First-Year Seminar Instructors

Becky BeachRebecca Beach, Associate Professor, Biology

Rebecca Beach grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she spent much of her time exploring the mysteries of the desert and its magnificent array of critters. She attended the University of Arizona as an undergraduate, where she received her B.S. in ecology and evolutionary biology. Following graduation, she worked for a short time in a microbiology research laboratory and became intrigued with genetics and the world of cells. She earned her M.S. in genetics and cell biology from the University of Connecticut and her Ph.D. in molecular and developmental biology from the University of Texas at Austin. Her current research interests include investigating the effects of environmental toxins on development and reproduction in fish and amphibians and examining sources of microbial contamination in food and drink. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, cooking, hiking, and spending quality time with her two Australian shepherds.


Annie BerkeAnnie Berke, Assistant Professor, Film

Annie Berke teaches film and television studies at Hollins, having earned her Ph.D. in American studies and film and media from Yale University and her M.A. in film studies at Columbia University. She is currently working on a book project about women television writers in 1950s America and, in her work, is broadly interested in questions of gender, media, and “the industry” (code for Hollywood). Her hobbies and interests include being good at taking long walks, being terrible at practicing yoga, learning about Henry VIII’s wives and the Tudor dynasty, eating food she didn’t cook, cooking food for other people, listening to show tunes, and being an extreme comedy nerd. Her time at Hollins has involved a fair amount of acting, roles including that of Cinemamo in the 2016 Tinker Day sketch and as Dr. Rosenkrantz in a Hollins web series to be named later…


Jon BohlandJon Bohland, Associate Professor and Director, International Studies

Jon Bohland has been teaching at Hollins since 2002 and is the rare Hollins faculty member that is actually from Southwest Virginia (Blacksburg). He is a political and cultural geographer with interests in critical and popular forms of geopolitics. Jon has published scholarly work focused on diverse topics such as understanding international relations theory through science fiction (chapter in a book on Battlestar Galactica and International Relations), neo-Confederate nationalism and popular music, and the rise of transnational identities within international football. He is the program director for the International Studies major and teaches a number of courses focused on topics such as globalization, social theory, critical geopolitics, cultural studies, and international travel. He watches too much television, listens to lots of 90’s indie rock, likes local craft beers, and is a huge Hokie and global soccer fan.


Bonnie BowersBonnie Bowers, Professor, Psychology

Bonnie Bowers’ Ph.D. program was interdisciplinary between the psychology and biology departments, and while at Hollins, she has collaborated in teaching and research with members of the psychology, biology, and physics departments. She is able to cross discipline boundaries to the enrichment of both her teaching and research. She enjoys introducing students to the excitement, joys, and frustrations of conducting original research projects and of performing statistical analyses of data. Current research projects include learning processes in snakes (e.g., can snakes recognize individual humans?) and using non-pharmacological treatments for alleviating symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder in humans. She has published research in a variety of professional journals, including Journal of Comparative Psychology, Developmental Psychobiology, Behaviour, Journal of Avian Biology, and Psychiatry Research. She received her B.A.in Academic Psychology and Ph.D. in life sciences – specialization in ethology at the University of Tennessee.


Peter CooganPeter Coogan, Associate Professor, History

Peter Coogan escaped from the snows of New York to get his B.A. at Duke University and his M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has taught at Hollins University since 1988, where his specialties include explaining why nations periodically try to slaughter each other and why modern America does the things it does. He is currently completing a book on Franklin Roosevelt’s worldview. Professor Coogan became a historian because he was too small and untalented to become the starting free safety for the New York Giants. In his “free time,” he watches football and dreams of what might have been, he listens to Howlin’ Wolf, Social Distortion, and Gaslight Anthem, and he reads just about everything that falls in front of him.


LeeRay CostaLeeRay Costa, Professor, Anthropology and Gender and Women’s Studies

LeeRay Costa is proud to be the first person in her family to attend college and complete her B.A. at the University of California, San Diego. She is passionate about mentoring students and is deeply grateful to her undergraduate advisor, sociologist Bennetta Jules-Rosette, for encouraging her to earn her Ph.D., which she did in 2001 at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa. Trained as a feminist cultural anthropologist, Costa’s research focuses on social change and social justice. She has published on women’s activism, nongovernmental organizations, and transgender youth in Thailand, where she lived for three-and-a-half years. She has also conducted research on the local food movement in Hawai’i, her family home. She chairs the gender and women’s studies program and teaches courses on gender and sexuality, women and social movements, food, culture and social justice, spiritual activism, and girlhood studies. Inspired by her daughter, in 2012, Costa founded the nonprofit organization Girls Rock Roanoke that provides a space for the empowerment of girls and women through music, creative expression, and collaboration. When she isn’t thinking about how to dismantle the “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” (#bellhooks), she is likely earning badges on her beer app, savoring her latest chocolate find, or traveling in pursuit of good food. On her most recent adventure, she walked 400 miles across Portugal and Spain.


