Hollins Research Preps Junior for Jamestown Field School Excavation

With a lifelong interest in archaeology and a love of the Indiana Jones movies as her springboard, a history and classical studies double major has realized what she calls “a total dream”: working at the premier excavation site in America.

Meaghan Harrington ’19 spent six weeks performing hands-on fieldwork during the annual Archaeological Field School in Jamestown, Virginia, site of the first permanent English settlement in North America.  A partnership of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation and the University of Virginia, the field school immerses its students in “the methods and theories of American historical archaeology,” according to the school’s website. “Students will be helping to expand our understanding of the site of James Fort (1607-1624) as well as the events of 1619, which include the first representative assembly meeting and the arrival of the first Africans.”

“It was something I always wanted to do.  Ever since a fifth grade field trip I’ve been obsessed with Jamestown,” Harrington explains. “But I didn’t know if it was something I could do.”

Through extensive online research, Harrington discovered that UVa offered the chance to conduct archaeological research in Jamestown. “I decided to apply to their field school as a result of the confidence I’d gained at Hollins and the encouragement of my professors, who said it was something that would benefit me in the long run.” She went through a rigorous and selective application process to become one of only 13 students accepted for the 2017 summer session. She worked primarily outside the James Fort at a site where archaeologists have speculated colonists may have established a tent city due to a lack of space inside the fort.

“We dug. We did a lot of digging,” Harrington recalls. “We would go from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day except for one day devoted to lab work. And it was hot – I’m immune to the heat now!”

She says she and her fellow student archaeologists didn’t find evidence of the tent city, but did gather thousands of artifacts. “Everyone says that every shovel full of dirt will give you an artifact. That’s an understatement. It’s at least ten artifacts. I was so surprised, but that’s what’s remarkable about Jamestown. True excavations didn’t really start there until the late 1990s.”

Harrington was the second-youngest person in her work group. “It should have been an intimidating environment because all the other field students were in graduate school. But because of Hollins, where you’re encouraged to dive head-first into things and we do so much research already, I was prepared.

“As the culmination of our field school experience, we had to complete a research project and present it to the entire Jamestown staff – all the archaeologists, curators, museum staff, everyone. If I hadn’t learned research and had that experience as a history major at Hollins, I would have been lost.”

Harrington says her time in Jamestown was life-changing in several ways. “I don’t think I understood teamwork until I went there, and even though I’m not completely certain I want to be an archaeologist, Jamestown has given me so much more direction.”

Next spring, Harrington will be studying abroad in Ludwigsburg, Germany, and spending February and March interning at the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan. “I’m not sure yet what exactly I will be doing with that internship,” she says, “but I really like working hands-on with the material culture.”


Photo caption: Meaghan Harrington ’19 examines artifacts unearthed at the Jamestown excavation site near James Fort.


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Chem Major’s Cancer Research Is a Different Kind of “SURFing”


One of the ways in which the liberal arts demonstrates its power is when faculty from one academic major actively support and encourage a student from a completely different major, even when those programs seemingly have nothing in common.

Chemistry major Veronica Able-Thomas ’19 learned first-hand last winter the strong connection across disciplines found at liberal arts schools such as Hollins.

“Ever since I can remember I’ve always loved chemistry, but at Hollins I also took French classes throughout my first year and during the first semester of my sophomore year. I actually got to spend the January 2017 Short Term in France,” Able-Thomas recalls. “While I was there [Professor of French] Annette Sampon-Nicolas contacted me about a summer research opportunity that would complement my pre-med track and biochemistry concentration at Hollins.”

Sampon-Nicolas urged Able-Thomas to pursue a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTCRI) in Roanoke, where undergraduate students spend ten weeks in a rigorous experiential learning program.

“We’re bringing students from Virginia Tech and several other universities into an environment of trans-disciplinary collaboration and working relationships,” VTCRI Associate Professor Michael Fox said in a recent Virginia Tech news article. “We’re providing the students with hands-on, independent research at VTCRI in the laboratory as well as special seminars that highlight cutting-edge neuroscience research at Virginia Tech.”

