A partnership led by five Virginia higher education institutions, including Hollins University, has been honored with the GoAbroad Innovation in Diversity Award for 2021.
The award recognizes strategic efforts to expand international educational opportunities to traditionally underrepresented groups.
Hollins, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Randolph-Macon College, Bridgewater College, and Shenandoah University were chosen as this year’s award winners for their initiative Black + Abroad. This virtual series, held during the 2020-21 academic year, curated a space for Black students to share their thoughts, questions, and reservations about travel (and study abroad) by engaging in conversation and storytelling with experienced travelers and study abroad alumni of color and education abroad advisors. The series was organized by the education abroad staffs from each of the five schools taking part in the collaboration.
“The mission is to close the gap between being Black and going abroad. Black students hear from their peers, engage in candid conversations, and learn about how to overcome challenges to studying abroad, whether those are financial, practical, or racial,” said Jasmine Carter ’19, who along with fellow Hollins alumnae Nya Monroe-Stephens ’20, Tori Carter ’21, and Saffron Dantzler ’21 participated in Black + Abroad. All volunteered to share their experiences as Black travelers, overseas residents, and study abroad participants.
Black + Abroad was first launched at VCU as an annual event created by study abroad alumni students of color. It subsequently evolved into this year’s virtual series, which featured six free sessions and welcomed 724 international educational professionals and 258 students. Recordings of the sessions, as well as additional resources for support and guidance, are now available on the Black + Abroad website as a tangible resource for students of color.
“Studying abroad can be a scary prospect for many students, even for those who know they want to travel,” explained Carter. “Black students have their own unique concerns and challenges, which can often be overlooked or misunderstood by advisors, peers, and programs.”
Carter added that by fostering discussions around “Blackness” and “Black perceptions” abroad, Black + Abroad is ensuring students “feel inspired and gain insight from experienced travelers who had to take the leap to travel for the first time at some point. At the same time, advisors will see the perspectives of Black students in order to better understand their needs and serve them in a more effective and equitable way. The goal is to help students gain answers to the following questions: What resources do Black students need to be successful? How have other Black students overcome barriers to study abroad? And, what do Black students wish they had known before they studied abroad?”
In the late winter of 2020, Aysia Brenner ’21 was among the undergraduates from Hollins and other colleges and universities across the nation enjoying what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: spending a semester studying abroad. As a second-semester junior, Brenner arrived in Paris in early February and lived and studied in France until mid-March, when she and other students abroad were suddenly told they would have to return to the U.S. due the spread of COVID-19.
Thirteen months later, Brenner is able to look at the bright side of an abroad experience that was all too short. “I still had a month and a half in Paris. It would really have been a bummer if I had got there and then a week later had to go home.”
Fortunately, Brenner is getting the chance this fall to go back to France and in many respects finish what she started last year. Beginning in October, she will spend seven months with the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF), a program of France Éducation international. Recruiting and promotion of TAPIF is managed by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States, and participants receive a monthly stipend that covers most living expenses.
“They usually get about 2,000 applicants for roughly 1,500 American English language teaching assistant positions, which are located in elementary and secondary schools throughout the country,” Brenner explained. While she’s still waiting on confirmation on the specific town or towns where she’ll be teaching, she does know the school district: the Academy of Versailles (L’académie de Versailles) near Paris, part of the Île-de-France academic region. “I’ll be working at the primary school level, which I’m excited about. I could be helping out at one or more schools.”
Brenner’s work and life in France will be aided considerably by the fact that she is conversationally fluent in the French language. “I’ve had about two and a half years of formal instruction here at Hollins, and interacting with my host family while I was abroad last year did so much to improve my fluency.”
Before going to Paris, Brenner, a history major and art history minor, was already intrigued by the possibility of engaging in an international program after earning her degree, thanks to Assistant Professor of History Christopher Florio. “He was constantly sharing with me different opportunities that I could pursue after graduation, from the Fulbright Program to teaching fellowships. I’m really grateful he did that for me.” Brenner ultimately decided that she might want to have some kind of abroad experience before she stared applying to grad school. “Once I got home early from Paris and was getting closer to my senior year, I started looking at various options more closely with Professor Florio. That’s when I discovered the specifics of the TAPIF program and I applied last October.”
