From Graduation to Publication: Debut Books by New Creative Writing M.F.A. Alumni Head To Press

Poets Maddie Gallo and Gabriel Reed became close friends after they enrolled in Hollins’ Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) in creative writing program two years ago and were in the same first-year tutorial class. Fittingly this spring, they not only celebrated together the completion of their respective M.F.A. degrees, but also the achievement of another milestone in their lives: the publication of each writer’s first collections of poetry.

Gallo’s Acorn, Eggshell, Honeycomb and Reed’s Springbook have both been accepted for publication by Groundhog Poetry Press (GPP). Founded by Professor of English and editor of The Hollins Critic R.H.W. Dillard, GPP describes itself as “a small, independent press dedicated to publishing absolutely the best poetry we can find without regard to any factor other than quality.”

The news came as a complete surprise to Gallo. “I wasn’t thinking of it as a book at all until it got accepted as a book,” she says. For Reed, his work is actually composed of two separate projects. Nevertheless, he says, those projects “resonate with one another. The more I thought about how they spoke to one another, the more I was sure that I wanted them together.”

“I Never Thought This Would Happen So Fast”

Gallo was pursuing a Master’s degree in English literature at Wake Forest University when she had an epiphany.

“It was a great program, but I realized I was more interested in creative writing than literary analysis,” she recalls. One of her professors suggested Gallo explore enrolling in an M.F.A. program.

“Because I’m from Radford (located approximately 50 miles from Roanoke), I already knew about Hollins’ creative writing M.F.A. program from people who had gone there. Since I’d been in North Carolina for two years, I thought it would be nice to be closer to home in Virginia.”

Other factors convinced Gallo to apply to Hollins as her first choice. “I could study poetry, which is my favorite genre, but Hollins is kind of unique in that it encourages you to write in other genres as well. A lot of M.F.A. programs are strict in that you can only write poetry or fiction. I wanted to be able to experiment with fiction as well as nonfiction. I applied to some other places, but when I got into Hollins, it was settled.”

Gallo praises Dillard, who taught her first-year tutorial class, for “helping me find my footing and voice in poetry. In my second year, I was more confident in who I was as a writer and the kind of ideas I wanted to write about.” Her second-year tutorial professor, Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing Thorpe Moeckel, furthered that guidance.

Maddie Gallo
Maddie Gallo M.F.A. ’21: “The art of poetry is nearly always a positive thing amid the global and daily tragedies we face.”

“I felt that he gave me the permission to be experimental and strange with my poetry,” she explains. “I’ve always had anxiety about writing poem after poem on the same topic and I can get bored with that repetition.” She worried about how the various subjects and themes she addresses throughout what would become Acorn, Eggshell, Honeycomb would come together into a cohesive whole, but Moeckel “reminded me that the unifying factor of every collection, whether it’s a one-themed project or just a book of unique pieces, is the poet’s voice. He told me, ‘A Maddie poem is always a Maddie poem,’ and while that might seem like a simple comment, it was an enlightening moment for me.”

Gallo adds it was “inspirational” to be in classes where “for the first time I was around a bunch of extremely talented and amazing creative writers. Hollins is good about giving you the time and the right people to work with. They challenged me to become a better writer. I look back at my poems before Hollins, and I think, ‘Who wrote those?’ I feel like I grew so much and in so many different ways. I was able to carve out space and dedicate so much time to doing something I always loved my whole life. I experienced a sense of community there.”

From the outset, Gallo’s goal as a graduate student was to write “a really good final thesis” of poetry that reflected how she wanted to go about being a writer and the kind of work she hoped to craft. “It was something long-term where I could come back to these poems. I was going to dedicate the whole summer after I got my M.F.A. to working with them, and then see if somewhere in the future I could find a home for them with a publisher.” Gallo admits she is “prone to doing constant surgery on my work. I’ll work on a poem forever, and I’ve got poems from years ago I’m still editing. But, I’m trying to give my poems room to breathe and focus only on the edits that need to be done.”

When Gallo submitted her thesis, Dillard recognized the progress she had made in her writing since coming to Hollins. “A few days later, he reached out to me and said, ‘I think this is book material,’ and that his press would love to publish it with their next batch of books. I was stunned. I never thought this would happen so fast.”

