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Hollins students talking while socially distancing

In the Loop: Winter 2021

Despite Pandemic Challenges, Student Energy, Spirit Persevered This Fall 

By Julia Polk ’21, Student Government Association President

Students in Chairs

Photo: Billy Faires

When leaving campus back in March of last year, we had no way of knowing if or when we would come back, and what things would look like when we did return. Nothing about that situation was “normal,” and nothing about this fall appeared to be “normal” on the surface, either.  

With the new Culture of Care guidelines, the opportunities we typically expect to have to spend time with our friends and attend campus events were much more limited. With more online and hybrid classes, and many of our peers completing the semester remotely, our academic experience changed drastically as well. The most notable difference that seemed to have the greatest impact on students was the lack of celebrating our traditions, and the modifications that were made to the few we did have. There was a general sense of uncertainty going into this semester; just like everyone else in the world, none of us had any idea what to expect.  

However, despite the challenges and changes facing us, one thing did remain “normal” this semester—the energy and spirit of the Hollins community that was brought back to campus with our return last fall. Even though students were no longer able to visit other residence halls or gather in large groups, we still found ways to connect safely. More students spent time outside, taking their meals from Moody and having picnics with friends or hosting social events for their club or organization on Front Quad. Professors met the challenges of teaching during this time and found new ways to keep students engaged and learning, even with their students spread out across campus and the world. Most importantly, we found ways to celebrate our favorite traditions, even if they looked a little different than normal. For example, in place of the typical Tinker Day festivities, a “Prelude to Tinker Day” was organized in which students were encouraged to wear their best Tinker Day costume to class, doughnuts were still served at breakfast, and the traditional Tinker Day lunch was prepared, which a friend and I enjoyed by “climbing’’ up the hill by the soccer field and eating together. The entire Hollins community—students, faculty, and staff—all worked together to make the most out of a scary and overwhelming situation.  

A specific moment that I always think of when asked about how our community has shown resilience and strength in the face of this crisis is First Step. Being the first major tradition we celebrate in the fall term, I’ve always felt as though it sets the tone for the rest of the year. This was absolutely true for last fall’s event, and I’d argue it was more important this year than ever. First Step looked very different from how it normally does. With limitations on how many individuals can be on Front Quad at a time, and the requirement to have six feet of physical distance between each person, it was a challenge to organize. Nevertheless, our incredible Senior Class President Emma McAnirlin and her cabinet (Megan Bull, Molly Sullivan, and Andi Brown) worked together to plan a very memorable event.  

Rather than having every senior on Front Quad at once, they organized the event so that 50 seniors at a time could sign up for one of four sessions to take their First Step. Students could thus take part in this important moment with their friends while also ensuring everyone’s safety. Small rubber dots (which have become vitally important parts of event planning these days) were used to space students out and show them where to stand around Front Quad. Other students were asked not to attend to ensure that seniors could safely enjoy this moment on their own, but underclassmen still found fun ways to be involved. Students living in the East residence hall sat on their porch, looking out on Front Quad to see the fun, and my own roommates and I organized our own mini passing of sparkling cider bottles outside of our apartment before First Step.  

What was most impressive to me, especially as SGA president (and her best friend), was Emma McAnirlin’s dedication and attention to detail. Both she and President Hinton provided excellent leadership at each of the four First Step sessions. Emma painted seven extra bottles of sparkling cider so that both she and President Hinton would be able to pop a new bottle open at each session and take part in the fun. She also decorated a beautiful robe for President Hinton, which has become a tradition in welcoming new presidents to the university; I am sure she will continue to wear it at many First Steps down the road. 

What stood out the most, though, was the attention to detail surrounding the students who were off campus for the semester and thus could not participate in First Step. Emma and her cabinet wanted to be sure that these students still felt involved and appreciated during this important milestone in our time at Hollins. So they made little paper dolls of students who were off campus with popsicle sticks and photos of their faces that were then placed on Front Quad—taking their own First Step in place of their real-life counterparts. We made sure to spray them with a bit of cider for the full First Step experience. 