Florio’s guidance is one example of the “really great support” Brenner noted she has received throughout her undergraduate career from the history department faculty. “[Associate Professor of History] Rachel Nuñez is my advisor and the professor I’ve known the longest since I’ve been at Hollins. I knew I was going to study history when I enrolled here, but taking her first-year seminar confirmed to me it was the right choice.” Brenner was particularly drawn to 18th century American history as her field of study, but she said Nuñez’s frequent focus on European and world history broadened her interests. “Her classes fascinated me and helped me connect what I knew about U.S. history to more of an Atlantic world history.”
Brenner is devoting her senior thesis to exploring late 18th century constructions and understandings of patriotism and national identity, and she said Associate Professor of History Peter Coogan “has been a really great help with editing the different chapters and helping me make the broader connections between each individual chapters.” She will showcase one of those chapters at the Student Performance and Academic Research Conference (SPARC) on May 8, an opportunity for all Hollins undergraduate students to present academic research or creative work to the larger campus community that has been completed under the guidance of a faculty or staff member.
Brenner will present the second chapter of her thesis, “‘And can I then but pray/Others may never feel tyrannic sway?’: Patriotism and National Identity in the Writing of Phillis Wheatley.” The 18th century poet was the first African American and first enslaved person in the American colonies to publish a book of poems. “Wheatley broadly challenged mainstream life and constructions of patriotism and national identity that worked to keep out African Americans,” Brenner explained. “A lot of my work has been exploring how she appropriated the rhetoric that many of the white founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson were using to exclude them from the national body. She worked to turn that rhetoric on its head and argue not only for her and other free and enslaved African Americans’ inclusion in the nation, but also for the abolition of slavery.”
In researching his writings, Brenner found that Jefferson echoed the common belief in colonial America that patriotism was the sole provenance of white men. “In writing and publishing her poetry, Wheatley served as a counterargument to that idea. She reclaimed the humanity denied to her and other African Americans, and forcibly brought the contradictions and tyranny of slavery to the attention of a white public who would have preferred to keep them buried under their own purely rhetorical use of slavery. Because she had been enslaved, she didn’t want anyone else to experience oppression.”
“Among the foremost strengths of Aysia’s thesis is her approach to writing intellectual history,” said Florio. “She embeds her study of some of the biggest historiographical subjects – patriotism, national identity – in people and place; hers is an analysis of ideas grounded in lived experience and the energy of the times in which the ideas emerged. Her thesis is expansive in its scope, attentive to both ideas and experiences, and written with a broad and sophisticated understanding of the transatlantic ages of revolutions. This is an exceptionally ambitious and successful thesis.”
Each year, Hollins recognizes students for high academic achievement during its Honors Convocation. This spring, Brenner received the Mary Williamson Award, which is presented for the best study submitted in the field of humanities. She was also just inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.
“Aysia is quite simply one of the brightest students Chris Florio and I have ever encountered,” said Nuñez.
When she returns from France next spring, Brenner plans to begin her graduate school search in earnest. “My ultimate goal is to earn my Ph.D. Obviously, I’m interested doing my own research, but teaching history students is what I’ve wanted to do in some form for a long time. I want to be a college professor. And, I want to teach at a small liberal arts college like Hollins because I had such a great experience in the Hollins environment.”
After graduating from high school in her native city of Kathmandu, Nepal, Aditi Sharma ’21 wasn’t sure how she wanted to further her studies. But there was one thing at the time of which she was absolutely certain.
“I had little intention of coming to America” to go to college, she said. “I wanted to stay near to my family.”
The events that led to Sharma taking what she calls a “leap of faith” to venture on her own to the United States and attend Hollins University began during the gap year she took after finishing high school.
“In Nepal, the subjects you take in high school are usually what you are going to do for life,” Sharma explained. “I took accounting, so during my gap year I worked as a finance assistant to see if that field was actually for me before jumping into college.”
Sharma was employed by a nonprofit organization in the public health sector. She interacted with clients from around the globe, and it was a representative from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) who first suggested that she consider institutions of higher learning in the U.S. “He felt that there were many more programs in America that would be beneficial for me as well as some good scholarship opportunities. Financial considerations were big for me coming from a developing country.”
