The Signature Internship Program gives sophomores, juniors, and seniors the chance to pursue an array of internships in various fields that are sponsored by Hollins alumnae/i. These internships carry academic credit as well as a stipend of $300, and housing is often provided. The First-Year Internship Program offers students in their first year at Hollins options in the Roanoke Valley for test-driving a career.
During January 2023, 56 students will be completing signature internships in 39 businesses and organizations located in cities throughout the country, including:
Durham, North Carolina
Huntington, West Virginia
Los Angeles, California
New York, New York
Princeton, New Jersey
San Antonio, Texas
Virginia Beach, Virginia
This year’s signature internships range from medical research and development (Vascular Perfusion Solutions), state government (Offices of Virginia Delegate Betsy Carr ’68 and Virginia State Senator Jennifer Boysko ’89), and museums (The Phillips Collection, International Spy Museum, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) to environmental advocacy (Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Climate Central), international business (Estée Lauder Global Communications), foreign affairs (Peace Boat US and the National Council on US-Arab Relations), developing and maintaining plant collections (Atlanta Botanical Garden), and more.
The Center for Career Development and Life Design is part of Hollins’ Rutherfoord Center for Experiential Learning, which in addition to domestic and international internships encompasses study abroad at an array of destinations around the world; initiatives that promote innovation and engagement while connecting academic work with practical application; leadership practice; and undergraduate research projects conducted in close partnership with Hollins faculty.
Photo caption: Adarra Blount ’23 interned with the White House Historical Association in Washington, D.C., during the January 2022 Short Term.
Hollins University is one of the founding partner institutions for a new women-focused professional development program that offers students technology and career readiness skills.
Hollins and Sweet Briar College are joining with technology company Cognosante as the Falls Church, Virginia-based firm launches its Women in STEM Alliance, which seeks to prepare women for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
According to Jeffrey White, director of Career Development and Life Design at Hollins, the partnership offers students of most any major the opportunity to engage their liberal arts competencies in a tech and government work environment. “Although the program emphasizes STEM,” he explained, “Cognosante also has a need for interns in a variety of departments such as human resources, research, and communications.”
“Proactively addressing gender inequity in the workforce is essential to enhancing diversity within the federal government contracting industry,” stated Cognosante Chief Administration Officer Jennifer Bailey. “The women’s colleges we partnered with share our commitment to eliminating gender bias through meaningful opportunities and developing the next generation of leaders.”
The Women in STEM Alliance features a 10-week paid Summer College Analyst Program, which assigns students with managers and departments aligned to their academic goals; a semester-long paid Scholars Program, in which students can earn college credit while working full-time at a Cognosante office; and the Cognosante Campus Connection, a series of on-campus seminars, speaking engagements, and mentoring. As part of the program, Cognosante customizes aspects of the experience to address known challenges for women in the workforce, specifically securing opportunities, gaining access, and developing leadership skills.
“This opportunity can help take Hollins students to a new level of career readiness and marketability,” noted White.
“This immersive program provides hands-on experience to accelerate the start of a STEM career. It also gives students with non-technical aspirations the chance to work in the tech industry and develop the skills needed for a career in business, strategy, or operations,” said Jackie Ackerman, vice president of data science at Cognosante. “We are excited to provide Hollins and Sweet Briar students with an opportunity to develop highly applicable skills and expand their professional network.”
Hollins University students were provided with some of the important tools they’ll need to find their way along “The Winding Path” at the university’s 2022 Career Connection Conference (C3), held September 30.
As this year’s conference theme, “The Winding Path” reflected the reality that a career track is no longer linear but rather an accumulation of skills and life experiences. In virtual sessions (C3 transitioned to an online conference this year due to the threat of inclement weather from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Ian), more than 50 Hollins alumnae/i demonstrated the lifelong power of a liberal arts education, sharing their insights on life and work and helping students connect with others in their networks.
For 2022, each C3 session encompassed one of three themes:
Insights from the Field: Industry-based discussions featuring various roles within a given field.
Driven by Mission: Conversations around mission, personal values, and purpose.
Navigating the Process: How-to guides for career exploration and transition.
The curriculum was designed to showcase the versatility of the liberal arts with a cross-sector, interdisciplinary approach to each session topic. Program dialogues were expansive in scope and offered points of access for all students, including those who are still developing their career or academic goals.
