Two Major Film Festivals Honor Web Series by Screenwriting M.F.A. Students

A digital video production by students in Hollins University’s Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) program in screenwriting and film studies has been cited by two renowned film festivals.

Bless Your Heart, written by Bri Kaisen, Michael Greenwald, and Ian Deleon, was named Best Web Series in the November 2022 monthly competition sponsored by Top Shorts, a leading online film festival that was selected by Motion Array as one of the best short film festivals for up-and-coming filmmakers. Top Shorts is one of the best-reviewed festivals on the website FilmFreeway, with over 200 five-star reviews.

The production also earned Honorable Mention in the Best Original Story category in the New York International Film Awards’ (NYIFA) monthly film and script competition for November. NYIFA’s goal is to acclaim films and filmmakers from around the world and to serve as the next stage in their careers.

Bless Your Heart is a four-episode comedic web series that Kaisen, Greenwald, and Deleon originally developed for a screenwriting class taught by Chuck Kim, who boasts credits in prime- time television, comic books, and animation, including multiple seasons working on the NBC series Heroes.

“The series’ main character is Annabelle, a snob mayor of a local country town trying to get reelected,” Kaisen explained. “She sees the local hotdog eating competition held by wacky ketchup enthusiast Bill Kleinz as the perfect press event where she can win over more residents and convince Mr. Kleinz to donate much-needed money to her campaign. Unfortunately, Brenda, the local town drunk, stands in her way. But, when Mayor Annabelle tries to convince Brenda to leave, she may or may not accidently kill her. Now, Annabelle has to figure out how to hide the body while winning over her town and the hotdog eating contest.”

Jax Martin, Matthew Humphrey, and Mary McKeon partnered with Kaisen in filming the series during writer and filmmaker Lincoln Reed’s Summer Term 2022 production class (Reed’s short film Drop Dead Gorgeous was named winner of Best Screenplay, Audience Choice, and Best Cinematography at the 2018 Envision Film Festival).

“We had a lot of hardships and troubles but we pushed through and were super-proud of what we created, so I decided to submit it to some film festivals,” Kaisen recalled. In addition to the recognition from Top Shorts and NYIFA, Kaisen and her collaborators just learned that Bless Your Heart has been selected for the Festigious Los Angeles – Monthly Film Competition. “We’ve submitted it to bigger annual festivals taking place next year and have our fingers crossed,” she added.

Kaisen hopes to someday write comedy for television. “I’m currently working on a 30-minute comedy TV pilot episode about a bright-eyed nurse trying to improve a nursing home that is in danger of being shut down. I’m also in the process of rewriting a feature-length dark comedy screenplay entitled Horoscope Hell about a horoscope writer for a dying local paper who dreams of becoming a real journalist. She angrily writes murderous horoscopes that are accidentally published and then become real murders.”

Kaisen believes that “none of this would be possible” without the guidance and support she has received as she pursues her M.F.A. in screenwriting at Hollins. “I’ve completely evolved throughout the program. I’ve gained confidence in my writing and learned so much from the amazing teachers we have. Hollins’ screenwriting program has given me a real chance to succeed in the industry.”

Hollins Authors Featured in Publishers Weekly’s 2022 Children’s Starred Reviews

Three alumnae of Hollins University’s graduate programs in children’s literature and children’s book illustration are among the authors highlighted in Publishers Weekly’s (PW) 10th Children’s Starred Reviews Annual.

Dhonielle Clayton, who holds a Master of Arts degree, and Cassie Gustafson and Ali Standish, who both completed Master of Fine Arts degrees, are all recognized in the issue for books they released this year.

“In these pages, you’ll find nearly 400 reviews of books for children and teens published in 2022 that received a star from PW, indicating that they are titles of exceptional merit,” stated the trade news magazine that has served publishers, librarians, booksellers, and literary agents internationally for 150 years.

