The schools will use the IDEAS grants to create, expand, and/or diversify American student mobility overseas in support of U.S. foreign policy goals. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State and supported in its implementation by World Learning.
“We are thrilled that Hollins is a 2022 IDEAS grantee, and this was a true team effort between faculty and staff,” said Ramona Kirsch, Hollins University’s director of international programs. “The grant will fund a new program, “Building Capacity in Kenya and Expanding Student Access to Global Experiences,” which will focus on democracy, human rights, and global health from an interdisciplinary and intercultural perspective with our new international partner, Kenyatta University in Nairobi. The grant will also enable us to move strategic diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives forward in our study abroad programming.”
Each IDEAS grant carries a maximum allotment of $35,000 and Hollins was awarded approximately $34,800.
“The U.S. Department of State is committed to supporting U.S. colleges and universities as they continue to rebuild study abroad capacity impacted by the global pandemic,” said Heidi Manley, USA study abroad chief for the department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). “That is why ECA is proud to be awarding double the number of IDEAS grants this year so that we can support more institutions as they work to provide important international educational opportunities to their students.”
Manley added that this year’s IDEAS grant recipients “reflect the full diversity of the U.S. higher education system – including community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), rural institutions, and more – and we are committed to working with them to build study abroad programs that are accessible for Americans of all backgrounds and that provide more opportunities for American students to engage with people in more diverse destinations around the world.”
Since 2016, the IDEAS Program has awarded 145 grants to 139 institutions in 48 states and territories to create, expand, and diversify their U.S. study abroad programs in 71 countries across all world regions. In addition to the IDEAS grant competition, the program also offers opportunities for faculty, staff, and administrators at U.S. colleges and universities to participate in a series of free virtual and in-person study abroad capacity building activities.
Photo (from left to right): Assistant Professor of Sociology Jennifer Turner, Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh, Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence Isabell Kingori, and Director of International Programs Ramona Kirsch comprised the faculty/staff team at Hollins that successfully brought the IDEAS grant application to fruition.
Black Student Alliance President. Student-Athlete. Student Success Leader. Batten Leadership Institute Participant. In making the most of her undergraduate experience at Hollins, Tyler Sesker ’22 has charted her own unique course. And with such a wide range of interests, it’s not surprising that she chose to major in gender and women’s studies (GWS).
“I never felt like I wasn’t being supported in what I wanted to do, and while GWS is a space where social justice work is very important, the department recognizes it happens in different ways for each student,” she explained. “Everybody’s attitude is, ‘Okay, if you want to do something that presses the bubble, let’s try all the things.’ GWS allows you to tailor your talents into how you want to change the world once you graduate.” Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette, who is a member of the GWS program faculty, introduced her to the criminal justice system and the idea of practicing law, resulting in Sesker’s pursuit of a pre-law concentration in tandem with her major. “I honestly would not have any of the experiences I had as an undergraduate without the support and guidance Professor Chenette has given me,” she said.
Sesker has felt called to bring a lasting impact to both individuals and communities. She interned during the summer of 2020 with the Democratic Attorneys General Association, where she worked on various campaigns related to policing. That experience piqued her interest in a Signature Internship with the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C., which was being offered during the 2021 January Short Term.
“When I applied, I thought I wanted to do work in housing. But when I interviewed, since my background was in policing, they told me they have a whole committee dedicated toward police work and people who are facing injustices within the justice system. So, I spent that entire internship looking into the law enforcement bill of rights – what states had it and what they were doing with it. I also researched states where defendants had been incarcerated for a long period of time because they couldn’t make bail or they had a ticket or fine they couldn’t afford to pay.” How juveniles fared under those circumstances became of particular concern to Sesker. “What happened if their parents couldn’t pay or simply couldn’t be found? They stayed in the system.”
“I worked with their attorneys on a day-to-day basis, investigating what happened and finding and interviewing witnesses,” Sesker said.
Sesker also discovered that working with cases involving the immediate early release of inmates through a process known as “compassionate release” was especially rewarding. According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, inmates may be eligible for compassionate release in situations where there are “particularly extraordinary or compelling circumstances which could not reasonably have been foreseen by the court at the time of sentencing.” These circumstances may include “medical or humanitarian changes in an inmate’s situation.”