C3 covered a range of career fields, including environment and sustainability; film; galleries, libraries, archives, and museums; government and public policy; health care; international affairs; performing arts; pre-veterinary; psychology; publishing; and technology and innovation/government contracting. The conference also featured issue-oriented sessions covering purpose-based work and how one can create change and maintain coherency between work, life, and beyond. Among these sessions were “Leading EDJ: Careers in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion”; “Work and Life Balance”; and “Creating Impact: Working in Nonprofits.”
Sarina Saturn, a scientist, educator, and activist, was the keynote speaker for C3 2022. A community scientist at Program Design and Evaluation Services, which is a part of the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division and the Multnomah County (Oregon) Health Department, Saturn focuses on addressing health inequities and disparities in marginalized communities.
Saturn’s address, “Resisting Straight and Narrow Paths: Embracing a Future of Winding Career Journeys,” offered students five ways to successfully handle the many challenges that might come their way in the years ahead.
“I think it’s really important to understand that nothing is wasted. Even if you make what seems to be a bad decision, every single experience you have – your career choices, your academic choices, even things relational – can contribute to your development no matter where you go in life. There are so many lessons to be learned.”
Saturn cited the importance of celebrating winding paths. “You should definitely feel empowered to be your best advocate for yourself, Even if you end up in a position or path that is not serving you, there are many, many gifts that can come from that.”
These include what Saturn described as “foul-weather gifts. I come from a background of neuroscience and trauma, and now I try to convey to all my audiences the power of harnessing post-traumatic growth and the psychology of wisdom, compassion, and self-care, so that even in the midst of coping with really difficult experiences, there are some wonderful things to be had, even from the most painful and difficult things we might encounter.”
Saturn also told students to “seek connection wherever you go. By being relational, you will be able to have lots of people looking out for you during your career journey.” She urged them to establish a basis for networking through Hollins’ Career Development and Life Design Center (CDLD). “I think the career center you have is extraordinary, so take advantage of all they offer.”
Reminding students to always take care of their own well-being and others was Saturn’s fifth tip. “You simply cannot go wrong if you lead with kindness and compassion and advocate for yourself and for others who are the most vulnerable among us.”
Throughout their career journeys, Saturn encouraged students to continually ask themselves one key question. “What really matters to you? Distilling your values really contributes to a growth mindset. I think oftentimes we do what we can…just to make more money or become famous. We now know through all of the data that being rich and famous is not the path to happiness and contentment. It’s really about finding your joy and discovering what is impactful. It’s honoring your gifts instead of trying to shoehorn in what you might not be so good at. That can also be a humbling experience when you’re in a job or even in a relationship that isn’t serving you. Harness those gifts – ‘What am I good at? What makes me happy?’ – rather than force yourself into something that might not be aligned with your values, your skill set, or your talents.”
Saturn emphasized that even in less-than-ideal career or relational situations, anyone can identify benefits “that you can apply to wherever you want to go. If where you are is not quite feeling good, there are ways to make it magical, or ways to learn about what you don’t like. This allows you to pick another path that might be great.”
Now in its 11th year, C3 is intended to provide advice and guidance to all Hollins students. “Whether you are a first year or a senior, a double major or undecided, career-ambitious or career-confused, there is a place for you at C3,” said Jeffrey White, director of the university’s CDLD.
Growing up in Fairbanks, Alaska, Savannah Scott ’22 saw how factors ranging from poverty and housing insecurity to the lack of sexual health education for young people profoundly impacted the health of her community. As she entered her senior year in high school, she felt such a call to action to address those issues that she sought dual enrollment at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. “I wanted to learn how I could address those social determinants and best reduce the disparities I was seeing,” she explained.
Scott believed that studying pre-medical sciences on the undergraduate level and then going on to medical school to become a physician was the best route to realizing a career meeting community health needs. But when she arrived at Hollins University in the fall of 2019, Associate Professor of History Rachel Nuñez recommended that she might want to look into a new academic program the university was launching that year.
“Professor Nuñez suggested I enroll in the Introduction to Public Health course,” Scott recalled. “She thought I’d be a great fit, but if not, I could certainly continue on the pre-med track. I took it, and I fell in love.”
As a public health major, Scott enjoyed three significant internship opportunities. First, she worked with the Child Health Investment Partnership of Roanoke Valley, which promotes the health of medically underserved children in the area. “Through them, I was able to shadow community health nurses as well as research and outreach. It solidified my interest in learning more about the public health field.”