First Step may have looked different from previous years, but it felt exactly the same. Everyone still showed off their beautifully decorated robes and bottles, taking photos together and sharing memories from our years at Hollins. There was still the same excitement for the new year and our final moments as students. This event truly embodied the innovative spirit that students have shown in handling this challenging semester, and it set a tone that allowed for a wonderful and safe semester to unfold.

“Better Educators and a Stronger Institution”: How the Pandemic Brought to Hollins a New Era of Learning and Growth 

By Darla Schumm, John P. Wheeler Chair and Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of the Faculty 

Darla Schumm

Darla Schumm

Last March, the now seemingly easy, lazy days of wandering into a classroom, perusing the library stacks, disappearing for hours into the art studio or science laboratory, or debating the pressing issues of the day around a table in Moody vanished. The standard ways of learning, as familiar to us as that favorite old comfy sweater, were snatched away, literally overnight.  

COVID-19 catapulted us into a dizzyingly disorienting period of education and learning. The transition was hard, and it was exhausting. We grieved the disappearance of our campus routine. Yet, amidst the loss and sadness, there have also been glimmers of hope, and even joy. Whether we wanted it or not, COVID-19 ushered in a time of new learning and growth that is making us better educators and a stronger institution in the process. 

Prior to COVID-19, I was an online learning skeptic. I was so steeped in the benefits of face-to-face instruction that I was unable to ascertain the value of an online educational experience. COVID-19 forced my faculty colleagues and me to explore the vast array of technological resources now available to educators. While Zoom, Google Classroom, and Moodle (the Hollins Learning Management System) became our primary modes of interacting with students, we were also introduced to many other innovative teaching and learning technologies.  

For example, Hypothesis is an open-access annotation tool that enables students to read web-based and electronic texts and insert marginalia, thus creating a virtual discussion of a text. This type of flexibility for exchanging ideas about course readings allows students in vastly different time zones to engage intellectually with one another (and the wider public), even if they are in separate parts of the world.  

Kaltura, another resource introduced to us during COVID-19, is a tool for recording and uploading video content for students to access at their convenience. Some faculty use Kaltura for recording lectures for their asynchronous or flipped courses. Students also use Kaltura for class presentations and other course assignments.  

Another tool, Flipgrid, is a website that functions like a message board where professors can pose questions to the class and students can respond with a video, an image, or text. All responses to prompts appear on a grid, and the instructor can create as many grids for a class as desired. Professors experimented with these technological resources and many more to discover what worked best for their specific classes. There was a lot of trial and error, but many of us discovered tools that we will continue to integrate into our courses even after the pandemic. 

Students studying

Photo: Billy Faires

COVID-19 also underscored educational values and commitments that we often discuss but that can be difficult to capture in concrete terms. We talk about being innovative, creative, and flexible, and our pivot from face-to-face instruction to remote learning last spring demonstrated these qualities in bold relief. With little to no warning or preparation, faculty members adjusted course plans, expectations, and assignments to fit a new way of teaching, learning, and being together. This shift was unthinkable even two weeks before we did it. And though our pivot may not have been perfect, faculty certainly demonstrated their dedication to both their students and academic excellence. Together we modeled for our students adaptability, nimbleness, creativity, resiliency, and extraordinary problem-solving skills. These are characteristics that we always strive to teach our students, and COVID-19 provided the crash course. Perhaps the most significant
philosophical shift the pandemic introduced is that we now recognize some forms of online instruction are here to stay. Cynics like me were forced into unknown pedagogical frontiers, and what we discovered is that online learning can be a valuable tool for building a more inclusive educational experience. While we are eager to return to the in-person classroom, we know it will look different after COVID-19. 

