“Living a Life of Consequence: Hollins Students Changing the World” was the theme of President Lawrence’s inauguration. These four women, each chosen by her academic division, represent some of the many ways students prepare not only to take on life’s challenges, but also to make changes along the way.
Reaching Others with My Life
Division 1: Humanities
Alexus Smith ’19, who is majoring in English, sent an email responding to the following questions while she was in London on Hollins’ study abroad program.
Did you know your major before you started at Hollins, or did your experience here inspire that decision?
I had my major in mind before I came to Hollins. Writing has been a big part of my life since I was 10, and it has grown into one of the biggest passions I have. My writing experience has moved from solely being an emotional outlet to a personalized art form and advocacy tool. I was drawn to creative writing because it was flexible and allowed me to reach others with my life and other personal passions. I will say that being at Hollins and a part of the English department has made me love writing even more.
Tell me more about your appointment to the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities (VBPD).
I was appointed by the former governor of Virginia after going through an application process with the board itself. I am in the training program and on the outreach committee. The committee is responsible for giving feedback on the board’s three training programs: YLA (youth leadership academy), PIP (partners in policy making), and the ADP (alumni development program). I feel that we must do our best to impact the lives of others in positive ways, even if we share different challenges. The board’s goal is to promote empathy and better understanding.
Why did you choose to study in London? How is your study abroad experience contributing to your development as a student and as a person of the world?
I chose London because I follow different disability news outlets based in the UK, and honestly the ability to travel has always been something I have looked forward to, no matter where. There isn’t enough discussion about the possibility of travel within the disability community, and I want to be able to change that conversation. I think this experience has improved my ability to be flexible and cope in new environments. It’s helped open my eyes to how I live and how [travel] can help others live healthy lives through emotional and social support. Getting me to London was a team effort even before I landed, and it shows how positive energy can bring people together. Being here has made me more confident in my decisiveness and boldness. I’m looking forward to bringing all my information to VBPD so that we can improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities.
What are your plans for after graduation? How has Hollins helped you shape those plans?
After Hollins, I plan to go to grad school for my M.F.A. and start working toward my dream of creating my own magazine and running a nonprofit. I think the greatest impact Hollins has had in the shaping of that life goal is the loving professors and the friends I have made. A few months after being at Hollins I wanted to do a cerebral palsy awareness event, and with the help of friends and some hard work the event has been a success since my first year.
Building a Template of Corporate Culture
Division 2: Social Sciences
Lorato Sekwababe ’19, business major
Lorato Sekwababe ’19 looks at the world through several lenses.
She is a native of Botswana. She is fluent in both Setswana and English.
She is majoring in business and minoring in philosophy—and finds they complement each other in compelling ways.
Innately inquisitive, Sekwababe has adapted not only to a different country, but also to the very particular world of Hollins. When her friend Felicity Mampe ’17 told her that “Hollins was out of this world,” she says it piqued her curiosity. “I had never thought about going to a women’s college or being in Virginia. What would a women’s college in Virginia look like?”
What she found intrigued her. “I didn’t expect to grow this much,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting the [small] classes, and how interactive it would be between the professors and students. I didn’t know I would like it this much. My confidence has grown tenfold.”
In fact, in just two and a half years as a Hollins student, she has had two internships in New York and one during her semester abroad in London. She sees internships as a way to combine her love of business with her enduring interest in philosophy, especially the importance of ethics in business.
Interning for two nonprofit organizations has been especially inspiring to Sekwababe. In New York, she worked for America Needs You, which raises money for first-generation college students. In London, she interned for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which supports the growth and development of young people. “I adore nonprofit culture,” Sekwababe says. “Corporate culture can be strict and rigid, but the nice thing about nonprofits is the element of creativity, and of space where you can be creative and flexible. That’s one thing for-profit corporate culture needs.”
As she observes the differences in the business world—between profit and nonprofit and between one country and another—she is building her own “template of corporate culture,” which she hopes one day to employ in her native Botswana. Although after graduation she would like to explore other countries and business cultures, she eventually “would like to be back in Botswana and maybe start a consultancy there. I would like to work with other businesses at home and make sure they have a good corporate culture that’s efficient and that treats people as people.” She would like to take everything she has learned in college and on the job to “make Botswana a hub of business ethics.”
Finding My Academic Direction
Division 3: Science and Math
Natasha G. Bestrom ’18, a biology major, emailed her responses from the Center for Tropical Island Biodiversity in Bocas del Toro, Panama, where she is spending her spring semester.