While not totally convinced, Sharma nevertheless applied to several U.S. universities. “My parents had studied in India and Nepal, so they had no idea what was involved. My high school counselor was very helpful, but mostly I was navigating everything from financial aid to applying for a visa by myself. It was very daunting.”
As the time to make a decision approached, Sharma found herself increasingly drawn to Hollins. “I took a virtual tour of campus and saw how beautiful it was,” she said, but what impressed her most was the personal approach of the Office of Admission.
“They reached out to me and were so open. I felt like I was being heard. I had no idea what I was doing, and they were so quick to respond to my questions, even the smallest ones. From filling out forms to learning what Hollins is about, what it offers, and what accommodations it has for international students. I felt like I already belonged to the community.”
Bolstered by a belief in herself and support from the people who had seen her potential, particularly her family, Sharma enrolled at Hollins. “My family didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but they wanted the best education for me.” Sharma lived with her parents, paternal grandparents, and a younger sister, “and everyone was always encouraging, telling me to be the best I can be. I was so thankful that they trusted my judgement.”
After arriving at Hollins, Sharma enjoyed her freedom and learning so many new things. “I knew what I wanted to study (she would become a business and economics major pursuing a finance track). At the same time, being in a liberal arts environment I got to take all these amazing classes in sociology, environmental science, art history, and drawing.” Still, adjusting to a new environment, speaking English all the time, and missing her family were at times stressful. She credits History Rocks, her first-year seminar with Associate Professor of History Peter Coogan, with boosting her confidence.
“Professor Coogan and that class encouraged me to speak out. I’m very vocal now about a lot of things. My high school friends wouldn’t recognize me, I was so timid then and in the shadows. In Coogan’s class you were obliged to talk, and once that started happening my confidence grew. History Rocks really helped me, and I can’t thank him enough.”
Finding her voice, Sharma got actively involved with Hollins’ Student Government Association (SGA), Cultural and Community Engagement (CCE), and the International Student Orientation Program (ISOP). “I still remember contacting a Hollins senior before I arrived here. She helped me with things like, what and what not to pack, which flight to take, and what airport to fly into. You’re coming from your own comfortable home space, you’re scared and you’re nervous about moving into a new country, and I always let incoming international students know if they need anything I’m always here. CCE has a great structure for connecting international students and guiding communication and going through all these changes and opportunities together as a group really helps. I love seeing the international population at Hollins grow.”
One of Sharma’s most remarkable experiences occurred last spring when she embarked on a semester abroad in London. She had always been fascinated by the United Kingdom and reveled in visiting landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. She also had an internship lined up with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “As soon as I heard London had an internship program, I knew I wanted to go there. When I landed, it felt like I was walking on air.”
Sharma and her friends first began hearing about the COVID outbreak near the end of February when they learned students studying abroad in Italy were forced to return home. “I felt really bad for them, but I was still in denial,” she said. “There was no news of anything in London or the UK as a whole.”
But after coming back from a group excursion to Sweden in early March, London students were notified by the International Programs office at Hollins that Hollins Abroad-London was transitioning to online instruction due to COVID’s threat. Students could either continue living with their host families or go home.
“I wasn’t planning on returning to Nepal,” Sharma said. “I had lined up a job on campus with the Alumnae Association for the summer, so I was going to travel directly from London back to Hollins at the end of Spring Term.”
Then, Sharma and other students in London learned from International Programs that the U.S. policy had changed and that students who were not from the U.S. would not be allowed back into the country. Simultaneously, the UK announced it was going into lockdown within two days. “I had to book a flight immediately to Nepal. The trip is about 21 hours, and I would have to make a connecting flight along the way. What if the place where I’m in transit gets locked down and I can’t fly out from there? Fortunately, a fellow student from Nepal and I got the perfect flight out just before the UK lockdown began.”
Sharma was relieved to touch down in Nepal, but deeply sorry to leave London and particularly her internship, which had been coordinated by Hollins alumna Meredith Pierce Hunter ’97. “I wanted to work in fundraising in the fine arts sector. Meredith was very involved in the whole process and all the people on the internship were extremely helpful. It broke my heart to leave without saying goodbye.” Fortunately, there would be good news for Sharma after she arrived back in Nepal: Hunter had worked with International Programs to ensure that Sharma could continue her international internship virtually. “I was so happy. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, a dream come true.”