Although we all wish the coronavirus crisis could have been avoided, it has been an extraordinary opportunity. It has cracked open new ways of learning and engaging one another. However, the many lessons we have learned will be especially meaningful if we incorporate them into our post-pandemic reality. These lessons are helping us ask new and different questions that will shape the future we build for Hollins. How might online teaching and learning and/or tools help us advance educational equity, inclusion, and justice? How might we incorporate an online component to existing programs or curricula such as graduate studies or the Horizon program? How can we mobilize technology to further improve on what we already do well, while also challenging us to think outside familiar pedagogical boxes? How can we take what we are learning from COVID-19 to create even more transformational educational experiences for our students? If we seek answers to these questions with serious deliberation and curiosity, we can rise to the occasion and transform the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity that will renew and strengthen our mission to provide an excellent liberal arts education for every student. 

University Chaplain Finds Creative Ways to Offer Religious and Spiritual Services During Pandemic 

After Catina G. Martin became Hollins’ new chaplain and director of religious and spiritual life last August, her mission was to figure out how to provide religious/spiritual guidance to 600-plus students of all faiths and backgrounds in the midst of one of the most challenging academic years in recent memory.  

“I felt for the students, especially the incoming first years, who were hoping to have a more typical college experience [starting] in the fall,” Martin said. “As a chaplain, my first call to service was to get to know the students along with the culture and the climate at Hollins, because when [the students] leave here, for most of them they’re going to enter the workforce. So it’s very important that I help them find all the spiritual and religious resources that they’re interested in while they’re here.” 

Martin said that her first academic chaplaincy has been “like a dream. I’m so grateful for life and to be here and to be a part of these students’ paths. I’ve learned so much already.” Previously, she worked as a grief counselor and bereavement coordinator with Mountain Valley Hospice and Palliative Care, headquartered in North Carolina. 

Catina Martin

Catina Martin

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has obviously limited events and activities on campus, Martin hasn’t let the pandemic get in the way (too much) of the in-person component of her mission. In fact, every Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., Martin hosts a masked and distanced interfaith “Sanctuary” time in duPont Chapel. Martin described Sanctuary as “renewal for our spirits and rest for our souls,” and said that all students, even the nonreligious, are welcome. “It doesn’t have a main religious component,” she explained, “but it is rather spiritual as we are turning inside and letting go of things that are causing us great anxiety, [and] meditating and making space for gratefulness for things we’re able to share and enjoy.” 

In addition to the Sanctuary services, Martin, along with the student group Better Together, hosted in October a socially distanced get-together called “Positive Vibes.” The event included free snacks and button making, as well as an hour for club presidents and other students to speak on the theme of positivity. Martin noted, “It was a time to put some positivity in the air for our Hollins community, for our new president, and for everything that is happening in our world.” 

As for the online portion of her chaplaincy, Martin added a virtual component to the university’s guide to religious communities in the Roanoke Valley, providing clickable links to connect students to local faith-based communities that offer virtual services and other offerings. Martin’s also been periodically hosting live “mini” Sanctuary services—10- to 15-minute refreshers or inspirers—on the Facebook page for the Hollins University Chapel and Office of Spiritual and Religious Life.  

Ordained through the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, Martin’s responsibilities as university chaplain include everything from providing religious and spiritual resources to advising a number of student-run religious organizations and clubs (such as the Muslim Student Association, the Jewish Student Association, and Better Together, an interfaith group). She said that the underlying goal is caring for students spiritually and religiously. “I especially want to help those who’ve left a specific religious community back at home that was really instrumental in their life. My job is to keep them connected to a community here on campus or by providing resources online.” 

Regarding the future of spiritual and religious life on campus post-pandemic, Martin wants to focus on inclusivity of all faiths and even nonfaiths—that includes gathering outdoors and in places that are not thought of as traditional religious spaces. “I’ve had conversations with students who profess to be atheists or agnostic just so I can get close to them and see what they think about love and life and God,” she said. “I love having those conversations because it means we can find common ground, even if we have differences.” 