Working with Myriah LeGaux ’15, Scott also interned at Taking Aim at Cancer in Louisiana, a statewide initiative whose goal is to improve cancer outcomes. “That’s where I became interested in and was able to focus on chronic disease,” she said. “In a number of Louisiana parishes, there is a high incidence, especially with underserved minority populations. “I was really inspired to see how health care and public policy directly affect the health of the Louisiana community.”
Her third internship, with the Roanoke City Health Department, was coordinated by Dr. Cynthia Morrow, director of the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts and formerly a visiting professor of public health at Hollins. “This confirmed my desire to work on the frontlines of public health and learn more about health care policy,” Scott said. “With state and regional epidemiologists, we drafted an outbreak report to promote a recommended health care policy to increase prevention and lower the risk of Hepatitis A transmission in the Roanoke community.”
Prior to graduating from Hollins last year, Scott earned acceptance to all six of the Master of Public Health programs to which she applied. But during the application process, “I realized I wanted to get more solid work experience before I got more knowledge.” She connected with Diane Hall ’88, a senior health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, who in turn put her in touch with a CDC official. “I told him I wanted to work on the frontlines of public health but had limited experience, and he said, ‘Why don’t you give our Public Health Associate Program a shot?’”
The CDC’s Public Health Associate Program (PHAP) is designed to give recent college graduates who seek a career in public health the opportunity to work with professionals in an array of public health settings, including state, tribal, local, and territorial public health agencies and nongovernmental organizations. Since it began in 2007, the two-year paid training program has placed more than 1,650 public health associates across 49 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories, and most go on to serve in positions in public health organizations: In 2021, 80% of PHAP graduates accepted jobs in public health.
With thousands of applicants each year for an average of between 300 and 400 positions, Scott noted that the selection process is rigorous. “Once your initial application is chosen, you’re required to submit personal statements and preferences about the specialties in which you want to work and where you want to be located. Once you get past that stage, you interview with some of the supervisors. Then, you are matched with a host site supervisor.”
Scott admitted she was “initially nervous about the application process, especially since it was my senior year and I wanted to make sure that my classes were going smoothly. Plus, people apply every year with different levels of experience, some with master’s degrees and some just graduating like me. I was grateful to Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh for his guidance and mentorship, and to Assistant Professor of History Christopher Florio, who helped me prepare for my interviews.”
For Scott, acceptance into PHAP has become “my journey back home”: She is returning to Fairbanks, where she lived for more than a decade (her father was stationed at Eielson Air Force Base there and returned to the area upon his retirement from military service). Beginning in October, she will serve with the Tanana Chiefs Conference, an Alaska Native nonprofit dedicated to meeting the health and social service needs of tribal members and beneficiaries throughout the region.
“I’ll be focusing on the quality of current policies related to health care services, and if needed, change and improve them to best fit the needs and desires of the people,” she explained. “I am looking to gain experience working directly with the community. In my internships at Hollins, I got bits and pieces of seeing how the work we created impacted those we served, but now on an ongoing basis I’ll be able go out and interview people and get their direct feedback on how our initiatives are affecting them. That’s the goal of public health – we are here to serve the health of the public.”
Scott said she is looking forward to “being a sponge, ready to absorb all the information they’re willing to provide for me” in two particular areas. “I want to learn more about collecting data on the transmission of chronic and communicable diseases, and also how to create a dialogue that builds comfort and trust with the population we’re serving.”
With an interest in ultimately becoming a chronic disease epidemiologist, Scott is considering pursuing an MD/Master of Public Health program after she completes the PHAP. However, she emphasized that all options are on the table.
“At this point, I’m really just diving deep into this assignment and allowing it to inform my next steps. I want to have an open mind, because during this program I might come across a great opportunity that I never would have otherwise thought of.”
Whatever the future brings for her, Scott is confident that right now, “I’m following my heart. My passion for public health has allowed me to come full circle, starting in Alaska and ending in Alaska.”
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.”
Zahin Mahbuba ’22 is passionate about becoming a force for building experiential and entrepreneurial learning in the educational programs of developing nations. This academic year, the international studies major and economics minor from Bangladesh is participating in a Stanford University program that she hopes will help her in establishing a basis for achieving that goal, while at the same time promoting initiatives for students at Hollins.