“These clients had already been incarcerated for a number of years – 20 years is the minimum for compassionate release,” Sesker said. She would often have to spend considerable time cutting through red tape to simply find eligible inmates, and then conduct lengthy interviews with them once they were located. “It was good though to learn from people what they were like when they were first incarcerated, and who they are now as they prepare for release. Hearing those stories makes it worthwhile in understanding why this person needs to be out.” Sesker also talked to the families of both the defendant and their victims. “It was exciting getting that perspective.”
For Sesker, the insights she gained from that internship are invaluable. “It’s one thing to talk about the prison system in class, but it’s something different to physically be in there. It’s frustrating when you see how the system has failed a client, but once you’ve seen it you know exactly what you want to do to fix it and how you want to do it.” The work was demanding, Sesker noted, “but I never felt like I was tired of it. I’m tired in a good way because I know I’m doing good work and I’m doing this because I’m helping somebody else. At the end of the day, I knew what I was doing is exactly where I wanted to be and what I want to keep doing once I graduate and go on to law school.”
Sesker has also found inspiration from her peers in being an active member and leader of the Black Student Alliance and in playing on the volleyball team during all four years of her undergraduate career. “Coming here and playing for Hollins has been a great experience. The teams are so excited for each other. I live in an apartment with two basketball players, a soccer player, and another volleyball player, and we’re always cheering each other on at games. That’s not what I saw at other schools. What’s so distinct about Hollins’ athletic department is that it’s a family that really cares for each other. I don’t think I would have had that experience anywhere else.”
Working as a Student Success Leader in the first-year seminar “Disabling Ableism” taught by Professor of Religious Studies Darla Schumm showed Sesker that one should always be open to new points of view from a variety of sources. “The course is dedicated to how we live in this ableist world that doesn’t pay attention to the disabled, and it was this mixing pot of learning and experiencing things. I was the SSL for the course, but I also felt like I was a student. There were plenty of days I came in and one of the first-years would tell me something they learned from the readings and I would say, ‘Wow, I never thought about that, teach me what I’m missing.’ They impacted me as much as I impacted them.”
“Working on my senior thesis, I’ve been looking more into public policy and how to affect the things that I’m concerned about. Prison systems, policing, LGBTQ rights, things like that are impacted by public policy. That’s what interested me in the public policy program itself at UVa, and I was drawn by the leadership component it also offers. I don’t think I would be the student I am without the Batten Leadership Institute at Hollins, so to be able to go to program where public policy and leadership intertwine with each other is important. I don’t think it’s enough to just say, ‘I want to create change.’ I also want to be a leader when I’m creating that change.”
Over 400 attendees participated in 37 virtual and in-person sessions united around this year’s theme of “Equity, Accessibility, and Identity.” Session topics ranged from “Broaching: Confronting the Uncomfortable Conversations in Systemic Racism” and “Examining Residential Segregation: Where You Live Determines Your Health and Quality of Life” to “Talking Back to Dad: Developing Pedagogies to Discussing Hard Questions in the Classroom and Community” and “Cultivating Inclusive Friendships: Real Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Starts in Our Social Circles.” Session leaders included current students and faculty as well as alumnae/i and guest activists and experts from the community at large.
In her welcome, President Mary Dana Hinton acknowledged that Leading EDJ would be “an emotional and at times difficult day as we share hard truths and have our beliefs challenged. But in those moments, I hope that you will feel pride that this community shows up for one another. I hope you will feel the love that manifests from our willingness to be vulnerable with each other. I also hope that you will have positive emotion today, because even though the work is hard, it’s hard only because we care so much for one another and this institution. It’s hard because we know we need to and want to do and be better. So, in the panoply of emotions on this day, I hope you will allow yourself to experience being seen and heard, and to also feel gratitude and joy.”
Loretta Ross, a nationally recognized expert on racism and racial justice, women’s rights, and human rights, delivered the conference’s keynote address, “Calling In the Calling Out Culture.” Drawing upon 50 years of activism, Ross stressed the need to “create a culture shift” that consciously and deliberately moves away from “publicly shaming or blaming people for something that you think they have done wrong, for which you think they should be held accountable” to a process where “you extend to people love, respect, forgiveness, and grace. Generally speaking, imposing punishments doesn’t achieve accountability because it first of all makes people not want to accept your right to punish them. Second, rarely do they change their minds from their positions or perspectives.”
Ross asserted that advancing human rights “is not a woke competition. It is a movement designed to end oppression. We’re many different people with many different thoughts, but they move in the same direction. That’s a movement. But when many different people think one thought and move in the same direction, that’s a cult. And we are not building a human rights cult.”