Acorn, Eggshell, Honeycomb features themes of femininity (“Women’s relationships to others and themselves, particularly the anxieties concerning their own bodies.”); nature (“It’s a constant comfort to me.”); and poetry itself (“The art of poetry is nearly always a positive thing amid the global and daily tragedies we face.”). The book draws its title from the headings of each of the book’s three sections, which each contain about 15 poems. “I’m obsessed with the ordering of books and collections,” she says. “When I get a book of poetry I think about why the author chose to put one poem first and another poem last, why certain poems are in the middle, and so on. I thought a lot about the order in which I wanted things to appear in Acorn, Eggshell, Honeycomb before I was even considering it as a book. For me, there’s a definite kind of logic and system for each section, but one of the things I enjoyed hearing from my classmates when they read the draft was that they got to decide for themselves what differentiates an ‘Acorn’ poem from an ‘Eggshell’ or ‘Honeycomb’ poem. It’s a fun thing to leave that open-ended for other readers, too. For me, the reader’s perspective is a huge part of what poetry is. I don’t expect and I don’t want readers to think like me. I want each poem to have its own meaning for each person.”

Bringing Acorn, Eggshell, Honeycomb to fruition was certainly a highlight of Gallo’s time in Hollins’ creative writing M.F.A. program. Serving as a teaching fellow and working with undergraduates for the past year was another. “I taught fundamentals of poetry and fiction writing, and it was so much fun helping students fall in love with poetry. Of course I want to keep writing, but after that experience I have to continue teaching. It’s really important for me to keep encouraging other people to want to write. There’s no feeling like that.”

“I’d Always Hoped This Would End Up Being My First Book”

While he had always loved poetry, Reed was firmly grounded in fiction writing until the end of his senior year as an undergraduate at Carson-Newman University in his home state of Tennessee. “I started writing poems the way a lot of people do through self-expressive diary type writing,” he recalls. The mentorship of Appalachian poet Susan O’Dell Underwood profoundly influenced him, as did the fact that in writing workshops, “people liked my poems a lot more than my fiction. So, I stuck with it.”

Reed had already been applying to creative writing M.F.A. programs, but only in fiction. “I was afraid my M.F.A. applications were going to be a waste because I wanted to write poetry now, but then I came across Hollins’ website.” He says he was struck by Hollins’ philosophy “that wasn’t so much specialization in a genre as an interest in the voice you want to curate. And, it’s so writing intensive. It was exactly what I needed.”

In the creative writing M.F.A. program at Hollins, Reed says “I never felt like I wasn’t getting respect and attention from my peers.” During his first year, he was part of a four-person tutorial group led by Dillard where “we were all writing very different poems, but I got the freedom and the room to play, explore, and find my way.” He also started reading more formal poetry and was particularly drawn to the sonnet, which consists of 14 lines and uses a standard rhyme scheme.

Gabriel Reed
Gabriel Reed M.F.A. ’21 with his daughter, Eloise: “I see this book as not just kind of a craft project, but also as a time stamp of my life in Roanoke, the beginning of my family and my daughter’s life.”

Working with Professor of English Cathryn Hankla during his second year at Hollins, Reed says he began “shifting my thinking about my poetry. I narrowed in on what I was attempting to write, and Cathy was perfect for helping me find that voice. One thing she enabled me to see is that the poem has a life of its own, especially if the reader comes away with something separate from what you had in mind. Sometimes someone will have an understanding of your work that’s so much better than what you intended. I had some amazing experiences with visiting writers, too, in broadening my definition of what poetry can be and what it can do.”

Another experience that tremendously impacted Reed and his writing was the birth in January of his daughter, Eloise. Juggling fatherhood as well as serving as a teaching fellow meant “I had less time to waste. I was forced to focus more instead of being in the freeform mode I was in, and I feel like I did the best work of my life this past year.”