Mahbuba is one of 251 students from 65 institutions of higher learning in 15 countries to be named University Innovation Fellows (UIF) for 2021-22. The program, run by Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school), empowers students to become agents of change at their schools. These student leaders create opportunities to help their peers build the creative confidence, agency, and entrepreneurial mindset needed to address global challenges. Fellows create student innovation spaces, start entrepreneurship organizations, facilitate experiential workshops, and work with faculty and administrators to develop new courses. They serve as advocates for lasting institutional change with academic leaders, lending the much-needed student voice to the conversations about the future of higher education.
“The new fellows are designing experiences that help all students learn skills and mindsets necessary to navigate these uncertain times and to shape the future they want to see,” said UIF co-director Humera Fasihuddin. “They are giving back to their school communities, and at the same time, they’re learning strategies that will help them serve as leaders in their careers after graduation.”
During her first two years at Hollins, Mahbuba worked closely with Karen Messer-Bourgoin, who previously served as professor of practice in business at Hollins. “She helped me with all my entrepreneurial endeavors,” Mahbuba said. She learned about UIF from Alyssa Martina, director of Elon University’s Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, whom she got to know when Hollins took part in the Elon University Innovation Challenge.
When Mahbuba was presented this summer with Hollins’ first-ever Changemaker Award, participation in UIF became financially attainable. The honor includes a $5,500 grant, made possible by an anonymous donor. “It’s the donor’s belief that the world’s biggest and most difficult problems can be solved by embracing an entrepreneurial mindset and by working diligently to affect change in areas where innovation is needed most,” Mahbuba stated. When deciding how to use the award, she said her overarching goal was that “I didn’t want it to be an experience for myself. I wanted to leave a legacy on which students could embark.”
With Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette as her faculty sponsor, Mahbuba embarked on completing UIF’s rigorous application process. “I answered questions about what innovation means to me, what resources would I acquire to build upon the entrepreneurial ecosystem on our campus if the president gave me a blank check, and even what three superpowers I wanted. I made a video where I talked about what excites me. Professor Chenette contributed to my application by describing what entrepreneurship means at Hollins, and I had to get recommendation letters from other faculty.”
As a UIF candidate, Mahbuba was then required to complete a four-week training program remotely this fall. Guided by Joshua Cadorette, a Stanford UIF mentor, she learned “how you can build stuff, how you gather resources, get people on board, things like that.” In collaboration with Chenette, she is spending the next several months at Hollins engaged in a project she conceptualized herself.
“I’m focusing on immigrant populations and refugees and their take on entrepreneurship,” Mahbuba explained. “When refugees are forced to migrate, they often come to America or other Western countries. English is not their first language, and they don’t have a lot of documentation to look for work. They end up becoming entrepreneurs, and I love that innovative mindset. I want to take that idea and make experiential learning opportunities for our students: How can you can create things in your environment and ecosystem that don’t exist yet, but you know should be there? It doesn’t even have to be a device – it could a change in policy.”
During her fellowship, Mahbuba is engaging in a design-thinking framework that is also the focus of “Sustainability and Social Innovation,” a Hollins first-year seminar for which she serves as a student success leader. “Exposing our new students to that is going to be a game changer,” she said. “It’s real, meaningful work, and also has value to one’s knowledge and skills.”
Mahbuba’s fellowship will culminate in March 2022, when she travels to California to spend ten days working with Stanford’s d.school and Silicon Valley startups. “You get exposed to the entrepreneurial ecosystem and connect with people who are actually working on projects,” she said.
As Hollins’ first participant in UIF, Mahbuba is a pioneer for future Hollins students who wish to pursue the program. In fact, cohorts usually include up to seven fellows from a particular college or university in a given year. “I’m really excited to be a part of that,” she noted, “and I’m sure students will be thrilled to get the opportunity to work with Stanford and access their resources.”
Next spring, Mahbuba will graduate after three years at Hollins. She is exploring Ph.D. programs in higher education policy and education reform. “Working with Stanford’s d.school can offer so many ideas on how I can make that structure work for me. When you talk about higher education and policy reform, this will give me a unique mindset and a set of skills.”
Above all, Mahbuba is committed to developing ways to positively impact communities globally whenever possible, especially in regard to young people. “I can’t talk about social innovation enough and why it’s so crucial in moving youth forward. They’re going to be the world’s changemakers. This is something I hope to build on and maybe take it back to Bangladesh, where I can start my own university fellowship program.”