Able-Thomas was one of only 20 students accepted out of more than 80 applicants into the SURF program. She spent the summer working with Assistant Professor James Smyth and Research Assistant Professor Samy Lamouille in the Molecular Visualization SURF program investigating brain cancer.

“I focused on glioblastoma, an extremely lethal brain tumor that accounts for the highest number of all malignant tumors,” she explains. “Glioblastoma encompasses a group of cells known as glioma stem cells, which have shown to be resistant to temozolomide, a drug taken during chemotherapy.

“Previous research identified a new molecule that can prevent migration of glioma stem cells. My project was to analyze its effect on microtubule dynamics in these cancer stem cells. This involved the use of various laboratory techniques, imaging technologies, and computing software to visualize and analyze cells.”

Able-Thomas describes the lab atmosphere at VTCRI as “very collaborative, any time I had questions I could always ask,” and credits her academic experience at Hollins for successfully preparing her to thrive in such an intensive program. “The classroom is very open at Hollins, everyone has their own voice and everyone can speak out. Discussions are always happening. I wasn’t intimidated at all when I went to VTCRI.”

Following its completion, Able-Thomas presented her research project at the Virginia Tech Undergraduate Research Symposia. She says her work as a SURF student has convinced her to consider specializing in oncology, and during the January 2018 Short Term she plans to complete an internship shadowing physicians in Gambia, where she grew up. Next summer, she hopes to return again to VTCRI.

“It was so wonderful the way a professor who isn’t even in the sciences at Hollins reached out to me with this opportunity,” she says. “It’s a great example of how professors interact here. I’m extremely grateful.”


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Islamic Art Loan Immerses Students in Object-Based Learning

Professor of Art Kathleen Nolan’s Islamic Art class is engaging in hands-on research with rare artifacts from the Near East, thanks to a loan of decorative objects from a West Virginia museum to Hollins University’s Eleanor D. Wilson Museum.

The Wilson Museum borrowed objects from the Huntington Museum of Art’s extensive collection of Near Eastern art, including rugs, pouring vessels, a traveling scribe set, a dish, a manuscript page firman, and bath sandals that date as far back as the 11th and 12th centuries and originated in Iran, Syria, and Turkey.

Islamic Art Class 1

“I am a big advocate of object-based learning and wanted Hollins students to have the opportunity to work with objects from the Near East. But, we didn’t have any in our permanent collection,” explains Jenine Culligan, curator and director of the Wilson Museum. Prior to coming to Hollins, Culligan was chief curator for 15 years at the Huntington Museum of Art and in 2010 was instrumental in working with Joseph and Omayma Touma on cataloging 400 Near Eastern objects they had donated to the museum. Culligan made arrangements to borrow eight of the objects through mid-December.

“When I found out that Professor Nolan was teaching an Islamic Art class,” she continues, “I broached the idea of allowing the students in the class to do research on these objects.”

NoIslamic Art Class 2lan praises Culligan for her efforts to make the objects available to her class. “The students and I are thrilled to have these. There was great excitement in the vault of the Wilson Museum when we got to experience these objects first-hand.”

Soon after coordinating the research initiative with Nolan, Culligan was approached by Professor of Political Science Ed Lynch about displaying the objects as part of the Appalachia Model Arab League Conference that Hollins is hosting November 10 -12. They will be on view during the conference in the Richard Wetherill Visual Arts Center along with additional Near Eastern objects on loan from the Roanoke community.

“These collaborations between the Wilson Museum and the art history department and the museum and the political science department seemed meant to be,” Culligan says.


Photos: Led by Wilson Museum Curator and Director Jenine Culligan, students from Professor Kathleen Nolan’s Islamic Art class investigate some of the Near Eastern objects on loan to the museum.

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NIH Summer Research Teaches Sunny Greene ’19 Failure’s Value


“These are the days of miracle and wonder,” Paul Simon’s 1986 song, “The Boy in the Bubble,” proclaims, and more than 30 years later, those words continue to resonate. Constant breakthroughs in medical research and treatment, for example, offer many the confidence that healthcare professionals can recognize and effectively address the vast majority of maladies and disorders.