London is six hours behind Nepal, but Sharma was able to successfully juggle taking two online classes while completing her internship. Typically, she would work on her internship between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. (Nepal time) and then attend classes remotely at night. “I was so grateful to continue the internship. I did so much work, there was no difficulty in communication, and they even threw me a virtual farewell party.”
Sharma remained in Nepal through the summer. When Hollins students were given the option for Fall Term 2020 to come back to campus or take classes remotely, she decided, “I wanted to experience my senior year in person.” As SGA treasurer this year, Sharma spearheaded one of her proudest accomplishments, a fund designed to help any on-campus resident who needed financial assistance to go home or live off-campus during Winter Break. “It worked out beautifully. My fellow roundtable members and the business office helped make sure the funds got into the students’ accounts. That’s why I did the fundraising internship in London, I wanted to see how I could use my financial knowledge to help others.”
Currently applying for jobs after graduation, Sharma is looking to build upon an already impressive resume that includes J-Term internships with Gilman Hill Asset Management, the International Spy Museum, and Omega Wealth Management. Ultimately, she plans to use that experience to earn acceptance to business school. As with her Royal Botanic Gardens internship, Sharma is grateful to the Hollins alumnae who curated those internships and continue to be very supportive. “Work experience is crucial to getting into business school because the finance and business fields place so much emphasis on learning and implementation. I’ve been reaching out to alumnae and they’ve been really helpful and responsive.”
When she first arrived in America, Sharma “had no idea I would be the person I am today. This is where I have had the most experiences, where I’ve been myself the most. I’ve been challenged, and I’ve challenged myself. It all happened here. It all happened at Hollins.”
When a high school English teacher who also happens to be an alumna of a university nationally recognized for creative writing realizes that one of her students has a passion and talent for the craft, the mission she undertakes isn’t surprising.
“She was always asking me, ‘Have you checked out Hollins?’,” Carly Lewis ’21 recalled, laughing. “She got me the Hollins Creative Writing Scholarship as sort of a final ‘Please look at Hollins’ creative writing program, it’s really good.’”
So, the native of Richmond, Virginia, did just that. “Since I liked going to an all-women’s high school, attending a historically women’s college sounded right up my alley. But I mostly wanted to come here because I found that the writing program was indeed very good. I’m a big storyteller, a storyteller in all regards, and I wanted to become a better writer and learn with other like-minded writers.”
From the beginning, Lewis thrived. The first class she took “was with a phenomenal graduate assistant who tossed a lot of rules out of the window. In high school, I was already breaking the rules of writing a little bit. But then I got to Hollins and that graduate student told me, ‘Just write what you want and do what you want. It’ll all come together in the end and we’ll help you.’ Having that freedom right off the bat was such a gift. It opened my eyes to the possibilities of what I could write and how to hone my craft before I even knew what honing my craft meant.”
Three members of Hollins’ English and creative writing faculty subsequently had a profound impact on Lewis. Professor of English and Creative Writing T.J. Anderson III showed her she could blend music with writing and it could be “heartbreaking and lovely and moving,” she said.
Lewis remembers feeling both excitement and trepidation when she enrolled in her first advanced creative writing workshop, which was taught by her advisor, Professor of English and Creative Writing Cathryn Hankla. “I was scared to read something from one of our random writing exercises during class because I thought it wasn’t going to be good. She told me, ‘No first draft is good. Just read it and you can fix it later. It’s not meant to be good at first.’ That’s always stuck with me. Even if you think it’s good, there’s always work to do. She’s always encouraged me to have confidence and trust in my writing.”
This semester, Lewis is taking her fourth and final advanced writing workshop, and her second with Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing Jessie van Eerden, who is “always cheering me on. She’s a comforting good source of critique and support.”
While Lewis came to Hollins to study creative writing, she also considered herself a visual person (one of her hobbies is photography) and enjoyed an interest in film. “I don’t know why, but it wasn’t something I’d entertained in studying until I had the opportunity to take an Introduction to Film class. I realized it’s not unlike analyzing or critiquing a book. So I thought, ‘A writer who can talk about movies, too. It’s a good pairing,’ and I ended up adding a film major.”
