new scholarship opportunity specifically developed for young women in the Roanoke Valley region hoping to earn a college education.

Hollins Opportunity for Promise through Education (HOPE) is a scholarship program that offers a pathway forward for these young women. It’s the chance to turn the hope of a college degree into reality, with scholarship recipients being granted the ability to attend Hollins full-time for four years —  tuition free.

The HOPE scholarship program is intentionally named.

Hope is a powerful and motivating force in our individual lives and in our communities. For each and every life’s journey, there is first a sliver of hope for what’s to come. Hope for who we want to be and a hope for how we want to become our future selves.

In our “What Hope Means” series, we’re highlighting conversations with individuals from our Hollins community who discuss what hope personally means to them. We’re also spotlighting the powerful impact that this scholarship will have on the ambitious young women in the Roanoke Valley who are striving to better themselves through their education.

What ‘HOPE’ Means to Mary Dana Hinton, Ph.D., President of Hollins University

Hollins University President Mary Dana Hinton’s journey as a leader in higher education began with her own hope for a brighter future.

Growing up in rural North Carolina in a low-income household, Hinton’s ambition was to attend college. Achieving this goal would place her in the first generation of her family to do so.

“College was always a dream of mine, but I wasn’t entirely sure how I would bring that dream to reality,” she said. “I know what it feels like to hope and to wonder if an education is even possible.”

For Hinton, it was the generosity of both individuals and her community that helped her attend college. Having that support to ensure her hopes and dreams were realized has been the driving motivation for her career ever since.

“My single goal in this life is to strive toward ensuring that no other young woman has to worry about how she will overcome the barriers to earning her education. If she hopes to get an education to uplift herself, her family, and her community, I want to help make that possible.”

Hinton’s Hope for HOPE 

Through her first-hand experiences, Hinton understands the critical importance of creating systems and processes that enable a young person who wants to achieve a college education the opportunity to do so.

She has built a career as an active and respected proponent of the liberal arts and inclusivity, and her leadership efforts reflect her deep and abiding commitment to educational equity, particularly supporting young women who may not be able to envision a pathway from high school to college.

“My hope is that this scholarship program will allow any young woman in the Roanoke Valley Region the opportunity to chase her dreams, to fulfill her grandest aspirations and to enable us here at Hollins University to help her envision, leverage, and grow into her fullest potential,” Hinton said.

“That was missing for me as a young adult, and so it is my privilege, my honor, and my responsibility to create these opportunities for others,” she added.

The Power of HOPE 

Funded by the generosity of Hollins alumnae, friends, and donors, the Hollins Opportunity Promise through Education program is designed to remove some of the financial worry and burden for local families who seek to pursue an education for their daughters.

Hollins’ HOPE scholarship is a direct means for turning hope into action. The scholarship creates an opportunity for young women and their families to identify a pathway forward in achieving their dreams of attending college.

For Hinton, the effect of one educational experience is not limited to the young woman earning it. The actual impact is much more widespread.

“When an individual has the opportunity to receive or achieve an education, they then have the responsibility to help lift up their communities and all those around them,” she said. “Our HOPE scholarship will certainly give hope to the young women who receive it, but our expectation is that they will then become conveyors and conduits of hope in our local community.”

To learn more about Hollins Opportunity for Promise through Education scholarship, visit hope.hollins.edu.

 


Hollins Modifies Transfer Guidelines for VCCS Grads

Starting this fall, Hollins University is awarding Virginia Community College System (VCCS) graduates who transfer to the institution full credit for completion of the university’s general education requirements.

The new policy supports VCCS students who earn qualifying associate’s degrees after the conferral of their high school diploma as they seek to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics, or the fine arts.

Laura McLary, Nora Kizer Bell Provost at Hollins, praised the VCCS for the important role it plays in supporting students who wish to pursue a four-year degree.

“Existing data indicate that students of color, first-generation college students, and students with limited financial resources are more likely to attend community college than white students, students with family members who have attended college, and students with greater financial resources,” she said. “Hollins is excited to take this step to acknowledge the work of VCCS students, and welcome more transfer students into the rich tapestry of our community.”

McLary explained that VCCS graduates today benefit from “a robust general education curriculum designed to emphasize academic exploration of the liberal arts. This approach mirrors our own general education program at Hollins, which stresses what a student needs to be successful in the workplace and in life.”

