From Campus to the Persian Gulf to Cuba, a Hollins Junior Earns a Worldly Education

Hanna Strauss ’19 has embraced the notion of “global citizen” in a way few other college students have experienced.

During the summer following her first year at Hollins, Strauss spent eight weeks in Oman studying Arabic at the Center for International Learning in Muscat, the country’s capital. Last April, the National Council on U.S. – Arab Relations (NCUSAR) awarded her a fellowship to participate in a week-long visit to Qatar. Strauss is now preparing to spend her entire 2018 Spring Term in Cuba through an intensive program in which only two other Hollins students have ever participated.

“I was raised in a way that enabled me to appreciate other peoples’ cultures,” explained Strauss, who is double majoring in Spanish and political science. Embodying that understanding began at an early age: She took part in a Model United Nations program in middle school, an endeavor that took her to conferences at the UN itself in New York City.

“I was privileged to have that opportunity and decided to take it forward,” she recalled, and in addition to her two study trips to the Persian Gulf region in as many years, she has been actively involved in NCUSAR’s Model Arab League Conferences, particularly the Appalachia Regional Model Arab League (ARMAL) conference held annually at Hollins. ARMAL brings together college and high school students to learn firsthand what it is like to put themselves in the shoes of real-life Arab diplomats and other foreign affairs practitioners. Students act as representatives from Arabic-speaking countries ranging from Morocco to Iraq.

During each of the past two years, Strauss has served as the conference’s secretary-general, meaning responsibility for the event’s success has sat squarely on her shoulders. When she took on the project for the first time last year, she said she “had had some previous general experience with organizing, but I didn’t have any knowledge of what had come before with planning this particular conference. I went in pretty much completely blind last year.” Nevertheless, Professor of Political Science Ed Lynch was impressed with her dedication and enthusiasm and asked her to serve as secretary-general again when ARMAL returned to Hollins this November. He said his trust was well placed.

“Hanna performed well above and beyond the call of duty in preparing for the conference,” he stated. “In advance, she held weekly meetings to go over the rules and procedures, arranged practice debates, and created her own web page of directions, information, and best practices for council chairs.”

Strauss also established a paperless format, instituting a system that enabled conference chairs to submit resolutions to her through Google Docs and other platforms. She recruited help with running documents and checking on participants, “which made our conference just a little bit more prestigious,” and worked closely with Hollins food service provider Meriwether Godsey to provide meals and snacks, noting that “they made everything run really smoothly.”

“I took on a lot more this year, but I went in very confident,” she reflected.

Lynch believes a major factor in the achievement of this year’s ARMAL conference was Strauss’s work last spring in reactivating the Model UN/Model Arab League Club at Hollins, an organization that had been dormant on campus for roughly ten years.

“This revival, while done with my support and good wishes, was wholly a student-led initiative, from writing the club’s constitution to successfully petitioning the Student Government Association Senate,” Lynch said.

“I had thought about bringing the club back since my first semester at Hollins, and my fellowship to Qatar was the catalyst,” said Strauss. “We have a Model UN class here at Hollins, but I really wanted to supplement that.” The Model UN/Model Arab League Club now boasts more than 30 members and provided crucial support to the ARMAL conference, such as workers to assist Strauss with operations and funding for refreshments.

This year’s ARMAL welcomed 92 students from five colleges, two high schools, and one middle school, including 12 Hollins students. Delegates discussed a wide range of issues concerning the Middle East and North Africa, including changes in U.S. policy, efforts to alleviate poverty and isolation, and dealing with regional civil wars. Three Hollins students won awards: Samantha Makseyn ’19 was named Outstanding Delegate to the Political Affairs Council; Reilly Swennes ’20 was recognized as Outstanding Delegate to the Joint Defense Council; and Katie Grandelli ’20 was awarded Distinguished Chair for her work leading the Council on Palestinian Affairs.

Strauss, who is president of Hollins’ junior class, is pleased at the cohesiveness that is resulting from the Model UN/Model Arab League Club’s resurrection. “I wanted to make it like a family, more Hollins-y. I hope this will perpetuate after I graduate.” Down the road, she is “thinking about law school,” but for now she is relishing the many opportunities she’s enjoyed and continues to anticipate as a Hollins student.

“Just like being at Hollins has made me a better person, experiences such as traveling to the Middle East have rounded me out. They add something significant to you and your personality.”