That work included his graduate thesis. Written in two parts, the thesis’ first section consists of a long narrative poem about “two people on a farm and how they fall in love with the land,” while the second is made up of sonnets that Reed penned in anticipation of his daughter’s birth. He says he conceived the latter as a response to The Dolphin, a book of sonnets by the American poet Robert Lowell “that ruthlessly chronicles Lowell’s leaving his wife, Elizabeth Hardwick, and daughter, Harriet. Lowell even steals lines from Hardwick’s letters throughout. I was trying to write the anti-Dolphin. Whereas The Dolphin remembers the time in Lowell’s life when he was moving away, I was trying to lean into a celebratory space of the everyday, what it meant to me to become a father, and how to be faithful to and inhabit that.” Reed adds that he conceived of the long poem that opens his thesis as a way to “prepare the reader for a personal encounter.”

Based on Hankla’s recommendation, Dillard welcomed Reed’s thesis for publication by GPP. “I’d always hoped this would end up being my first book,” Reed says. Inspired by a work he admires called The Summer Book, he decided to call his collection Springbook. “One of the sonnets that ends the book is a birth poem and the process of witnessing that. My daughter was born on January 2, thus the book ends in winter and I’m looking ahead. It’s that cliché of spring representing rebirth and new life.”

After living in Roanoke for the past two years to attend Hollins, Reed has moved back to where he’s originally from in the Knoxville area to complete a Ph.D. in poetry at the University of Tennessee. He plans to pursue both teaching and writing, and he says Springbook will continue to resonate for him beyond being his debut book publication. “I see this book as not just kind of a craft project, but also as a time stamp of my life in Roanoke, the beginning of my family and my daughter’s life.”

 

 

 

 


Steven E. Laymon, Ph.D., Named Vice President for Graduate Programs and Continuing Studies

Hollins University has announced the appointment of Steven E. Laymon, Ph.D., as vice president for graduate programs and continuing studies. He will provide leadership for and oversight of the university’s existing programs and develop new initiatives.

Laymon comes to Hollins from the University of Virginia’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, where he has worked in several key capacities since 2014. As associate dean for academic programs and services, he was responsible for development, management, and evaluation of two undergraduate degree programs; business and professional certificates; design and strategic expansion of corporate training and outreach; and management of non-credit programs offered by the School. He worked with staff to engineer improvements in long-term sustainability by enhancing enrollment, improving operational efficiency, and creating new programs when he served for three years as the School’s interim dean. As associate professor and associate dean for academic affairs, he taught face-to-face and online courses in social sciences, leadership, and political science; managed academic programs; and created strategies to improve the quality of instruction. And, he taught courses on nationalism, American and popular culture, and social science theory as an associate professor general faculty/lecturer.

Prior to his service at UVa, Laymon spent nearly a decade as associate dean for graduate and professional programs in the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies.

Laymon holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago, where he also earned an M.A. in international relations. He completed his B.A. in international history and political science at Miami University.

“Steven is a dynamic, enthusiastic, and collaborative leader,” said Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton. “In addition to supporting our current programs, he will create innovative new graduate, certificate, and not-for-credit programs that will meet adult learners’ interests and needs while upholding Hollins’ liberal arts mission. He will help grow the university’s national and international reputation in graduate education and continuing studies.”

“I think we have a tremendous opportunity to build graduate and continuing education programs that speak to the complex needs of the twenty-first century,” said Laymon. “We live in a dynamic world, where analytical skills, critical thinking, creativity, and inclusive perspectives are as important as pragmatic and practical skills. Hollins’ tradition of liberal arts learning provides the best jumping off point for those kinds of graduate and continuing education programs. I am excited to begin to collaborate with my colleagues at Hollins.”

Laymon will begin his duties as vice president for graduate programs and continuing studies on July 19.


M.F.A. Student Wins Essay Award from the Children’s Literature Association

Amanda Becker, who is pursuing her Master of Fine Arts degree in children’s literature at Hollins, has been honored with a 2021 Graduate Essay Award by the Children’s Literature Association (ChLA).

A four-member committee of children’s literature scholars selected Becker’s essay, “A Story in Fragments: An Analysis of Poetry and Perspective in October Mourning,” as the winner of this year’s master’s level award.

The Graduate Student Essay Awards recognize outstanding papers written on the graduate level in the field of children’s literature. They are considered annually and awarded as warranted. In 2008, the ChLA Board approved giving two separate awards each year, one for an essay written at the master’s level and one for an essay written at the doctoral level.