Martin’s other big goal as Hollins’ chaplain will be encouraging students to embrace and appreciate those differences and diversities. This, she believes, is key to creating a loving and healthy spiritual community on campus. “My heart is for us to know that we are one big family. We have a lot of similarities, but our differences are what make us so special and valuable both to the campus and [to] the bigger world. We want our students to appreciate those differences, both in themselves and in each other.”

President Hinton, Bestselling Author Michelle Alexander Envision a Multiracial, Multiethnic Justice Movement in America 

 A decade ago, acclaimed author, civil rights lawyer, and legal advocate Michelle Alexander published her first book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Some critics at the time considered the book’s subject dubious, especially since the nation had just elected its first Black president in Barack Obama. Still, The New Jim Crow would go on to spend almost 250 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, and has become so influential that it’s even been cited in some judicial decisions as well as read in countless book clubs and college classrooms across the country. 

In an event live-streamed to more than 400 members of the Hollins community, Alexander had a virtual sit-down with President Mary Dana Hinton on September 22 as part of the university’s Distinguished Speaker Series. They discussed the 10th-anniversary edition of her book as well as a host of other issues, including racial unrest in the U.S. and social activism both on and off campus.  

Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander

“It’s hard for me to believe it’s been 10 years,” said Alexander. “When I was researching this book, Obama hadn’t been elected president yet. Trayvon Martin hadn’t been killed. I felt desperate to sound an alarm about the crisis of mass incarceration, seeing up close [through my work] the victims of racial profiling and police violence. And now 10 years later, with all of the viral videos of brutal police killings and the uprisings, it feels in many ways that the whole world hasn’t changed. The [criminal justice] system continues to function in pretty much the same way as it functioned 10 years ago—or 15 years ago—or 30 years ago.” 

However, Alexander was quick to add that she did find hope in the creation of new protest movements and increased social activism, in particular movements led by formerly incarcerated and convicted people. “There’s been an explosion of movement-building and organizing and leadership, and that’s enormously encouraging to me. Until we hear from the people who’ve been most harmed, transformational change is impossible. And as long as those voices are excluded from decision-making spaces and tables, transformational change is impossible.” 

Hinton said that liberal arts colleges and universities in particular were places where students could “rehearse what it means to have courage and have a voice and step up” before engaging politically in the bigger world off campus. 

“I don’t think it’s an overstatement that our democracy will not survive without robust liberal arts education,” Alexander responded. “That’s one of the main pillars of a successful, thriving, multiethnic, multigender, multifaith democracy. It can help us learn more about our past and present so we can respond to our present moment with wise action and with greater concern and care for our fellow citizens. Without it, we are stuck in patterns of reactivity. We can be misled by demagogues and be inspired to resort to fear-mongering.” 

Near the end of the hour-long discussion, Hinton asked The New Jim Crow author, “How are we ‘midwives to this next generation’?,” borrowing Alexander’s language. “How are we midwives as we look at the [transformational] change that’s so important?” 

“It can feel overwhelming at times,” Alexander replied. “We’re at a moment where I think our democracy literally hangs in the balance. I think what’s important is for us to pause and think: How can we use our skills and our talents to their highest use for this moment? And how do we educate ourselves about history, our racial history, about the present, about how to do democracy? What’s important is not just being aware and awake, but being willing to act with some courage. Because if we see what’s happening but lack the courage to speak up or step out, we can be as awake as we want to be, but if we act without courage, it’s all for naught.” 

Hollins Earns Accolades from U.S. News, The Princeton Review

U.S. News and World Report cites Hollins’ success in blending educational excellence with affordability, while The Princeton Review places the university among the nation’s top 10 in two categories in the latest editions of their respective annual college guides. 

