Art History Senior Symposium and Tribute to Professor Kathleen Nolan, April 24

Hollins will observe the 25th anniversary of the Art History Senior Symposium and pay tribute to retiring Professor of Art History Kathleen Nolan during two virtual events on Saturday, April 24.

The annual Art History Senior Symposium, the capstone experience for art history majors, will take place from 10 a.m. – noon EDT. Four members of the class of 2021 will present their original research through a series of 20-minute talks. Email knolan@hollins.edu for the Zoom link and more details.

From 1 – 3 p.m. EDT, art history alumnae will come together for a reunion to honor Nolan and her distinguished 35-year academic career at Hollins. Nolan shaped the art history department into a multi-faceted program and taught majors, minors, and non-majors the skills to perceptively and thoughtfully interpret images from the past and present alike. She has taught medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art history, and her scholarly interests include the history of women in the Middle Ages, and the works of art commissioned by women to tell their stories. She co-edited Arts of the Medieval Cathedrals: Studies on Architecture, Stained Glass and Sculpture in Honor of Anne Prache. Her book, Queens in Stone and Silver: The Creation of a Visual Identity of Queenship in Capetian France (Palgrave 2009), looked at queens’ personal seals and effigy tombs. Her articles and essays have appeared in The Art Bulletin, the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Studies in Iconography, and Gesta.

Christine Holt Fix ’97, Zirwat Chowdhury ’05, Gwen Fernandez ’06, Sarita Herman ’08, and Rory Keeley ’17 will deliver brief reflections on how their experiences studying with Nolan shaped their career paths. Through short videos, many other alumnae will also offer greetings and share their recollections. The celebration will also include opportunities to catch up with classmates, provide updates, and make new connections. Preregister for the Zoom link, or contact Amy Torbert ’05 at amy.torbert@gmail.com to learn more about the reunion event or to contribute your own memories.


English and Creative Writing Professor’s Artistic Journey Brings “Voices Into Dialogue”

When Professor of English and Creative Writing T.J. Anderson III is asked how long he spent writing his newest book, he says he always answers, “It took me 62 years.”

Of course, he’s joking. But as Anderson further explains, a profound truth lies in that reply. “First, I had to acquire language. I next had to acquire an aural sensibility because music is very much a part of my aesthetic. Then of course, I had to read a lot of books and a lot of poetry to get to this point.”

The latest literary stop on what Anderson describes as his life’s “artistic journey, a journey that is rooted in African-American culture and American culture” is Devonte Travels the Sorry Route, a collection of poems published in 2019 by Omnidawn Publishing. The work is his fourth volume of poetry following Cairo Workbook (Willow Books, 2014), River to Cross (The Backwaters Press, 2009), and the chapbook At Last Round Up (lift books, 1996). He is also the author of Notes to Make the Sound Come Right: Four Innovators of Jazz Poetry (University of Arkansas Press, 2004) and the spoken word CD, Blood Octave (Flat Five Recordings, 2006).

“I think the work that I write is me, and it’s also not me and it’s community,” Anderson said. “One of the things that I think is true, which is a way of thinking about the afterlife of slavery in regard to how we inhabit this historical time, is the sense of temporal engagement where the past, the present, and the future are not discreet and cut off from one another. Rather, we live in simultaneity of that entanglement. That’s my challenge as a writer: How does one narrate that? How do I bring those voices into dialogue?”

When describing his aesthetic, Anderson cites two core components. He employs fragmentation and compares it to making “a quilt where I’m constantly gathering various kinds of materials, different kinds of fabrics, some silk, some rough cotton, and stitching these things together so that these fragments are in conversation. There’s the use of space in my work, too, where there are things that can’t be said or I haven’t found the words for these things.”

Devonte Travels the Sorry Route is presented in four parts, and Anderson has also developed a process for making those divisions that aligns with his perception of the poem as a musical score. “I’ll print out all of my poems and go into a large room and lay every piece of paper on the floor. Then, I’ll walk around and read them. I’ll see what fits, what’s developing in terms of a narrative and musicality. First and foremost, it’s music. I’m orchestrating things in terms of how I hear them sounding and putting them into a particular order. They’re kind of musical sections.”

Anderson’s inspiration to begin writing the poems that would ultimately become Devonte Travels the Sorry Route stemmed from seeing a painting byDevonte Travels the Sorry Route Irish-American artist Brian Counihan called “The Sorry Route.” He was intrigued by the work’s two dominant figures – one man in a tri-cornered hat and another who appeared to be in shackles – and the way the painting evoked colonialism.

“All of a sudden I started writing these poems that came to me that embodied this voice of a character who called himself ‘Dickerson,’” Anderson recalled. “After I drafted a few of my Dickerson poems, I started sending them out to magazines and some were getting accepted, which was really pleasing. I began to see that somehow I was working on a series.”

Anderson learned that Omnidawn, which specializes in innovative and experimental writing and is one of the author’s favorite publishers, was sponsoring an Open Book Poetry Contest where anyone who has already published a book can submit an entry. He put the series of poems into a manuscript, changed the main character’s name from “Dickerson” to “Devonte,” and Devonte Travels the Sorry Route was created. To Anderson’s surprise, the manuscript was named a contest finalist.

