Hollins Students Showcase Projects at Summer Research Symposium

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Photos Credit: Brenda Hale 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Aqsa Fazal '23
Aqsa Fazal ’23

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

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

Olivia Sacci '24
Olivia Sacci ’24


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




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


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


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

Margarite Fisher ’22 Gets Ready to Build Her Business Expertise Through Graduate Studies in France

When Margarite Fisher ’22 was deciding where to apply to college, her mom, with whom she is very close, had just one request.

“My mom attended a women’s college (Wellesley College in Massachusetts),” Fisher recalled, “and she was very insistent that I apply to at least one women’s college.” Born and raised in Berryville in Virginia’s northern Shenandoah Valley, she wanted to stay within a six-hour drive and “Hollins fell into that. We drove down here one day, and the campus was just so beautiful. Everyone I talked to was so nice. There was just a different type of community and a different type of bond here on campus that I really, really liked.”

Fisher did not want to go too far away from home for her undergraduate education, but the business major’s Hollins experience has her ready and excited to travel halfway around the world to pursue a master’s degree in digital marketing beginning this fall at the Rennes School of Business in France. Fisher said the one-year program offers several distinct advantages and opportunities. “I signed up at Beyond the States, which is a website that specializes in finding programs abroad that are taught in English,” she explained. “I wanted the majority of my program to be in English with the possibility of learning more of the French language or taking classes in French. I also specifically targeted schools that had sizable international populations.” In addition to those attributes, Rennes boasts triple crown accreditation, which reflects recognition of excellence in business education in the US, UK, and Europe, so her studies will be recognized on her return to the US.

The economic benefit of completing graduate school overseas was another of Fisher’s major considerations. “The cost of graduate school is less expensive in Europe, even if you’re an international student.”

Fisher is no stranger to French language and culture. Her mom speaks French fluently having lived in Belgium and France for two years, so Fisher occasionally heard the language growing up. She took four years of French in middle and high school and is completing a French minor at Hollins to complement her business degree. She first went to France during the January Short Term of her first year at Hollins as part of the university’s “French in Tours” travel/study program. “This was a fun program and fueled my desire to spend more time in France,” she said. Fisher was subsequently realizing her dream of spending an entire semester studying abroad in Paris during the spring term of 2020 when just a few weeks after arriving, her visit was cut short by the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was heartbreaking for me. Before I went to France, I was extremely nervous whenever I spoke French. It wasn’t because I was necessarily saying anything wrong, but when it’s not your first language, there’s nothing in your brain to tell you, ‘Oh, you said that incorrectly.’” After she got to Paris, “I had to speak French regularly and I really became comfortable with it. I was so sad to leave as one of my goals was to learn to speak French fluently and I was not quite at that point when I had to leave.”

Thus, Fisher sees going to graduate school in France as a chance to finally fulfill the journey that was interrupted two years ago and achieve her goal of becoming fluent in French. “It’s a bit of an out-of-the-box solution,” she said. “I get to the opportunity to continue my education while at the same time living aboard and becoming fluent in a language I have always loved. It’s a win-win situation.” Rennes is located just an hour and a half from Paris, and with the country’s centralized transportation system she said she will find it easy to do a lot of exploring. She is also “completely leaving open the option of staying there a few years more” after she completes her master’s degree.

Fisher plans to make her time in France a success by “going in with a very positive mindset. If you go in thinking you’re going to have a great time, you’re probably going to have a great time. But if you go in with a negative mindset, then you’re probably going to have a really bad time. You have to have that kind of attitude when you go abroad because everything will be different. It helps that I’ve been there before, so some processes I’m already familiar with. Other ones will be brand-spanking new,” but because of the study abroad experiences that Hollins has provided, she noted that she is ready for the challenge.

“My business professors at Hollins were generous with their time in helping me to evaluate business programs in relationship to my career goals, and everyone in the French department – even a new professor that I did not know well – gave me advice on the schools and the different areas of France,” she stated. “My professors also gave me detailed recommendations that led to scholarships. Overall, the Hollins community was incredibly supportive of my goals.”

And how does her mom feel about her upcoming adventure? “My mom is so excited. She has already made plans to visit.”

“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.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






Chin Wai “Rosie” Wong ’22 Embraces a Passion for Communication at Hollins and Beyond

When she was eight years old, Chin Wai “Rosie” Wong ’22 discovered that she enjoyed keeping a diary. She loved it so much in fact that one day she noted in it, “I want to be a writer.”

Throughout her education growing up in Hong Kong and mainland China and her undergraduate career at Hollins, Wong has indeed pursued a remarkable enthusiasm for communication. “I started doing communications work a long time before I came to Hollins,” she recalled. “I was a personality on my high school radio station’s English-speaking channel, and I helped plan and host student activities and performances, including my high school graduation. I’m so glad my school trusted me. I got the chance to work with other students with similar interests.”