Hollins’ Vice President for Enrollment Management Ashley Browning added, “This policy represents an important step in Hollins’ goal to become a more transfer-friendly institution. In addition to our scholarship guarantee of $20,000 for transfer students, this policy for VCCS students allows us to clearly communicate that we are confident that they are ready to be successful here. Already, transfer students who attend Hollins graduate at impressive rates: 87.5% of transfer students who attend Hollins graduate.”

The new transfer guidelines do not guarantee that a student will be able to complete a bachelor’s degree in two years following receipt of a qualifying associate’s degree. McLary noted, however, that VCCS students will have the benefit of jumping directly into courses focused on their intended area of study.

For more information about transferring to Hollins, visit the university’s webpage for transfer students or email transfer@hollins.edu.

Hollins is an independent liberal arts university offering undergraduate liberal arts education for women and selected graduate programs for women and men. Founded in 1842, the university features 29 undergraduate majors and 15 coed graduate and certificate programs. Hollins is also home to a nationally recognized creative writing program; the innovative Batten Leadership Institute; and the Rutherfoord Center for Experiential Learning, which encompasses study abroad at an array of destinations around the world, domestic and international internships with top tier businesses and organizations, and research opportunities in a range of fields.


New Scholarship Program Fully Covers Tuition Costs for Young Women Locally with Financial Need

Hollins University is launching a new scholarship initiative that prioritizes lifting the burden of private college tuition for students with financial need.

Designed for students living in the greater Roanoke Valley region, the Hollins Opportunity for Promise through Education (HOPE) scholar program specifically supports young women who wish to pursue a college degree at Hollins with zero tuition debt.

“HOPE makes a college education affordable for young women regardless of their ability to pay, and supports them in taking the next step toward achieving their academic and professional goals,” said Ashley Browning, vice president for enrollment management at Hollins.

Under HOPE, any young woman admitted to Hollins for the fall of 2022 who resides within 40 miles of campus is invited to apply. Students whose families have a household adjusted gross income of $50,000 or less will receive priority when HOPE funds are awarded.

“The cost of tuition is fully covered for HOPE scholars for all four years, including any year-over-year tuition increases, through a blend of academic merit scholarship, need-based federal and institutional aid, and the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant,” Browning explained. “HOPE scholars who live on campus may choose to apply federal loans to the cost of room and board.”

The HOPE scholar program is intended to enhance the already vibrant community of Hollins students from the local area. “Nearly 12% of our student body hails from the greater Roanoke Valley,” Browning said. “Roughly two-thirds of those students commute and one-third are in residence.”

Browning emphasized that a local student whose family’s household adjusted gross income exceeds $50,000 can still qualify for generous financial assistance at Hollins. “We award over $29 million annually in scholarships and financial aid above and beyond the HOPE program. All first-year, full-time students admitted to Hollins are guaranteed $24,000 annually in academic merit scholarships. And, local students benefit from many types of financial support beyond HOPE, including endowed scholarships specifically for students hailing from our home region.”

Candidates wishing to receive first-round consideration for HOPE funds beginning in fall 2022 should submit a completed application for admission and scholarship application by January 1, 2022. “Submissions received after that date will be reviewed as funds are available,” Browning added.


Playwright’s Lab Director Todd Ristau Among Kendig Award Winners

Several arts individuals and organizations including Todd Ristau, director of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, have been honored with Perry F. Kendig Awards for 2020 and 2021.

Co-sponsored by Roanoke College and Hollins University, the Kendig Awards recognize individuals, businesses, and organizations in Virginia’s Blue Ridge (the counties of Roanoke, Botetourt, and Franklin, as well as the cities of Roanoke and Salem and the town of Vinton) that support excellence in the arts.

The awards were presented during a ceremony at Roanoke College’s Olin Hall on October 5. The awards ceremony was hosted by Roanoke College President Michael C. Maxey and Hollins University President Mary Dana Hinton.

“The Kendig Awards highlight the vital and important role that the arts play in the economic development, education, and cultural identity of Virginia’s Blue Ridge,” Maxey said.

Roanoke College President Michael C. Maxey and Hollins University President Mary Dana Hinton with Individual Artist Award winner Todd Ristau (center).

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s awards ceremony combined nominees for 2020 and 2021, and two winners were awarded in each category.