“The publisher called to congratulate me and as I talked to him I realized that I had only 20 poems of mid-size length in the series. Now, that will get you what is called a chapbook, usually a small printing of poems that runs about 40 to 50 pages and has just a limited dissemination. So, I really tried to expand it by writing more poems and opening up more space.”

Why did Anderson change the name of his poems’ key figure? “‘Dickerson’ has a kind of harshness to it, so one point I was going to call the character ‘Dante’ as an allusion to The Inferno, but I decided not to do that. I chose ‘Devonte’ because it alluded to ‘Dante’ but it also was a distinctly African-American name and certainly sounded more poetic than ‘Dickerson.’ At the same time, I realized there was a young man by that name who was a victim of police violence.”

In the series, Anderson says his title character “traverses time. His sense of identity is constantly being cut by historical events, so much so that there becomes no discernable separation of past and present. I’m responding to the painting and shifts of identity within the African-American cultural and historical narrative. Devonte inhabits multiple dimensions, and in several poems, he encounters history on both a macro and micro level that doesn’t solely apply to dates and images. How do we deal with the ghost of history? Devonte resists and straddles all those attempts of containment by society.”

At its core, Devonte Travels the Sorry Route is the story of an artist for whom jazz is a profound force. “It is a spiritual connection that goes beyond consumptive entertainment and appreciation,” Anderson explained. “The idea of music – tonal sounds, tonal vibrations – and  what it does to the body, and how it can affect one’s ability to be in multiple places at multiple times, that’s of interest to me.”

The book’s second pivotal character, “more of an idea than an actual person,” is “Isabella.” “I see her as a representation of colonialism and its exploitation of the land that some people see as feminine. But Isabella is being used. She becomes a participant in White supremacist domination. It’s a gendered idea that’s problematic and I hope readers see that.”

Still, Anderson is comfortable with readers approaching his work differently from his own interpretation of it and even missing the allusions he makes. He recalls his own study years ago of the influential American poet Charles Olson and his seminal work Maximus Poems, a long serial poem that encompasses more than one thousand pages. “I read that entire book, I also read the criticism, I also read the biographies on him, and I didn’t understand everything. But later on, the more you allow things to ruminate and to simmer, I began to gain more of an understanding of his work. I think that’s the way I’ve always approached literature and particularly difficult literature. I don’t necessarily feel the need to ‘get’ something at first reading, that it’s important to go back and sit with something, and maybe 20 years from now you might say, ‘Oh, that’s what that line meant. Okay, I get it now.’ And that’s fine. The process for me, the process of literature, is an organic process.”

Watch Anderson’s presentation, Devonte Travels the Sorry Route: The Making of a Manuscript, part of the Faculty Authors and Achievers series sponsored by the Wyndham Robertson Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Balancing Act: Hollins Professor Deftly Juggles Filmmaking with Teaching

Pursuing scholarly or creative work while ensuring a meaningful experience for students in the classroom is a daily challenge for every college professor. Associate Professor of Film Amy Gerber-Stroh, who chairs the film department at Hollins and codirects the university’s graduate programs in screenwriting and film studies, has accrued 40 years as a professional filmmaker and nearly three decades teaching film in higher education. For her, immersion in both vocations is the key to success and fulfillment.

“Teaching learners of all ages and abilities has been really rewarding. It has made me a better filmmaker, much more so than if I were balancing filmmaking and [the demands of] Hollywood,” she said.

Gerber-Stroh laid her foundations at Los Angeles’ CalArts (California Institute of the Arts), which was founded by Walt Disney. Alumni including directors Tim Burton and Sofia Coppola set high standards. “It’s a school that shaped me in terms of experimental directing and trying different things from an artist’s point of view rather than a consumer point of view. A lot of the other film schools in L.A. are really more geared toward the Hollywood box office.”

After CalArts, Gerber-Stroh admits she “got sucked into Hollywood and worked on a lot of strange stuff, mostly as a casting associate.” Her mainstream movie credits range from City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold (1994), Angels in the Outfield (1994), and Tank Girl (1995) to Goldeneye (1995), The Craft (1996), and The Mask of Zorro (1998). Fortunately for Gerber-Stroh, casting work was just a day job. “At the same time, I was making a lot of experimental art films, and I was also working at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. That was a great gig because I was able to make films about painters and sculptors. It honed my sensibilities and drove me artistically.”

In 2000, Gerber-Stroh launched her own production company, FlatCoatFilms, and began producing her own short films, documentary features, and animation projects. After joining the Hollins faculty in 2007, her task was to balance filmmaking with her new passion for teaching.

“It takes a long, long time to make films. I sort of rotate between longer and shorter pieces,” she explained. “Shorts can take a couple of years. Feature-length projects for independent filmmakers take anywhere from four to eight years. The reason is, if you’re not backed by a major production company or studio, the money is trickling in. You’re getting grant money, maybe you’re getting people who are investing in your films, or you’re getting GoFundMe campaigns going. Thanks to Hollins, I received seed money for my current project.”