Entrepreneur and educator LaNita Jefferson ’07 assured Hollins students, “You can make your own tables. You don’t have to wait for someone to invite you to a seat at the table,” during the 10th annual Career Connection Conference (C3), September 30 and October 1.
Jefferson was the keynote speaker for this year’s event, which welcomed alumnae/i from across the country to showcase the lifelong power of a liberal arts education, share their insights on life and work, and help students connect to others in their networks. Thirty-five alumnae volunteered their time and talents to serve virtually as conference leaders for 2021.
“What a momentous and important occasion to celebrate the deep and engaging connection between the liberal arts and career success, and the critically important link between our alumnae/i and current students,” said Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton.
C3 2021 began on Thursday, September 30, with networking, mock interviews, and a program on “Identity in the Workplace” featuring guest speaker Krishna Davenport ’96, an activist and advocate for the equal treatment of Black women in the workplace, specifically Black mothers. On Friday, October 1, C3 presented sessions covering a range of career fields, including Global Health; Business, Finance, and Data; Driven by Mission: Working in Nonprofits; Museums and Archives; Landing in Unexpected Industries; and Entertainment and Media.
Jefferson is a licensed professional counselor, adjunct professor, and social justice activist in Columbia, South Carolina, whose goal is to raise awareness of the benefits of mental health to marginalized communities. She told a Hollins Theatre audience that she considers herself “a determined person. I have goals that I make attainable and I achieve them, I believe in what I can do and I believe in myself. As my husband once said, ‘Whenever you say you’re going to do something, you do it.’”
But she admitted she didn’t always have that mindset. “There was a time when I felt I wasn’t good enough for certain things” including college. “I felt that I wasn’t smart enough. So what changed my mind and was the beginning of me believing I can do what I want to do? That actually happened right here on the Hollins campus.”
Jefferson described how she was deeply homesick throughout her first year at Hollins. When she returned for her sophomore year, her unhappiness persisted. “I made up my mind that I’m just not the type of person who belongs in college. I decided I was going to go back home, get a job, and hang out with my friends – that’s all I felt I deserved and all I felt I needed to do to be happy.”
Jefferson met with her academic advisor, then-Professor of Sociology William Nye. “‘Sounds like you have a plan there, LaNita,’” she recalled him saying after she explained her decision to leave Hollins. “Then he said to me, ‘So what are you afraid of? Are you afraid to experience anything different from what you are used to experiencing? Are you afraid of what potential Hollins is going to unleash? Tell me, what’s your biggest fear?’”
Afterward, Jefferson said she thought a lot about Nye’s questions. Ultimately, she admitted to herself, “I was afraid. I was really afraid to do anything different outside of what I was used to at home. And then something happened: I challenged myself to show I’m not afraid and I’m willing to try different things.”
Jefferson said she began speaking up more in class and “talking to people who didn’t look like me.” She got involved in leadership positions with Hollins’ Black Student Alliance and other multicultural organizations on campus. “I just told myself, ‘I’m gonna give it shot. I’m gonna give it a real chance.’ I felt like I owed it to myself. I fought for what I wanted.”
After graduating from Hollins, Jefferson spent three years working in various positions before getting what she called her first “big girl job.” She loved it. “It was my first insight into mental health and I knew this was what I needed to do to figure out how to become a therapist.” A promotion at first heightened her optimism, “but I started changing. My mental health declined.” She began having trouble eating and sleeping, and she would often have to pull her car over to the side of the road on her way to work because she was having panic attacks. Finally, she was called in to meet with her supervisor.
“I got fired, y’all. Most people would be upset by that, but I was so relieved. I needed that door to close so that I could realize there were other doors already open. I needed them to push me out.”
As she got in her car to leave that day, “I sat there for a while and then something came over me. I said, ‘LaNita, you will never ever let another job or another person come in front of your mental health again. You are worthy, you have a voice, and you will use it. You will make another opportunity for yourself. You deserve that.”
For Jefferson, that opportunity manifested itself in her pursuit of a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. “I immersed myself in becoming a really good counselor who could help people medically and mentally. It was my calling.” She focused her sights on opening her own private practice to provide holistic mental health in her community, but in addition to completing her graduate degree she would also need to pass a licensure exam. The first time she took it, she failed, but she remained undaunted. “I had heard the word ‘no’ so many times: ‘No, you can’t do this.’ ‘No, you shouldn’t think that way.’ I was so used to the word ‘no’ that I wasn’t afraid of it anymore. All ‘no’ means is to try again.”