Ristau was one of two winners announced for the Individual Artist Award. He designed and founded the Playwright’s Lab and has served as program director since its launch in 2007. His work has been performed in theatres across the United States and England, including London’s West End. He founded No Shame Theatre in 1986 and led its evolution into a national network of venues for new works in dozens of cities. He has an extensive theatre background, with expertise in acting, directing, and design. He’s known for his incredible mentorship of emerging playwrights, and his courage in advocating for the spaces and resources for this new work to enter the world.

Other Kendig Award winners include:

Individual Artist Award

Pat Wilhelms founded Roanoke Children’s Theatre in 2008 and carried the organization from 2008-2020. In 2020, Wilhelms founded PB & J Theatre Company. PB & J strives to bring new theatre opportunities for young and not so  young, that educate, challenge and inspire. Wilhelms is quick to point out that her acting workshops and productions aren’t just for kids. They are for everyone.  She is a true visionary with a keen eye for producing top-notch stage direction for theatre for young audiences. Before establishing Roanoke Children’s Theatre in 2008, she was director of education and outreach at Mill Mountain Theatre for many years. She loves the Roanoke Valley and has a true endless love for the young people in the community.

Arts and Cultural Organization Awards

The Arts and Cultural Organization Award winners are Roanoke College’s Olin Hall Galleries  and the Smith Mountain Arts Council.

The vision, programming, breadth of shows, and interaction with the community that are all central to the work and mission of Olin Hall Galleries. Olin Galleries exhibits have ranged from on-site installations and residencies, to shows geared toward highlighting collaboration among the disciplines on the Roanoke College campus. Some shows were multi-year projects involving workshops and programming to create community-generated exhibits, such as the Coral Reef Project or Paper Blooms. Olin Hall Galleries have creatively pushed to reinvent itself with each season, providing high-quality shows, generous artists, immersive experiences and community engagement through workshops, lectures and openings. This innovation in exhibits and outreach in programming year to year makes Olin Hall Galleries a leader in the arts community in Roanoke Valley .

Presidents Maxey and Hinton flank the winners of the Perry F. Kendig Awards for 2020 and 2021.

The Smith Mountain Arts Council is the main community arts organization for the three-county Smith Mountain Lake area and has taken the leadership in this area for over 30 years. The 20-member board convenes once a month to plan events and determine networking and scholarship opportunities in the community. Past annual events have included an art show, photo shows, productions by Lake Players (a community theatre group), p  by the community chorus Lakeside Singers, and an annual Christmas concert. The Smith Mountain Arts Council also sponsors the Franklin County chapter of Junior Appalachian Musicians, teaching 30 to 40 children a year in their choice of fiddle, guitar or banjo. The Smith Mountain Arts Council uplifts all aspects of the arts community not only in the Smith Mountain Lake area but all throughout Virginia’s Blue Ridge.

 

Individual or Business Arts Supporter Award

The Individual or Business Arts Supporter Award winners are Shelby and Jason Bingham. The award was presented posthumously to Don and Barbara Smith with their family accepting the award on their behalf.

Shelby and Jason Bingham made their mark on the arts in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Upon moving to Roanoke, their children became involved in various organizations, and the Binghams brought their keen leadership, generous spirits, and innovative thinking to these organizations. For the Southwest Virginia Ballet, Shelby created a “Backstage Committee,” which has become a significant fundraising component of the ballet. She served on the company’s Board of Directors and received its Volunteer of the Year award.  Jason’s tenure in Roanoke has included service on Mill Mountain Theatre’s Board of Directors. He was part of a small core of board members who labored for four years to take the nonprofit theatre from

overburdened by operating debt to a sustainable new business model. The Binghams did whatever it took to put the theatre back on track. The investment in their children’s futures was the motivation for their incredible gifts of energy and resources to the arts in our region.

During their lives, Don and Barbara Smith worked tirelessly and generously to support the arts and culture in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Their support was legendary, both financially and through their hands-on leadership. Don served on more than 25 local, regional and national boards, including Center in the Square, the Jefferson Center, Mill Mountain Theatre, the Roanoke Symphony, and the Virginia Foundation for Arts and Sciences. He was awarded the Key to the City of Roanoke. Barbara wrote poetry and loved music and theatre. In honor of their charitable spirits, the Don and Barbara Smith Kids Square Museum in Center in the Square  was dedicated to them. Their five children have followed in their parents’ footsteps and are givers to the community themselves. Grandchildren are now becoming involved in giving back to the community as well. Some of them have chosen or are studying for careers in the fine arts or performing arts.