Yet, despite the rapid pace of medical progress, there remain a remarkable number of people who suffer from illnesses that cannot be identified or remedied. As a result, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, created the Undiagnosed Diseases Program (UDP) in 2008. Today, the UDP welcomes more than 100 new pediatric and adult patients each year from across the nation and around the world whose afflictions are a mystery to the medical community.

“Ultimately, the UDP offers patients the hope of a diagnosis and the possibility of therapeutic strategies,” the program’s website states. “In return, patients provide UDP researchers the opportunity to gain new insights about genetic and biochemical mechanisms of disease and insights into normal cell biology, biochemistry and physiology.”

This summer, Hollins biology major Sunny Greene ’19 was part of a UDP research team. She competed with over 10,000 national and international applicants to earn one of only 1,300 12-week student positions within the NIH Intramural Research Program, the world’s largest biomedical research institution.

“I worked on a rare genetic disorder called Chediak-Higashi Disease (CHD), of which there are roughly only 300 cases known worldwide,” Greene explains. “The classical CHD case affects children and is characterized by partial albinism, easy bruising, and prolonged bleeding and clotting issues, which can be dangerous. Children with CHD also have immune deficiencies that make them prone to recurrent infections, and while a bone marrow transplant can help boost the immune system, the procedure is effective only temporarily. The disease can accelerate and be fatal.

“The atypical CHD case occurs in early adulthood. Adults with CHD don’t face the rate of infection that children do, but they are more likely to experience neurological symptoms similar to Parkinson’s. We don’t know why that is.”

To learn more, the scientists with whom Greene studied CHD are focusing on the LYST gene. “We don’t know what this gene does, that’s what we’re trying to figure out, but we know when this gene mutates it causes CHD. To truly solve this disease and do more than treat its symptoms, you have to understand the pathogenesis of the disease, and to that end we’re comparing the mutations of the LYST gene for classical and atypical patients.”

Greene calls the UDP lab atmosphere “open, welcoming, and wonderful. You have a supervisor and of course they are going to tell you what to do, but communication is a two-way street. You’re encouraged to brainstorm and collaborate and help one another. It’s an incredible community for learning.”

Sunny Greene '10
Biology major Sunny Greene ’19 investigated a rare genetic disorder at the National Institutes of Health.

Because of her time at NIH, Greene says she is convinced she can pursue both her passions in the medical field. “I enjoy the clinical side and I love the research side and I kind of want to marry the two together,” she explains. “Both are important to me because I want to see who I’m helping.”

After graduating from Hollins, Greene is looking at enrolling in a combined M.D./Ph.D. program where she is able to work on her doctorate while attending medical school. Such programs are very selective – Greene cites one in particular that admits just 13 students from over 800 applicants – but she says NIH has given her valuable credentials and crucial preparation.

“What M.D./Ph.D. programs look for is research experience and how you handle the failure that comes with that experience. I’ve never been at a place like NIH that is so successful and yet talks so much about failure, the certainty of it as a researcher, and how you react to it. Are you going to get frustrated and throw in the towel, or are you going to be resilient, persistent, and keep going? The schools I’m considering all want to see how you fail because that is guaranteed, and NIH sees failure as a launching pad to success.”

Greene plans to take two years after she graduates to conduct research “and have this opportunity to fail and succeed.” In the meantime, she plans to build upon the foundation of research she’s established as a Hollins undergraduate. “The biology department faculty is amazing and they have been so supportive of me in growing my curiosity, not just in the biomedical field but also in ecology, zoology, and marine biology. For example, I have gone with [Professors Renee Godard and Morgan Wilson] to St. John in the Virgin Islands during J-term to research marine biodiversity. I’ve definitely become invested in it.”

Greene will spend Spring Term 2018 studying abroad in Ireland at the University of Limerick.

“The Dana Science Building, and all of Hollins, is its own community that is supportive and provides a framework for the future.”


