“I Want All Girls To Play Chess”: International Master Tien Nguyen ’22 Seeks Gender Parity In The Game She Loves

As a five-year-old growing up in Vietnam, Tien Nguyen ’22 received a present from her father that would not only have a profound impact on their relationship, but also spark a passion that would take her throughout the world and foster a dedication to inspire other women and girls.

That gift was a chessboard, and the initial benefit was giving Nguyen ample quality time with her dad. “He coached me to become a chess player and I was very happy because I could play chess with him,” she recalled.

Nguyen quickly developed into an exceptional player and in the ensuing years her talent took her to competitions in Vietnam and beyond: To date, she has played in ten countries, including India, Indonesia, Korea, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, Russia, Thailand (three times), Turkey, and the United States. Winning the Asian Girl Championship earned her the lifetime designation of Woman International Master, which is the second-highest ranking given exclusively to women chess players by the World Chess Federation.

In this country, the United States Chess Federation (USCF) ranks Nguyen 67th out of 10,389 female chess players, or in the 99.4 percentile. Among players of all ages and genders, the USCF places her in the 98.1 percentile. The organization has awarded Nguyen the title of Candidate Master (given to players who achieve five performance-based “norms” in competition) for life, and has named her a U.S. Chess Expert, recognizing that she is among the top five percent of all USCF tournament chess players.

Nguyen said endurance – both physical and mental – is the key to thriving in the world of chess. “A typical chess game lasts from three to five hours and the only breaks are to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water,” she explained. To prepare for matches, Nguyen eats a healthy diet and engages in light exercise activities such as yoga or walking. “I also like to sit down and just look at the chessboard for hours to visualize moves inside my head. Between competitions, I play online a lot.” Maryke Barber, information literacy and arts liaison librarian at Hollins’ Wyndham Robertson Library, and her husband, are Nguyen’s host family here, and they introduced Nguyen to the Roanoke Valley Chess Club so that she could complement her online play with face-to-face practice.

When discussing her future goals, Nguyen doesn’t focus on personal accomplishments. “I really want all girls to play chess,” she said, “to learn about it and enjoy it.” Competing in the Virginia Scholastic and College Chess Championships during her first two years at Hollins (she will continue to represent the university in her junior and senior years), she was struck by the fact that “I was the only girl – they all looked at me like I was a museum exhibit! Some of the male players were upset when they lost a game against me. I got used to it.” Nguyen said one of her proudest moments in serving as a role model for girls and women in the game occurred this year when the 2019 National Chess Congress Standings for her U.S. Chess Expert section were released, and she learned she was co-champion with three male players.

Nguyen takes advantage of outreach opportunities to extol the joys of chess wherever she can. Last year during her spring break, she spent two hours teaching concepts of the game to 40 local elementary school students and clearly made an impact. “When I played with them I shook their hands the same as I would with professional chess players. Their teacher told me later that whenever they play now, they shake hands with one another.”

At Hollins, Nguyen successfully blends her love of chess with academic responsibilities. A psychology major, she will spend Short Term 2020 engaged in independent study researching chess and child development. Outside the classroom, she works four to five days a week in Hollins’ Quantitative Reasoning Center, where she tutors fellow students in mathematics. She is also active in Model United Nations (she was part of the Hollins delegation that traveled to Chicago for the organization’s national conference in November) and Model Arab League (she was named Outstanding Delegate, Social Affairs Council, at the Fourth Annual Appalachia Regional Model Arab League, held at Hollins in November 2018).

“I love the small and friendly environment at Hollins,” Nguyen said. “It’s so beautiful and wonderful here.”




Creative Writing Professor Captures Dzanc Prize for Fiction

Associate Professor of Creative Writing Jessie van Eerden has been named the winner of the 2019 Dzanc Books Prize for Fiction, recognizing daring, original, and innovative writing.

Call It Horses, van Eerden’s third novel, was selected from a pool of hundreds of manuscripts and eventually judged by three celebrated Dzanc Books authors: Lee Martin (The Mutual UFO Network, Late One Night), Peg Alford Pursell (A Girl Goes into the Forest), and John Englehart (Bloomland), winner of last year’s prize. The story centers on Frankie Donne and her aunt Mave, who embark in 1990 on a road trip from West Virginia to New Mexico. Mave is running from her cancer treatments, while Frankie is trying to escape from a loveless marriage, fresh sorrow over a miscarriage, and years of grief over abandonment by her true love, Dillon. They reluctantly agree to take on a third passenger: Dillon’s new wife, Nan, who has her own reasons for fleeing west.