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 Kendig Awards program was established in 1985 and presented annually by the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge through 2012. Hollins and Roanoke College first partnered the following year to bestow the honors. Kendig’s sons Bill and John attended Tuesday’s event to represent the Kendig family.

Congratulations to the winners!

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sullivan Foundation Workshop Encourages First-Year Students to Embrace “Head, Heart, Hustle”

Students in Hollins University’s first-year seminar “Sustainability and Social Innovation” are focused on finding ways to address the world’s most pressing problems as they present themselves in our local communities. Class members recently received inspiration and a blueprint on how to start finding their purpose as social entrepreneurs through “Head, Heart, Hustle,” an interactive workshop presented by the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation.

Reagan Pugh Sullivan Foundation
The Sullivan Foundation’s Reagan Pugh: “The most effective young people are the most reflective young people.”

 

“What we do is simply support young people who want to be changemakers,” explained Reagan Pugh, a facilitator with the Sullivan Foundation. Partnering with a network of 70 schools throughout the southeastern United States, the foundation seeks through college scholarships, awards, and events and programming to inspire young people to prioritize service to others above self-interest.

Pugh discussed with the students the idea of finding “an intersection” between one’s own beliefs, passions, and skills. “We know that we want that, but some of us are not one hundred percent clear what that looks like. It’s a work in progress. The most effective young people are the most reflective young people.” He urged the class to “take a minute and pay attention to what’s going on around us and make observations. Then, pick a path forward and do that incrementally over time. Move toward finding something that’s right for [you] and right for the world.”

In the “Head, Heart, Hustle” workshop, Pugh led the students in recognizing potential career pathways that employ one’s head (an individual’s skills and unique gifts) and align with one’s heart (the issues that matter most) in order to develop a hustle (a vocation) that fits the individual and serves others.

“If you leave here today and you have a clear step of something you might try, in real life, to bring you clarity about what you might want to do,” Pugh noted, “that’s our goal.”

Sustainability and Social Innovation
In the first-year seminar “Sustainability and Social Innovation,” students are “challenged to ask not what your community can do for you, but what you can do for your community.”

At Hollins, all first-year students take a first-year seminar. These seminars allow them to participate in collaborative and active learning and to hone their skills in critical thinking, creative problem solving, research, writing, and oral communication. Each seminar also has an upper-class student mentor called a Student Success Leader, or SSL. SSLs attend the seminar, help students with advising, and answer academic questions.

“Igniting passion into people and seeing them transform will always be a concept that’s magical to me,” said Zahin Mahbuba ’22, who serves as the SSL for “Sustainability and Social Innovation.” From her perspective, the workshop had a profound impact. “It was tremendous to see the students being struck by their own sense of inspiration and to ultimately want to build on their passions.”

Assistant Professor of Education Teri Wagner co-teaches “Sustainability and Social Innovation” with Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Mary Jane Carmichael. “At the heart of the concepts of sustainability and social innovation is stewardship – the responsible use and protection of the environment around your through thoughtful and intentional practices that enhance ecosystem resilience and human well-being,” Wagner said. The concept of stewardship, she added, is applicable not only to the environment and nature, but also to economics, health, information, theology, cultural resources, and beyond.

“In this seminar, we challenge students to develop innovative solutions to complex problems by applying design thinking principles while working in multidisciplinary collaborative teams. We challenge them to ask not what your community can do for you, but what you can do for your community.”

 

 

 


President Hinton Among University Presidents, CEOs, and Civic Leaders Urging Passage of Bipartisan DREAM Act

Citing an uncertain future for hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, their employers, families, and communities after a Texas federal judge declared DACA unlawful and closed the DACA program to future applicants, more than 400 university presidents, CEOs, and civic leaders, including Hollins University President Mary Dana Hinton, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) advocating passage of the bipartisan Durbin-Graham DREAM Act of 2021.

According to the American Immigration Council, “The DREAM Act would permanently protect certain immigrants who came to the United States as children but are vulnerable to deportation….[It] would provide current, former, and future undocumented high-school graduates and GED recipients a pathway to U.S. citizenship through college, work, or the armed services.”