“A Story in Fragments” focuses on Leslea Newman’s October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, a novel in verse responding to the 1998 murder of Shepherd, a gay 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming. “Written with love, anger, regret, and other profound emotions, this is a truly important book that deserves the widest readership, not only among independent readers but among students in a classroom setting, as well,” noted Booklist in its review. “Most importantly, the book will introduce Matthew Shepard to a generation too young to remember the tragic circumstances of his death. Grades 8-12.”

Of Becker’s essay, a judge stated, “One thing good scholarship does is strengthen its readers’ commitment to the literature it discusses: it prompts some to return to works they thought they knew and others to pick up those works for the first time. I think this is good scholarship. The analysis of the poetic effects of diverse perspectives…is sharply focused, sensitive to textual detail, and above all resists the temptation of reductive readings.” Another judge called it “original and interesting – not just related to interpretation of the specific text but also to the larger genre of poetry.”

Becker will receive a $400 award, a one-year complimentary ChLA membership, and an invitation to present her paper at the ChLA’s annual conference, which will be held virtually this year, June 9 – 13.

ChLA is a nonprofit association of scholars, critics, professors, students, librarians, teachers, and institutions dedicated to the academic study of literature for children.


International Film Festival Bestows Honors on Hollins Playwright’s Work

A feature film written by a Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University alumna has captured multiple awards at the Queen Palm International Film Festival in Palm Springs, California.

Samantha Macher M.F.A. ’12 won the Gold Award for Best Writer for To the New Girl, based on the critically acclaimed play of the same name that she wrote in 2010.

The film, which was made by an all-woman cast and creative team, also won a Gold Award for Best Feature – First Time Filmmaker for directors Aurora J. Culver, Ambika Leigh, and Adriana Gonzalez-Vega, a Silver Award for Best Actress (Skyler Vallo), and an Honorable Mention for Best Editing (Hillary Wills).

“It’s such an honor to be recognized by the Queen Palm Film Festival,” Macher told Digital Journal. “We’re so appreciative that they recognized so many creative and technical elements of the project and are looking forward to celebrating (virtually) with our cast and crew.”

An anthology film released by New Girl Pictures and available through Amazon Prime Video, To the New Girl follows ten women scorned as they directly address their exes’ new wives and lovers at an open mic night in Los Angeles. Created by a group of emerging filmmakers at a time when audiences are demanding films made both by and for women, the 80-minute movie taps into a social and political climate that’s left women poised to take back their voices and be heard.

“What I love about the project is that Samantha’s writing really connects with audiences on a universal level and our actresses bring the words to life with these phenomenal performances,” producer Laura Hunter Drago said last summer. “I’m so excited that we’re able to share that with audiences and spark some interesting conversations about how we all process heartbreak and relationships.”

Macher’s play was first produced at SkyPilot Theatre in Los Angeles and at Studio Roanoke with the Playwright’s Lab, and went on to earn enthusiastic reviews, including “A bracing blitz of pure estrogen” (Los Angeles Times), “Smart and sophisticated, witty and charming” (NoHo Arts District), and “A provocative study of the deep pain of ‘cheating’ by your ‘one and only'” (Tolucan Times).

Funded through a Kickstarter campaign by supporters of women in entertainment, To the New Girl was filmed in just three days on location in Los Angeles with a budget under $20,000.


M.A.T. Student’s Gift for Creating Miniatures Earns Spotlight on HGTV’s “Biggest Little Christmas Showdown”

As an undergraduate student at New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology, Amanda Kelly decided to embark on an ambitious artistic project: purchasing and building a Willow Dollhouse Kit. Because of its size, assembling the kit in her dorm room would in and of itself become an ambitious undertaking. But, she also struggled to acquire the modern miniature objects that were essential to filling each of the dollhouse rooms.

“Through my study of illustration and oil painting, I had developed the patience and creative eye for miniature making,” Kelly, who currently is pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching degree with a visual arts endorsement at Hollins University, recalls. “So, when I wanted something specific, I attempted to create it myself.”