“I was so moved by this book, I sobbed at the end,” said Pursell. “And the language! What a gifted author.” Englehart stated, “Filled with poetry, working-class grit, and undogmatic spirituality, this novel shows us what we gain when we become outlaws in our own lives.” Martin added, “The final scene is one I’ll remember always.”

“This novel has been a long journey, several years of exploring the story of spiritual liminality experienced by a woman standing just outside of fulfillment,” van Eerden said. Of winning the prize she noted, “I’m grateful to all the readers of this manuscript, to those who came alongside me to read early drafts and to the editors and judges who read for the prize, for the ways each reader has helped to usher these characters into the world. And, I’m honored to have this opportunity to work with a press with such a commitment to artful, attentive fiction.”

Glorybound (WordFarm, 2012), winner of the Foreword Editor’s Choice Fiction Prize, and My Radio Radio (Vandalia Press, 2016), selected for the Top 10 of 2016 by Image Journal, are van Eerden’s two previous novels. Her portrait essay collection, The Long Weeping (Orison Books, 2017), won the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award.

Dzanc Books is a nonprofit organization committed to producing quality literary works and providing creative writing instruction in public schools through the Dzanc Writers-in-Residence program. It also offers low-cost workshops for aspiring authors.


Hollins Once Again Boasts Two Award-Winning Delegations at Model UN

Four Hollins students received honors at the 30th Annual American Model United Nations International Collegiate Conference, held November 23-26 in Chicago.

Hannah Jensen ’20 and Mollie Davis ’22 won Outstanding Delegation for the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, while Emma Jensen Babson ’23 and Bianca Vallebrignoni ’23 were named the Outstanding Delegation for General Assembly Second Committee.

This is the second year in a row Hollins has returned with two award-winning delegations from the conference, which draws over 900 participants each year.

In addition, Salima Driss ’23 and Jaiya McMillan ’23 argued a case before the International Court of Justice.

Katie Grandelli ’20 and Carly Collins ’21, co-presidents of the Model UN/Model Arab League Club at Hollins, spent hours outside of class time preparing students for the conference. Professor of Political Science Ed Lynch and Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette serve as faculty sponsors.

Earlier in November, four Hollins students took part in the Capital Area Regional Model Arab League Conference in Washington, DC,  at the request of the sponsoring organization. Three of the students – Hannah Byrum ’20, Mary Elizabeth Cochran ’21, and Maria Jdid ’21 – served as chairs, and Jdid won the award for Outstanding Chair. Grandelli was honored as Best Secretary General for 2019.

Hollins students will attend the National University Model Arab League Conference at Georgetown University in March 2020.


Photo caption: A large delegation of Hollins students traveled to Chicago to take part in the American Model United Nations International Collegiate Conference.

Hollins Earns “A-Minus” Financial Health Grade from Forbes

Hollins University has received an “A-minus” grade from Forbes for fiscal fitness in the magazine’s 2019 report on the financial health of private not-for-profit colleges and universities.

Drawing upon the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the federal government’s main body for collecting and analyzing information regarding education in the United States and other countries, Forbes examined the finances of 933 private institutions across the nation with enrollments larger than 500 students. The publication then graded those schools “on balance sheet strength and operational soundness, plus certain other indicators of a college’s financial condition, including admission yield, percentage of freshmen receiving institutional grants, and instruction expenses per student.”

Forbes noted, “This year only 34 colleges received A-plus grades, and another 40 scored at least A-minus.” Hollins is thus among the top 75 of the 933 schools analyzed.

Only two private colleges in Virginia (the University of Richmond and Washington and Lee University) earned higher grades than Hollins.



Hollins Featured in The Princeton Review’s “Guide to Green Colleges: 2019 Edition”

Hollins University is one of the nation’s most environmentally responsible colleges, according to the 2019 edition of The Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges.

The Princeton Review chose the 413 schools it profiles in the tenth annual edition of the guide based on a survey the company conducted in 2018-19 of administrators at hundreds of four-year colleges about their institutions’ commitments to the environment and sustainability.

“We strongly recommend Hollins to the many environmentally minded students who want to study and live at a green college,” said Rob Franek, The Princeton Review’s editor-in-chief.

Franek noted a high level of interest among college applicants and their parents about environmental and sustainability issues. Among the nearly 12,000 teens and parents The Princeton Review surveyed earlier this year, 64% said that having information about a school’s commitment to the environment would affect their decision to apply to or attend a specific school.