Lewis said the film classes that she has particularly loved are the ones she’s taken with Professor of English and Creative Writing R.H.W. Dillard. “He’s a great film critic. I’m in my third of his Film as a Narrative Art classes. He does a great job of connecting the filmmakers to their work and getting to know them, their techniques, and the history of the time when the film was made that might have impacted it.”
Another of Lewis’ aspirations when she came to Hollins was international study. Trips to Italy and Spain during high school sparked her interest in spending a semester abroad, so during one of her visits to Hollins as a prospective student, she attended a meeting about the Hollins Abroad – London program.
“I was immediately hooked. Going to London became a big part of why I wanted to come here. You take classes, but the most important thing is that you actually get to immerse yourself in life in another country.”
As Lewis prepared to travel to London to spend the 2019 fall term, she decided that completing an internship there would enrich her experience. Hollins’ Office of International Programs works through CAPA to provide international internship opportunities for students based on their areas of interest, and Lewis was placed with Weller Media Agency (WMA), a global digital creative and marketing company specializing in promoting talent in the music and entertainment industries, especially up-and-coming artists.
“It was a dream come true, it was like they read my mind almost about what I wanted to do,” Lewis said. “I’ve always been a big music person but I’d never done anything before in the music industry. I loved my internship and being around a bunch of crazy creatives all day, every day. They were just so nice and encouraging.”
Lewis did everything from graphic design and social media content to writing for Spindle (a magazine affiliated with WMA), engaging in public relations activities, and assisting with film and photography production. “It was fun because everyone is working in the same room and all I had to do was walk from one table to the next to see if there was anything they needed. They were very gracious and excited to have me help out on a bunch of projects such as shooting music videos and meeting and interviewing talent. Interacting with the artists I listened to or wrote about was really cool.”
The Hollins senior believes her WMA internship has opened a door for her. “I never really entertained the thought of working in the music industry in terms of film and photography or even as a writer, but this showed me I could do it and how it could happen. And Weller was such a great place for networking.”
The WMA experience mirrored what Lewis encountered throughout her semester in London. “The people are so kind and giving, and so imaginative,” she said. One of her favorite parts of the city is Brick Lane, located in the East End. “There are loads of little thrift shops and it’s really artistic. They do graffiti tours down there so there’s always artists spray painting the walls with these giant murals. I really liked their music scene, too. I went to a lot of concerts there.”
Lewis praises the host family with whom she lived. “I loved them so much. My host mom was interested in what was doing, very supportive, and recommended what to see and where to eat. She made sure I knew how to get to those places, too, whether it was on the Tube or taking a bus. She was always looking out for me, and it was nice to have someone who was already living there be a guide. I can’t recommend enough living with a host family.”
Lewis’ final semester is a busy one. She’s wrapping up her third year as a CA (Community Assistant), a position that has offered her the chance to draw upon her experience as the oldest sister in her own family to mentor first-year students. “I get to watch them when they first come to college and see how they change. It’s crazy how much they grow into themselves, even in the first semester. It’s just great to be a part of that.”
But perhaps the most ambitious project on Lewis’ plate at the moment is her first novel, which she began a couple of years ago and draws upon her study abroad experience. “It’s realistic fiction and it involves music, it’s about a band, and it’s set in London,” she explained. “It’s combining all of my favorite things and in the genre that I think is the most ‘me.’ It’s very hard but it is fun.” She noted that Hankla and van Eerden have both been very supportive, reading parts of the novel and offering suggestions as the work progresses.
Following graduation this spring, Lewis hopes to secure a music editorial internship with NPR. She’s also been in touch with Hollins alumnae in Richmond about possible opportunities within the area’s robust film production industry. “I also want to look at music studios to intern or just come in and see what they are all about, partly because I’m interested in getting to know the music industry better, but also to gather research for my novel.”
Even though her future plans are still coming together, Lewis has little doubt a particular city will figure prominently whatever she pursues. “After I returned here following my London experience, it seemed like I should be back there. Eventually I think I will go back, possibly for grad school in a couple of years. I felt like I was leaving behind a home, and one day it will be time to go back home.”