Gerber-Stroh has addressed a variety of subjects in her films. Public Memory (2004) explores the meanings and motivations of American memorials. The Truth About Trees: A Natural and Human History (2015) is a three-part documentary series for PBS made in collaboration with the James Agee Film Project. Do Cell Towers Dream of Morse Code? (2019), which imagines the possibilities if cell towers actually developed consciousness, won the Silver Award for Experimental Works at the 2020 University Film and Video Conference. (“Professors who make films have developed such a great community, and so it was really nice to win an award there.”) Cell Towers also earned awards and acclaim at the Miami International Sci-Fi Film Festival and Chicago’s International Art House Film Festival.

But the greatest source of inspiration and material has come from both sides of Gerber-Stroh’s own family. In My Grandfather Was a Nazi Scientist: Opa, von Braun and Operation Paperclip (2011), she uncovers the secret past of Dr. Eduard Gerber, who was among hundreds of Nazi scientists brought to the United States after World War II through a classified and controversial government program. She’s currently writing, directing, and producing a hybrid documentary called Hope of Escape. It tells the story of how her forebears escaped slavery.

“Some scholars believe Cornelia Read, my great-great-grandmother, and her mother, Diana Williams, were born free in Charleston, South Carolina. But we know that, at some point, they became enslaved. They learned they were about to be sold and separated forever, so they had to get out of there. At the same time, Cornelia had a sweetheart. This is the man who would become my great-great-grandfather, William Benjamin Gould. He was also enslaved and planning his escape from Wilmington, North Carolina.

“Cornelia fled by train in a harrowing journey. William eventually escaped in a skiff on the Cape Fear River and was picked up by the U.S.S. Niagara, a Union steam frigate that was blockading the Wilmington harbor. I detail their escapes, getting into what they both were thinking and feeling, while giving insight into their lives, their times, and the obstacles they faced. Both my great-great-grandparents were literate, highly educated, and wrote beautifully. Literacy for the enslaved was illegal in the South, but someone was definitely teaching them. What it was like to be enslaved and educated, and acknowledging the benefits of having lighter skin, are also aspects of their escape that the film will examine.”

Gerber-Stroh has a compelling primary source, a diary that William Gould kept during his escape and continued to write as a sailor for the Union during the Civil War. “My uncle, named for William Gould, wrote a book about this diary, which is one of just three in existence that depicts such an experience. It’s located in the Massachusetts Historical Society and is a great resource for me, serving as a jumping-off point for how I’m going to approach the story.”

Quite a few boldface names played roles in this epic history. Diana and Cornelia grew up in family circles that included the Ball and Laurens families (of Hamilton fame). “Sometimes you would have to pay what was called ‘ransom money’ to gain your family’s freedom. The famous abolitionists Henry Highland Garnet and Lewis Tappan, along with the Rev. James Crawford, gathered money from as far away as England, where many abolitionist societies were dedicated to helping the enslaved. The Duchess of Sutherland was truly an angel investor in that 19th century GoFundMe!” said Gerber-Stroh.

As the film project has ramped up, meaningful opportunities have arisen for Hollins undergraduates. Film major Anja Holland ’21 served as one of Gerber-Stroh’s research fellows on the project. “Anja really helped me with historical research, finding scholars, developing a production schedule, and looking for locations.” Filming is set to begin this summer in Wilmington on the Cape Fear River and also in Charleston.

Gerber-Stroh is devoting her spring term sabbatical to continuing work on Hope of Escape. “This is a really great time for me to dig into my roots and tell the story. It’s a popular genre in film right now—I’m thinking of Harriet (2019)— but Cornelia, William, and Diana had a unique experience that I think audiences will appreciate. I’m very excited. How many filmmakers get the chance to make ‘profiles in courage’ of family members they’re proudest of in the whole world?!”

Watch Gerber-Stroh’s presentation, “Filmmaker in Academe: Producing Films Large and Small,” part of the Faculty Authors and Achievers series sponsored by the Wyndham Robertson Library.


SW Virginia Is A Lyme Disease Hotspot. Hollins’ “Tick Lady” And Student Researchers Are Discovering Why.

Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Elizabeth Gleim is a disease ecologist whose research centers on the study of zoonotic diseases (those that can be directly transmitted between animals and humans) and vector-borne diseases (infections that require transmission through vectors such as ticks or mosquitoes). But a lot of people at Hollins and beyond who are familiar with her work simply know her as the “Tick Lady.”

Ever since she was pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Georgia, Gleim, who is also a Hollins alumna (class of 2006), has investigated tick-borne diseases. “There are three main areas on which my research questions focus,” she explained. “The first is identifying ways to better control and prevent tick-borne diseases, especially in the human population but also in domestic animals. I also do a lot of work in vector and disease dynamics, which can vary dramatically based on the ecosystem or the region of the country, and even just from year to year. The other piece is trying to better understand anthropogenic drivers, which is how humans are affecting tick-borne disease risk with their actions or behaviors, and then understanding environmental drivers of disease risk, which can include changes in weather, forest management practices, wildlife population changes, and other factors.”

Gleim’s passion for her work has remained constant. “One of the first things that drew me to this discipline is the fact that I get to do both lab and field work, so there’s a lot of variety that I really enjoy. It’s also been wonderful in terms of offering a wide array of research opportunities to Hollins students.”

Liz Gleim Outdoors
Gleim’s interest in tick research began in graduate school. “I get to do both lab work and field work, so there’s a lot of variety that I really enjoy.”