Michelle DeGroot

Michelle De Groot, Assistant Professor, English

Michelle De Groot is pleased to be entering her second year teaching in the English department at Hollins. She holds a B.A. from the University of Virginia and completed her Ph.D. in medieval English literature at Harvard University. Her research interests include the Middle Ages as well as modern science fiction and fantasy. She finds that her professional interest in sci-fi and fantasy has well equipped her for pop-culture conversations with her nieces and nephew. Even her dog, a snaggletoothed pug/lab/beagle/pit/pointer/boxer/snugglebug, has an interest in this genre from watching television, though she doesn’t seem very knowledgeable about the Middle Ages. De Groot’s other interests include homemade kefir, making people listen to panegyrics on her favorite ice dancers, knitting, and playing the piano.


Angel Diaz MirandaÁngel Díaz Miranda, Assistant Professor, Spanish

Ángel Díaz Miranda is an assistant professor of Spanish and Latin American literature and culture at Hollins. He received his doctoral degree from Emory University. In 2014, he was awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellowship. Díaz Miranda has published journal articles on Mexican poet Octavio Paz, surrealism and trauma; Leopoldo Panero’s phantasmatic overtaking of his son Leopoldo María Panero’s poetic voice, sacrificial violence, and contemporary Colombian novels and on Mexican film director Alfonso Cuarón, Korean-American photographer Miru Kim, and the aesthetics of apocalypse. He is currently finishing articles on David Huerta’s poetics and on the scopic (micro-, tele-) views in the works of Chilean authors Álvaro Bisama and Diego Zúñiga. His latest book project examines Roberto Bolaño’s poetics and the aftermath of revolutionary drives by minoritarian subjects on both sides of the Mexican border. He has presented his work in national and international conferences, more recently in Chile. He is also a poet.


Brian Gentry

Brian Gentry, Visiting Assistant Professor, Chair, Physics

Brian Gentry has been teaching physics and environmental science at Hollins since 2013. His path to Hollins, however, has been decidedly nonlinear. After dropping out of college on the first try, his legal activities included studying and teaching kung fu, working as a cook and a carpenter, taking up political activism, fronting several un-noteworthy bands, and travelling in the U.S. and Europe. Eventually, he returned to college and began his graduate training in physics at the Center for Nonlinear Dynamics at UT Austin before being lured to the Institute for Soft Matter Physics at the University of Leipzig, Germany, by the prospects of becoming an ex-pat and a near-infinite supply of German and Czech beer. He completed his Ph.D. in 2009 and subsequent postdoctoral research at the Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics (AMOLF) in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, in 2012. For some reason he returned to his native Virginia, where he currently annoys both his two children and students at Hollins by always answering their questions with more questions and constantly talking about systems science. As a biophysicist, his research interests are in the self-organization of living matter.


Pablo HernandezPablo Hernandez, Associate Professor, Economics

Pablo Hernandez completed his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Notre Dame. He is a bilingual scholar who came to Hollins University in the fall of 2007. He has taught introductory and upper-level courses in economics. Professor Hernandez’s research interests lie in development, environmental and natural resource economics and ecological economics with several publications and presentations in these areas. Two of his most recent publications appeared in the International Journal of Women, Social Justice and Human Rights and EconoQuantum. He has served as referee for the journals Ecological Economics, EconoQuantum, Latin American Research Review, Revista de Estudios Fronterizos, and the Virginia Social Science Journal. His current research interests center on alternative regimes governing common property resource management in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, and the impacts remittances bear upon the expenditure composition of households in Mexico. Professor Hernandez is an avid listener of keyboard music, particularly, classical. He enjoys traveling with his family, camping, hiking, and working in his garden.


Nick Miller

Nick Miller, Visiting Assistant Professor, English

Nick is a proud first-generation college student who infamously flirted with 11 different majors while an undergraduate at Michigan State University. He eventually left with a B.A. in English after realizing that he would never be able to stop reading and thinking about literature. After several years in the so-called “real world” as owner of a hospitality management firm, and later as a web developer, Nick returned to school and earned his Ph.D. in English from Washington University in St. Louis, where he completed a dissertation on Gothic fiction and posthumanism. Nick teaches a wide variety of courses at Hollins, with a particular passion for multicultural American literature, gender and sexuality studies, comics studies, and the medical humanities. When he is not laughing at his own jokes in front of students, Miller enjoys gaming, ice cream, attending protests, crying over his favorite television shows, Aveda products, wandering aimlessly through bookstores, and embarrassing his children. He is also hopelessly addicted to purple pens and purple dry-erase markers.


Rachel NunezRachel Nuñez, Associate Professor, History

Rachel Nuñez remembers first falling in love with history over biographies of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Anne Boleyn and still can’t believe she gets paid to talk about history on a daily basis.  After picking up a B.A. at Rice University and a Ph.D. at Stanford, she arrived at Hollins in 2008.  She teaches a variety of courses on women’s history and European history and loves introducing students to the joys of historical research.  When she’s not teaching (or participating in random Hollins traditions), she enjoys travel, cooking, and movies.  Her favorite movie is The Big Lebowski, and she attends LebowskiFests whenever she gets the chance.  She is a native Texan and will always have a soft spot for the Lone Star State.  Still, Virginia is gradually luring her in with its beautiful scenery and actual seasons.