Wong’s decision to attend college abroad had its genesis when her middle school summer camp traveled to the United States in 2013. “That was the inspirational moment where I thought, ‘This is somewhere I want to go,’ because I grew up with music, movies, and a lot of other cultural elements from the U.S. It was a part of me as I grew up.” While she never got to visit Hollins as a prospective student, she chose it because “it matched my criteria for undergraduate studies. I was looking for a liberal arts college with small class sizes. I did a lot of research on the majors Hollins offers, and I learned I could double major in communication studies and theatre, something that I always wanted to do.”

After coming to Hollins, Wong found that she could “study communication in a more systemic and scholarly way that just opens paths and makes me want to keep pursuing it.” Improving her ability to speak English fluently is also a source of delight. “It’s such a big compliment when I meet someone and they ask me, ‘Are you from here?’ Being physically in a space and communicating with local people is so different from learning English from a textbook, and I have learned not only what to speak about but how to speak as well. That’s why I see language as more than just a tool. It is everything.”

Wong’s theatre major complements her communications work. “I enjoy being in productions and meeting new people. There are such close relationships in the theatre space. The faculty and staff are collaborators who welcome your vision whether you are an actor, a designer, or serve in other roles.”

Wong has grown her skills as a writer through the internships she’s completed. During her sophomore year, she spent her January Short Term with Peace Boat US, a non-governmental organization in New York City that enables people from around the world to study global concerns such as war, environmental degradation, and gender violence. Wong worked on a variety of internal projects where extensive writing was needed. This year, she interned with the Global Communications team at The Estée Lauder Companies, also in New York City.

“Whenever you intern in an organization, you have things to learn,” Wong noted. “You learn about the culture of the organization. You have to learn how things are done and what you should do. You are not an isolated individual, because what you do affects many others. I definitely think that being a communication studies major helped me understand and practice that.”

As a contributor to The Teen Magazine, Wong is drawing upon her time as a Hollins student to inform high school students and ease their anxieties as they prepare for college. “I was inspired by my role as a tour guide last semester. I got to meet with students to introduce them to Hollins and explain what we have here. I thought, ‘Why not amplify such a message to almost anyone who is going to college?’” Her first article for The Teen Magazine earned over 1,000 views. “I was able to write about something that I’m really passionate about, and that’s my life experience.” She also served as an ambassador for Hollins’ international programs. “We have so many things to offer current and prospective students. And this is what I longed for before entering college.”

Wendy-Marie Martin and Rosie Wong '22
Chin Wai (Rosie) Wong ’22 interviewed Hollins Theatre Chair Wendy-Marie Martin (left) for the new HU Sound podcast channel.

In her final semester at Hollins, Wong helped pioneer the launch of a podcast network for the university called HU Sound. She envisions podcast episodes covering a wide range of topics, but she is especially excited about one particular aspect. “I want to amplify faculty voices. I love working with all my professors and I want to hear their stories.” Fittingly, the first podcast Wong produced and hosted features Assistant Professor of Theatre and Theatre Department Chair Wendy-Marie Martin. As an alumna of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins and now the head of Hollins Theatre, “I thought it would be a very valuable moment for me and for the community to hear what she had to say,” Wong stated.

After graduation, Wong will be assisting the Global Communications team at The Estée Lauder Companies as the digital editorial consultant. She will be working with the Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization designed for international students who wish to remain in the United States to acquire work experience. Wong believes academic knowledge and professional practices go hand-in-hand in her growth and achievement.

She’s also taking the time to assess how her four years at Hollins have impacted her. “Being a college student really transformed me as a person. I am more confident now. I speak English more naturally. I’ve also cultivated a futuristic mindset. I love reminiscing and I feel nostalgic every now and then, but my action shows I’m always moving forward.” Even though coming to the United States for college meant physical and emotional distance from her parents back in China, “they have been very supportive, and they are impressed that I’ve come so far. My parents are very proud of me for being so insistent about English as a language and communication in a broader sense. They are also proud that I’ve become more independent and able to do things on my own. Now, I’m not just their daughter, I am also their closest friend.”

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



“Communication, Organization, and a Little Bit of Luck and Magic”: Emma Thomas ’22 Successfully Balances Full-Time Work with Full-Time College

When asked what she plans to do first after she graduates from Hollins this spring, Emma Thomas ’22 simply responded, “Breathe.” No wonder: The English major and communication studies minor from Roanoke has spent the past three years taking a full course load while putting in 27.5 hours a week (sometimes more during peak periods) working nights as a supervisor at United Parcel Service (UPS). The journey has often been challenging, but Thomas is quick to cite her appreciation for “all the help I’ve been given across the board” to ensure her success.

When she was originally exploring her options for higher learning, Thomas was disheartened by the potential price tag until she discovered that her high school participated in the Community College Access Program with nearby Virginia Western Community College. The public/private partnership offers free tuition for qualified students to earn an associate degree. “I realized I could go to college for free for two years and satisfy most of my general education requirements for a four-year institution,” Thomas explained.