Kelly found collecting and making miniatures to be an exhilarating process. Soon, her work began attracting admirers who sought out her creations, and this in turn led her to launch her own business, Panda Miniatures, as well as a dedicated Instagram page that currently boasts more than 34,000 followers. The presence of Kelly’s miniatures on social media also captured the attention of the producers of a new HGTV holiday series for 2020: Biggest Little Christmas Showdown, a four-episode competition in which “the nation’s best miniaturists…face off to create the merriest mini holiday houses, complete with all the festive, tiny trimmings.” Kelly and her fiancée and partner in Panda Miniatures, Bree Sepulveda, were subsequently invited to vie for the grand prize of $50,000, which Kelly notes “would be amazing for our wedding.” The pair successfully competed against two other teams in the series’ debut episode (which originally aired November 27 and is available for viewing in its entirety online) and will be among the three finalists when Biggest Little Christmas Showdown concludes on December 18.

Teacher's Desk Miniature
Teacher’s Desk, 1:12th scale. Miniatures “are such a mystifying art form because of their ability to teleport the viewer into another world.”

A native of Brooklyn, New York, who recently relocated to Roanoke (she teaches art at a local middle school), Kelly believes miniatures “are such a mystifying art form because of their ability to teleport the viewer into another world.” She considers creating realistic and contemporary miniatures and scenes her “go-to style. I love when miniature scenes or dollhouses have a cluttered and lived-in look to them as if someone just left. An empty glass, receipts on a counter, trash overflowing, half-eaten chocolate bars – those are the details that bring a miniature scene to life.”

Kelly admits that “making tiny objects by hand is tedious at times, but it has taught me to be a perfectionist and to be proficient in scale accuracy. These became essential skills when I began 3D modeling and utilizing my 3D printers for unique miniature creations.” Her professional opportunities have included making miniature props and sets for clients such as Coca-Cola and Swarovski as well as various TV shows.

Another benefit Kelly cites from her work is the camaraderie she has experienced with others who echo her passion. “The community of miniature artisans has always been so welcoming to me as a young artist, and I appreciate how everyone is eager to share designs with each other.” With so many miniature conventions canceled this year due to COVID-19, she enjoyed seeing other miniaturist friends on the Biggest Little Christmas Showdown set. “It’s a pretty close-knit community…you could say it’s a ‘small world,’” she adds, laughing.

In their preliminary competition, Kelly and Sepulveda and the two other teams were challenged by Tony Award-winning actor and series host James Monroe Iglehart to “take tropical Hawaiian vibes and make a structure inspired by the island greeting ‘Mele Kalikimaka,’ Hawaii’s way to say ‘Merry Christmas.’” The contestants were given a month in advance to begin building their projects and finish up to half of their miniatures; Biggest Little Christmas Showdown’s November 27 episode covers the 12 hours the teams had to complete their designs. At the end of the time period, a panel of judges evaluated each creation based on three criteria: interpretation of the theme, creativity, and execution.

“‘Mele Kalikimaka’ is the perfect theme for Christmas because it forces you to think out of the box,” Kelly says during the show. She and Sepulveda created a floating tiki bar, a pontoon they dubbed “Santa’s Tiki Boat,” augmented by a sandy beach, a palm tree, and even two “sand people” in the classic snowmen shape.

Kelly and Sepulveda skillfully overcame some unexpected challenges and setbacks during the 12-hour construction marathon and emerged triumphant with the judges, who praised their structure as a “completely unexpected approach” and “Jimmy Buffett having Christmas on the beach.”

Golden Bat Tattoo Shop Miniature
Golden Bat Tattoo Shop, 1:12th scale

“What set us apart from the other teams is our attention to detail,” Kelly says, “things that just take it to next level of realism.”

As she and Sepulveda prepare for the competition final, Kelly continues to find encouragement in a particularly cherished childhood memory.

“When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things to do was play with my Grandma Kelly’s dollhouse. It was built from scratch in the 1980s and filled with vintage miniature furniture. During special occasions, Grandma Kelly would hide a miniature chocolate bar inside one of the rooms of the dollhouse and encourage me to search for it. I would carefully open tiny drawers and peek behind little cabinets until I found the hidden treasure. When I found the miniature chocolate bar, Grandma Kelly rewarded me with a handful of M&Ms. We continued this tradition until I inherited Grandma Kelly’s dollhouse after she passed away in 2016.