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Through Hollins-VT Affiliation, Shannen Kelly ’19 Thrives as Scientist

Launching your summer research project by digging ten-inch-deep ditches for eight hours in a hot, humid, poison ivy-infested forest doesn’t sound like anyone’s idea of a good time. But for Shannen Kelly ’19, it meant that one of her most anticipated and ultimately gratifying experiences of her academic career was under way.

“Not necessarily fun, but at the end I walked away thinking it was a great day,” Kelly recalls. “It was a terrific team building activity and your spirits stay high when you are working with people who are interested and invested in what you are doing, and are dedicated to helping you achieve what you’re trying to find.”

Kelly, a double major in environmental science and Spanish, is one of two Hollins students who this summer helped pioneer a new partnership between the university and the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech. The affiliation offers undergraduate students from Hollins the opportunity to gain summer research experience at Virginia Tech in both the lab and in the field as part of the Fralin Life Science Institute’s ten-week Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program.

In collaboration with Ph.D. candidate Becky Fletcher, Kelly measured the growth rate, based on differential weather conditions, of an invasive weed called Johnson grass.  It’s found throughout the United States and has had considerable destructive impact on agriculture.

In another experiment, Kelly explains, “I did my own lab-based study of five populations of Johnson grass from five different states  – Georgia, New Mexico, New York, Texas, and Virginia – and exposed them to different light intensities or different carbon dioxide concentrations to see how the populations and their progressions differ based on latitude and climate or origin.”

Kelly notes that the research will continue over time. “This was sort of a preliminary ‘what if’ project. The long-term goal would be to create genetic profiles of each population so that we can trace the differences in photosynthetic capacity, dark respiration rates, or even carbon assimilation rates.”

Shannen Kelly '19
Hollins junior Shannen Kelly (right) and Ph.D. student Becky Fletcher conduct field research at Blacksburg’s Kentland Farm.

The junior from Tolland, Connecticut, spent much of her time at Virginia Tech’s Kentland Farm in Blacksburg and discovered “that I love field work. It was a really unique experience learning science hands-on. When we were out in the field we really had to be creative because if a problem arose you quickly had to adapt to solving it. There was a lot of perseverance involved; Becky and I would sometimes spend three or four days trying to flesh out a problem. You can’t give up – you have to push through it.

“I also liked the team aspect of research. I worked in a lab with three or four other people at any given time and a great community that was built there. If someone had a question about their research they would just swivel their chair around and ask everyone else in the lab. It promoted a lot of scientific conversation.”

One of the biggest challenges Kelly took on was teaching herself to operate a complex piece of scientific equipment. “No one in my lab really knew how to use it, and only one professor on the entire campus ever worked with it on a regular basis,” Kelly recalls. “Becky however had some experience with its operation and was able to help me in the early stages of learning, which was vital. Still, it was something you just had to work with yourself to grasp how it functioned.”  Kelly says she relied on manuals to help her troubleshoot how to construct light response and carbon response curves, familiarize herself with the “hows” behind the machine’s technical aspects, and ensure the equipment’s consistency since she and her team encountered a lot of machine-based control errors.

Her time at Virginia Tech, Kelly believes, “definitely opened my eyes to the types of opportunities I have and specifically made me very interested in research. It’s pinpointed where my interests lie right now – I’m interested in plant physiology and the ecological impact of invasive species. Most importantly, it made me interested in going to grad school once I graduate from Hollins.”

Kelly also sees what she’s gained at Hollins as blending perfectly with the teaching environment at Virginia Tech. “I feel like Hollins gives you the empowerment and Tech gives you the resources and technical competencies. I said all summer, I’m so glad I got to have both experiences because now I have my toes in both waters. Hollins is very beneficial to the individual education of a student – I can learn a lot in class. And then Tech was an incredible experience because I got to see what a research institute does. I’ve grown so much not only as a student but also as a researcher and scientist.

“I heard Tech was pleased with [Elaine Metz ’19, the other Hollins student involved in summer research at the Global Change Center] and me because most of the students who go into this program are from technical universities. We were among the few students from liberal arts backgrounds to take part. I think they were pleasantly surprised at how well-rounded we were, and that was because of Hollins.”