In Clayton’s Middle Grade (ages eight – 12) novel debut, The Marvellers (published by Macmillan), 11-year-old Ella Durand faces significant obstacles after becoming the first Conjuror to enroll at the elite Arcanum Training Institute for Marvelous and Uncanny Endeavors. Marvellers are “born with marvels, light inside of them that allowed them to perform magical feats” and deem their powers above those of Conjurors. Nevertheless, Ella is determined to succeed and make her family proud. “Clayton imaginatively combines myriad global cultural traditions with an intersectionally inclusive, fantastical adventure that examines themes of acceptance, prejudice, and familial responsibility,” PW notes.


Gustafson’s The Secrets We Keep (Simon & Schuster), which is cited in the Young Adult (ages 14 and up) category, centers on themes of self-harm, sexual violence, and suicidal ideation in the story of Emma, a high school student who must deal with the consequences after her father is accused of sexually assaulting her best friend. PW states in its review, “Gustafson renders Emma’s present and past in striking detail, throughout featuring Emma’s journal entries….The narrative’s dark climax and Gustafson’s visceral prose don’t shy away from the inherent trauma surrounding sexual assault, making for a vital, heart-wrenching account of one teen’s harrowing experience.”



Yonder (HarperCollins) by Standish is a Middle Grade novel that takes place during World War II in a small Appalachian town. Thirteen-year-old Danny Timmons has a friend and protector in 15-year-old Jake, and when Jake suddenly disappears, Danny is determined to find him, no matter what. PW calls Yonder an “uplifting mystery [that] tackles big themes of abuse, bullying, heroism, mental health, and prejudice. Through an elegant voice…the mystery of Jack’s disappearance unfolds alongside the story of Danny’s friendship with him, the increasing clarity with which Danny sees life as far from perfect, and the small but meaningful steps he takes to discover what bravery means.”

Hollins Recognized for National Excellence in Educator Preparation

Hollins University is among 55 institutions from 28 states and the United Arab Emirates to receive educator preparation program accreditation in Fall 2022 for a period of seven years from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

Recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, CAEP has developed rigorous, nationally recognized standards to ensure excellence in preparing the teachers of tomorrow. It advances educator preparation through evidence-based accreditation that assures quality and supports continuous improvement to strengthen PK-12 learning.

“These institutions meet high standards so that their students receive an education that prepares them to succeed in a diverse range of classrooms after they graduate,” said CAEP President Christopher A. Koch. “Seeking CAEP Accreditation is a significant commitment on the part of an educator preparation provider.”

Accreditation is a nongovernmental activity based on peer review that serves the dual functions of assuring quality and promoting improvement. CAEP is a unified accreditation system intent on raising the performance of all institutions focused on educator preparation. Educator preparation providers seeking accreditation must pass peer review of the CAEP standards, which are based on two principles:

  • The institution’s graduates are competent and caring educators.
  • The institution’s educator staff have the capacity to create a culture of evidence and use it to maintain and enhance the quality of the professional programs they offer.

At Hollins, undergraduates can earn a bachelor’s degree in a chosen discipline and a teaching license in four years. Then, they have the option of staying an extra year and earning a Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) degree along with their teaching license. Students who hold bachelor’s degrees from any accredited institution can complete teaching licensure and their M.A.T. degree at Hollins at the same time or enroll in a licensure-only program. The university also offers a Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning degree, a flexible, online graduate program for licensed PK-12 teachers who want to enhance their skills.

“Our students and instructors should be very proud of their hard work and its validation through CAEP Accreditation,” said Assistant Professor and Chair of Education at Hollins Teri Wagner. “Our students and their families are investing in an education program that is designated as nationally accredited for teacher preparation.”


Elizabeth Brownlee Kolmstetter ’85 Named a 2022 Presidential Rank Award Winner

A Hollins alumna and member of the university’s Board of Trustees has been presented one of the most prestigious awards in the federal career civil service.