As a Horizon student, what drew you to Hollins? Did you know your major before you began?
Hollins is my first college experience. I always wanted to go to college, but life happened and after high school I worked as a veterinary technician for 10 years. I knew that the veterinary industry was not where I wanted to work for the rest of my life, so when I moved to Roanoke I started looking for a school with a biology major. I have always wanted to work in the sciences, and a degree in biology was the perfect fit. Hollins stuck out to me first because of its nontraditional student program, but then during my visit it just felt right. Everyone was so welcoming and accepting of adult students. I really appreciated that Horizon students had the opportunity to be a part of the community in every way. I felt immediately at home.
Was there a course that was transformative for you?
Through the Caribbean Ecology course, I found my academic direction. This is a J-Term class that allows students to get a firsthand look into ecology in a Caribbean island landscape on the island of St. John, USVI. The course includes an intense preparation period. We also get to experience research in the field, as we work in teams on research questions, methodology, data collection, and data analysis. We present our findings in the Science Seminar.
It is because of my work during four J-Terms on St. John that I was able to formulate a senior thesis research project on a threatened coral species in the Caribbean, elkhorn coral. I defended my thesis in late January of this year and received honors in biology. I am also elated to say that my manuscript has been sent out in search of publication.
What inspired you to study abroad? What are you studying?
I am using my final semester to study abroad at the Center for Tropical Island Biodiversity in Bocas del Toro, Panama, through the School for Field Studies. I am taking courses in resource management, coastal marine ecology, rainforest ecology, and environmental policy and socioeconomic values with a focus on tourism. This experience has been wonderful. Not only am I learning more about the interface between the terrestrial environment and the marine environment, but I am also learning so much more about myself.
What are your plans for after graduation?
After graduating in May, I plan to take a year off before going to graduate school for a master’s degree in marine biology. Without my experiences through Hollins and the help of invested faculty, I firmly believe that I would not be pursuing education beyond a bachelor’s degree, nor would I have found my passion in marine ecosystems.
The Art of Life
Division 4: Arts
Meera Chauhan ’19, studio art major
Meera Chauhan can pinpoint exactly when the trajectory of her life altered. It was the summer after her first year at Hollins. Thanks to the recommendation of Elise Schweitzer, associate professor of art, she got into the six-week painting intensive at the Mount Gretna School of Art. The experience “changed everything for me,” she remembers. “It was like eight hours a day painting and drawing.”
Before she started at Hollins, Chauhan had her life planned out. She would double major in psychology and art, with the expectation that she would get a master’s degree in art therapy. After that transformative summer in Pennsylvania, however, she reversed her emphasis, with a major in studio art and a minor in psychology. “My parents were skeptical at first,” she says. “I told them, ‘I want to do art.’ Now they’re fully on board.”
In fact, she has organized her academic life around studio art, with an internship in London with Leah Michelle ’09, helping Michelle organize an art fair; by showing her work in a “new voices” art exhibition in nearby Floyd, Virginia; by focusing on her painting during a J-Term independent study; and by soaking up everything she can from Hollins’ art professors, visiting artists, and alumnae.
“The art program here is really good,” she says. “Elise [Schweitzer] and Jennifer [Anderson Printz]: They are big names right now. We have beautiful spaces. We have a small program that’s really focused. Sometimes I think, ‘Oh, I should have gone to an art school.’ But I’m glad I’m here getting a liberal arts education. The opportunities here are incredible.” After she graduates from Hollins, she plans to get an M.F.A. (she’s looking at schools in the Midwest and Northeast) and teach at the university level.
Although Chauhan is still exploring how to express herself (she is currently reading about the similarities and differences between the work of Giorgio Morandi and Wayne Thiebaud), her primary theme right now is the concept of home, which for her is … “complicated.” Her parents, both of Indian descent, were born in Kenya, moved to the United Kingdom, where Chauhan and her brother were born, and relocated to Sterling, Virginia, when she was three. During J-Term 2017, which she spent at home painting, she focused on “cultural identity, the disconnect I have with ‘home,’” she says. “I did a portrait of my grandmother in front of a painting we have of Mount Kilimanjaro, which is where my parents are from.” Other paintings included such items as “Indian clothing, colors, and accessories that have always been crucial to my home life.
“We have always been immigrants,” she says of her family. And that has proved to be a profound subject to explore in her art.