Kelly is now looking forward to spending Spring Term 2018 at Spain’s University of Granada, where she hopes to continue growing her skills in both her majors. “Granada is very diverse in terms of ecology and landscape and one of the leading areas of the world for environmental research.”


Photo Credit: Cassandra Hockman, Global Change Center at Virginia Tech

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Elaine Metz ’19 Gains Career Focus Via VT Partnership

“Tree of heaven” conjures images of a magnificent plant species reaching toward the sky as the centerpiece of a thriving, bucolic landscape. But, tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is one of the most deceptive names in all of nature.  In reality, the tree is an invasive ecological nuisance, displacing a wide range of other trees and plants and wreaking havoc among both agricultural and natural environments across the United States.

One of the researchers who studied the tree of heaven in recent months is Elaine Metz ’19, who was among the first Hollins University students to take advantage of a new partnership between Hollins and the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech. The affiliation offers undergraduate students at Hollins summer research experience in Virginia Tech labs and field study locations. As Vice President for Academic Affairs Trish Hammer notes, “Working with Virginia Tech in this way allows for extraordinary research and mentoring opportunities for our students in a broad range of interdisciplinary fields.”

A biology major from Staunton, Virginia, Metz spent ten weeks working in Virginia Tech’s forest entomology lab investigating an organic way to combat the tree of heaven. “A naturally occurring fungus here in Virginia appears to offer an effective way to attack the tree,” she explains. One of the benefits of such a fungus is “it’s not like a pesticide. You can insert it into the ecosystem and let it go wild.”

Metz studied the fungus in six different plots. Three are located in Virginia’s Piedmont region and three are in the more mountainous region of the state.

Elaine Metz '19
Junior biology major Elaine Metz conducted research through Virginia Tech’s Global Change Center from May through July. 

“It’s definitely a long-term project, but hopefully by the end we may be able to use that fungus as a control throughout the entire continental United States.”

Metz worked closely on the project with Virginia Tech graduate student Rachel Brooks, “who taught me a ton about graduate school and how I need to prepare. I liked having a single project that I could focus on and to which I could really devote myself. I think that bodes well for graduate school for me because I’m thinking that’s what it’s going to be like, focusing on a single thing for a couple of years, fleshing it out, and working with it in-depth.”

Metz believes this kind of experience balances “the broader education that you receive as an undergraduate.”

In addition to her work with the tree of heaven, Metz took part in a variety of professional development activities at Virginia Tech, including writing personal statements, presenting research, and touring other labs and research facilities.

“This has helped me think of my career in a more tangible way. It has always been in my mind that I wanted to do scientific research, and this made me realize this is something I could do as a job and enjoy it.” Metz says one the most important lessons she learned was that she could avail herself of several different options to achieve her goals. For example, “if I don’t want to go straight from Hollins into graduate school, I could potentially go out for six months to a year and study with different professors. I’d get to travel, too – a lot of lab work spaces are in interesting places in the biological sciences. I could understand more about what I might want to do with my career before I go to grad school, which is really a great opportunity for me. I’m not exactly sure what I want to do, but because of this experience I know where I might be able to go. I have more of an idea and a purpose than I would have had if I had not participated in this program.”

Her ten weeks at Virginia Tech complement what Metz has gained from her first two years at Hollins. “Because of its liberal arts environment, Hollins allows me to explore in a lot of different ways, and that exploration doesn’t hinder my ability to get a degree. I’m a biology major, but I’m taking Roman history and Spanish translation – not at all in my field, but I’m taking those courses because I can. Having a diversity of opportunity at Hollins has really made it special for me, so it’s a really good thing to get that aspect here and at Tech get specificity and the ability to go in deep.”

This academic year, Metz’s educational journeys will take her beyond the Hollins campus, Virginia Tech’s labs and field plots, and even Virginia itself: Through the School for Field Studies, she will be spending Spring Term 2018 in Peru. “I’ll be spending a lot of time in the jungle and cloud forests and experiencing a lot of different and unique ecosystems.”