In the calling out climate, Ross stated, “people use their knowledge as a weapon against each other because they want to shame somebody for not knowing what they know, whether it’s the latest word that they want to use, or the way that word has become outdated, or whether or not we can remember somebody’s proper gender pronoun. When we weaponize our knowledge, we’re actually demonstrating our own political immaturity.” The result, she added, is that people are discouraged from joining the human rights movement. “It frightens them. They don’t want to speak up for fear that they are going to be the next target if they give voice to an unfinished thought or use the wrong word.”
Ross noted that there are times when calling someone out can be the appropriate action. “The human rights movement uses call outs to hold accountable corporations, countries, and individuals who violate people’s human rights. Sometimes privately getting people to stop their abuses doesn’t work. We have to publicly call them out, because if we don’t, we’ll increase the harm that people experience. The call outs are also very useful for bringing forward those voices that have been historically silenced. Certainly, it works to release that pent-up outrage so that you don’t internalize the anger. You externalize toward the people that are causing the harm.”
Nevertheless, Ross cautioned against the “gotcha” moment “where we unearth mistakes from someone’s past without seeking clarification. This requires seeing people as human beings who make mistakes. We’re not perfect. We’re supposed to make mistakes and then learn from them. When you don’t accept that, you’re devaluing people’s lived experiences as if what you’ve been through is the only truth that matters. This all stems from the concept of toxic perfectionism, where we alienate people with our pursuit of political purity and correctness by assuming there’s only one right way to do something. Or, believing that our job is to take away someone else’s pain by being their advocate – the savior complex. Instead of helping people find their own voices and perspectives, you want to provide it for them.”
Ross shared some simple steps to follow if you yourself are called out. “You can tell the person, number one, thank you. The reason you say thank you is that this person, even if they’re trying to correct you, are gifting you with their time and attention, which are hot commodities right now.
“The second step is to say, ‘I hear you, I appreciate you giving me your perspective, and I’m going to think about it.’ You’ve shown the person that they were heard and respected, but at the same time you have not indicated that you are agreeing with them. You are going to consider it. You maintain your own boundaries and your own dignity.
“Third, flip the script and say, ‘I want to know what’s going on with you, because I care about you the way you care about me. And since I care about you, I want to know why you came at me that way.’ With that, you’ve turned a call out into a call in. You’ve invited them to tell you more.”
Ross concluded her address by reminding the audience that “calling in requires a growth mindset that starts with a self-assessment. You have to analyze how you feel and why you think it’s important to call somebody in or out. If you’re not in a healed enough space for a difficult conversation, you will not be productive. Your own healing should be your number one priority. Calling people in is not an obligation, nor is it a way to paper over the harm that people do. You’re not letting people get away with anything. You’re choosing to use an accountability process that has an increased likelihood of success.”
The 2022 Leading EDJ Conference closed with the Hollins community joining in a virtual gathering for reflections on the day’s experiences, which could then be shared online. One participant wrote, “…lots of interesting information and lots of opportunity to have an impact both locally and beyond,” while another commented, “I have enjoyed this…so much! Each moment and story shared has been so true. I appreciate each voice and feel so inspired.”
What began in the 2020-21 academic year as Leading EDJ Day has evolved into a two-day conference in its second year. This year’s theme is “Equity, Accessibility, Identity.”
“Leading EDJ aims to create an intentional and meaningful space for all of us to reflect, learn, and facilitate action,” said Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton. “This conference brings together members of our community and prominent local and national figures to learn from one another in various formats, both face-to-face and online.”
The 2022 Leading EDJ Conference will kick off on Thursday, February 24, at 7:30 p.m. with Nazera Sadiq Wright‘s presentation, “Digital Gi(rl)s: Mapping Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century.” Wright is an associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky. Her book, Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century (2016), won the 2018 Children’s Literature Association’s Honor Book Award for Outstanding Book of Literary Criticism. During 2017-18, she was in residence at the Library Company of Philadelphia as a National Endowment of the Humanities Fellow and an Andrew W. Mellon Program in African American History Fellow to advance her second book on the influence of libraries in the literary careers of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century African American women writers. “Digital Gi(rl)s” will be livestreamed (Passcode: 111008).