Over the past 18 months, Gleim has been involved with two major research projects. The first involved studying the impact of a process known as “prescribed fire” on the risk of tick-borne disease, which was published in the July 10, 2019, edition of Scientific Reports. This investigation was prompted by the fact that, over the past several decades, both the emergence and incidence of tick-borne diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease have risen dramatically. The challenge for scientists and disease ecologists has been to find ways to reduce and control tick populations and mitigate the risk of tick-borne disease, especially in humans. For years, prescribed fire has been used to successfully manage forests, grasslands, wetlands, and other types of landscapes.

The first phase of Gleim’s research looked at how fire impacts tick abundance and seasonality. The second phase, which she brought to Hollins, focused on whether fire might also affect the pathogens that circulate in the ticks. It was the first study that had ever been done to examine the effects of prescribed fire on tick-borne pathogens themselves. Gleim spent two years doing field work in Southwest Georgia and Northwest Florida, “and collected a whole lot of ticks – 50,000 of them. I then tested almost all of those ticks for all known tick-borne pathogens.” She determined that while prescribed fire did not affect all pathogens, it did impact some. Furthermore, fire greatly reduced the density of ticks infected with pathogenic bacteria in an area and showed a 98% reduction of encounter rates with infected ticks.

“The findings here were exciting and promising, and led to some interesting questions that I hope I can explore in the years to come. First, would we get the same types of dramatic reductions in ticks that we observed if we did this work in other ecosystems or other regions of the country or even the world? Second, could prescribed fire reduce Lyme disease risk specifically? Where I did this work in Georgia and Florida, Lyme is not endemic (e.g. does not occur). It’s at least possible that it could affect the pathogen that causes Lyme.”

The dynamics of Lyme disease in the United States have evolved considerably over the past two decades. As recently as 2001, Lyme cases were seen primarily on a limited basis in New England and the Midwest. However, just 16 years later, Lyme was common everywhere in the Northeast and had begun to spread to other parts of the country.

“By 2017, the western region of Virginia was at the leading edge of what would probably be considered a Lyme endemic area with a distinct hotspot developing in Southwest Virginia,” Gleim said.

Liz Gleim Ciera Morris
Ciera Morris ’19 (right) collaborated with Gleim to study black-legged tick dynamics in the Roanoke Valley.

Jory Brinkerhoff, a professor at the University of Richmond, collected black-legged tick (the vector of Lyme disease in the eastern U.S.) nymphs, the life stage particularly associated with Lyme cases in humans, at four sites on an east/west gradient across the state. He found the greatest number of nymphs at his western-most site and the highest level of the Lyme pathogen there, but it was just one site. “We all know in science that you can’t draw any firm conclusions from just one place,” Gleim said. She, Hollins Professor of Biology Morgan Wilson, and then-senior Ciera Morris ’19 set out to understand black-legged tick dynamics in the region, particularly in Southwest Virginia’s hotspot.

For Morris’ senior honors thesis, the team established 12 sites around the Roanoke Valley area to collect ticks on a monthly basis for an entire year. They collaborated with an Old Dominion University tick ecologist collecting ticks in the eastern part of the state that same year. “We found a significantly higher number of black-legged tick nymphs and larvae in the Roanoke region versus the Norfolk area,” Gleim said. “What’s notable though is that we do not have significantly more adults. It seems to indicate that we don’t necessarily have more black-legged ticks in the western portion of the state.” However, they are more forcefully engaging in a particular kind of behavior.

“It turns out ticks don’t jump or fly. The only way they get on a human or animal host is to physically brush up against them. For a tick to get on a host, they crawl up to the tops of vegetation, grass, or low-lying plants, and they wait for something to brush up against it. We call that behavior ‘questing.’”

Leemu Jackson '20
Leemu Jackson ’20 conducted genetic analysis to verify whether black-legged ticks are migrating into Southwest Virginia from the northeastern U.S.

Gleim cited previous studies that demonstrated ticks in the Northeast quest much more aggressively than those in the Southeast. “Ticks in the Southeast tend to stay down in the leaf litter and therefore are unlikely to come into contact with humans. Thus, a migration of ticks from the North into Virginia via the Appalachian Mountains is a possibility.”

Using some of the groundwork laid by Morris and Shravani Chitineni ‘21, and in collaboration with Gleim, Brinkerhoff, and Hollins Professor of Biology Rebecca Beach, Leemu Jackson ‘20 performed her senior honors thesis last year doing a genetic analysis to compare Roanoke-area black-legged tick populations to those elsewhere in order to verify whether migration was occurring.

“We did what we call a phylogenetic analysis, which is sort of a fancy way of saying we created a family tree of all the different ticks we were testing from Roanoke as well as the state of Virginia and the entire eastern U.S.,” Gleim said. “That analysis compared the DNA sequences of all these ticks and showed how similar those sequences are and thus how related they are to one another. What we discovered was a really high genetic diversity here in the Roanoke area, more so than what we’re seeing in the eastern part of the state. This does not definitively prove that ticks are migrating into Virginia, but it certainly provides some evidence to support that hypothesis.”

Another factor that Gleim believes may be contributing to the prevalence of Lyme in the Roanoke Valley involves human dynamics. “In a lot of urban or suburbanized areas, people don’t spend a lot of time outside. But that’s simply not the case here. We have an outdoor-centered lifestyle, so there’s a large number of people who are spending a lot of time outdoors in an ideal tick habitat.”