When Jefferson took the licensure exam a second time, she decided to do it on her birthday. Her anxiety was high, and when breathing exercises didn’t help calm her down, she sought encouragement from her favorite rap song, “Juicy” by Biggie Smalls. “There’s just something about how that song hits your soul. It’s all about success and trying hard and celebrating the good things in your life. The chorus says you know very well who you are and no one can hold you down. Reach for the stars. Believe in yourself and dream as big as you want.”
Jefferson passed the exam, and with her friend, colleague, and business partner, opened Carolina Assessment Services LLC in 2019. As of today, the practice has served over 200 people in South Carolina. This year, she launched The Cohort LLC with another friend as a means of empowering others to fulfill their dreams through entrepreneurship. Currently, she’s a Ph.D. candidate in counselor education at the University of South Carolina.
“What I’m trying to do is help make space for people like you, students like you, that may be afraid to tap into your potential. That may be afraid to step outside of the box. It’s okay to find and create opportunity. It’s okay to be you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be yourself and believe in yourself. And don’t be afraid of the word ‘no.’”
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.
“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.”
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.”
When Erin Brookshier Edmonds worked as a morning reporter for Roanoke’s WSLS 10, there was one aspect of the job she enjoyed the most. “It was just great to go out and meet people in the community and share their stories,” she recalls.
Among her regular pieces were ones that originated from local schools. “We would do a high school football kickoff segment every Friday morning and go to different schools around the region. In addition to the players and the cheerleaders, we’d interview teachers and other students. Those were always just my favorite stories, and once I saw myself gravitating more and more toward that environment, I decided I needed to do something different.”
Edmonds loved broadcast journalism, “but waking up at 3 a.m. every morning to go to work was hard. It became even more difficult once I got married and started having a family.” At the same time, the idea of pursuing a career in education “was something that really began speaking to me – hanging out with the students and being in school every day, the place I loved doing stories.” Her mother, who teaches at Roanoke County’s Glenvar High School (which Edmonds attended), also had a profound influence on her. “That was the lifestyle we grew up with – my mom was off on the days we were off and she was home during the summer. That was something that was always in the back of my mind.”
For Edmonds, the tipping point came after she had to cover a particularly tough story about a house fire. “I called my mom and told her I didn’t want to do this anymore, and that I was interested in teaching.” A crucial potential stumbling block was whether Edmonds would have to go back to college and complete a significant number of undergraduate classes in order to make a career change a reality. Her mom knew of several people who had transitioned into teaching and suggested that she reach out to Lorraine Lange, director of the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, Master of Arts in Teaching, and Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning graduate programs at Hollins University, for advice. “I asked Dr. Lange, ‘How do I go about doing this? How does this work? Is there something that Hollins offers?’ I got a lot of information from her and from one of my former principals.”
With their encouragement, Edmonds successfully took her Praxis examinations (important components of Virginia’s licensure and certification process, these exams help demonstrate knowledge of content, pedagogy, and instructional abilities) and the Virginia Communication and Literary Assessment (VCLA) examination, a basic skills test. “And then, Roanoke County actually hired me,” she says. Edmonds spent her first year of teaching splitting her time between Northside High School and Glenvar. She also enrolled in the Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning (M.A.T.L.) program at Hollins.
“Teaching and completing my M.A.T.L. at the same time was great. The program is so flexible. Being able to take those classes in the evening and take them online fit perfectly with my teaching schedule.” Edmonds says she needed five classes to get her teaching licensure and four more to get her master’s degree “so I just went ahead and did the full thing. I was surprised at how quick it was, it only took about a year and a half. And as I was teaching, I was learning a lot about the fundamentals of classroom management and other things you really need to know.”
Edmonds says she also benefited from the program’s intimate, close-knit environment. “The classroom settings were super-comfortable and relatively small-sized, so you could meet and get to know other students on an individual basis. We were working together and you knew what everyone else was teaching or wanting to teach. It was helpful to get ideas from people who were interested in the same things as you, or learn something completely different to get a new perspective as well.”
Edmonds is now beginning her fourth year as a teacher. After dividing her time between Northside and Glenvar during her first year, Edmonds moved solely to Glenvar, where she teaches 10th grade and 12th grade English.