U.S. News 2021 Best Colleges ranks Hollins as the #44 Best Value School and #21 in the list of Top Performers on Social Mobility among National Liberal Arts Colleges.  

“To determine which colleges and universities offer the best value for students, U.S. News and World Report factors academic quality and cost after accounting for total expenses and financial aid,” the guide notes. “The social mobility ranking is computed from the two ranking factors assessing graduation rates of students who received federal Pell Grants.” Pell Grant recipients typically come from households whose family incomes are less than $50,000 annually, though most Pell Grant money goes to students with a total family income below $20,000. 

Hollins is ranked #102 overall in the National Liberal Arts Colleges category, and is also considered an “A-plus School for B Students” by U.S. News

Campus beauty

 The Princeton Review’s annual college guide, The Best 386 Colleges, ranks Hollins #6 in the category Most Politically Active Students and #8 on the Best College Theatre list. 

In the guide’s profile of the university, students surveyed by the publication say Hollins is “a great place for people who want life experience” and that the school provides “a lot of incredible opportunities for anyone willing to take them.” They call internship and study abroad opportunities “exceptional” and praise the faculty as “amazing, talented, dedicated, and compassionate.” The Princeton Review adds, “The alumni network is similarly solid, and many students land jobs and internships through previous graduates.” 

“We salute Hollins for its outstanding academics and we are truly pleased to recommend it to applicants searching for their personal best-fit college,” said Princeton Review Editor-in-Chief Robert Franek. Only about 14% of the country’s 2,800 four-year colleges are profiled in The Best 386 Colleges

New Partnerships with Graduate Programs in Health Sciences, Engineering 

To further help qualified students pursue advanced degrees and meaningful careers in high-demand fields, Hollins University has finalized admission agreements with Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences at Mary Baldwin University (MDCHS) and the Virginia Tech College of Engineering. 

Murphy Deming College of Health SciencesAt MDCHS, Hollins students who meet qualifications will be guaranteed the opportunity to interview for the following programs: Master of Science in physician assistant studies, Doctor of physical therapy, and Doctor of occupational therapy. 

Students who take an outlined course sequence at Hollins can gain early acceptance to Virginia Tech’s Master of Engineering in computer science program. The alliance between Hollins and VT Engineering seeks to increase the number of liberal arts students who are growing the tech talent pipeline in Virginia.  

“These new agreements, along with our existing partnerships with some of the nation’s most selective graduate and professional programs, provide our students with a wide range of opportunities to build upon a strong undergraduate liberal arts and sciences foundation,” said Alison Ridley, Hollins’ interim vice president for academic programs. “Our students are thus able to position themselves to thrive in the fast-paced and innovative world of the 21st century.” 

VT EngineeringIn addition to partnering with MDCHS and VT Engineering, Hollins has agreements in place with Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy; the University of Virginia’s Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy; the Middlebury Institute for International Studies; the University of Pikeville’s School of Optometry, School of Osteopathic Medicine, and Coleman School of Business; and the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine. 

Hollins’ Community Garden Reopens to Students

Over the past year, more and more people have engaged in gardening as a way to keep healthy and minimize stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last fall, Hollins students had a chance to indulge their green thumb, too: The university’s community garden, a greenhouse containing 10 garden beds, reopened for the first time since March 2020. 

Community Garden“It’s a great opportunity that gives students experience in gardening, and it’s also an outlet for activities that are a lot of fun,” said Associate Professor of Mathematics Steve Wassell, who helps maintain the garden. While the garden was closed over the spring and summer, Wassell and his wife took care of the garden beds, even planting a summer crop. In October, Wassell got the greenhouse ready for the university’s Community Garden Club to take over and plant a fall crop. “I provided guidance as a hands-off advisor while students decided what to plant and did most of the gardening work,” he explained.  

