Hollins University is working with one of Kenya’s leading universities to offer students experiential learning options in Africa.
With support from the U.S. Department of State’s Increase and Diversify Education Abroad for U.S. Students (IDEAS) Program, Hollins and Kenyatta University (KU) in Nairobi are launching a faculty-led study abroad program in gender and women’s studies (GWS) and public health during the 2024 January Short Term. The two schools are also creating internship opportunities for availability beginning in the 2024-25 academic year and exploring a possible articulation agreement with KU’s Master of Public Health program. They have even set in motion plans for Hollins students to go on safari at Nairobi National Park (Nairobi is the only city in the world with an actual animal preserve located within its environs).
“Hollins’ collaboration with KU is our sole partnership in Africa, which in turn is critical for providing our students with a diversity of study abroad experiences in terms of location and disciplines,” explained Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh. “Partnering with KU means our students can gain practical field experience on cross-cultural issues related to GWS and public health. In addition, this partnership will enhance career readiness for GWS and public health students through the establishment of international internships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Nairobi.”
Jalloh, Director of International Programs Ramona Kirsch, and Assistant Professor of Sociology Jennifer Turner made up the Hollins delegation that traveled to Nairobi and the KU campus in June to finalize a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the institutions. The Hollins team met with KU’s international programs staff and faculty from the university’s humanities and social sciences department, as well as with the director of KU’s Women’s Economic Empowerment Hub, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The delegation also visited potential internship sites including the Port Health Authority at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport.
The MOU, which has an initial term of five years, details four general areas of cooperation between Hollins and KU:
Academic Partnerships (scholarships, international seminars and conferences, program support, and/or facilities for students and employees as an element of a degree or program of each partner)
Research and Innovation Partnerships (joint grant proposal writing, research, innovation, and support for the development of knowledge)
Community Outreach Partnerships (community-based participatory research, community service, community-wide health improvement, community/economic development, environmental justice, legal aid clinics, and business literacy education)
Utility Partnerships (access to utility capabilities, including unique technology, specialized equipment, facilities, and training or knowledge, which can be used to support a range of activities including education, research, and development)
Kirsch noted, “In addition to establishing a partnership to provide our GWS and public health students opportunities for study and internships abroad, our long-term plan with KU is to develop an exchange program to benefit both Hollins and KU students as well as to create joint faculty research projects and teaching exchanges. There are many potential directions with this partnership and Hollins will work with KU to nurture these directions in both depth and breadth.”
With its main campus located on more than 1,000 acres, KU is home to some of the world’s top scholars, researchers, and experts in diverse fields. Offering undergraduate, master’s, and Ph.D. programming, KU emphasizes providing practical, hands-on knowledge and skills training in a nurturing environment.
Top Photo (from left to right): Assistant Professor of Sociology Jennifer Turner; Women’s Economic Empowerment Hub Director Judith Ndombi Waudo; Director of International Programs Ramona Kirsch; and Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh
The schools will use the IDEAS grants to create, expand, and/or diversify American student mobility overseas in support of U.S. foreign policy goals. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State and supported in its implementation by World Learning.
“We are thrilled that Hollins is a 2022 IDEAS grantee, and this was a true team effort between faculty and staff,” said Ramona Kirsch, Hollins University’s director of international programs. “The grant will fund a new program, “Building Capacity in Kenya and Expanding Student Access to Global Experiences,” which will focus on democracy, human rights, and global health from an interdisciplinary and intercultural perspective with our new international partner, Kenyatta University in Nairobi. The grant will also enable us to move strategic diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives forward in our study abroad programming.”
Each IDEAS grant carries a maximum allotment of $35,000 and Hollins was awarded approximately $34,800.
“The U.S. Department of State is committed to supporting U.S. colleges and universities as they continue to rebuild study abroad capacity impacted by the global pandemic,” said Heidi Manley, USA study abroad chief for the department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). “That is why ECA is proud to be awarding double the number of IDEAS grants this year so that we can support more institutions as they work to provide important international educational opportunities to their students.”
Manley added that this year’s IDEAS grant recipients “reflect the full diversity of the U.S. higher education system – including community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), rural institutions, and more – and we are committed to working with them to build study abroad programs that are accessible for Americans of all backgrounds and that provide more opportunities for American students to engage with people in more diverse destinations around the world.”
Since 2016, the IDEAS Program has awarded 145 grants to 139 institutions in 48 states and territories to create, expand, and diversify their U.S. study abroad programs in 71 countries across all world regions. In addition to the IDEAS grant competition, the program also offers opportunities for faculty, staff, and administrators at U.S. colleges and universities to participate in a series of free virtual and in-person study abroad capacity building activities.
Photo (from left to right): Assistant Professor of Sociology Jennifer Turner, Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh, Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence Isabell Kingori, and Director of International Programs Ramona Kirsch comprised the faculty/staff team at Hollins that successfully brought the IDEAS grant application to fruition.
When Margarite Fisher ’22 was deciding where to apply to college, her mom, with whom she is very close, had just one request.
“My mom attended a women’s college (Wellesley College in Massachusetts),” Fisher recalled, “and she was very insistent that I apply to at least one women’s college.” Born and raised in Berryville in Virginia’s northern Shenandoah Valley, she wanted to stay within a six-hour drive and “Hollins fell into that. We drove down here one day, and the campus was just so beautiful. Everyone I talked to was so nice. There was just a different type of community and a different type of bond here on campus that I really, really liked.”