An overview of how Hollins is “keeping it green” can be found on the university’s environmental sustainability web page.



At Hollins and Beyond, Gates Millennium Scholars Program Benefits Senior

The Northern Mariana Islands is an American commonwealth, but its distant location in the western Pacific Ocean (nearly 6,000 miles, for example, from Los Angeles) is a big reason why few students there have the wherewithal to come to the U.S. to attend college. Saipan, the largest of the Marianas, has just one community college, and many residents feel they have little choice but to enter the workforce directly out of high school.

Epa Cabrera ’20, a double-major in business and economics at Hollins, was born and raised on Saipan and one of her high school teachers, Gerard Van Gils, was determined to change that mindset. As a result of going to college in Utah, Van Gils had experienced first-hand the advantages of higher education in the States. So, Cabrera recalls, “he brought together those of us who were among the 25 students with the highest GPAs at our school to take a college prep course. He showed us what it was like to attend college on the mainland and exposed us to all these scholarships.”

Because of the class, Cabrera discovered one of the nation’s largest and most ambitious scholarship initiatives. Funded with $1.6 billion from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) program was established in 1999 to support African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American, and Hispanic American students with high academic and leadership potential who also have financial need.  Selecting 1,000 Scholars a year since its inception, the GMS program today funds over 20,000 students, more than half of whom are first-generation.

The GMS application process was rigorous. “In addition to five letters of recommendation, they required all applicants to write eight essays, each of which had to be at least 1,000 words in length,” Cabrera explains. “The essays took three months to finish.” Fortunately, she had great resources to draw upon, including another teacher who served as her mentor as well as her own compelling personal experiences. “I wrote about growing up and working on my family’s farm and how we sold vegetables every Saturday morning,” she says. “I also talked about the impact of the huge typhoon that struck Saipan in 2015 (Typhoon Soudelor, which caused extensive damage to the island and was one of Earth’s most powerful storms that year).”

Cabrera’s hard work paid off and she was one of six students from her school who were named Gates Millennium Scholars in 2016. “This was big news for Saipan,” she says, “only one other person from here had previously earned this honor.”

Throughout her college career at Hollins, Cabrera’s GMS scholarship has picked up financially where her Hollins grants and scholarships left off. In addition, the award has made real-world experiences outside the classroom possible, including participation in the Jamaica Cultural Immersion Program during spring break in 2018, and an opportunity to study abroad at Università degli Studi di Roma Tre in Rome, Italy, the following fall.  It has even provided funds for her to fly home during her summer breaks. During this, her senior year, the GMS program will enable Cabrera to work as a research assistant during the 2020 Short Term at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and take part once again in the Jamaica Cultural Immersion Program over spring break.

GMS also offers funding for up to 10 years for Scholars who wish to pursue a graduate degree in computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health, or science. Cabrera plans to use this benefit to complete a Master’s degree and possibly a Ph.D. in public health in preparation for a career in global health economics.

“I am grateful that because of this program, I will be able to graduate from Hollins next spring debt-free and then continue my education without an economic burden,” she says.





College Factual: Hollins Is One Of The “Best Colleges for the Money”

Hollins University is among the top 10% of institutions regionally and nationally that are considered “Best Colleges for the Money” by the college ratings website College Factual.

Hollins is ranked #21 out of 374 colleges and universities in the Southeast and #98 out of 1483 schools nationwide in that category, whose goal is to identify “colleges that are offering the best education quality for the best price. To come up with this ranking we measure the total average cost of the degree, and then compare the cost of the school to other schools of similar value.”

Academically, College Factual places Hollins in the top 1% of schools that are “Most Focused” in English Language and Literature and General English Literature; the top 5% in Foreign Languages and Linguistics, Romance Languages, and Fine and Studio Arts; the top 10% in General Biology, Classical Languages and Literature, Visual and Performing Arts, and Dance; and the top 15% in Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Mathematics, Natural Resources and Conservation, Drama and Theatre Arts, and General Psychology.

“In the context of majors rankings, focus is the percentage of undergraduates in the given degree at that school,” College Factual explains. “[T]he most focused rankings identify the schools that are likely to have a greater concentration on a particular major, based solely on the percentage of students enrolled at the college or university.”

College Factual describes itself as “a website created to help every student discover a college and career they love without debt holding them back.” It gathers data from both public and private sources, including the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) from the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the U.S. Department of Education.

The complete 2020 rankings for Hollins can be found here.