The freshman year of high school for many college-bound students means focusing on strong academic performance, selecting challenging classes, and participating in extracurricular activities, all to build a solid record of achievement for the college application process.
Mary Offutt ’20 was already looking ahead as well to what would be her college destination.
During her freshman year, Offutt, who hails from Sterling, Virginia, met Ashley Browning, Hollins’ vice president for enrollment management. “We continued to stay in touch about admission events and other information about Hollins,” she recalls. What ultimately convinced her to choose Hollins, she says, were “the small class sizes and Ashley. Additionally, when I toured campus I fell completely in love with the beauty of the campus, and I appreciated how nice everyone was at the events I attended, from faculty and staff to current students.”
Considering her diligent early college preparatory work, it is not surprising that Offutt also determined her academic aspirations in advance. “I came to Hollins planning on majoring in political science, knowing that my goal was to go to law school,” she explains. To that end, she independently discovered internships throughout her Hollins career.
“In 2018,” she notes, “I started an internship with a family law firm in Leesburg, Virginia. Since then, I’ve worked there on all my breaks and throughout the year. This summer, I will be doing a clerkship with them.”
Offutt also credits Hollins’ study abroad program for having had “a huge impact on my life. I was in London for the entirety of my sophomore year and it was an amazing experience, being able to travel to a multitude of different countries to experience their culture and beauty. There are no words to truly describe it other than ‘life-changing.’”
When she began the application process for law school, Offutt says Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette was “a huge help. Her classes made me even more passionate about the law. I learned from her that cases are about people, and I believe that everyone has the right to be heard.”
This fall, Offutt will begin pursuing her Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree at the Charleston School of Law in South Carolina. In many ways, her reasons for choosing the school for her legal education are similar to why she picked Hollins. “They have small class sizes, an individualized course experience, and an amazing externship program,” she says. “Plus, the beautiful city of Charleston was a large draw.”
After law school, Offutt intends to take the Virginia state bar examination and join a family law firm in Northern Virginia as an associate.
Monica Osborne ’20 has always loved makeup and the beauty industry. So, when she toured Hollins during high school and learned the university offered a signature internship with The Estée Lauder Companies, one of the world’s leading manufacturers and marketers of skin care, makeup, fragrance, and hair care products, “I knew where I was going to college,” she says.
This summer, Osborne is heading to New York City to join The Estée Lauder Companies’ Presidential Associate Program. As part of the organization’s Global Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability department, she will spend the next 18 months engaged in customized professional rotations while receiving continuous leadership development, coaching, mentoring, and hands-on practical experience. “The goal of the program,” she explains, “is to help attract, retain, and develop the best future leaders of the company.”
The senior from Independence, Virginia, was selected for the program after an application process that included three rounds of interviews. She plans to use her time as a Presidential Associate to grow her knowledge of the company and determine which facet of the business she likes best to inform any possible graduate school plans.
Osborne set the stage for this opportunity in September of her junior year when she was awarded The Estée Lauder Companies’ signature internship that captured her attention as a prospective Hollins student. “My love for the company began on my first day when I met several strong, intelligent, career-driven women. I simply knew it was where I wanted to work because of their culture of supporting women.”
She adds, “I firmly believe that I was chosen for the internship due to everything I learned at Hollins.” A communication studies major with a minor in French (“I learned a brand new language and studied abroad in Paris.”), Osborne also boasts a certificate in leadership from the Batten Leadership Institute and completed seven different internships over the course of her four years at Hollins through the university’s Career Center.
“As a first-generation college student, Hollins truly allowed me to grow at my own pace and step out of my comfort zone. I learned how to advocate for myself and embrace adventure in all forms. The bonds I built with my other classmates and peers meant that I could learn and grow in a fun and supportive environment. I loved every moment.”
Osborne notes that she has been inspired throughout her undergraduate career by “the amazing number of alumnae/i who have done and are doing such impressive work in the world. I am also thankful for the professors, staff members, and everyone in-between who have had such an impact on students’ experiences like mine. The Hollins community is like none other and I am so proud to be a part of it.”
Hollins University is pleased to announce the creation of the Rutherfoord Center for Experiential Learning, which ensures undergraduates beginning in their first year can benefit more than ever from dynamic, real-world experiences beyond the classroom.