Shravani Chitineni ‘21
Shravani Chitineni ’21 is exploring methods to effectively control Lyme disease risk.

The “Tick Lady” emphasizes there is still much work to be done. She hopes to submit Morris’ senior thesis for publication in the next month or two (“She’ll be first author on that paper, which is really exciting.”).  In addition, “Shravani has picked up where Ciera and Leemu have left off – she’s a senior who is doing her thesis with me right now. She’s getting to do what she really loves, biostatistics, and she’s working on a Lyme simulation model with an ecological mathematician at Old Dominion University and myself. We’re examining different control methods that might be used to effectively control Lyme disease risk, particularly in different regions of the country.

“My hope is that over the next six months or so, we can get published the work that Leemu and Shravani have been doing. And down the line, we may begin to examine other tick species and pathogens in addition to further exploring our questing behavior work.”

Watch Gleim’s presentation, “The Battle Against Lyme Disease and Beyond: The Fascinating Intersection of Ecology and Public Health,” part of the Faculty Authors and Achievers series sponsored by the Wyndham Robertson Library.

 

 

Photo Credits:

Elizabeth Gleim at the microscope and in the field: Nancy Evelyn

Elizabeth Gleim with Ciera Morris ’19; Leemu Jackson ’20; Shravani Chitineni ’21: Elizabeth Gleim

 


Amy Gerber-Stroh’s Latest Film Probes Connectedness and Isolation, Detachment and Engagement, in the Modern World

Cell towers have become a ubiquitous 21st century presence, so common that most people hardly notice them anymore. Amy Gerber-Stroh, associate professor of film at Hollins University, is the observant exception.

“High above they are watching us, listening to us, and digesting us,” she says. “At first you never see them, but once you start actively looking, you realize that they are everywhere.”

Gerber-Stroh is fascinated with the ways in which cell technology has impacted society, and imagines the possibilities if cell towers actually developed consciousness. “What does it mean to have these looming totem poles on our landscape? Knowing that millions of bits of data go through cell towers every day, could they tell us something about ourselves if they could speak? What would they say? These questions creep into my mind whenever I spot the strange, inconspicuous metallic structures that dominate our space much like telegraph poles once did in the 19th century. Today the air is alive with signals from all directions, some clean, some not, both in terms of content and form. Are cell towers nostalgic for their wooden telegraph ancestors who channeled signals that were simple and pure?”

Gerber-Stroh explores these scenarios in her latest film, Do Cell Towers Dream of Morse Code?  Shot in Roanoke, the 27-minute production was honored with the Silver Award for Experimental Works at the 2020 University Film and Video Conference (home of the Journal of Film and Video), and also earned awards and acclaim at the Miami International Sci-Fi Film Festival and Chicago’s International Art House Film Festival. (Please note that the film contains adult language and is intended for mature audiences.)

“In Do Cell Towers Dream of Morse Code?, Gerber-Stroh presents us with a vision of an artificial intelligence that, after being forced to ‘consume’ the suffering and pain of others, wants to have a say in the outcomes it can only witness,” says Vincenzo Mistretta, professor of film production at the University of Southern Mississippi. “The film beautifully captures humanity’s collective cognitive dissonance at the prospect of trying to untangle the borders between real and virtual, connected and alienated, human and non-human. As these categories continue to collapse into one another, our own lives may become increasingly difficult to navigate.”

Do Cell Towers Dream of Morse Code?  begins with a “breaking news” teaser from a fictional TV channel: In an “increasingly disturbing situation,” cell towers are catching fire across the country, inexplicably and at an alarming rate.

The film then shifts to a point of view from above two adjacent city parking lots at night, and eavesdrops on the text conversations of three unrelated characters who are waiting there: “Kate” is picking up her son from music lessons; “Amanda” is looking forward to meeting a date for the evening; and “Daniel” claims he is heading to the nearby Y to work out.UFVA Conference Award Winner

“Amongst the scores of parked cars at night in any town or city, one may find a collection of glowing blue light that shines through the fog and condensation of their windows,” Gerber-Stroh says. “The inhabitants think they are alone as they perform a symphony of chords in gigahertz, willingly offering up their electromagnetic fields of hopes, dreams, and fears. But they are not alone. A cell tower is always nearby.”

Solely through their text messages, the film gradually reveals that each character’s story is far more complex that it initially appears. Kate, a single parent, is struggling with a personal financial crisis. Amanda’s date’s ex-boyfriend is jealous and possibly violent. Daniel is in fact a stalker. The tension grows when three men drive into the lot and begin acting oddly after they step outside their vehicle.

Meanwhile, a technician who arrives at the cell tower to do maintenance starts receiving cryptic messages on his work laptop. Dismissing the communications as the work of hackers, the tech is incredulous when the source claims to be an artificial intelligence that has become sentient – the cell tower itself. Proclaiming it is “ill” from “information fatigue,” the cell tower shares its dilemma: “As you might surmise, the world goes through us. We see everything, yet we can do nothing. It is eating us alive. Like a cancer. Or to be more precise: like consuming multitudes of fast food.”