Julie Pfeiffer

Julie Pfeiffer, Professor, English

Julie Pfeiffer is professor of English and a member of the Gender and Women’s Studies Council. She received her B.A. from Carleton College and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut. While writing her dissertation on Charlotte Bronte, she had her first two children and began to learn how to balance the joys and struggles of teaching and scholarship with those of family life. Those early years of writing about theory while reading bedtime stories shaped her career, and she continues to think about the ways literature and the academic life affect how we approach birth, parenting, and health care. She arrived at Hollins – her dream job – in 1997, where she teaches courses on children’s literature, British literature, and women writers. Her research investigates the ways gender structure is exposed and reinforced through literary texts; her current project looks at 19th-century novels for girls in Germany and America. Her interests include cooking, helping families with birth and breastfeeding, and CrossFit.


Chris Richter

Christopher Richter, Associate Professor, Communication Studies

Associate Professor Christopher Richter was born in the Motor City but spent his youth in Pennsylvania and Ohio enjoying a classic American pastime, watching TV! His interest in visual and written narratives led him to study literature at The Ohio State University as an undergraduate. Ultimately, he earned a Ph.D. from OSU as well, in communication studies. His research and teaching reflect his many and varied interests: The history of communication technologies, women travelers in Greece, communication processes in democracies, and the display of national and cultural identity in museums and war memorials. At Hollins, he teaches multi-camera studio TV production, co-teaches January Term abroad courses in the Mediterranean with his wife and fellow Professor, Christina Salowey, and gets theoretical in courses like Contemporary Public Communication and Media Law and Policy. In his spare time, when he is not felling trees, splitting wood, or weeding his vegetable garden, he can be found reading science fiction literature, traveling with Professor Salowey, cooking, or yelling at the TV!


Alison Ridley

Alison Ridley, Professor, Spanish

Alison Ridley grew up in England, Norway, France, and Venezuela, but she completed her university studies in the United States. She received her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in Spanish from Michigan State University where she specialized in the literature of the Golden Age. Her current research interests include 20th-century Spanish drama, Hispanic cultural studies, and translation studies. Since arriving at Hollins in 1991, she has taught language, culture, and literature courses, as well as business Spanish and a Short Term service-learning course on Appalachia. She has led two Short Term trips to Mexico and Costa Rica and is passionate about introducing students to different cultures, languages, and ways of life. When not at work, she enjoys reading, gardening, hiking, working out, eating chocolate, and spending time with her husband, Mark, and her Miniature Schnauzer, Dieter.


Annette Sampon NicolasAnnette Sampon-Nicolas, Professor, French

Annette Sampon-Nicolas, professor of French; Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison. She teaches courses on Francophone cultures, French children’s literature, nature, global food studies, and French gastronomy. Born in the French-speaking region of Belgium, she lived in France, Portugal, Québec, Wisconsin, and California before moving to Virginia.  Her fascination with food and cooking stems from an early age when she would join her mother in the kitchen and help prepare gourmet meals for family and friends. With her father, a master gardener, she learned to cultivate French leeks, Belgian endives, grapes, and a multitude of vegetables. Cooking soon became her avocation. Her cooking experiences expanded when she worked at Château de Beusdael in Belgium as chef for a summer camp. Like Chef Louis, singing and dancing, she happily cooked “les poissons, les poissons”; in this case, small fish caught in the château’s moat by cub scouts! In France, she frequently cooked for friends’ dinner parties, and she helped put herself through graduate school working as the chef of La Maison française at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. She loves making homemade French fries, though admittedly, they are of Belgian origin, just like the best chocolate! Recently, she has been getting interested in molecular gastronomy and new culinary techniques but is devoted to the pure essence of ingredients. She can whip any vegetables up into a delightful soup and when stressed, bakes bread. Like French chefs, she cooks au pif , by instinct regarding proportions. She holds a special place in her heart for fresh baguette slathered in exquisite butter and anything with dark Belgian chocolate. In Virginia, she loves preparing gourmet meals with her family and watching Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, No Reservations and The Taste.


Darla SchummDarla Schumm, John P. Wheeler Professor, Religious Studies

Darla Schumm is professor of religious studies. She has been teaching at Hollins since 2001 and loves the interaction with students that results from small class settings. Her hobbies are knitting, reading fiction, biking, hiking, and playing with her energetic nine-year-old son. Professor Schumm’s guide dog, Chloe, accompanies her to class and loves wandering around campus!


Bob SulkinBob Sulkin, Professor, Art

Bob Sulkin grew up in North Carolina and received a B.A. in history at the University of North Carolina and an M.A. and M.F.A. in art at the University of Iowa. He has exhibited his own photography widely, has received numerous awards, and is the recipient of a Virginia Museum of Fine Art Professional Fellowship (2009) and the Roberta Steward Distinguished Service Award from Hollins University (2017). Since he arrived at Hollins in 1980, Professor Sulkin has taught an array of photography courses, all within the fine art context, and all within the context of enriching the capacity of his students to interpret their world and visually express its possibilities.