Photo Credit: Cassandra Hockman, Global Change Center at Virginia Tech

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In Chronicle Essay, Hollins Dean Asserts Teacher-Scholars’ Crucial Role

In his commentary published August 7 in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “How Teacher-Scholars Prepare Students for an Evolving World,” Associate Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Academic Services Michael Gettings argues, “As faculty, our research informs our teaching and benefits our students. One is not a teacher and a scholar, one is a teacher-scholar. Through scholarship, teachers model good learning and offer special opportunities for students. The benefits of this model for both teacher and student are maximized in the liberal-arts setting where students can build strong relationships with faculty.”

Gettings goes on to state that teacher-scholars help students develop the skills identified by developmental psychologists Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek as essential for the workplace of the future (“the six C’s”): collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creativity, and confidence.

Hollins, Va. Tech Partner to Grow Student Research Opportunities

Hollins University and the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech have signed a memorandum of understanding to offer undergraduate students at Hollins summer research experience in Virginia Tech labs.

Hollins students will participate in a research project as part of the Fralin Life Science Institute’s ten-week Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program. Qualified students receive housing and a stipend from Hollins, and Virginia Tech is providing research resources and infrastructure, including lab space, equipment, and supplies.

“Working with Virginia Tech in this way allows for extraordinary research and mentoring opportunities for our students in a broad range of interdisciplinary fields,” said Trish Hammer, vice president for academic affairs at Hollins

William Hopkins, a professor of fish and wildlife conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment and director of the Global Change Center, stressed the uniqueness of the partnership. “It has the dual goals of providing undergraduate research opportunities while simultaneously recruiting these same undergraduates to Virginia Tech for graduate school. One of the most important factors leading to a student’s success in graduate school is an effective mentor-mentee relationship. This partnership allows both the mentee and mentor to assess whether they are a good match before fully committing to a longer-term professional endeavor.”

Among the key components of the partnership, Hollins and Virginia Tech are:

  • Collaborating on recognizing possible pairings between Virginia Tech mentors and Hollins undergraduates according to the students’ research interests.
  • Overseeing these associations and research initiatives.
  • Offering graduate school recruitment support as promising relationships are identified.

“We expect the partnership will grow in the coming years and certainly strengthen both the undergraduate programs at Hollins and the graduate programs at Virginia Tech,” said Hammer.

Shannen Kelly ’19, who is a double major in environmental science and Spanish, and biology major Elaine Metz ’19 are the first two Hollins students taking part in the program this summer. Read about their research experiences here.


Photo:  From left – Keri Swaby, coordinator, Virginia Tech Office of Undergraduate Research; Janet Webster, associate director, Fralin Life Science Institute; Nancy Gray, recently retired president, Hollins University; William Hopkins, professor and director, Global Change Center at Virginia Tech; Trish Hammer, vice president for academic affairs, Hollins University; and John McDowell, professor and associate scientific director, Fralin Life Science Institute.


Growing Hollins’ Interfaith Community Leads Grad to Harvard Divinity School

Since her arrival at Hollins four years ago, Nora Williams ’17 has taken an array of life-changing journeys that have included internships at Elon University and the Rescue Mission of Roanoke and a semester studying abroad in Argentina.

But Williams’ spiritual quest as a Hollins student is perhaps her most enduring voyage, one that this fall will take her to Harvard Divinity School and its master of divinity program.

A double-major in religious studies and Spanish from Denver, Colorado, Williams helped teach an adult art class at the Rescue Mission, a Christian crisis intervention center for men, women, and children, during the January Short Term of her first year. She says the experience “led me to explore ways to be more inclusive when ministering to the needs of others.”

Her interest in interfaith issues was further piqued during the summer of her sophomore year. She spent a month working at Elon University’s Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life under the tutelage of the Rev. Dr. Jan Fuller, Elon’s university chaplain and former chaplain at Hollins. Williams says she “learned a lot about interfaith, connecting with different resources, working with different communities, and incorporating different religious voices.”