“We urge the Senate to come together and immediately provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and DACA-eligible individuals through the passage of the bipartisan DREAM Act, and if necessary, through budget reconciliation,” the letter states. “We understand no bill is perfect, but we believe this existing bipartisan bill is the best framework to protect Dreamers rather than starting over with new legislation.”

Read the letter here. See the full list of signatories here.

The letter was convened by the American Business Immigration Coalition, a bipartisan group of more than 1,200 business leaders from across the country, and the nonpartisan, nonprofit Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, which brings together over 500 college and university presidents and chancellors on immigration issues that impact higher education.

 

 


Hollins, Roanoke College Welcome Nominations for the 2021 Perry F. Kendig Awards

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2021 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 Thursday, July 1, at 4 p.m. EDT. The nomination form and other information can be found at https://kendigawards.com/.

 

Celebrating 36 years this year of honoring excellence in arts and culture, the Kendig Awards have been co-sponsored by Hollins University and Roanoke College since 2013. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an awards presentation gathering was not held last year. A celebration for the 2020 nominees/winners and 2021 nominees/winners will be held jointly this fall at Roanoke College on a date to be announced at a later time.

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.”

“Roanoke College is proud to join with Hollins University to support arts and culture in the Roanoke Valley,” added Roanoke College President Mike Maxey. “Our region has a vibrant arts community that enriches all of us. The Kendig Awards honor and highlight those who make that happen. The Kendig Awards are highlights for all to remember and observe.”

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.


From HOP to the Firehouse: Maria Vest ’21 Uses Her Outdoor Skills and Training to Become a Fire Department Volunteer

The spirit of community outreach at Hollins manifests itself in so many ways.

Some of the examples include Students Helping Achieve Rewarding Experiences (SHARE), which recruits and places student volunteers with a variety of community agencies and organizations; Sandusky Service House, a campus residence hall where students are required to perform at least ten hours of volunteer work each month and promote service activities on campus and in the community; and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which seeks to serve the Hollins and surrounding community through volunteerism and leadership presence.

The Hollins commitment to helping others added a new chapter last month when Maria Vest ’21 became a volunteer at the fire department in the nearby town of Troutville in Botetourt County.

“I spend my free time at the firehouse,” the biology major and chemistry minor from southern Maryland explained.

Wilderness Orientation Program 2018
Canoeing during the Wilderness Orientation Program, 2018. “One of the best and most fun trips I’ve lead with HOP,” said Vest.

Vest’s interest in becoming a first responder stemmed from her involvement with the Hollins Outdoor Program (HOP). It began her first year when she took part in HOP’s Wilderness Orientation Program, a five-day excursion that blends instruction in outdoor living skills with activities such as canoeing and a high ropes course. In subsequent years, Vest has led the Wilderness Orientation Program as well as other HOP trips, and ultimately she became interested in completing her Outdoor Leadership Certificate. Part of the qualification for the certificate is earning the Wilderness First Responder designation, which provides the tools to make critical medical and evacuation decisions in remote locations. This January, Vest and her roommates traveled to Brevard, North Carolina, to complete the nine-day, 80-hour course.

After the intense training, Vest was eager “to do rescue/EMT kinds of things. But here in Roanoke, the vast majority of those positions are paid. I wasn’t qualified to compete with people who get paid to do that kind of work.”

Troutville Vol. Fire Department
The Troutville Volunteer Fire Department is the busiest fire department in Botetourt County. (Photo credit: TVFD)

HOP Director Jon Guy Owens was driving home one day when he saw a billboard advertising that the Troutville Volunteer Fire Department was looking for volunteers. Vest had suddenly found “the next best thing. I applied on their website, and after an interview I joined the department. I had to go through a training process as well as a background check. Then, I learned all there is about the different trucks, equipment, and procedures.”

Vest coordinates her service as a fire department volunteer around her academic responsibilities at Hollins. “I have a couple of late days of classes, but on my lighter days I’m usually finished around 1 p.m. I’ll go to the fire station for anywhere from two to eight hours. If things are quiet, I’ll sit and do homework. But if the bell rings, I’ll throw on my gear and hop on the truck.”

Vest is not technically a firefighter yet, but she’s hoping to take classes to earn that certification this May. Nevertheless, in the meantime she will play a vital role should anything happen. “I will be working outside with everything from helping access fire hydrants to giving the firefighters the tools they need. I had to learn every single tool that is on every truck, where it’s located and how it works. My focus will be on how I can be helpful and doing whatever they tell me.”