“As 2020 comes to a close, I think of the miniaturists who came before me, like my Grandma Kelly, who inspired me to keep creating and bringing the joy of miniatures to the world.”

 

Top photo: Miniatures of Amanda Kelly (left) and Bree Sepulveda from the Biggest Little Christmas Showdown wrap party.


Hollins Announces New Partnerships with Graduate Programs in Health Sciences, Engineering

To further help qualified students pursue advanced degrees and meaningful careers in high-demand fields, Hollins University has finalized admission agreements with Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences at Mary Baldwin University (MDCHS) and the Virginia Tech College of Engineering.

At MDCHS, Hollins students who meet qualifications will be guaranteed the opportunity to interview for the following programs: Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies, Doctor of Physical Therapy, and Doctor of Occupational Therapy.

Students who take an outlined course sequence at Hollins can gain early acceptance to Virginia Tech’s Master of Engineering in Computer Science program. The alliance between Hollins and VT Engineering seeks to increase the number of liberal arts students who are growing the tech talent pipeline in Virginia.

“These new agreements, along with our existing partnerships with some of the nation’s most selective graduate and professional programs, provide our students with a wide range of opportunities to build upon a strong undergraduate liberal arts and sciences foundation,” said Alison Ridley, Hollins’ interim vice president for academic programs. “Our students are thus able to position themselves to thrive in the fast-paced and innovative world of the 21st century.”

In addition to partnering with MDCHS and VT Engineering, Hollins has agreements in place with Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy; the University of Virginia’s Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy; the Middlebury Institute for International Studies; the University of Pikeville’s School of Optometry, School of Osteopathic Medicine, and Coleman School of Business; and the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine.

 


For the Stephensons, the Hollins Experience Is a Family Affair

From his service as a U.S. Army officer and a career teaching high school English to embracing a stint as a stay-at-home father, Kelly Stephenson M.F.A. ’20 had always cherished a desire to someday write a novel.

So, while his daughter Clare was preparing to graduate from high school, Kelly and his wife began seriously considering “the next phase of my life. We were talking about what’s next, and she said, ‘why don’t you apply to grad schools and see where you get in?’ Hollins University was at the top of my list because I knew it had a really strong writing program. I applied, I got accepted, and we decided that it must be fate.”

Two years later, Kelly and his family are celebrating the completion of his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Hollins, which he hopes will be a springboard to becoming a published author. At the outset, however, Kelly admits he had mixed emotions.

“I was terrified,” he recalls. “I was older and I hadn’t been to school in 30 years except to earn my teaching license. It was nerve-wracking, too, because my family wouldn’t join me here,” but remain at their home in Princeton, New Jersey, until Clare finished high school. “I was going to be a geographical bachelor.”

Nevertheless, Kelly came to Hollins motivated to finally begin writing that novel. “I decided at my first tutorial that I had a good idea and I was going to push forward with it. For the first half of my first year, I wrote fervently and completed seven chapters. In the second half, I started revising.”

Kelly states that the amount of writing he completed in his first year at Hollins “was great. The instruction I got from my professors in terms of taking my writing to the next level was wonderful.” And while he missed his family, “having my space to write was fantastic. It really did make a big difference with my writing and what I was able to accomplish.”

One of the attributes of the creative writing program that Kelly praises is its emphasis on the rewriting process. “During my revisions, I was encouraged to deepen my characters’ inner life, and I started assimilating that naturally into my writing. I also learned my strengths and my blind spots as a writer. I was definitely enriched by the instruction I received. I thought I would improve around the edges, but I got the opportunity to not only write a lot, but also to write better.”

Kelly believes the M.F.A. in creative writing at Hollins offers a unique and beneficial approach in other ways. “They have a sense of what the student needs, and one of those things is the fire to write. If you’re just getting slammed, it’s discouraging. They want you to keep doing what you’re doing well. The philosophy during rewrites is not that what you’ve done is a disaster, but how can you build upon what you’ve already done. I had some things worth polishing.”