“I’ve always been interested in literature and writing and my minor in college (she is a graduate of Virginia Tech) was actually in English, so it was kind of a perfect fit. A lot of the classes I took as an undergrad helped me with what I am doing now.”
Coming back to Glenvar has reunited Edmonds with many of the instructors who actually taught her when she was in high school. “It’s really cool to come back and be able to be friends with people who were my teachers,” and of course serve on the same faculty as her most important mentor, her mom.
But what has been especially gratifying to Edmonds has been the opportunity to form personal relationships with her students. “I had a lot of those relationships with the teachers who are now my coworkers. I love being able to help students decide what the next step is for them after high school, it’s a big time in their lives with a lot of choices they are making.” Her ability to get to know students on an individual basis is bolstered by the fact that Glenvar boasts small class sizes, and as Edmonds notes, “Teaching 10th graders and 12th graders means I get to have lot of those students twice. It’s neat to be able to look at my roster this year and see 15 to 20 students that I taught two years ago when they were sophomores and I’m getting to teach them again now that they are seniors.”
Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge Edmonds has faced during her teaching career in terms of developing those connections has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Some of it was really difficult. Having the hybrid classes, some students online and others in person, it’s not what any of us are used to. You have to make those connections in person, and the students who are online, you just see them through this screen image.”
Yet, Edmonds adds there were some silver linings to the pandemic experience, noting that the perspective everyone had gained when full in-person learning resumed last spring “made us all appreciate each other more. I think students and teachers alike were surprised we were able to do it, and I feel like everyone did a great job last year. Teachers and students both worked really hard to make sure nobody would fall behind.”
During her four years in education, Edmonds says she has discovered a good teacher must embody several characteristics to be successful. She explains that “caring, understanding, and finding a way to introduce material in a way that’s interesting to the students” are musts. “British literature isn’t always the most exciting thing for 12th graders, I think there are ways you can approach it that gets them excited in reading and learning more about it.”
And even though she has switched career paths, Edmonds has found the skills she acquired as a television reporter have come in handy. She admits, “I still get nervous those first few days of school talking in front of my students, and I think I probably always will. But, having the broadcast journalism background helps push those nerves down a bit.”
Supported by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), the grant will bolster the establishment at Hollins of Partners in Purpose (PIP), a project intended to build effective strategies for advising and mentoring undergraduate students.
“PIP will provide invaluable opportunities for Hollins faculty, staff, and alumnae/i to think deeply and collectively about the role of vocation and purpose as it relates to undergraduate education,” says Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton. “Our goal is to prepare campus leadership to do the meaningful work of discernment and life purpose.”
PIP is made up of three components:
A faculty/staff development initiative will launch in September and continue through May 2022. The series of monthly workshops will be facilitated by Rev. Catina Martin, university chaplain, and LeeRay Costa, director of faculty development and professor of anthropology and gender & women’s studies, and will include guest speakers, a curriculum on vocation and purpose, and contemplative activities. The workshops will emphasize the unique college and life experiences of underrepresented, disadvantaged, or marginalized students, and provide a space for faculty/staff to read, learn, and reflect together. Quarterly workshops led by professional development speakers will be recorded to create a library of vocational learning for faculty, staff, and alumnae/i mentors.
PIP’s experiential component, which is not funded by the grant, will involve the development and implementation of a new vocation-based program in which Hollins faculty/staff and alumnae/i mentors work closely with a cohort of 12 Fellows made up of students representing first-generation, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), and low-income populations. Starting in the 2022-23 academic year, campus leaders will conduct monthly sessions that focus on vocation and life calling, meaning, and purpose. This pilot program will expand to future generations of Hollins students after the grant project is completed.
Martin and Costa are developing the PIP curriculum this summer and will share further details with faculty and staff in the coming weeks. “We are focusing on the language surrounding these discussions,” Martin explains. “We want to be attentive to the role of spirituality in exploring vocation and discernment, as well as factors such as gender and sexual identity, class, race, culture, and community identity that shape students’ conceptualization of purpose and vocation. As we prepare campus leaders to think about working effectively and meaningfully with students around vocation and purpose, it is imperative that our approach be as inclusive and diverse as possible.”
NetVUE is a nationwide network of colleges and universities, of which Hollins is a member, formed to enrich the intellectual and theological exploration of vocation among undergraduate students. In support of this goal, members may request funds for activities that enhance the knowledge, skills, capacity, and expertise of campus leaders.