The Troutville Volunteer Fire Department may be located in a very small town (the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the population at less than 430 people), but that doesn’t diminish its importance and skillset as first responders. Because of the department’s proximity to Interstate 81, “they get called into a lot of vehicle accidents to help ensure traffic safety or even to extract people from cars and trucks. They have giant saws to cut guardrails and hydraulic tools to remove metal from vehicles or open doors,” Vest said. “They also monitor a section of the Appalachian Trail and help rescue people who have hiked too far out or were underprepared. That’s more of what I am trained to do with the Wilderness First Responder certificate, how to react and provide the best care possible when you’re in a situation with limited resources. They even rescue large animals – if a cow or a horse gets stuck in a ditch, it’s the fire department that gets them out.”

Vest has tremendous respect for her fellow fire department volunteers. “The people who do this, they’re really good people and they care. There are many interesting things you don’t ever think about where they help the community.”

Kayla Deur '16 & Maria Vest '21
Leading the GEMS Camp at Mountain Shepherd in 2018, Kayla Deur ’16 (left) and Vest wore onesies to add some fun to a caving activity (Deur is Stitch and Vest is a cat).

She feels the same admiration for the colleagues she’s established through HOP, beginning with Owens. “Jon Guy has been a great advisor and mentor over the past four years. He is such a huge asset in what makes HOP, HOP. He’s so involved and really cares about his students, and his enthusiasm plays a big part in making HOP so much fun.” Working closely with Owens her sophomore year was part of her motivation for saving Outdoor Athletics, Hollins’ club for whitewater racing and rock climbing. The club began floundering when all its officers were studying abroad, so Vest jumped into the leadership void. Starting with just four members, she helped make Outdoor Athletics vibrant again, and continues as club president today. “We worked so hard to spread the awareness of it,” she recalled.

Vest also praises Dina Bennett, owner of Mountain Shepherd Adventure School in Catawba, Virginia, where Vest took a J-Term course her sophomore year called Survival in the Modern World. Bennett subsequently offered her a summer job with Mountain Shepherd’s GEMS (Girls Empowered by Mountain Shepherd) program. “I taught middle school girls how to grow with courage, confidence, and compassion. We have all different levels, and each year they get to come back to have another experience. We did everything from basic survival training to hiking on the Appalachian Trail, caving, rock climbing, and canoeing on the New River.”

Maria Vest '21 Rock Climbing
Vest (right) and roommates Claire Hintz ’21 (left) and Grace Davis ’21 (center) practice their rock climbing skills on a weekend trip to West Virginia.

In addition to the connections she’s made with Owens and Bennett, Vest is grateful for the friendships she’s formed through HOP. “They became the people that were really most influential in my Hollins experience and cared about me the most.” When Vest had to take a year off from school due to illness, “all my friends that I made through HOP reached out to me. Dina and Jon Guy, they were huge in that part of my life.”

Vest had originally planned to pursue a pre-vet track at Hollins, but dealing with her health challenges and “getting involved in that world made me think about medical for people. So, I’m applying for graduate programs in biochemical and molecular medical biology.” This summer, she hopes to engage in lab work through a partnership between Hollins and Virginia Tech that enables Hollins students to take part in VT’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program. It’s a demanding educational and career path, but Vest is confident that the influence of her HOP experience will continue to provide balance in her life.

“Being involved with HOP has made me focus on the things that truly make me happy. I am good at science and I enjoy it, but it’s definitely a lot more fun to be out hiking than organizing molecular structures.”

 

Top photo: Maria Vest ’21 (left) and HOP Director Jon Guy Owens canoeing on the New River during a HOP Fall Break camping trip in 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Hollins, Roanoke College Name 2020 Kendig Award Nominees

Artists, arts advocates, and arts and cultural organizations are among the nominees for the 2020 Perry F. Kendig Arts and Culture Awards. Co-sponsored by Hollins University and Roanoke College, the Kendig Awards recognize exemplary individuals, businesses, and organizations in Virginia’s Blue Ridge that support excellence in the arts.

The Kendig Awards are named for the late Perry F. Kendig, Roanoke College’s seventh president and a supporter of the arts. The Kendig Awards were established in 1985 and presented annually by the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge through 2012. Hollins and Roanoke College first partnered the following year to bestow these important honors.