He adds that he was inspired to pursue writing in different genres. “I wanted to be a novelist, but I was encouraged to write poetry and creative nonfiction, and I have eight good short stories that I’m proud of. Some programs have a tendency to put you into a certain genre.”

Kelly sees further upsides when comparing Hollins to other creative writing schools. “There’s much more competition in those programs between the writers themselves and in getting attention from faculty. At Hollins, it’s not like that. I was never made to think, ‘Oh, I’ve got to write better than this person.’”

Kelly & Clare Stephenson 2
Kelly Stephenson M.F.A. ’20 and his daughter Clare, Hollins’ class of 2023: “Not everyone gets to see their son’s or daughter’s educational experience up close, and I think Clare made a great choice in Hollins.”

The sense of destiny that Kelly and his wife feel led him to Hollins may have also played a role in determining Clare’s college destination. “I had a class in high school that focused on helping you find what you want out of college and where the best fit might be,” she explains. “I was very interested in single-sex colleges, and Hollins kept coming up for me.”

At the same time he was on the Hollins campus with Clare for a visit, Kelly learned that he had been accepted into the M.F.A. program in creative writing. On top of that welcome news, Clare was forming a very good impression of the university. “I liked the feel of community during my tour. The vibe was very comforting to me. It felt good in terms of how women grow into the type of person I wanted to be. As a liberal arts school it really was set up to help me to explore what I really wanted to do in life.”

Clare, who is also an aspiring author (she hopes to double major in creative writing and the performing arts), was accepted at Hollins during Kelly’s first fall at Hollins. She became a residential first-year student during her dad’s second year in the creative writing program, when he also taught an undergraduate class, Fundamentals of Writing Poetry and Fiction.

In order to give Clare space to grow and engage in her education on her own, Kelly says he purposefully kept their interaction on campus to a minimum. “We didn’t see each other that much except on weekends, and that was more as a father and daughter rather than fellow students.” There was the occasional overlap: Kelly shared a faculty office with Visiting Lecturer in English Sydney Tammarine, who taught Clare in a creative writing class (“I made it a point not to talk about Clare with Sydney at all.”), and this spring, they actually shared the same instructor (“Clare had Karen Bender [Hollins’ Distinguished Visiting Professor of Creative Writing] for a class and I had her for a tutorial.”). Still, Kelly says Clare’s first-year experience “was so great. She’s really found a great group of friends who are very nurturing and helped her acclimate into a study routine.”

Clare adds, “It helped that I was close enough to my parents’ apartment in Roanoke where I could come over whenever I wanted.”

When Hollins transitioned to remote instruction in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelly and Clare found that their individual academic experiences became a bit more intertwined when they both had to complete their studies for the semester from that apartment.

“I think for Clare it was a weird experience sitting at a kitchen table and me coming in to get a snack,” Kelly says. “Plus, my wife was working in the next room, so we had several people at any given time in the pockets of our apartment.”

Moving forward, Kelly is seeking to finish his novel as well as a memoir about his time as a stay-at-home dad. “I’m taking another year to get a big chunk of writing done with a goal of getting publication. As one of the oldest graduates of the M.F.A. program, I realize I have a narrower window to see my dreams come true.”

Clare is excited to return to campus this fall, and hopes to expand her Hollins experience beyond the classroom. “I’m looking into internship opportunities and considering study abroad.”

“I’m so happy she is here in this kind of environment,” Kelly says. “Not everyone gets to see their son’s or daughter’s educational experience up close, and I think Clare made a great choice in Hollins.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


Hollins To Deliver Summer 2020 Graduate Courses Online

Hollins University is transitioning its graduate program courses in children’s literature and children’s book illustration, dance, playwriting, and screenwriting and film studies to remote classes for the summer of 2020.

The announcement follows Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order issued on Monday to protect the health of Virginians and mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. The order, which is in effect until June 10, requires all institutions of higher learning to cease in-person instruction and cancel gatherings of more than ten people.

“As June 10 falls after the beginning of our summer session,” explained Interim President Nancy Oliver Gray, “we have made the difficult decision to move all summer graduate programs online.”

