In a wide-ranging discussion last November about the benefits of attending a women’s college, six students talked about leadership, internships, travel, study, and how to prepare for the future.
The women’s college choice
My mom went to Mary Baldwin, and my dad went to VMI while it was still single sex, so going to a single-sex institution was a tradition in my family. I knew I wanted to pursue something that would be highly competitive also. So I was looking at Smith, Mount Holyoke, Mills, and I happened to come across Hollins while I was in Virginia touring Mary Baldwin and VMI. Being on campus during the Batten competition weekend was what really solidified that this was the best choice for me—the one with the most leadership opportunities, where I would be able to work with other women, and women would hold the leadership roles and decide what the community culture was.
I was not initially looking for a women’s college. I was homeschooled throughout my high school years, and I was co-enrolled at a community college junior and senior years. When I started looking at schools, one of the big schools near me was Bryn Mawr, and I really, really loved it. And then I kept looking at all these coed schools and I didn’t see that community and involvement I wanted. So I started looking at women’s colleges and said, “Well, maybe this is the key to what is going to make me happy.” And I finally found Hollins, and it was definitely the place.
I was not looking for a women’s college. I think it was more, do I want to go to this big university, a state school, or do I want to go to a smaller private institution? Once I looked at Spelman College, I thought that maybe [single sex] was a factor. Because now that I’m here and looking at the differences with my friend, who ended up choosing a state university, I see we don’t have the same interactions with other women on this campus. I can relax and really be who I am. And it’s empowering to be myself.
I did not want a women’s college. I actually, like actively, did not want a women’s college. I came to Hollinsummer because my English teacher recommended it to me for creative writing. So I came up here and [found] the emphasis was performance on the academic side. I really loved that.
I wasn’t looking for a women’s college at all. One of my high school Spanish teachers is an alum, and she was like, “Just try it.” When we walked on the Hollins campus and took the campus tour, I fell in love with it—just seeing how enthusiastic the tour guides were and how they talked to literally every person that walked by. When I met Dr. Wilson and Dean Beach in the biology department, I was sold, completely sold.
I’m a first-generation college student, so my parents didn’t really have any say in what I had to do. It was completely in my hands to look for a college, and I didn’t really care if it was coed or single sex. At first the pictures spoke to me: women having conversations with each other. I went to YouTube and subscribed to the Hollins channel and watched videos of how students were portrayed. I could see women performing every duty, whereas in my country we were told [those roles] were for men. I felt that this could be a place where I could grow out of those traditions that were forged in me since I was really small. And I’m really proud of my decision.
I was not involved in student government when I was in high school. I never expected to be involved in any kind of leadership position throughout college. After Maggie Dwyer [’14] and the rest of the appointment board approached me last year to ask me to be club coordinator, my response was: Why didn’t I do this sooner? One of the professors who interviewed me [last fall for pharmacy school] said, “If you come here, why don’t you run for first-year class president for the pharmacy school? We’ve never had a woman as first-year class president. It’s always been men.” Which is very interesting, since 75 percent of that program is women.
Leadership opportunities here are vast. Students are graduating with the two years of work experience that most jobs require. You’re fundraising, you’re planning your own event, you’re developing donor bases, you’re doing some foundational work that prepares you for the workforce in a way that—when [you graduate]—really alleviates that tension, that fear, that pressure, put on students who didn’t have those opportunities.
SGA started a program called Student Leader of the Week where we try to recognize different people on campus who might not be holding titles but are actively engaged in the campus community in a dynamic and exceptional way. I have seen such intelligent women who have been in classes with me who have really challenged what I thought and given me a new perspective. So leadership is everywhere.
How has Hollins changed you?
You definitely have a chance and an expectation that you will grow. [My parents] say that the daughter we sent to school is now a woman, a more dynamic person than when she first came here from high school.
I am definitely seen as a quantitative reasoning tutor. I’m seen as a science person who spends most of her time in Dana. But you can find me in another academic building on campus and nobody is shocked. I don’t think anybody can be put into boxes here, and my friend group includes people from all over the campus.
When I was choosing to do studio art and I was trying to do Batten Leadership, for example, no one said, “Oh you’re an artist, why are you doing math and why are you doing leadership?” They encouraged me. At Hollins, leadership is not about taking on positions for [the sake of] positions. It is more about doing active leadership [in every area of your campus life].
[What’s different about me now] is the level of confidence my pharmacy school interviewers saw in me. [Hollins is] definitely a place where I can learn, practice, get it wrong, and not be judged or punished for it.