Due to COVID-19 and the restrictions in place, the awards event will not be held this year. The decision was made to protect the participants, community and the students because the event is usually held on campus. The 2020 nominees and winners will be recognized at an awards event in the fall of 2021 where the nominees and winners from 2020 and 2021 will be recognized. That event is not yet scheduled.

Nominees for the 2020 Kendig Awards: 

Artemis Journal: Artemis Journal has inspired creativity and fellowship for people of all backgrounds in the region for over 40 years. The Journal serves thousands of people in Virginia’s Blue Ridge and across the globe with its features of up-and-coming artists and writers as well as award-winning artists. Since its origination in 1977, Artemis Journal has been an advocate for social justice and highlights all deserving artists and writers. 

Bryan Hancock: Hancock is a musician, poet, actor, slam artist, DJ and band member known as “Harvest Blaque.” His most noteworthy achievement is what he has given the community through his bi-weekly “Soul Sessions,” which are open-mic events that provide an inclusive space for all individuals, particularly from marginalized groups, in the Valley to express themselves freely. 

Kerry Hurley: Hurley has influenced the community as a professional musician, producer, songwriter, recording artist, and radio show host and producer. His love of the blues is shared through his “Blues Show” radio program, a staple for 20 years. His own music career includes two popular bands — The Thrillbillyz and The Fat Daddy Band. Hurley opened the Blue 5 restaurant in downtown Roanoke, giving blues music a stage in the heart of the city. Hurley gives back to the community by mentoring young artists. 

Robert Nordt Sr.: Nordt is an integral part of the art and culture scene in the region. He personally ensures the prosperity of organizations such as Opera Roanoke, Second Presbyterian Church, Roanoke Valley Choral Society, Roanoke College Choir, and Roanoke Symphony Orchestra. His contributions enable local arts and culture organizations to achieve their goals and remain successful. 

Todd Ristau: Ristau is primarily responsible for developing the region’s artistic impact from local entertainment to the national spotlight through his creation of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University. As program director, Ristau provides actors and directors with a high-intensity-low-residency M.F.A. program that helps them sharpen their skills as they learn about innovative ways to expand their artistic capabilities. 

Roanoke College Olin Hall Galleries: Olin Hall Galleries provides the greater Roanoke community with a wide breadth of experiences ranging from high-quality gallery shows to hands-on community engagements. Over the past 10 years, the Gallery has grown tremendously due to the passionate and community-oriented work of the Gallery Director Talia Logan. Recent successes include the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef/Roanoke Valley Reef and the Paper Blooms Project. 

Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir: The Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir (RVCC) is a well-known, prestigious choir directed under the exemplary leadership of its founder, Kim Davidson. RVCC delivers high-quality concerts both locally and abroad including collaborations with the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and Opera Roanoke, as well as concerts in distinguished venues such as Orchestra Hall in Chicago, the Mormon Tabernacle, Carnegie Hall, and Canterbury Cathedral. 

Smith Mountain Arts Council: The Smith Mountain Arts Council (SMAC) has led the charge for coordinating performing, visual and literary arts in the Smith Mountain Lake area. The SMAC provides opportunities for individuals and groups to participate in and enjoy the arts by sponsoring local artists, hosting events and granting local high schools scholarship aid to graduates who excel in the arts. 

Third Street Coffee House: This non-profit listening room has been known as a hidden gem offering intimate performances through open mic nights, opening and featured acts, and guitar pulls. Third Street Coffee House does not charge cover fees making it exceptionally accessible. Instead they offer a “pass-the-hat” donation option for listeners to directly support the artists featured onstage. 

Pat Wilhelms: Wilhelms served as the Director of Education and Outreach at Mill Mountain Theatre for many years before starting the Roanoke Children’s Theatre (RCT) in 2008. One of Wilhelm’s top priorities as founder of RCT was to ensure theatre was accessible to every child in the Roanoke area by touring RCT productions to local libraries, community centers and schools. 

Dwayne Yancey: Yancey is an award-winning journalist who now serves as the editorial page editor for The Roanoke Times. He is a unique and creative writer and is a passionate advocate for the arts throughout the region. Yancey is a successful playwright and actor as well. He has written a large number of plays and short pieces that have been produced in theaters and institutions across the United States and abroad. In addition to his own playwriting, he is a founder of Roanoke’s branch of No Shame Theatre in association with Mill Mountain Theatre.