Elizabeth Brownlee Kolmstetter ’85 is among 233 winners from 33 federal agencies selected by President Biden to receive the Presidential Rank Award, honoring “hardworking civil servants who exemplify strength, integrity, industry, and a relentless commitment to public service through their exceptional leadership, contributions, and accomplishments,” said Kiran Ahuja, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Kolmstetter was cited in the Meritorious Executive category for her work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). An industrial and organizational psychologist, she has been a member of the Senior Executive Service for over 15 years and has more than 25 years of public service. Kolmstetter has pioneered innovative talent management programs at NASA and other agencies including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and National Skill Standards Board/Department of Labor. In addition, she was selected to serve on special assignment in 2015 to the Executive Office of the President as a senior policy advisor in the Office of Performance and Personnel Management.

After more than six years at NASA in roles including director of the workforce engagement division, Kolmstetter was recently named the first-ever chief people officer at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which leads the national effort to understand, manage, and reduce risk to the nation’s digital and physical infrastructure.

“Her extensive experience in [support of] employee engagement, development, and collaboration make her an ideal executive to lead our important work to build an enduring ‘People First’ culture at CISA,” said CISA Director Jen Easterly.

“I am beyond thrilled to join CISA and that’s true for three exciting reasons,” Kolmstetter noted. “First, the purpose of CISA is remarkable; there is no mission more critical for our national security. I have cared deeply about infrastructure security since my time at TSA and cybersecurity from my early work on the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative at ODNI. Second, in a word, people. Jen is a leader with vision and drive and has built a strong leadership team and really cares about the people of CISA and across the cybersecurity partnership. And third, passion. I am passionate about my work and am energized by the focus of this role on people and culture strategy. I am truly looking forward to working with the great team at CISA.”

After completing her B.A. in psychology and computer science at Hollins, Kolmstetter went on to earn her M.S. and Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology at Virginia Tech. In addition to the Presidential Rank Award, she has received the 2020 NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, the 2010 National Intelligence Superior Service Medal, the 2010 Hollins University Distinguished Alumnae Award, and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) 2006 Scott Myers Award for Best Applied Research. She is also a SIOP Fellow.

Kolmstetter is married to Michael Kolmstetter M.A.L.S. ’90 and is the daughter of Paula Brownlee, who served as president of Hollins from 1981 to 1990.


Hollins Is Among Virginia’s Top 10 Schools for Praxis Elementary Education Pass Rates

Hollins University is number eight on’s list of the Best Praxis Elementary Education Pass Rates in Virginia.

The rankings recognize the commonwealth’s public and private colleges and universities with the highest first-time pass rates for the Praxis Elementary Education Multiple Subjects Test, a computer-based exam that quantifies a teacher’s subjective knowledge before a teaching license is obtained.

Praxis exams are one of the most widely accepted licensing exams available to teachers, and most states, including Virginia, accept Praxis exams to meet their licensing requirements. Prospective teachers can have their exam results considered for job opportunities not only in Virginia but across the United States.

Nationally, the Praxis exam first-time pass rate is 45%, while in Virginia, the first-time pass rate is 57%. Hollins exceeds both the national and state averages with a 72% first-time pass rate.

“The education department at Hollins is proud that we have so many successful students who get jobs as meaningful teachers throughout Virginia,” said Director of Graduate Education Programs Lorraine Lange.

In addition to undergraduate programming that enables students to earn teacher licensure alongside a degree in their chosen major, Hollins provides students with a bachelor’s degree from any accredited institution the opportunity to earn teaching licensure and a Master of Arts in Teaching at the same time. Geared toward college graduates in an array of fields who believe teaching is their calling, the program features small, interactive classes as well as hybrid instructional options, along with career assistance with job connections in the Roanoke region.

Hollins also offers a Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning, an online graduate program for licensed teachers who want to learn more about the practice of teaching and acquire and develop new knowledge.

For more details on these programs, complete and submit the Request Information about Our Graduate Programs online form.

Hollins Soccer Student-Athletes Earn Academic All-District® Honors

Five Hollins Soccer student-athletes have been named to the 2022 NCAA Division III Academic All-District® Women’s Soccer Team by the College Sports Communicators (CSC).