The tower concludes, “Knowledge is worthless without action,” and sets itself on fire. Climbing back down to street level to escape the danger, the technician receives a final video message from the tower that, as Mistretta explains, “guides the repairman toward noticing the real world. It accomplishes its goal to have a real effect on the physical world.”

At its core, Gerber-Stroh believes Do Cell Towers Dream of Morse Code?  “offers a brief view from an observer at a unique vantage point. We experience a witness’ fixed perspective of events that occur on a supposed benign street corner. Who is the witness? And what is the witness’ connection to the lone souls below, parked in cars and affixed to their smartphones? The film captures a linear moment in time, exploring the ideas of connectedness and isolation, detachment and engagement, that sometimes occur simultaneously in our modern world.”

A member of the Hollins faculty since 2007, Gerber-Stroh chairs the university’s film department and co-directs the M.A. and M.F.A. programs in screenwriting and film studies. Her films have won honors at numerous film festivals and professional venues, including the Edinburgh International Film Festival; Mill Valley Film Festival; Film Forum, Los Angeles; and Women in the Director’s Chair in Chicago.

Gerber-Stroh’s documentary, My Grandfather Was a Nazi Scientist: Opa, von Braun and Operation Paperclip, was shown at the Charles Guggenheim Center for Documentary Film and also received several other film festival and honorary screenings. Amazon describes it as “a very interesting account of events that are rarely covered in our nation’s history. The film chronicles Gerber’s personal journey to discover and uncover her grandfather’s role in post-war America.”

Russia Was a Woman, Gerber-Stroh’s award-winning screenplay, is gaining some interest at Rooster Teeth and Netflix as a possible limited series. In its review, Fresh Voices calls the work “an interesting revisionist take on Ivan the Terrible’s wife,” and praises Gerber-Stroh for her “ambition, imagination and creation of two lead LGBT characters.”

Gerber-Stroh has had significant professional film experience in Hollywood and New York. She worked on several movie features by Roger Corman and casted 12 major motion pictures including The Mask of Zorro (Columbia Pictures), Goldeneye (MGM), Afterglow (Sony Pictures Classics), Tank Girl (United Artists), and Angels in the Outfield (Disney).


Classical Association of Virginia Honors Hollins Professor as Teacher of the Year

Hollins University Professor of Classical Studies Christina A. Salowey has been named the Lurlene W. Todd Teacher of the Year for 2019-20 by the Classical Association of Virginia (CAV).

First presented in 2005, the award recognizes outstanding Latin teachers and professors in Virginia. Nominees are evaluated on at least four of the following factors:

 

 

  • Evidence of the success, size, and growth of the teacher’s program.
  • Examples of innovative and creative classroom activity.
  • Evidence of improved student learning.
  • Significant numbers of students who continue their study of the classics at the next available level.
  • Examples of outreach and promotion of the classics inside and outside of the teacher’s institution.
  • Evidence of the teacher’s professional service and profession development.
  • Student success in contests and competitions, especially those offered by the CAV.
  • Examples of student travel and field trips which enhance learning and promote the program.

“We applaud Professor Salowey’s exemplary dedication to her students and to pedagogy across her career at Hollins,” said Trudy Harrington Becker, a senior instructor of history at Virginia Tech and chair of the Lurlene W. Todd Award Committee.

A member of the Hollins faculty since 1996, Salowey teaches numerous literature genres, two ancient languages, and the art, religion, history, philosophy, architecture, science, and geography of the long-lived civilizations that spoke and wrote those languages.

“There are many joys in teaching at a small, liberal arts university,” she has said, “ but a significant one for me is that I am not restricted to one sub-discipline in a broad field of study.”

Throughout her time at Hollins, Salowey and her husband, Associate Professor of Communication Studies Chris Richter, have led undergraduates to Greece during January Short Term to engage in intensive study and research. Each trip is unique and has focused on different regions, such as Crete, northern Greece, and Greece and Turkey.

In collaboration with students in her Greek 350: Greek Inscriptions class, Salowey produced a digital exhibition highlighting photographs of ancient Greek texts that were inscribed on ancient works of art. The exhibition features a commentary for those texts for elementary readers of Greek.

Professor of Classical Studies George Fredric Franko adds that Salowey “routinely teaches overloads and supervises independent studies, in which she meets with students weekly to keep them on track. As an indicator of her success in inspiring students with zeal for the study of ancient Greek, Latin, and ancient art, this year six seniors are graduating with a major in classical studies.”

Salowey also devised, implemented, and led a new summer program at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. These seminars address the needs of graduate and undergraduate students, as well as secondary and college teachers, by offering 18-day sessions on specific topics in Greece and visiting major monuments under the guidance of exceptional scholars.

In 2019, Hollins honored Salowey with the Herta T. Freitag Faculty Legacy Award, which is presented to a member of the faculty whose recent scholarly and creative accomplishments reflect the extraordinary academic standards set by Freitag, who served as professor of mathematics at Hollins from 1948 to 1971.