The Community Garden Club is a free, student-run club open to all students, with or without prior gardening experience. The club’s president, Mackenzie Sessoms ’24, said that the club currently has about 20 members, many of whom are first-year students. “Gardening in general is like a type of therapy for me,” said Sessoms. “I usually walk to the garden almost every day when I have the chance to, just to see how the plants are doing, and it’s something I’m very passionate about and something that I would love to pursue. I enjoy taking care of plant life and receiving a type of reward for all the work I put in, the reward being harvest!” 

Harvests from the garden are purchased by the university’s dining services, which pays for next harvest’s seeds and soil as well as some extra activities. Normally, the Community Garden Club would offer a couple of intern or work-study positions as well, but during fall term (because of the COVID-19 pandemic and reduced resources), all work in the greenhouse was volunteer-based. “For at least the fall, we set up a system where the students got credits for the weeding and mowing and watering and various things that needed to be done,” said Wassell. “Then with those credits, the students could have some of the produce grown.” 

“Our Profound Sense of Community will Sustain Us”: Hollins Moves Carefully Onward During Spring Term 

Guided by public health experts who advise that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to have an impact nationally well into this calendar year, Hollins is striving to ensure the well-being of the campus community with a comprehensive plan for conducting Spring Term 2021. 

Spring term classes, which are being taught in person, online, or through a hybrid mix of those forms of instruction, began on February 10. 

“Students who studied remotely last fall had the option of continuing in that mode or returning to campus for in-person or hybrid instruction,” explained President Mary Dana Hinton. “Likewise, students who lived in residence halls last fall and took in-person or hybrid courses could choose to stay at home for the spring and learn remotely.” She added that students who decided to take all of their classes remotely this spring could not live on campus during spring term. 

Because spring term started one week later than originally planned, spring break is canceled this year. Residential students are encouraged to remain on campus for the duration of spring term.  

Following winter break this year, students did not return to campus for January Short Term and residence halls remained closed. In-person, virtual, and/or hybrid seminars were not offered during this year’s session, and the J-Term academic requirement for credit was suspended for the 2020-21 academic year. Virtual internships, independent study projects, and remote theses were the only activities approved for credit during this J-Term.  

“The time away during winter break and the month of January provided a meaningful opportunity to rejuvenate from a challenging fall semester and prepare for an equally demanding spring semester,” Hinton said. “I understand how disheartening it is to anticipate disruption throughout the rest of this academic year. [But] I am confident that our profound sense of community will sustain us as we continue to make these necessary sacrifices; I know we have the character and fortitude to persevere in the weeks and months to come.” 

“Prelude to C3” Connects Students with the Green and Gold Network 

Mindful of COVID-19 protocols, Hollins alumnae/i employed a different way last fall of conveying the lifelong power of a liberal arts education to current students. 

Prelude to C3In conjunction with Hollins Alumnae Relations and the Center for Career Development and Life Design, Hollins grads took the annual Career Connection Conference (C3) online with Prelude to C3: A Virtual Conference, September 28-October 3. 

“Students were able to hear some of our most accomplished alumnae/i share their insights on navigating life after Hollins,” said Associate Vice President for Alumnae/i Engagement and Strategic Initiatives Lauren Sells
Walker ’04. “Since most jobs don’t come from postings but through personal and professional connections, students can maximize their future opportunities by interacting throughout the week with the Green and Gold network at C3.” 

Prelude to C3 included Zoom sessions covering a wide array of topics and interests. Students could interact with professionals in health-related fields, the arts and humanities, and science and mathematics. They also received practical advice on how to successfully navigate life after Hollins; when a graduate degree is worth pursuing; how to find new business opportunities in a rapidly changing world; and what employers are seeking when researching one’s online presence and social media profiles. 

Aheri Stanford-Asiyo ’05, a software engineer at Microsoft working to create next-generation holographic computing solutions for the workplace, delivered the Prelude to C3 keynote address. The event concluded with one-on-one Zoom sessions between students and alumnae/i for the purpose of career mentoring through general networking and informational interviews.