Loretta Ross, an award-winning, nationally recognized expert on racism and racial justice, women’s rights, and human rights, will deliver the conference’s keynote address on Friday, February 25, at 10 a.m. Ross’s work emphasizes the intersectionality of social justice issues and how intersectionality can fuel transformation. She teaches a course on White Supremacy, Human Rights and Calling In the Calling Out Culture as a visiting associate professor at Smith College. She is cofounder of SisterSong, a national organization whose purpose is to build an effective network of individuals and organizations to improve institutional policies and systems that impact the reproductive lives of marginalized communities. Her newest book, Calling In the Calling Out Culture, will be released later this year.
Following the keynote address, Leading EDJ will feature more than 30 morning and afternoon sessions for the campus community created by students, faculty, staff, and alumnae/i as well as outside guests from the Roanoke and higher education communities.
During the first Leading EDJ Day in October 2020, more than 550 students, faculty, staff, alumnae/i, and trustees joined together to explore themes of race and racial justice. The inaugural event allowed the extended campus community to explore both the legacy of historical racism at Hollins and how contemporary struggles for racial equity and justice continue to shape learning spaces and experiences.
The Rev. Dr. Chelsea Brooke Yarborough believes that any celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. is not complete without recognizing the women who were essential in creating his legacy.
An assistant professor of liturgical studies and Styberg Teaching Fellow at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Yarborough shared her hope of expanding the King narrative in her webinar, “Activism and the Women Who Made King,” presented as part of Hollins University’s observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“Without the existence of Black women, Martin Luther King Jr. just wasn’t,” Yarborough said. “That doesn’t take away from him but adds to the robustness of his legacy.”
Yarborough described the voices that surrounded King as “an ecosystem of activism. To study an ecosystem is to study the relationships of interacting organisms in any given community. Interdependence is the deepest gift of creation, the true mark of flourishing.”
She continued, “When we talk about the civil rights movement, too often other issues of intersectionality are left out of the conversation. I am struck by how often I hear [King] taught as an individual with a movement behind him, and not an entity within an ecosystem of other important parts.”
Yarborough centered on the contributions of “just a few of the Black women whose lives made King’s legacy possible.”
“The Invisible Labor of Intimacy”
King’s wife, Coretta Scott King; his mother, Alberta Williams King; and his two daughters, Yolanda and Bernice King, were the civil rights leader’s “invisible labor of intimacy,” said Yarborough. “They are often the ones who take up the cost of the call in ways that aren’t written or archived. Their lives are critical to think about when we unpack the ecosystem of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s activism.”
Yarborough cited The King Center’s description of Coretta Scott King: “From the earliest days, she balanced mothering and movement work, speaking before church, civic, college, fraternal, and peace groups.”
“For Coretta Scott King,” Yarborough said, “mothering was a part of the movement because she was raising Black children as she was speaking in these spaces about the necessities of justice and equity. The movement was also part of her mothering. She was speaking toward a world that her children would be better off in than the one they were currently experiencing.”
Coretta Scott King saw herself as her husband’s partner in the movement. She “spoke of the ways that for her, their partnership with its imperfections was put together by God and that she chose this life as part of her own sense of calling and legacy in this world. Martin Luther King Jr. was intentionally put forth as the face of the civil rights movement. Someone had to carry it. She knew that support, care, compassion, and presence would be critical, to be the voice of reason when no one else was around that said, ‘You can keep going.’”
After she wed Martin Luther King Sr., Alberta Williams King was forced to quit her job as a educator because Georgia law at the time prohibited married women from teaching. “So,” Yarborough explained, “she found other ways to participate in education through her activist work,” which included membership in Atlanta’s NAACP chapter. “Her grandson, Martin Luther King III, said, ‘Her greatest task was developing her own children. She explained the vestiges of racism, insisting that they must make this world a better place.’”
Martin Luther King Jr. and his mother were very close, Yarborough stated, “and his upbringing was foundational to who he was and what he became. We can’t forget the woman who actually gave Martin life.”
In his seminal “I Have a Dream” speech, King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” His two daughters, Yolanda and Bernice, were “the women whose lives Martin Luther King Jr. helped to shape in this world,” Yarborough said. “As I consider where Yolanda and Bernice, ages 12 and five, respectively, were with their dad when he was assassinated, I thought about the particularities of Black girls and how too often we forget that there are differences developmentally between Black girls and Black women. For some of us, we might be a little too quick to say the movement is more important than an individual family unit. But, I do think that it is important for us to consider what that sacrifice might be like for a child.”