“The establishment of the Rutherfoord Center enables Hollins to build upon its strong foundation of experiential learning programs,” said Interim President Nancy Gray. “Bringing these programs together in a new way allows for more collaboration and interaction while at the same time expanding opportunities for students.”
Made possible by the generosity of Jean Hall Rutherfoord, Hollins class of 1974, and her husband, Thomas D. Rutherfoord Jr. (pictured), the Rutherfoord Center encompasses study abroad at an array of destinations around the world; domestic and international internships; initiatives that promote innovation and engagement while connecting academic work with practical application; leadership practice; and undergraduate research projects conducted in close partnership with Hollins faculty.
“Through the Rutherfoord Center, students can develop a global perspective and build their creative thinking and problem-solving skills in a tangible way,” Gray said. “They acquire the experience necessary to thrive in both professional and educational settings after earning their undergraduate degrees.”
The Rutherfoord Center guarantees every student can pursue each of these programs throughout all of their four years at Hollins. At the same time, they gain mentorship; receive expert help in identifying leadership, study abroad, research, and career options; and explore prospects for financial assistance.
Gray emphasized that the power of experiential learning cannot be overestimated. “Experiential learning transforms personal and social development. It enhances resiliency, tenacity, curiosity, and self-reflection. It’s an immersive process by which students gain knowledge and skills by observing, inferring, and most of all, doing.”
The three juniors will each receive scholarships in the amount of $4,500. Borja, a biology major, and Butters, who is majoring in psychology, will spend Spring Term 2020 in Italy. Smith, a double-major in sociology and Spanish, will study in Spain this spring.
“We have had a few students from Hollins receive Gilman awards over the years, but having three in one year earning such high award amounts illustrates the excellent quality of the students we have here,” said Ramona Kirsch, Hollins’ director of international programs.
The Gilman Scholarship Program supports students who have been historically underrepresented in education abroad, including but not limited to first-generation college students, students in STEM fields, ethnic minority students, and students with disabilities. Since its inception in 2001, the program boasts 31,000 alumni representing approximately 1,300 U.S. institutions who have studied in over 150 countries.
Award recipients are chosen by a competitive selection process and must use the award to defray eligible study or intern abroad costs.
The Gilman Scholarship is a program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which fosters mutual understanding between the United States and other countries to promote good relations.
Katie Grandelli ’20, an international studies major and history and economics double-minor, recently spent a week immersed in the history, culture, academics, and politics of Saudi Arabia.
This past April, I had the fortunate opportunity to travel to Saudi Arabia for a week. This trip came as a result of my involvement in the National Council on US-Arab Relations’ (NCUSAR) Model Arab League program, which I have been a part of since my first semester here at Hollins.
One of the goals of NCUSAR and Model Arab League is to help students develop a better understanding of the region while also gaining leadership and diplomatic skills. The organization that led my trip, Gateway KSA, shares a similar focus: Its mission is to “invite the world’s best and brightest international students to experience the real Saudi Arabia.”
Professor of Political Science Edward Lynch, advisor to the Model UN/Model Arab League Club, said that my opportunity to travel to Saudi Arabia was the result of the rapid growth of interest and participation in Model Arab League at Hollins. “NCUSAR can only ask a few faculty advisors to recommend students for trips like this, and they naturally tend to ask universities with the most active Model Arab League programs,” Lynch said. He added, “Katie’s leadership and dedication is a large part of the reason for that rapid growth, so her name instantly came to my mind when I was to recommend someone for the trip to Saudi Arabia.”
Our trip was split into three locations: Riyadh, Al Ula, and Jeddah. All three of these cities had many different opportunities to offer. Al Ula was a chance to learn more about ancient Saudi history, and Jeddah showed us the technological and cultural advancements that have been happening in Saudi Arabia (organically and due to Saudi Vision 2030).
