As a veteran of 34 meets, including four Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) championship competitions, and co-holder of multiple relay event records, Hanna DeVarona ’21 of the Hollins University swim team is one of the school’s most accomplished student-athletes. She has placed in the top 16 in multiple events each year at the ODAC Championships, and this March the conference recognized her with one of its highest honors, the Bonnie Kestner Sportsmanship Award, which recognizes ODAC swimmers who “have demonstrated consistently good sportsmanship, ethical behavior, and unselfishness in his/her daily participation in intercollegiate athletics.”
Competing in a sport she loves convinced DeVarona that athletics would be her vocation. However, taking Associate Professor of Communication Studies Lori Joseph’s Health Communication course as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged during her junior year gave the business major a new perspective. After graduating from Hollins this spring, DeVarona will begin her Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in communication and marketing at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
“I had never considered public health before, and that class made me realize that in the past I had actually been afraid to learn about health myself. When I was able to study it, I was no longer afraid,” DeVarona explained. “I know there are people out there who are just as afraid as I was to learn about health, but I don’t want them to fear something that isn’t fearful.”
DeVarona’s aspiration of becoming a health communication specialist may be a departure from her previous, long-standing career goal, but she remains steadfastly committed to what she describes as “my true calling, which is helping people as much as I can. I enjoy it, and that’s the whole reason why I’m drawn to public health.”
For the Woodbridge, Virginia, native, “being a true student-athlete has been absolutely wonderful. When I was looking at Hollins what stood out to me was that I could find that balance. Hollins does such a great job of that. The coaches understand that you are a student before you are an athlete, and the professors are supportive and accommodating as well. I really give credit to my professors and my coaches as well as my teammates for being able to get things done throughout my four years here.”
DeVarona’s list of accomplishments is indeed impressive. In addition to majoring in business with a concentration in marketing, she is minoring in both communication studies and economics. She’s a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee; Omicron Delta Epsilon (the academic honor society in economics); and the Honor, Conduct, and Appeal Board. She’s been a lead admissions ambassador and an orientation team leader, and she’s pursuing a certificate in leadership from the Batten Leadership Institute. This year, she’s serving as the Hollins Student Government Association’s athletic chair and has been inducted into Chi Alpha Sigma, the student-athlete national honor society. For the 2019-20 academic year, she was awarded the Hollins Athletics Service Award, which honors the individual who has best shown the true character of Hollins in rendering service to the athletic department while demonstrating a high degree of leadership, initiative, and dedication.
DeVarona has also completed three internships during her undergraduate career, one each on campus with the university’s alumnae relations and athletic departments, and a virtual internship during this year’s January Short Term in global communications at The Estée Lauder Companies in New York City.
“Even though it was remote, I learned a lot,” she said. One of the highlights was attending virtually an international summit in Hong Kong, where she got a global outlook on dealing with reputation and issues management. During the month, she also participated in researching and drafting briefings for Leonard Lauder, chairman emeritus and former CEO of Estée Lauder, as he prepared for media interviews in conjunction with the release of his new book, The Company I Keep: My Life in Beauty.
“I got to meet a lot of great people, some of whom studied health communications in graduate school and offered to help me with making connections in the D.C. area if I chose to pursue that career path,” she added.
On a personal level, DeVarona says she has benefited from the camaraderie she’s enjoyed as a member of the swim team. “We’re all equals, we’re all here to swim with each other, and our goal has been to have as much fun with each other as possible.” Those bonds have become even stronger during the pandemic. “This year our team has definitely grown more into a family. That’s something that I want to take along with me in the future. Even when we went home during Winter Break, we all got together regularly on Zoom calls and even played games online. Among Us (an online multiplayer social deduction game) was the most popular.”
At GW, DeVarona is hoping to continue swimming competitively. The university has a club team, but “there’s a chance I could compete with their varsity team since I still have eligibility.”
When DeVarona was recruited to swim at Hollins, “the moment I first stepped on campus, it felt like home. When I heard about the connections you make with the professors and alumnae, that put everything in place for me. I don’t think I’d be where I am, or who I am, today if I went somewhere else. I’m just really thankful to Hollins for giving me so many opportunities and helping me pursue things I’m so passionate about.”