“Complementary Oppositions that Create Opportunity”
Fannie Lou Hamer became active in the civil rights movement in 1962 and established herself as someone, according to Yarborough, who “was fighting for those that sometimes even the movement itself forgot.” Hamer was “a critical conversation partner [for King] because she made sure that class and education were part of the rights they talked about. Her affinity was to the call, not to King.”
To Yarborough, Hamer represented the importance of a “complementary opposition in an ecosystem, an opposition that creates opportunity. Sometimes you need a voice that says, ‘Y’all are doing a good thing, and yet there’s still more to do.’”
“‘Tell Them About the Dream, Martin’”
The address for which Martin Luther King Jr. is best known is his “I Have a Dream” speech, which was delivered before more than a quarter of a million people during the March on Washington in 1963. Yarborough highlighted the two Black women who played pivotal roles in transforming that address into what Brittanica.com calls “one of the defining moments of the civil rights movement and one of the most iconic speeches in American history.”
One of the first women ordained by the American Baptist Association, Prathia Hall was, in Yarborough’s words, “a preacher among preachers, a speaker among speakers.” King was in the audience when Hall delivered a prayer that referenced a dream. The prayer had a tremendous impact on King, and he remembered the dream motif when he and his colleagues were writing the March on Washington address. “Hall is so critical to this ecosystem because it reminds us that a moment in someone’s presence and in their circle can create a legacy that lasts a lifetime,” Yarborough said.
Among King’s closest friends was the legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. “King would call her when he was in particular need of encouragement. It was said her voice carried a balm that would soothe his soul,” Yarborough said.
The March on Washington took place on a hot August day, and as King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial, Yarborough recalled that “people were starting to leave. He was losing folks even though his content was good. His friend on the platform [Jackson] witnessed what was happening but knew that no heat was going to stop this moment from what it needed to be. Standing behind him, Mahalia Jackson exclaimed, ‘Tell them about the dream, Martin.’ Moving from a speech to a sermon, and moving from what was prepared to purposeful flow and proclamation, King found his rhythm. Using the ‘I have a dream’ repetition, inspired by Prathia Hall but ignited by Mahalia Jackson in real time, this [address] becomes what we know today.”
“Do the Work that Ignites You”
Moving forward from the Martin Luther King Jr. Day remembrance, Yarborough encouraged “thinking about the spaces and roles you can serve. Whether you find yourself at the face of a movement or somewhere else, your role is important. We can’t detangle the inherent interdependence of all of us. We all have a role, even if it’s not seen as the role.
“I invite you with hope, with love, with possibility, with joy, with all that is within you to step fully into yourself and do the work that ignites you, that centers justice and the wellness of those not often given the luxury. And as you do, don’t forget to take a look around at the ecosystem that is helping to make you.”
In October, Hollins University announced a new scholarship opportunity specifically developed for young women in the Roanoke Valley region hoping to earn a college education.
Hollins Opportunity for Promise through Education (HOPE) is a scholarship program that offers a pathway forward for these young women. It’s the chance to turn the hope of a college degree into reality, with scholarship recipients being granted the ability to attend Hollins full-time for four years — tuition free.
The HOPE scholarship program is intentionally named.
Hope is a powerful and motivating force in our individual lives and in our communities. For each and every life’s journey, there is first a sliver of hope for what’s to come. Hope for who we want to be and a hope for how we want to become our future selves.
In our “What Hope Means” series, we’re highlighting conversations with individuals from our Hollins community who discuss what hope personally means to them. We’re also spotlighting the powerful impact that this scholarship will have on the ambitious young women in the Roanoke Valley who are striving to better themselves through their education.
What ‘HOPE’ Means to Mary Dana Hinton, Ph.D., President of Hollins University
Hollins University President Mary Dana Hinton’s journey as a leader in higher education began with her own hope for a brighter future.
Growing up in rural North Carolina in a low-income household, Hinton’s ambition was to attend college. Achieving this goal would place her in the first generation of her family to do so.
“College was always a dream of mine, but I wasn’t entirely sure how I would bring that dream to reality,” she said. “I know what it feels like to hope and to wonder if an education is even possible.”
For Hinton, it was the generosity of both individuals and her community that helped her attend college. Having that support to ensure her hopes and dreams were realized has been the driving motivation for her career ever since.