Cat Bussani ’24, Sophia Ciatti ’24, Cady Gardiner-Parks ’24, Chloe Hammel ’25, and Zoe Simotas ’25 were recognized for their performances on the field and in the classroom and will advance to the CSC Academic All-America® voting ballot.

First-, second-, and third-team Academic All-America® honorees will be announced in early December.

Founded in the 1950s, the CSC’s Academic All-America® program is regarded as one of the premier awards programs in intercollegiate athletics for honoring combined academic and athletic excellence. CSC members nominate and vote for Academic All-America® teams in 16 sport contests in all NCAA and NAIA divisions including men’s soccer, women’s soccer, football, volleyball, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, men’s swimming & diving, women’s swimming & diving, men’s tennis, women’s tennis, baseball, softball, men’s at-large, women’s at-large, men’s track & field, and women’s track & field.

Hollins Named “Overall Distinguished Delegation” at Regional Model Arab League Conference

Hollins University earned multiple honors at the annual Appalachia Regional Model Arab League (MAL) conference, held at Hollins November 4-6.

Eight delegations comprised of student representatives from George Mason University, Georgia Southern University, Georgia State University, Hollins, Roanoke College, Virginia Military Institute, and Roanoke’s Community High School participated in the event, now in its eighth year.

MAL is the flagship Youth Leadership Development Program of the National Council on U.S. – Arab Relations (NCUSAR). According to NCUSAR, MAL’s goal is “allowing emerging leaders to learn firsthand what it is like to put themselves in the shoes of real-life Arab diplomats and other foreign affairs practitioners. In the process, students deepen their knowledge and understanding of the Arab world and its peoples. They also strengthen their ability to engage in the art of reasoned argument and spirited debate, and become better prepared to be knowledgeable, well-trained, and effective citizens as well as civic and public affairs leaders.”

John P. Wheeler Professor of Political Science Edward Lynch and Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette jointly organized the 2022 conference. Lynch is teaching Hollins’ Model United Nations/Model Arab League course this academic year, and Chenette will lead the course beginning in Fall 2023.

“Hollins again held a successful and stimulating Model Arab League conference,” Lynch said. “This is an important element of Hollins’ emphasis on experiential learning, and I am happy that so many students took leading roles in the Councils.” He noted that Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton welcomed the delegates at the outset of the conference, which “sends an unmistakable signal to our visitors that Model Arab League is important here. Professor Chenette and I greatly appreciate the support we receive from the Hollins administration.”

The conference opening also featured a talk on Islamic art by Michelle Moseley, associate professor and chair of art history and visual culture at Virginia Tech.

Hollins students served in key leadership roles at the conference, including Bianca Vallebrignoni ’23, secretary general; Chanmolis Mout ’23, assistant secretary general; and Jenna Johnston ’25, chief justice of the Arab Court of Justice simulation.

Hollins was named the conference’s Overall Distinguished Delegation. Students also came away with several group and individual awards:

  • Distinguished Delegation in the Council on Palestinian Affairs: Ava Kegler ’25 and Sammy Stuhlmiller ‘25
  • Outstanding Delegation in the Summit of the Arab Heads of State: Kayla Richardson ’24 and Phil Anh
  • Outstanding Chair: Harper Dillon ‘25
  • Distinguished Chair: Sofia Olivares ’25 and Claire Ross ‘23


VFIC Honors Hollins Professor with “Rising Star” Award

For her dedication to higher education and student success, Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Sciences Mary Jane Carmichael has received the 2022 H. Hiter Harris III Rising Star Award from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC).

After teaching high school science for six years at the beginning of her career, Carmichael decided to pursue an advanced degree with a goal of becoming a faculty member at a small, liberal arts institution. She completed her M.S. in biology from Appalachian State University and then returned to her alma mater, Wake Forest University, where she earned her Ph.D. in biology.

Nora Kizer Bell Provost Laura McLary noted that Carmichael, who joined the Hollins faculty in 2017, sees higher education “as a true and clear calling. Students are attracted to her radiant confidence and natural care for their growth and development, as well as her humble kindness and generous spirit. As developing scientists in a field still largely dominated by men, her students draw strength from the example she sets: a scientist with deep disciplinary knowledge and an inquisitive mind, an emerging leading researcher, and a practiced, inclusive teacher.”