Financial assistance was a major consideration when Thomas opted to transfer to Hollins after finishing at Virginia Western. “Hollins was willing to offer me a ton of financial aid,” she said. The university was also close to home and she would be able to continue her job with UPS, with whom she begun working a year earlier. The company provided her with $5,000 per calendar year to help pay for college.

But from the moment she toured the campus as a prospective student, Thomas said choosing Hollins went beyond economics. “They allowed us to sit in on classes and when I saw what instruction is like here, I really fell in love with Hollins. I’d always kind of hated school because you were just there to have stuff dumped into your brain. A Hollins education doesn’t feel like that. They’re going to tailor things to you, your experiences, and your interests. Once I saw the small class sizes and how interactive everything is, I knew I would be fine.”

A lover of both reading and writing, Thomas decided she would major in English. “The thing that strikes me the most about the English department is how passionate the professors are about their subject,” she said. “You could walk into Swan (Swannanoa Hall, home to the English department and the Jackson Center for Creative Writing) and pop into any office and say, ‘Hey, tell me about your favorite book’ or ‘Tell me about your area of study,’ and you’d probably be in their office for hours, which is great. I’ve had instructors in the past where teaching is just a job for them. That’s not how it feels in the English department.”

Thomas added that she has treasured the encouragement she has received from the English department faculty to write in her own voice. “My brain doesn’t go in a straight line. It takes detours. But even when my writing style wasn’t quite what a particular professor was looking for, if what I wrote was thought out and the threads could be followed, I was never going to get a bad grade.”

Thomas also declared a minor in communication studies because it “married the things I like. Yes, there was a little bit of writing, but I also like to talk.” Thomas said she has enjoyed the opportunity to delve into human interactions and gain “a little better understanding of why people are the way they are. Everything they teach in communication studies is applicable to your daily life. As someone who has been working while in school, pretty much every day I learned interpersonal communication skills that I could implement to make my working life better, especially in an environment where I’m one of just a handful of women and probably the youngest person there.”

Those strategies have also contributed to Thomas’ ability to juggle taking day classes at Hollins with working a regular weeknight schedule of 5 to 11 p.m. at UPS. Her daily routine requires “scheduling my life to the nth degree.” Often, she has to forego socializing with friends or taking part in other activities to tackle school and work responsibilities. She admits it has been difficult at times.

“From the outset, I let my professors know my situation. I was going to show up and try, but there were going to be occasions when I might slip behind or have to turn an assignment in late. At UPS, my supervisors allowed me to use my downtime for homework. So, it really has been communication and organization that has kept me afloat. And, a little bit of luck and magic, because I really don’t know sometimes how it all got done.”

Among Thomas’ achievements at Hollins are two podcast projects she developed this year in courses taught by Visiting Lecturer of Communication Studies and Director of Oral Communication Across the Curriculum Heather Derrick, whom Thomas called “a wonderful teacher.” The first occurred during Derrick’s January Short Term class entitled “Listening in the Modern World.” It gave Thomas and other students a crash course in podcast production.

“We had about a week to do research, organize interviews, learn how to use recording equipment, and build our editing skills to produce several short episodes,” she said. The work resulted in a podcast series called “Listening for Life,” where students focused on aspects of listening theory that they learned about in class, interviewed outside guests about those aspects, and concluded each episode by delivering tips on how people could employ listening skills in their daily lives.

Derrick’s spring term course, “Argumentation and Advocacy,” offered Thomas an entire semester to help in preparing a longer, more in-depth podcast series. “It was more like what you would be doing for a real-life podcast. It was a lot of research and a lot of drafting.”

Inspired by the acclaimed, bestselling book Dopesick by Beth Macy M.A. ’93, The class produced a podcast series entitled “Miracle Drug,” which focuses on the deception used by the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma to persuade people that the drug Oxycontin was safe and effective. “We mainly focused on why this happened, the arguments that allowed this to happen, and what to do next. Faculty and outside voices helped us to contextualize our information and advocate for those who are struggling with opioid addiction. Even though Purdue is now facing consequences, the effects of those consequences may punish the company but they really aren’t helping people addicted to opioids who need treatment. So, our goal was to highlight what had occurred and then bring in a human lens.” Thomas produced the episode entitled “Purdue v. America,” and the “Miracle Drug” podcast will premiere in June.

While taking some time to catch her breath after graduation, Thomas will be figuring out what she wants to do next. “I’m interested in project or program management, and I want to make connections with people who are already doing that in this area to see if they’d be willing to mentor me or offer me an internship.” In the meantime, she plans to keep working at UPS.

As she reflects on a very hectic, very demanding, but ultimately satisfying three years at Hollins, Thomas is proud of what she has been able to accomplish. She is also grateful to the many people who have advocated for her along the way. “I am so thankful for the faculty and staff here at Hollins who have made this a lot easier for me. They supported me when I came to them for help, but even if I hadn’t said anything I would have been given similar grace. I also appreciate how they run their classrooms in general – our professors make students feel like people instead of numbers. I don’t think I would have made it this far anywhere else.”

Photo credit: Raina Peterson