Williams produced two projects at Elon. First, “I created this document of religious monologues. I interviewed at lot of Elon students over the summer and had them talk about their religious experiences, how they have developed in their spirituality, their interactions with other people at the school, and how those interactions affect how they practice their faith.”

Williams brought the concept behind her second project back to Hollins that fall. “I researched and found 54 religious holidays from around the world and created short blurbs about each one, which I printed out and either placed them on tables or hung them up in various public spaces.” She noticed that many religious traditions occurred during the months of November and December, and that inspired her once she returned to Hollins to work with University Chaplain Jenny Call to present the first-ever Winter Light Gathering on campus.

The event was nondenominational and Williams invited people of different faiths “to share their favorite traditions during that time of year. From Hanukkah to Winter Solstice, they all center around this theme of light.”

Call believes Williams is herself “a brilliant light on our campus, although she never seeks the spotlight and instead shies away from attention.  She has a generous heart and spirit, and a deep passion for social justice that motivates her work and care for others.  She delights me with her thoughtfulness and sense of humor and inspires hope about what she and her generation will accomplish.”

Adds Professor of Spanish Alison Ridley, “She is a lovely and kind human being who deserves to be recognized for all the good she does in such a quiet and unassuming way.”

At Hollins’ 175th Commencement Exercises on May 21, Williams was presented with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Student Award. Given by the New York Southern Society in memory of the founder, this award recognizes the senior who has shown by daily living those qualities that display love and helpfulness to other men and women.

Williams will complete her master of divinity in three years. The program includes a semester or a year of field work in the ministry – real-world experience for which Williams feels she has already set the foundation at Hollins. She worked with new students from underrepresented groups as an Early Transition Program mentor, and served with the Diversity Monologue Troupe, a team of student leaders that promotes understanding of the university’s diversity while helping to broaden perspectives on the various stereotypes common in society.

“I feel like that’s also a form of ministry,” Williams explains. “I’m figuring out what the idea of ministry means to me.”

Gender & Women’s Studies Major Heads to Brandeis for Graduate Study

A Hollins senior will pursue a Master’s degree this fall at one of the country’s 35 best national universities.

Monica Doebel ’17 is entering the graduate program in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGS) at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Brandeis is ranked number 34 among national universities by U.S. News and World Report.

A double-major in gender and women’s studies (GWS) and English who is graduating from Hollins in three years, Doebel chose Brandeis over the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at the University of Cincinnati, where she had also been accepted.

“It was a tough call between Brandeis and Cincinnati,” she explained. But Brandeis’ strength of faculty, and the opportunity to take classes at other outstanding New England colleges and universities as part of a graduate consortium that includes Boston College, Boston University, Harvard University, Northeastern University, Simmons College, and Tufts University, were deciding factors, as was the constant communication from Brandeis WGS students. “They told me how Brandeis effectively primes people for entering into professional careers or continuing on to get a Ph.D.”

Feedback from current students also played a significant role in helping Doebel choose Hollins for her undergraduate education. She was originally attracted to Hollins because of the creative writing program, “but it was after taking a gender and women’s studies class my first semester that I really considered GWS, a subject I was definitely interested in before coming here, as something I wanted to pursue beyond just taking a couple of elective courses,” she recalled.

One of the strengths of GWS at Hollins, Doebel said, is how it combines academics and self-refection. “The department has given me not just a theoretical backing in the subject, but it has also encouraged personal exploration,” an approach that she said effectively incorporates her interest in creative writing.

Doebel credited Professors Susan Thomas (her advisor) and LeeRay Costa for “influencing the path my academic career has taken. I didn’t envision going to graduate school when I first came to Hollins, but they’ve empowered me and made me feel it’s something I could be successful doing. I feel like I’ve grown a lot and the department has given me a lot, and I’m thankful to both of them.”

While she completes her M.A. at Brandeis, Doebel said her future plans include the possibility of getting a Ph.D., but will remain a work in progress. “Past Hollins GWS graduates have gone on to professional tracks, corporate tracks, or continued on in graduate education. I really feel like my options are open, which is nice.”