McLary praised Carmichael’s “incredible range, offering courses from ecology to microbiology to general education science breadth courses. She is the very best kind of teacher who is also a consummate learner, continuously seeking to expand her teaching skills and tools and even the content of her courses, so that she can best meet the needs of her students.”

Carmichael’s research has taken her from the mountains to the sea, from belly crawling in caves in eastern Tennessee to mucking through wetlands in coastal North Carolina. At Hollins, she has supported student research on a variety of topics, from the human microbiome to cave ecology to the physiological ecology of high-elevation spruce fir forests in the Appalachian Mountains.

“Two of her publications were coauthored with Hollins undergraduate students, and in the last five years, she has mentored and trained over a dozen student researchers,” McLary stated. “She has also received a prestigious National Science Foundation/Robert Noyce Capacity Building Grant. By developing a stronger pipeline of STEM educators from Hollins and into high-need, rural school districts, she is leading the way to change the face and nature of STEM education at Hollins and in the region of behalf of young women pursuing careers in STEM.”

This year, Carmichael was presented Hollins’ Herta Freitag Legacy Award, which recognizes a full-time teaching faculty member who has received external recognition for professional excellence in research and scholarship. “It is remarkable that Dr. Carmichael, as an early-career assistant professor, is the recipient of the Freitag Award,” McLary said. “It is even more remarkable that her contributions to teaching and service are equal to her outstanding record of research and discovery in her field.”

Carmichael was honored at the VFIC Annual Fall Luncheon and Harris Family Awards Presentation, held November 3 in Richmond.


Hollins, Roanoke College Present 2022 Kendig Awards 

The Perry F. Kendig Awards, which celebrate the people and organizations that support excellence in the arts in Virginia’s Blue Ridge, were presented during a ceremony at Hollins University on October 11. 

The awards are co-sponsored by Hollins University and Roanoke College, and they are awarded annually in three categories: Individual Artist, Arts and Cultural Organization, and Individual or Business Arts supporter. Recipients are selected from a group of nominees who live or work in the counties of Roanoke, Botetourt, and Franklin, the cities of Roanoke and Salem, or the town of Vinton. The awards are named for the late Perry F. Kendig, who served as president of Roanoke College and was an avid supporter and patron of the arts. 

“Roanoke College is happy to again join with Hollins University to present these Kendig Awards, and it is our privilege to carry on the tradition of this event in President Kendig’s name,” said Roanoke College President Frank Shushok Jr., who joined Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton to present the awards. 

This year’s nominees were Seth Davis, resident musical director at Mill Mountain Theatre; Michael Hemphill, founder and host of the inspirational Blue Ridge PBS and YouTube show “Buzz4Good”; Michael Mansfield, an actor and director who has worked with multiple local arts organizations; Douglas Jackson, arts and culture coordinator for the city of Roanoke; Sandra Meythaler, executive director of Roanoke Ballet Theatre; and the Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir. 

The 2022 Kendig Award winners are: 

Individual Artist Award 

The recipient of the Individual Artist Award for 2022 was Seth Davis, Mill Mountain Theatre’s resident music director. For nearly a decade, Davis has inspired more than 4,000 children and teenagers by helping them find joy and fulfillment through music. His students develop leadership and talents they can apply to their studies and future careers. “Teaching is Seth Davis’ passion; music is his language,” said one of the nominators. 

Through his work at Mill Mountain, Davis has challenged and encouraged children through conservatory classes and stage productions. “I really love what music can do to increase a child’s confidence,” Davis has said. “Students come to us not sure where they even fit in life. Teaching is an opportunity to provide that sense of belonging through music.”  

At the ceremony on Tuesday, Davis said he was pleasantly surprised by the recognition. 

“I’m grateful for the chance to work with kids and folks of all ages on something that brings them so much joy,” he said, “and it is mutual, because it also brings me joy.” 