Searching for Waymarkers

My last day on the Hollins campus this semester was March 15. I went to my office to gather my books, files, course materials, and supplies with the hope that this new arrangement of working from home and teaching remotely would be temporary. It is hard to believe that seven weeks have now passed and that we have begun our last week of spring classes. On the one hand I am admittedly relieved that what sometimes feels like the terrible, horrible, awful, no-good spring semester is finally coming to an end. On the other hand, I deeply miss my Hollins students and colleagues. And while I have secretly come to loathe the #Zoomlife and its inability to capture the joyful energy of being physically together, I cherish every moment I get to see you and talk with you, even on a screen. Unlike most of our students, I have the freedom and ability to return to campus, but I have avoided doing so because I can’t bear the thought of being there without all of you. This separation weighs heavily upon my heart and there have been days during this quarantine when I have felt unmoored and lost. I imagine you may have felt that way too.

This feeling of being lost conjures my experience of being a pilgrim. Five years ago during my sabbatical, I embarked on a pilgrimage. Over the span of 33 days I walked 400 miles from Lisbon, Portugal to Santiago, Spain on the Way of St. James, also known as the Camino de Santiago. I walked for many reasons: personal, professional, physical, and spiritual, and imagined myself following in the footsteps of my Portuguese ancestors.

My journey was a decade in the making and, as an obsessively detailed planner, I had prepared for months before embarking on it. Nevertheless there were days when I found myself off track and distressed. The truth is, even when we think we know the path and have a map to give us direction, we may unexpectedly find ourselves lost along the way. This lostness can be disorienting and even scary. And it can simultaneously offer up profound life lessons: crystalizing for us our strengths and sense of purpose, and illuminating for us what we cherish most.

The Camino de Santiago is indicated by a series of waymarkers, usually yellow arrows or golden scallop shells. These are maintained by volunteers of local pilgrim associations, and offered as an act of kindness and support for those making the journey. As I walked, those waymarkers provided me with a sense of confidence and reassurance. I smiled and whispered my gratitude each time I discovered one.

More often than not camino waymarkers are easily visible, though sometimes they are hidden, and occasionally they are present yet terribly confusing. I will never forget a particular section of the camino near Porriño. Apparently, members of the community surrounding this area were arguing over the route. Some wanted it to flow directly through the very industrial and concrete center, so that they could benefit economically from the pilgrims who were likely to stop and buy food and supplies. Others wanted to divert pilgrims to a path through the woods, to preserve the reflective nature of their journey and to physically prevent them from walking on dangerously trafficked roads. What resulted were a series of competing waymarkers that had been repeatedly covered over, with new arrows spray painted in their place. Each morning individuals from opposing sides would set out to conceal the marks of their rivals. For unsuspecting pilgrims like me this resulted in confusion about the way forward and dread that I might make a wrong turn and lose my way.

There have been days during the quarantine when I have felt transported to that moment of fear, confusion, and anger over a situation I did not create but must figure out how to handle. Like many of you, I have stumbled my way through new modes of teaching, learning, working, communicating, and sharing space and resources with folks whom I love dearly but that occasionally get on my nerves. I have had to make hard choices about what and whom to prioritize and how to get the necessary tasks of everyday living accomplished while struggling with a lack of motivation and tearfully mourning the many losses I have experienced and continue to witness all around me. I have felt the despair of not knowing what lies ahead, and longed for the unambiguous waymarkers that remind me that everything is going to be alright.

My pilgrim experience also reminds me that sometimes those clear and reassuring waymarkers are actually right in front of me but I remain unable to recognize them. This may be because I am distracted and have let my attention wander, or because I am so lost in the story unfolding in my own mind that I have ignored the signs all around me telling me and showing me something quite different. As I have revisited these lessons and brought them to bear on the current moment, I have realized that at least some of this feeling of being unmoored and lost is tied to the experience of being dis-placed: dis-placed from our beautiful Hollins campus, our beloved Hollins community, and our treasured rituals that create a sense of certainty, connection, and shared purpose.

And yet, even in this displacement, our waymarkers remain. Because whether you recognize it or not, each one of us – students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni – is a yellow arrow, a golden camino shell, for someone else in our community. Individually and collectively, we provide direction, reassurance, a sense of calm, and support for one another, no matter where we happen to be currently residing. Perhaps this is something our alumni know best, scattered as they are across the globe but forever knitted into the Hollins experience.

These waymarkers, embodied in the members of the Hollins community, inspire me and remind me that no matter how isolated or lost I may feel, I am not alone. Through our relationships, our shared experiences, and our mutual care for one another we form a network of connection and hope that transcends both time and place, and that can anchor and fortify us in these unpredictable times. As we continue through the end of the term, into summer and beyond, I encourage you to look for the yellow arrows and golden scallop shells that surround you, to delight in their shine, and to give thanks for their presence on our collective journey.

 


Hollins Researchers Partner With Other Universities To Study Impact Of COVID-19 On Tick-Borne Illnesses

Two Hollins professors are collaborating with scientists from four other universities to determine if the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the time people spend outdoors and if that change could result in increased exposure to ticks or tick-borne diseases.

Elizabeth Gleim
Elizabeth Gleim (Photo Credit: Nancy Evelyn)

Elizabeth Gleim, assistant professor of biology and environmental studies, and Meg du Bray, a visiting assistant professor in environmental studies at Augustana College who will be joining the Hollins faculty this fall as an assistant professor of environmental studies, are working with researchers from the University of Georgia, Duke University, Clemson University, and the University of Rhode Island on a new study entitled, “Investigating COVID-19 Impacts on the Epidemiology of Tick-Borne Diseases in People and Pets.”