“My single goal in this life is to strive toward ensuring that no other young woman has to worry about how she will overcome the barriers to earning her education. If she hopes to get an education to uplift herself, her family, and her community, I want to help make that possible.”
Hinton’s Hope for HOPE
Through her first-hand experiences, Hinton understands the critical importance of creating systems and processes that enable a young person who wants to achieve a college education the opportunity to do so.
She has built a career as an active and respected proponent of the liberal arts and inclusivity, and her leadership efforts reflect her deep and abiding commitment to educational equity, particularly supporting young women who may not be able to envision a pathway from high school to college.
“My hope is that this scholarship program will allow any young woman in the Roanoke Valley Region the opportunity to chase her dreams, to fulfill her grandest aspirations and to enable us here at Hollins University to help her envision, leverage, and grow into her fullest potential,” Hinton said.
“That was missing for me as a young adult, and so it is my privilege, my honor, and my responsibility to create these opportunities for others,” she added.
The Power of HOPE
Funded by the generosity of Hollins alumnae, friends, and donors, the Hollins Opportunity Promise through Education program is designed to remove some of the financial worry and burden for local families who seek to pursue an education for their daughters.
Hollins’ HOPE scholarship is a direct means for turning hope into action. The scholarship creates an opportunity for young women and their families to identify a pathway forward in achieving their dreams of attending college.
For Hinton, the effect of one educational experience is not limited to the young woman earning it. The actual impact is much more widespread.
“When an individual has the opportunity to receive or achieve an education, they then have the responsibility to help lift up their communities and all those around them,” she said. “Our HOPE scholarship will certainly give hope to the young women who receive it, but our expectation is that they will then become conveyors and conduits of hope in our local community.”
To learn more about Hollins Opportunity for Promise through Education scholarship, visit hope.hollins.edu.
Carlia Kearney ’23 wasn’t part of Hollins’ FLI program for first-generation, limited-income students during her first year at the university, but that didn’t disqualify or discourage her from eventually becoming an enthusiastic participant.
“I honestly didn’t know the FLI program existed until [Assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students] Trina Johnson reached out to me the summer before my sophomore year. She thought I’d be a good candidate to be a FLI Guide, and I thought it would be a good experience.”
FLI Guides are sophomore, junior, or senior mentors who work closely with students during pre-orientation and throughout the academic year to enable them to build relationships, connect with valuable resources, and learn important tips for success.
“I knew how I felt as a first-generation, low-income student when I entered my first year here,” says Kearney, who hails from Franklin, Virginia. “So I wanted to be there for anyone facing similar challenges.”
Kearney believes her most important role as an FLI Guide is “validating students’ feelings while questioning their way of thinking to broaden their perspective. I want to make sure they know their doubts and their long-term and short-term goals are being heard. I just want to be a part of their support system.”
In addition to gathering for weekly dinners and other activities sponsored by FLI, Kearney says she is in constant touch with the five students she mentors through group chats and seeing and talking to them individually almost every day.
“It’s all about helping them find their place of belonging, which is hard in a new environment,” she explains. “They may not know where they fit in or are fully aware of the groups that are available to them. A lot of people are so withdrawn and afraid that they won’t push into those outlets. What we do is, we try to expand their comfort level.” She adds that one of FLI’s goals this year is getting the campus community involved in program activities. “We hope to expand their networking to meeting people outside of FLI.”
Kearney encourages students to “take advantage of any and every resource. Create your own path and take control of your happiness. Have faith, because there is something special in you, whether you see it or not. Believe in yourself because you deserve everything positive that life offers. In FLI, we understand each other’s doubts, fears, and insecurities, and there’s no shame in talking to one another because we’re very comfortable and it’s a safe environment. There’s that encouragement element that comes from having those conversations and knowing, ‘Hey, this person’s gone through the same thing, and they’re thriving.’ We tell those doubts and fears to shut up. Your purpose is bigger than a little fear telling you that you can’t go to college.”
Above all, Kearney says, “I want to help other people adopt a growth mindset. There’s always room to grow in anything, so just helping people realize that and have them share it from person to person, that’s what I want to do. I want everyone to be on the same page and succeed.”
Throughout her Hollins career, Kearney has tried to embody that advice and feels “I’m at a place where I’m my most authentic self. And because it’s so genuine, I can share it with others. I can spread the same joy and optimism, and I’m way better at being a mindful listener.” She says she still wants “to keep growing as a person,” and her involvement in Hollins’ Batten Leadership Institute is “providing me with the tools I need to be the best version of myself.” She’s also taking a diverse array of classes that she is confident will help create opportunities for her after graduation when she plans to attend law school.
