Becca Mullins ’26 knows what it means to face heartbreaking tragedy.
She still feels a sense of pain and loss from the deaths of several of her fellow classmates during her high school years. But in working toward fulfilling a dream she’s had since middle school of becoming an English teacher, she’s drawing upon that difficult experience to shape her career aspirations and focus on building the greater good.
“I can’t get my classmates back,” she says. “But if I can be a teacher for those students who feel alone, who have no one, and are struggling, if I can be that person who believes in them, makes them feel loved, and gives them a purpose to go to school every day, then that’s the least I can do.”
Mullins believes that in many different ways, Hollins is giving her the foundation to achieve those goals. The English major and Batten Scholar was initially considering large schools in urban settings and admits she “had no idea Hollins even existed” until her father, who knew of the university’s English and creative writing program, suggested at the beginning of her senior year in high school that they visit the university.
“I was surprised at how instantly I felt at home. The campus was beautiful, but what convinced me to finally say ‘yes’ to Hollins was the people. It is the people that make Hollins different from any other campus.”
Along with teaching, Mullins loves to write, particularly creative nonfiction. She praises the Hollins faculty for giving her the tools and self-assurance to pursue both. “Abrina Schnurman (executive director of the university’s Batten Leadership Institute) has taught me so many leadership skills and pushed me to go above and beyond what I thought I was capable of. I’ve taught preschool at Life Academy in Roanoke for a year and a half, and because of BLI my confidence as a teacher has improved.”
While working on campus over the summer, Mullins cherished the lunch meetings she had with Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish Manuel Portillo. “I will often question myself as a writer, and he intentionally sat me down and talked about what it means to be a writer. He’s really encouraged me.”
Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing Meighan Sharp has also been instrumental in bringing out Mullins’ passion for writing. When she enrolled at Hollins, “I was coming from the international baccalaureate program at my high school where I primarily did academic and research writing. In Professor Sharp’s class, I was able to write creatively for the first time in a few years. Her class unlocked a whole new world that I had kind of shut off.”
Mullins is quick to note that she feels similarly grateful to her peers. “Hollins attracts phenomenal, kind, artistic, and beautiful human beings, and my close friend group is from all over the world. I didn’t expect that because I’ve never been exposed to it before. I have grown so much from knowing them. I have learned so much about different cultures, foods, and familial styles, art and traveling, and issues of the world.
“I think Hollins’ ability to draw in so many different people from so many different backgrounds is really powerful. It’s completely changed my perspective for the rest of my life.”
One of her top reasons for choosing Hollins, Mullins adds, was the opportunity to study abroad. Enjoying friendships with international students on campus has piqued her interest in visiting other countries, and she’s hoping to do a semester abroad in England next spring.
Mullins also credits the Hollins staff for their support, particularly citing “Ms. Stan,” a member of the custodial staff in her residence hall. “Ms. Stan tells me she loves me every single day and she puts a smile on my face every single day.” One of the highlights of her Hollins career, she says, was working in the president’s office this summer and going to lunch with President Hinton and her assistant, Betsy Cossaboon. “They would ask me questions about my year and myself, because they truly cared.”
Women’s colleges in general were not on Mullins’ radar when she was initially engaged in her college search, but she says her time at Hollins has made her an enthusiastic proponent. “When you’re at a women’s college, you’re empowered to speak your mind. We are able to validate each other in a way that you can’t get in a coed classroom. More than that, there’s a sense of family when you’re here. A lot of us have gone through very similar experiences, but even if that’s not the case, we have the emotional capacity to be able to listen to and support one another.”
Beyond enjoying a study abroad experience in the near future, Mullins’ goals over the next couple of years are straightforward: “Graduate and become a great English teacher.” At the same time, she’d like to complement her passion for education by staying engaged in writing or exploring related work in publishing or editing. “That’s the nice thing about an English degree, you can do whatever you want with it.”
Whatever path she takes, Mullins says, “I will take away the authenticity, the acceptance, and the love I have found here at Hollins and pass it on to others.”