We are building character here. We come in with some values and beliefs, but they’re shaped as we grow here. I think women shy away from conflict; they are fearful of conflict and I think here that’s not the case. We’ve learned that effective conflict is good.
Hollins women are the only people I have ever experienced who think that conflict is good. In my male relationships, in my female relationships, in my family relationships, no. Here we learn how to navigate difficult conversations no matter where we are. Chanice and I may really have it out in a classroom, and walk away laughing. And I’ve never seen that anywhere else.
Highlights of your Hollins experience
The first thing that comes to mind is the Jamaica Cultural Immersion program that I have done three years now. [I have loved] going to Jamaica and being immersed in their culture and bringing my culture to them.
The first really powerful moment for me was the very first C3. I networked with an alumna, and it turned into an internship. She couldn’t get it [set up] that J-Term but she remembered me and got it all put together for the next year. So a year and a half later, she was still thinking about me. Doing that internship was phenomenal. I went to Vero Beach, Florida, by myself, and I remember driving away from my house in Alabama and thinking, I’m on my own. I’m going to go do this. I’m going to go live by myself. I don’t know the people who I’m staying with, I don’t know what’s about to happen, and it was so cool. And I came back so much more confident than I had been before.
SGA changed my life. I was held accountable by my peers who had voted for me. [West is SGA president.] Learning how to navigate fair representation was also something really instrumental to the way I perceive so many different things now. Getting to work with amazing young women who want the best for their community is inspiring on a daily basis. Getting to practice everything I’m learning in BLI [Batten Leadership Institute] and getting to see how that plays out in a team dynamic—the way we handle conflict, the way we resolve conflict—have been really instrumental to me in being excited about entering the workplace rather than afraid of it.
One example is when I first thought about running for first-year class president. I’d done leadership things in my life, but I never really thought about me being the leader. And when people [suggested that I run for] first-year class president, it really took a step for me to realize how I could do that. My second experience was going to Spain for January my first year. I took my first plane ride by myself, with three different connections. I was really not sure if I could do it. I said, “Well, who else is going to do it?” And I’m planning to go back!
My internship from last January was a highlight. I have been a pharmacy technician for two and a half years, and I interned at a compounding pharmacy in Richmond. The first day they trained me, and since I had a tech license, they [gave me free rein]. I took over pain medications and scar creams for the entire month of January, which was awesome. Being immersed in it for a month solidified that pharmacy was what I wanted to do.
Being with my friendship family. My friendship mom is a schoolteacher at Read Mountain Middle School. She arranged a program where I could speak to the kids and the teachers. Being able to introduce my culture to them and seeing how curious they were was just such a good experience.
How has Hollins prepared you for the next step?
I worked with a team of people at the National Dance Institute [in New York City] during the competitive internship I got through the Career Center. Working there offered a new perspective. It prepared me in this sense: that I know who I am, and I feel like I can take on anything. Like getting lost in New York was fine with me because I knew I was going to find my way.
I know that research shows that men are more likely to apply for jobs they’re not qualified for, where women will not apply for those jobs because they do not feel qualified. I feel confident in pursuing jobs because I feel like I’ve already had that experience here in fundraising, in working with a team, in doing dynamic projects, in navigating some difficult conversations on campus. I feel really excited. I’m ready. I’m pumped. I can’t wait to be paid. I’m about to enter into the Ramen life, though.
I’m applying to two grad schools right now. They’re very competitive programs, so we’ll see. Nonprofit leadership is one of them, and the other is educational leadership policy advocacy. I want to work for LGBTQ nonprofits and do special events and programming.
I want to be a reading specialist ultimately. I want to work with children and hopefully I’ll have an individual practice. But that means closely working with parents. And sometimes that can be kind of conflictual when you are talking about a child who is struggling. So I think through BLI, our general culture, and being a resident assistant, I’ve been able to develop skills that will help me work with parents, schools, administrators, colleagues: working with people where they are.
Hollins has given me that sense of confidence. I don’t plan on being a pharmacist for the rest of my life. I plan on being a pharmacist for the next two, two and a half decades, and then I’m going to do something else. I’ve been told by so many of my parents’ colleagues in the ER department that you don’t want to be stuck with one thing the rest of your life, that you’re going to get bored, and that you’re going to want to do something else. And when I’m ready to do that, I still think I’ll be able to pull from my experience from Hollins and adjust if I want to completely change my career and do something not even science related.
Photos by Olivia Body ’08