U.S. News: Hollins Is One of the Nation’s Top 30 Schools for Social Mobility, Value

U.S. News and World Report’s 2020 Best Colleges places Hollins at #24 among the country’s Top Performers for Social Mobility and ranks the university as the #30 Best Value School, both in the National Liberal Arts Colleges category.

The 2020 Best Colleges rankings were released to the public September 9.

Rankings for social mobility are new this year to the publication. They recognize how well colleges graduate students who receive federal Pell Grants.

U.S. News determines which colleges and universities offer the best value for students by taking into account both academic quality and cost, and factoring in three variables: Ratio of quality to price; need-based aid; and average discount.

Hollins is ranked #102 overall among National Liberal Arts Colleges and is cited as an “A+ School for B Students” in the category. “Since the U.S. News rankings are a gauge of excellence,” the guide explains regarding the latter recognition, “a college or university had to first be ranked in the top three-fourths of their 2020 Best Colleges ranking categories to be eligible.” In addition, the guide looked at average first-year retention rates and whether institutions admitted a meaningful proportion of students who didn’t get straight A’s. Hollins is noted as a “More Selective” school in the “A+ Schools for B Students” listings.

The U.S. News profile of Hollins features a detailed overview of academics, cost and aid, how to apply, and more.


Fiske Guide Cites Hollins’ Strengths in Art, Dance, and Film

Hollins University is one of the “more than 300 of the country’s best and most interesting colleges and universities,” according to the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2020. Created by former New York Times education editor Edward B. Fiske, the guide selects colleges for inclusion “with several broad principles in mind, beginning with academic quality.”

The Fiske Guide calls Hollins “one of the South’s leading women’s colleges” and includes the school among the nation’s small colleges and universities that are “Strong in Art or Design,” “Strong in Dance,” and “Strong in Film/Television.” Undergraduates quoted in the university’s profile praise their fellow students as “independent, ambitious, and passionate” while also citing the residence halls (“Most of the dorms are beautiful historic buildings full of character and comfort.”), the coursework (“I have been challenged by most of my classes here, but the workload has been manageable enough that I have been able to do a bunch of extracurriculars, too.”), and the professors (“Faculty members are typically accessible and often work hard to make sure they can help any students having trouble.”).

One senior concludes, “A student should only attend Hollins if they want to be a part of a close-knit community that fosters creative minds and ambitious spirits.”

The introduction to the Fiske Guide‘s 2020 edition notes that it is “a revised and updated version of a book that has been a bestseller since it first appeared over three decades ago. [It] is universally regarded as the definitive college guide of its type. If you are wondering whether to consider a particular college, it is logical to seek out friends or acquaintances who go there and ask them to tell you about their experiences. We have done exactly that – but on a far broader and more systematic basis than any individual or family could do alone.”



Netflix To Feature YA Drama Based On Hollins Author’s Novel

An acclaimed young adult book co-written by an alumna of Hollins’ graduate programs in children’s literature is headed to Netflix.

The Internet TV network has ordered 10 episodes of Tiny Pretty Things, an hour-long series based on the novel by Dhonielle Clayton M.A. ’09 and Sona Charaipotra. The show is scheduled to premiere in 2020.

Tiny Pretty Things follows the triumphs and challenges of students at The Archer School of Ballet, an elite dance academy in Chicago where the competition to succeed is fierce. Published by HarperCollins in 2015, the novel is described by Kirkus Reviews as “a page-turner with a heart.” Publishers Weekly notes, “This enticing glimpse into the ballet world is rich with detail and drama as the authors highlight its glamour and darkness.” Shiny Broken Pieces, a sequel, was released the following year.

Clayton’s other works include The Belles (her debut solo novel, released in 2018) and The Everlasting Rose (Book Two in The Belles series, published in March of this year). She has also contributed to the story collections Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America; Meet Cute: Some People Are Destined to Meet; and Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens. Originally from the Washington, D.C., suburbs, Clayton went on to major in English at Wake Forest University. After earning her M.A. in children’s literature at Hollins, she completed her M.F.A. in creative writing at The New School. A former secondary school teacher and elementary and middle school librarian, she is co-founder of CAKE Literary, which is described as “a creative kitchen whipping up decadent – and decidedly diverse – literary confections for middle grade, young adult, and women’s fiction readers,” and is also chief operating officer of the non-profit We Need Diverse Books.

Clayton taught a week-long workshop at Hollins in July on writing for children and will be joining the faculty of the university’s graduate programs in children’s literature in the summer of 2020.