“I’m not sure yet what type of law,” she notes, “but it’s going to be something challenging.”
As a high school senior in Texas, Summer Allison ’23 produced a paper for her dual credit English course that would have an enormous effect on her future.
“I wrote about the benefits of women’s colleges and how they foster leadership in women,” she says. “Since that paper, I always wanted to come to a women’s college because I thought it would be the best option for myself, particularly because I’m first generation, low income. I thought that the best option for me would be having the ability to create leadership within myself. I also thought Virginia would be a nice change of pace from Texas, and maybe Hollins would be right up my alley.”
As fate would have it, Hollins was launching a new program called FLI, designed to serve first-generation, limited-income students. Allison was invited to be part of FLI’s first cohort during her first year.
“I think the attributes that attracted me to FLI was that I knew I wouldn’t have my mother to depend on here. Also, I grew up in a small town where you go to school with the same people you’ve always known. I wouldn’t have that here and there was no one for me to fall back on. I knew I had to establish relationships early on, and if there is one characteristic of myself where I wanted to belong, it’s definitely first generation and low income.”
FLI is led by sophomore, junior, and senior mentors who work closely with students during pre-orientation and throughout the academic year to enable them to build relationships, connect with valuable resources, and learn important tips for success. Drawing upon their own first-hand experiences, the guides had a profound impact on Allison. “They relied on what they personally knew about campus to give us knowledge rather than something that was just cut-and-dried like, ‘This is what our training says to tell you.’ It was very insightful and really cool.”
For Allison, having those connections throughout her first year made a major difference in her adjustment to college life. “I knew I always had at least one person that I could ask questions without feeling like an idiot, feeling like I don’t belong, or feeling like I should already know that answer. That was big, being able to communicate with a person like me enough to understand my perspective and not make me feel as though I were an outsider.”
When Allison made the transition to FLI Guide her sophomore year, she was able to draw upon more than just her first-year Hollins experience to help new students. For a number of years, Allison has been supported by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which is devoted “to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need.” She applied to the organization’s Young Scholars Program when she became eligible at age 12, and subsequently was accepted into the Cooke Foundation College Scholarship Program, which will enable her to graduate from Hollins debt-free. (Read more about the Cooke Foundation’s impact on Allison.)
“I thought there were aspects of what I knew from being in the Cooke Foundation and working my way to be able to go to college in the first place that I could add to the FLI program,” she explains. “I never wanted my position to just be ‘guide.’ I genuinely wanted to be friends with the students. It’s about being nurturing as much as it is understanding what I have from training and being able to apply it.”
When FLI students first arrive on campus, Allison focuses significant effort on helping them make the switch from the high school to the college environment. “They don’t always understand that within the university, it’s actually a little town, a community. They don’t know the layout of the campus and they have no idea about the offices and services that are most beneficial to them. They don’t know how to look for those things, but I also don’t think they were given the skills necessary to even think to look for those things. The way that you depend on your parents when you’re not in college, transitioning to a college where you may be miles away from your parents is incredibly daunting.”
So, Allison gives her students a crash course in learning the Hollins campus, inside and out. “I tell them, ‘I’m going to take you to the library, the IT department, Health and Counseling Center, and Career Center. I’m going to show you where the business office, registrar, and financial aid are located.’ I’m always here to help, but this is what they are going to need in their own arsenal to navigate college life.”
Allison is double majoring in sociology and public health, and has helped establish a public health club at Hollins. “We want to provide practical knowledge such as how to have safe sex or how to apply for health insurance, especially if you’re from out of state and you might need something like Medicaid. We also want to inform students about policies that are being enacted, how those affect them directly, and why it’s in their best interest to vote for people who would create the most beneficial policies for us particularly as a student body.”
With the Cooke Foundation’s continued financial support, Allison plans to attend graduate school after Hollins and is considering careers in environmental law (“Climate change is having a big impact on public health.”) and public policy analysis.
Allison’s passion for activism, particularly on one’s own behalf, is something she seeks to instill in FLI students. “If you’re absolutely itching to go to college, you’ve got to take that into your own hands. You cannot wish, hope, or pray that someone else will do it for you. You have to represent yourself as a first-generation, low-income student who is worthy to go to college. Advocate for yourself. Find a network of people that is willing to help you realize that dream.”