Fisher did not want to go too far away from home for her undergraduate education, but the business major’s Hollins experience has her ready and excited to travel halfway around the world to pursue a master’s degree in digital marketing beginning this fall at the Rennes School of Business in France. Fisher said the one-year program offers several distinct advantages and opportunities. “I signed up at Beyond the States, which is a website that specializes in finding programs abroad that are taught in English,” she explained. “I wanted the majority of my program to be in English with the possibility of learning more of the French language or taking classes in French. I also specifically targeted schools that had sizable international populations.” In addition to those attributes, Rennes boasts triple crown accreditation, which reflects recognition of excellence in business education in the US, UK, and Europe, so her studies will be recognized on her return to the US.
The economic benefit of completing graduate school overseas was another of Fisher’s major considerations. “The cost of graduate school is less expensive in Europe, even if you’re an international student.”
Fisher is no stranger to French language and culture. Her mom speaks French fluently having lived in Belgium and France for two years, so Fisher occasionally heard the language growing up. She took four years of French in middle and high school and is completing a French minor at Hollins to complement her business degree. She first went to France during the January Short Term of her first year at Hollins as part of the university’s “French in Tours” travel/study program. “This was a fun program and fueled my desire to spend more time in France,” she said. Fisher was subsequently realizing her dream of spending an entire semester studying abroad in Paris during the spring term of 2020 when just a few weeks after arriving, her visit was cut short by the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was heartbreaking for me. Before I went to France, I was extremely nervous whenever I spoke French. It wasn’t because I was necessarily saying anything wrong, but when it’s not your first language, there’s nothing in your brain to tell you, ‘Oh, you said that incorrectly.’” After she got to Paris, “I had to speak French regularly and I really became comfortable with it. I was so sad to leave as one of my goals was to learn to speak French fluently and I was not quite at that point when I had to leave.”
Thus, Fisher sees going to graduate school in France as a chance to finally fulfill the journey that was interrupted two years ago and achieve her goal of becoming fluent in French. “It’s a bit of an out-of-the-box solution,” she said. “I get to the opportunity to continue my education while at the same time living aboard and becoming fluent in a language I have always loved. It’s a win-win situation.” Rennes is located just an hour and a half from Paris, and with the country’s centralized transportation system she said she will find it easy to do a lot of exploring. She is also “completely leaving open the option of staying there a few years more” after she completes her master’s degree.
Fisher plans to make her time in France a success by “going in with a very positive mindset. If you go in thinking you’re going to have a great time, you’re probably going to have a great time. But if you go in with a negative mindset, then you’re probably going to have a really bad time. You have to have that kind of attitude when you go abroad because everything will be different. It helps that I’ve been there before, so some processes I’m already familiar with. Other ones will be brand-spanking new,” but because of the study abroad experiences that Hollins has provided, she noted that she is ready for the challenge.
“My business professors at Hollins were generous with their time in helping me to evaluate business programs in relationship to my career goals, and everyone in the French department – even a new professor that I did not know well – gave me advice on the schools and the different areas of France,” she stated. “My professors also gave me detailed recommendations that led to scholarships. Overall, the Hollins community was incredibly supportive of my goals.”
And how does her mom feel about her upcoming adventure? “My mom is so excited. She has already made plans to visit.”
The IIE American Passport Project is intended to promote diversity, inclusion, access, and equity in study abroad and to support the IIENetwork, IIE’s global membership network, in its efforts to encourage students to go abroad who would otherwise not participate in an international experience as part of their college education.
“This grant will enable traditionally underrepresented students at Hollins to take the first step in studying abroad – to acquire a passport,” said Ramona Kirsch, director of international programs at Hollins. “This will not only serve them well during their time at Hollins but also after they graduate and continue to explore the world and become globally engaged.”
Increasing participation and diversity in study abroad has long been part of IIE’s mission. Through the American Passport Project, IIE plans to enable 10,000 students to have passports by the end of this decade.
The goal of the IIE is to help people and organizations leverage the power of international education to thrive in today’s interconnected world. As a not-for-profit with 17 offices and affiliates worldwide, IIE manages more than 200 programs with participants from over 180 countries. The IIENetwork connects more than 10,000 professionals from over 1,500 organizations to resources that support student mobility and exchange, campus internationalization, and international partnerships.
Beginning in the summer of 2022, students will travel to Plovdiv, Bulgaria, which is considered by many to be the nation’s cultural hub and in 2019 was named a European Capital of Culture.
“We will have the opportunity to access festivals and arts programming,” said Jeffery Bullock, professor and chair of Hollins’ dance program. “I am excited for our new journey.”
European Study will be organized and curated by Boyan Manchev and Ani Vaseva. Manchev has been a part of the European Study component since it began in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2014, teaching Dance History, Theory, and Criticism. He is a philosopher and professor at New Bulgarian University in Sofia and at Berlin’s HZT – UdK. He has lectured widely at European, North American, and Japanese universities and cultural institutions, and is the author of seven books, including The Body – Metamorphosis (2007), which deals extensively with contemporary art, performance, and dance.
Vaseva is a theatre director, a playwright, an author of critical and theoretical texts on dance and theatre, and holds a Ph.D. in performance studies from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Her 2017 book, What Is Contemporary Dance, explores the complex processes and conflictual ideologies that stand behind the concept of contemporary dance. Between 2015 and 2018, she taught history and theory of theatre and literature at New Bulgarian University and the Luben Groys Theatre College.
“We will be in great hands with Boyan and Ani,” Bullock said. “They are both amazing artists and radical thinkers.”
Hollins’ M.F.A. in dance is an innovative program in which students immerse themselves for five weeks during the summer in the intimate learning atmosphere on the Hollins campus, followed by three weeks of international study and immersion in Plovdiv. The program provides students with a wide range of opportunities, mentorships, and exposure to others in the international dance field, and features three tracks: Year Residency, Low Residency – Two Summer, and Low Residency – Three Summer. M.F.A. students and faculty establish a unique community of committed artists/scholars who range in ages and experiences and are working to sustain their careers and deepen their relationship to dance.
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.