The time we spent in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, was both academically and politically driven. These days were my favorite out of the entire trip. We had two enlightening panel discussions with women who represented the best success in both Saudi foreign policy and economic development. We were also fortunate to have dinner on our very first day in the country with HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, one of the major sponsors of our trip. The conversations we had with him revealed his skill as a diplomat (he had previously been the Saudi Ambassador to both the United States and the United Kingdom). All of us on the trip were grateful for the fact that Saudi culture does not beat around the bush when responding to tough queries, and we were all prepared to ask questions about the journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia’s complex relationship with Iran. Prince Turki made it clear that there is a distinction between truth and media hype, as in the case of Khashoggi, and, while speaking about relations with Iran, the fact that a government is very different than the people of the country.
The people I met on this trip were even more incredible than the locations we visited. There were ten other students on the trip with me representing other American universities as well as Oxford University and even universities in Germany. Getting the chance to spend a week with these other ten brilliant and inspiring students is something for which I am incredibly grateful, and I know that we all will still be friends for many years.
The many Saudi locals that we met throughout our week in the Kingdom were so hospitable, welcoming, and open to us. They were ready to answer the many questions we had and then ask us questions in return. We had three main trip leaders throughout our week, and all three of these women were so inspiring. They fearlessly led us through our itinerary of the week and dealt with any hurdles with great care and grace. Our main trip leader told us so much about her experience as a modern Saudi woman, and there was also a time when she drove us around the sand dunes in the middle of the desert in Al Ula. All of the people we had the chance to meet were so open to sharing their stories and experiences with us.
As a student of the greater international community, I have always appreciated the entirety of the Middle East for its cultural diversity and the people who take such pride in their culture. While meeting and chatting with students at Effat University in Jeddah, I realized even more so the importance of being able to appreciate and understand the person sitting next to you. To me, that ability is increasingly important today and every day.
To illustrate his daughter’s fearlessness, Lilly Potter ’19 says her dad loves to tell the story of her childhood trip to India for a family wedding. “We encountered a cobra charmer and I just went and tried to pet the cobra. Fortunately, my dad got me away in time.”
The double-major in English and international studies has certainly learned to set boundaries in the ensuing years, but while at Hollins, her curiosity and sense of adventure have continued to flourish. She has devoted January Short Terms to traveling in Japan and Greece and spent full semesters studying abroad in London and Paris. She completed internships with Peace Boat US in New York City; the Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired in Washington, D.C.; and the Nursing Times in London. Her community service includes volunteer work last summer with the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center, where she gained firsthand experience with the inner workings of an international nonprofit organization. The trip was funded in part by Hollins’ Hobbie Trust Fund, which provides financial assistance for students to engage in a research or service project that is clearly connected to ethics or values.
“It’s a testament to Hollins and its flexibility that I was able to fit in so much,” Potter says. “The school made each of these experiences possible. I don’t hear from my friends at other schools that they receive the same support to participate in these kinds of extracurricular opportunities.”
Potter was drawn to Hollins because she says she knew that “Hollins makes good writers and good writers seek out Hollins. I think the ability to express myself orally and through the written word is something with which Hollins has gifted me, along with being able to synthesize different topics that may not have an immediate correlation. Everything connects if you really look for it.”
Believing Hollins has given her “a Renaissance education,” Potter has taken classes in philosophy, gender and women’s studies, statistical analysis, “and a lot of French” in addition to the coursework in her majors. She is also earning a certificate in leadership studies from the Batten Leadership Institute. “That was one of the strongest pulls of Hollins for me. I didn’t see women-centered leadership development courses at other universities.”
This fall, Potter will be attending William & Mary Law School. “It’s a really good fusion of my love of English and rhetoric and my desire to get out there and do something positive in the world. I’m interested in human rights law, and I’d like to live internationally and work in either the nonprofit or foreign service sectors.”
Professor of English Marilyn Moriarty has known Potter since her sophomore year, when she became Potter’s academic advisor in English. “Lilly is a woman of action, dedicated to her work and animated by a social conscience. She is intelligent and dedicated, works hard but remains modest about her accomplishments, and has the needed character traits to set goals, persevere, and achieve them. In addition to being capable and truthful, she is also tactful and kind. These many qualities convince me that she will make an excellent lawyer.”
When asked what she will miss the most about Hollins, Potter cites “a community that’s small and majority women, one that’s focused on women’s rights. I’m very grateful for the incredible, ferocious, and intelligent women and other people that I’ve met here. They really inspire me.”