Arts and Cultural Organization Award 

The Arts and Cultural Organization Award was presented to The Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir (RVCC). For 35 years, RVCC has met the needs of young people across the Roanoke Valley, providing an artistic and in-depth study of voice in a choral setting. The choir currently has 130 singers aged seven to 18. It is divided into a “Little Singers” group for children ages 4-6, three training choirs, and a concert choir. Children move up through the groups as their development and aptitude deepens.  

Weekly rehearsals culminate in community performances that help students develop vocal techniques, confidence, leadership and teamwork. Each choir participates in an annual regional, state, national or international honor performance, giving the students an opportunity to travel. The choir also collaborates on performances with professional organizations such as the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and Opera Roanoke. Susan Smith, chairwoman of the RVCC Board of Directors, accepted the award on behalf of the choir. 

“We are proud to have served the Roanoke Valley as a world-class choral program for 36 years,” Smith said. “If you know, you know: There is no sound quite like the choral sound of children’s voices.” 

Individual or Business Arts Supporter Award 

The Individual or Business Arts Supporter Award was presented to Douglas Jackson, arts and culture coordinator for the city of Roanoke and capacity development specialist for the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. Jackson is a long-serving and faithful ally of the arts in Virginia’s Blue Ridge who is invested in finding ways to make the arts compelling and accessible to all. He has done that through community initiatives such as BOOK CITY and Roanoke’s Year of the Artist.  

“Doug’s belief in the power of the arts to strengthen community in all its diversity, and to build trusting relationships, is contagious,” a nominator said.  

Roanoke’s Year of the Artist, Jackson’s recent effort to secure and distribute funding for the arts, has empowered and validated the existing creative community and has helped to bridge the gap between working artists, arts organizations, and city government. Beginning in 2013, Jackson helped create the Parks and the Arts program, which brought the best of Roanoke’s arts and culture experiences to neighborhood parks and community centers.  

“The arts are how I was able to get involved in Roanoke and feel a part of the community,” Jackson said. “The arts can give us agency.”  

Named for the late Perry F. Kendig, who served as president of Roanoke College and was an avid supporter and patron of the arts, the Kendig Awards program was established in 1985 and presented annually by the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge through 2012. Hollins and Roanoke College have now partnered for 10 years to bestow the honors. Kendig’s sons, Bill Kendig, a 1980 graduate of Roanoke College, and John Kendig, attended Tuesday’s event to represent their family. 

“We so appreciate the fact that Roanoke College and Hollins University honor Dad with that award,” John Kendig said. “He would love to be here. He would be in his element.”  


Photo caption (from left to right): Roanoke College President Frank Shushok Jr.; Michael Mansfield, actor/director; Sandra Meythaler, executive director of Roanoke Ballet Theatre; Seth Davis, resident music director at Mill Mountain Theatre; Susan Smith, executive director of the Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir Board of Directors; Douglas Jackson, arts and culture coordinator for the city of Roanoke and capacity development specialist for the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development; Michael Hemphill, founder and host of the Blue Ridge PBS and YouTube show “Buzz4Good”; and Hollins University President Mary Dana Hinton.


Recognizing Her Leadership, Virginia Business Names President Hinton to the Virginia 500

Hollins University President Mary Dana Hinton is cited as one of the commonwealth’s top leaders in the third annual edition of the Virginia 500, published by Virginia Business magazine.

“We strive to inventory the most powerful and influential leaders and executives in Virginia across 20 major sectors, ranging from real estate and manufacturing to higher education and government,” said Virginia Business editor Richard Foster. Among the factors considered, he explained, are “the scope of their responsibilities, how newsworthy the executive is, and how prominent they are within their industry and/or community. We accept suggestions for the Virginia 500, but it is compiled based on research by our editorial staff, not through nominations.”

Virginia Business President and Publisher Bernard A. Niemeier added, “…you will find these are leaders who have done it right.”

In her Virginia 500 profile, Hinton noted what makes her passionate about her work: “Serving others to promote educational equity is my mission in life.  I am privileged to get to live that mission every day.”