Gray assured new incoming students that the directors of each of the summer graduate programs “have been planning for this eventuality and will deliver a top-notch and enriching experience online. They look forward to welcoming you as you embark on your degrees.”

For returning students, Gray emphasized that Hollins is “committed to maintaining, in an online environment, the high-quality instruction you are already accustomed to receiving. Your faculty and program directors are developing creative ways to deliver, as closely as possible, what they would ordinarily provide in person. We have Zoom-enabled classes that will support the experiential learning and interactive engagement that make our programs so relevant to professional work. Your instructors are eager to reconnect with you virtually this summer.”

Gray noted that the directors of the summer graduate programs would share further information with new and returning students in the near future.


Hollins, North Cross School Collaborate to Enhance Teachers’ Skills

Through a new partnership with Hollins University, teachers from Roanoke’s North Cross School are taking a significant step forward in growing their skills for the benefit of their students, their school, and their careers.

Beginning this fall, North Cross is providing for eight of their faculty members to earn a graduate degree at Hollins as part of their professional development. The teachers will all be working toward completing a Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning (MATL) at the university.

“This collaboration is not only a unique benefit to our faculty, but will strengthen our academic experience for students,” said North Cross Head of School Christian Proctor. “We have faculty from all areas of studies represented in this first group, so, ultimately, we will become more consistent in our academic approach across divisions and disciplines.”

The MATL at Hollins is designed for PreK-12 teachers who want to learn more about the practice of teaching; acquire and develop new knowledge; develop curricula in collaborative teams; and assume leadership roles within a school and/or school system.

“The teachers will be taking two classes each semester,” explained Lorraine Lange, director of the MATL as well as Hollins’ Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Arts in Liberal Studies programs. “We anticipate their graduation in about two years.”

Students in the coed MATL program must complete six core courses online. Three program electives are also required, and as part of its partnership with North Cross, Hollins is customizing those electives and offering them to the eight teachers through face-to-face instruction. In lieu of a graduate thesis, the North Cross teachers will design an instructional classroom project intended to benefit their students.

“Students in the program have the opportunity to work with accomplished faculty in the areas essential in today’s continually changing landscape of PreK-12 education: writing, inquiry, instructional design, assessment, leadership, technology, and contemporary issues in education,” Lange stated. “Faculty members encourage collaborative efforts and provide opportunities for students, experienced teachers themselves, to learn from one another.”

To learn more about the MATL or the other coed graduate programs at Hollins, email hugrad@hollins.edu or call 540-362-6575.


Hollins Announces New Dean of Graduate Studies

Image of Julie DeLoiaHollins University has named Julie DeLoia, Ph.D., as dean of graduate studies at the university. She will oversee the university’s established graduate programs and be responsible for developing new programs.

DeLoia comes to Hollins from Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke, where she had served as dean of the college and professor of arts and sciences since 2017. She also held a secondary appointment at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University School of Medicine, where she was a professor in the department of interprofessionalism. Previously, she held various academic appointments and leadership positions at the George Washington School of Public Health, Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

DeLoia holds a B.S. in biology from Westminster College and a Ph.D. in human genetics from Johns Hopkins University. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wistar Institute.

“We are excited to welcome DeLoia as a member of the Hollins leadership team,” said Hollins President Pareena Lawrence. “The university and our graduate programs will benefit greatly from her broad experience and expertise. She is a proven leader with a track record of innovation, including developing and launching successful distance education programs, creating flexible, hybrid course programming for working students, and tracking marketplace trends through alumni and employer engagement to inform curricular revisions.”

“I am honored to be joining Hollins University, which is one of our nation’s outstanding institutions and one that is committed to superb liberal arts education,” said DeLoia. “I have been impressed and inspired by President Lawrence’s energy and dedication to growing Hollins in alignment with its mission and values and look forward to being part of the Hollins community.”

Hollins offers coed Master of Arts (M.A.) degrees in children’s literature, liberal studies, screenwriting and film studies, teaching, and teaching and learning, and Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) degrees in children’s book writing and illustrating, children’s literature, creative writing, dance, playwriting, and screenwriting. For more information about the university’s graduate and certificate programs, visit https://www.hollins.edu/grad.