Allison encourages other Hollins students to join FLI and argues the program should not be stigmatizing. “Changing the name ‘first generation, low income’ would be concealing our identity in a way that harms us more than it benefits us. I don’t think participating in a program that is meant to help you and only you in your particular circumstances is a bad thing. What we do is so integral to first-year students.”
In light of the fact that she had to overcome so many obstacles to attend Hollins, Allison says she chooses to view FLI “as a symbol of pride. I think other people should do the same.”
“HOPE makes a college education affordable for young women regardless of their ability to pay, and supports them in taking the next step toward achieving their academic and professional goals,” said Ashley Browning, vice president for enrollment management at Hollins.
Under HOPE, any young woman admitted to Hollins for the fall of 2022 who resides within 40 miles of campus is invited to apply. Students whose families have a household adjusted gross income of $50,000 or less will receive priority when HOPE funds are awarded.
“The cost of tuition is fully covered for HOPE scholars for all four years, including any year-over-year tuition increases, through a blend of academic merit scholarship, need-based federal and institutional aid, and the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant,” Browning explained. “HOPE scholars who live on campus may choose to apply federal loans to the cost of room and board.”
The HOPE scholar program is intended to enhance the already vibrant community of Hollins students from the local area. “Nearly 12% of our student body hails from the greater Roanoke Valley,” Browning said. “Roughly two-thirds of those students commute and one-third are in residence.”
Browning emphasized that a local student whose family’s household adjusted gross income exceeds $50,000 can still qualify for generous financial assistance at Hollins. “We award over $29 million annually in scholarships and financial aid above and beyond the HOPE program. All first-year, full-time students admitted to Hollins are guaranteed $24,000 annually in academic merit scholarships. And, local students benefit from many types of financial support beyond HOPE, including endowed scholarships specifically for students hailing from our home region.”
Candidates wishing to receive first-round consideration for HOPE funds beginning in fall 2022 should submit a completed application for admission and scholarship application by January 1, 2022. “Submissions received after that date will be reviewed as funds are available,” Browning added.
Supported by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), the grant will bolster the establishment at Hollins of Partners in Purpose (PIP), a project intended to build effective strategies for advising and mentoring undergraduate students.
“PIP will provide invaluable opportunities for Hollins faculty, staff, and alumnae/i to think deeply and collectively about the role of vocation and purpose as it relates to undergraduate education,” says Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton. “Our goal is to prepare campus leadership to do the meaningful work of discernment and life purpose.”
PIP is made up of three components:
A faculty/staff development initiative will launch in September and continue through May 2022. The series of monthly workshops will be facilitated by Rev. Catina Martin, university chaplain, and LeeRay Costa, director of faculty development and professor of anthropology and gender & women’s studies, and will include guest speakers, a curriculum on vocation and purpose, and contemplative activities. The workshops will emphasize the unique college and life experiences of underrepresented, disadvantaged, or marginalized students, and provide a space for faculty/staff to read, learn, and reflect together. Quarterly workshops led by professional development speakers will be recorded to create a library of vocational learning for faculty, staff, and alumnae/i mentors.
PIP’s experiential component, which is not funded by the grant, will involve the development and implementation of a new vocation-based program in which Hollins faculty/staff and alumnae/i mentors work closely with a cohort of 12 Fellows made up of students representing first-generation, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), and low-income populations. Starting in the 2022-23 academic year, campus leaders will conduct monthly sessions that focus on vocation and life calling, meaning, and purpose. This pilot program will expand to future generations of Hollins students after the grant project is completed.
Martin and Costa are developing the PIP curriculum this summer and will share further details with faculty and staff in the coming weeks. “We are focusing on the language surrounding these discussions,” Martin explains. “We want to be attentive to the role of spirituality in exploring vocation and discernment, as well as factors such as gender and sexual identity, class, race, culture, and community identity that shape students’ conceptualization of purpose and vocation. As we prepare campus leaders to think about working effectively and meaningfully with students around vocation and purpose, it is imperative that our approach be as inclusive and diverse as possible.”
NetVUE is a nationwide network of colleges and universities, of which Hollins is a member, formed to enrich the intellectual and theological exploration of vocation among undergraduate students. In support of this goal, members may request funds for activities that enhance the knowledge, skills, capacity, and expertise of campus leaders.