“We’re examining whether people are spending more time outside due to COVID-19 restrictions and whether this might be affecting them, their families, and/or their pets’ (if they have any) risk of contracting a tick-borne illness,” Gleim explains.

Gleim and her fellow researchers are inviting any person 18 years or older who resides in the United States or Canada to fill out a short survey that “should only take about 10 to 15 minutes of your time,” she notes, “or less if you do not have children and/or dogs.”

The research team is hoping to have as many people as possible participate in the study. “We encourage everyone to please share the survey with any individuals or groups that you think would be willing to complete it,” Gleim says.


“A Blessed Time”: Professor Becomes His Parents’ Caregiver During the Pandemic

This would have been the second week of performances of our spring production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. We were in mid-rehearsals when the lights went out on our campus.

Curious Incident is a show full of wonder, and heart, and the entire cast had been basking in the deep satisfaction of a rich and exciting rehearsal process before this work we love was called to a halt. What to do? Continuing rehearsals in Zoomland was not practical. So out came the calendars and timelines, and come September, we are planning to pick up where we left off to open the show on October 22. So with determination, passion, and some good ole theatrical grit, we are embracing the old adage that the show must go on!

Although we couldn’t rehearse in Zoomland, we now find ourselves going to class in this strange and foreign place online. My favorite class is called “Purpose Passion and Possibilities: Personalizing the Art of Theatre Making.” It’s a practical philosophy class, and is based in some pretty powerful discussion. The first day we met in Zoomland, we spent a lot of time checking in with each other and sharing a lot of feelings about our strange new circumstances. One of the things that came up a lot was how weird it was to be back at home, locked in with parents after experiencing an independent adult life at Hollins. I could totally relate…but from a very different point of view.

At 5 a.m. the morning of March 14, two days after our last day of face-to-face classes, I was awakened by a call from Akron, Ohio. My 94-year-old Dad had been rushed to the hospital with a torn muscle, which triggered a pretty severe heart incident. My 91-year-old Mom was in lock-down at the retirement community they’d been living at for the past 14 months. Dad was alone in a hospital, and like the boogey man, the coronavirus was lurking under beds and behind doors and in closets.

After being so discombobulated by the shutdown of our campus, I suddenly felt blessed that I could grab my computer and office files and rush up to Ohio to be at my Dad’s bedside so he wouldn’t have to be alone in the hospital. Ninety-four-year-olds are easily confused and disoriented, so I was grateful to be able to hold my dad’s hand and help him feel safe. He’s a WWII veteran and always felt it was his job to make others feel safe. Tables do turn.

It’s now five weeks later, and like so many of my students, I’ve been living in quarantine with my parents. Dad needed 24-hour care, but the managers of the community were very skeptical about allowing a parade of caregivers to come through the doors and risk infecting the entire community. So even though family members are forbidden to visit, we struck a bargain: as long as I was willing to go into quarantine with them, I could move in and be their full-time caregiver.

So this is the fourth week without setting foot outside a three-room independent living apartment…and you know what, it’s been kinda wonderful. I teach and conduct theatre department business from my computer in the small den, and sleep on the pull-out sofa in the living room. But more importantly, I’ve been given the gift of some mighty precious time with two people I love. They’re not going to be around much longer (virus or no virus), so I consider these unexpected circumstances a real gift; precious time to hear poignant and funny stories of days gone by. But even better, I’ve been given the rare opportunity to care for them the way they once cared for me when I was a vulnerable and defenseless child. In many ways, the elderly are quite child-like, which allows them to be more open and free to share their hearts and souls, and the richness of lives well-lived. And I get to be there to check under the bed for monsters before we turn the lights out.

When this COVID craziness began, I never expected it to turn into such a blessed time, filled with so much love. I hope our entire Hollins family can find some semblance of a silver lining in this unprecedented time we are living through. As for me, being locked in with parents has turned into a true gift. Stay Gold everyone!


Coronavirus: Sharing Their Expertise

Two Hollins professors have been interviewed recently for their expertise in areas related to the COVID-19 coronavirus concerns impacting the country and the regional community around Roanoke.

NOTE: The Hollins University administration is maintaining and regularly updating a coronavirus-related web page for full information on how the school is approaching the situation as well as linking to key external resources including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health. You can find this at https://www.hollins.edu/coronavirus-preparedness/

On March 2, visiting professor of public health Cynthia Morrow was interviewed by local TV station WDBJ7 seeking her advice and recommendations for how those concerned should best approach the situation as it presently stands. Morrow was a Commissioner of Health in New York during the H1N1 – or swine flu – pandemic back in 2009 and offered several practical bits of advice including good hand and overall hygiene as well as “social distancing,” or maintaining a safe distance during interactions with others. You can view her interview below or see the full WDBJ7 report here.

Peter Chiappetta, a visiting assistant professor of business and financial consultant, was interviewed by WDBJ7 on March 9 to discuss concerns around the impact the fears and realities of the coronavirus outbreak were having on the financial markets, including a temporary halt in NYSE trading earlier that morning. You can view his interview below or see the full WDBJ7 report here.