“My Journey Back Home”: Savannah Scott ’22 Returns to Alaska to Serve in the CDC’s Public Health Associate Program

Growing up in Fairbanks, Alaska, Savannah Scott ’22 saw how factors ranging from poverty and housing insecurity to the lack of sexual health education for young people profoundly impacted the health of her community. As she entered her senior year in high school, she felt such a call to action to address those issues that she sought dual enrollment at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. “I wanted to learn how I could address those social determinants and best reduce the disparities I was seeing,” she explained.

Scott believed that studying pre-medical sciences on the undergraduate level and then going on to medical school to become a physician was the best route to realizing a career meeting community health needs. But when she arrived at Hollins University in the fall of 2019, Associate Professor of History Rachel Nuñez recommended that she might want to look into a new academic program the university was launching that year.

“Professor Nuñez suggested I enroll in the Introduction to Public Health course,” Scott recalled. “She thought I’d be a great fit, but if not, I could certainly continue on the pre-med track. I took it, and I fell in love.”

As a public health major, Scott enjoyed three significant internship opportunities. First, she worked with the Child Health Investment Partnership of Roanoke Valley, which promotes the health of medically underserved children in the area. “Through them, I was able to shadow community health nurses as well as research and outreach. It solidified my interest in learning more about the public health field.”

Working with Myriah LeGaux ’15, Scott also interned at Taking Aim at Cancer in Louisiana, a statewide initiative whose goal is to improve cancer outcomes. “That’s where I became interested in and was able to focus on chronic disease,” she said. “In a number of Louisiana parishes, there is a high incidence, especially with underserved minority populations. “I was really inspired to see how health care and public policy directly affect the health of the Louisiana community.”

Her third internship, with the Roanoke City Health Department, was coordinated by Dr. Cynthia Morrow, director of the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts and formerly a visiting professor of public health at Hollins. “This confirmed my desire to work on the frontlines of public health and learn more about health care policy,” Scott said. “With state and regional epidemiologists, we drafted an outbreak report to promote a recommended health care policy to increase prevention and lower the risk of Hepatitis A transmission in the Roanoke community.”

Prior to graduating from Hollins last year, Scott earned acceptance to all six of the Master of Public Health programs to which she applied. But during the application process, “I realized I wanted to get more solid work experience before I got more knowledge.” She connected with Diane Hall ’88, a senior health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, who in turn put her in touch with a CDC official. “I told him I wanted to work on the frontlines of public health but had limited experience, and he said, ‘Why don’t you give our Public Health Associate Program a shot?’”

The CDC’s Public Health Associate Program (PHAP) is designed to give recent college graduates who seek a career in public health the opportunity to work with professionals in an array of public health settings, including state, tribal, local, and territorial public health agencies and nongovernmental organizations. Since it began in 2007, the two-year paid training program has placed more than 1,650 public health associates across 49 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories, and most go on to serve in positions in public health organizations: In 2021, 80% of PHAP graduates accepted jobs in public health.

Savannah Scott '22
Through the CDC’s Public Health Associate Program, Savannah Scott ’22 will work with the Tanana Chiefs Conference, an Alaska Native nonprofit organization.

With thousands of applicants each year for an average of between 300 and 400 positions, Scott noted that the selection process is rigorous. “Once your initial application is chosen, you’re required to submit personal statements and preferences about the specialties in which you want to work and where you want to be located. Once you get past that stage, you interview with some of the supervisors. Then, you are matched with a host site supervisor.”

Scott admitted she was “initially nervous about the application process, especially since it was my senior year and I wanted to make sure that my classes were going smoothly. Plus, people apply every year with different levels of experience, some with master’s degrees and some just graduating like me. I was grateful to Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh for his guidance and mentorship, and to Assistant Professor of History Christopher Florio, who helped me prepare for my interviews.”

For Scott, acceptance into PHAP has become “my journey back home”: She is returning to Fairbanks, where she lived for more than a decade (her father was stationed at Eielson Air Force Base there and returned to the area upon his retirement from military service). Beginning in October, she will serve with the Tanana Chiefs Conference, an Alaska Native nonprofit dedicated to meeting the health and social service needs of tribal members and beneficiaries throughout the region.

“I’ll be focusing on the quality of current policies related to health care services, and if needed, change and improve them to best fit the needs and desires of the people,” she explained. “I am looking to gain experience working directly with the community. In my internships at Hollins, I got bits and pieces of seeing how the work we created impacted those we served, but now on an ongoing basis I’ll be able go out and interview people and get their direct feedback on how our initiatives are affecting them. That’s the goal of public health – we are here to serve the health of the public.”

Scott said she is looking forward to “being a sponge, ready to absorb all the information they’re willing to provide for me” in two particular areas. “I want to learn more about collecting data on the transmission of chronic and communicable diseases, and also how to create a dialogue that builds comfort and trust with the population we’re serving.”

With an interest in ultimately becoming a chronic disease epidemiologist, Scott is considering pursuing an MD/Master of Public Health program after she completes the PHAP. However, she emphasized that all options are on the table.

“At this point, I’m really just diving deep into this assignment and allowing it to inform my next steps. I want to have an open mind, because during this program I might come across a great opportunity that I never would have otherwise thought of.”

Whatever the future brings for her, Scott is confident that right now, “I’m following my heart. My passion for public health has allowed me to come full circle, starting in Alaska and ending in Alaska.”


Hollins Partners with Nairobi’s Kenyatta University to Create Study Abroad, Internship Opportunities

Hollins University is working with one of Kenya’s leading universities to offer students experiential learning options in Africa.

With support from the U.S. Department of State’s Increase and Diversify Education Abroad for U.S. Students (IDEAS) Program, Hollins and Kenyatta University (KU) in Nairobi are launching a faculty-led study abroad program in gender and women’s studies (GWS) and public health during the 2024 January Short Term. The two schools are also creating internship opportunities for availability beginning in the 2024-25 academic year and exploring a possible articulation agreement with KU’s Master of Public Health program. They have even set in motion plans for Hollins students to go on safari at Nairobi National Park (Nairobi is the only city in the world with an actual animal preserve located within its environs).

Hollins Delegation KU Faculty
In Nairobi, the Hollins delegation met with faculty members from KU’s humanities and social sciences department, including Gender and Development Studies Lecturer and Chairperson Pacificah Okemwa and Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences Richard Wafula.

“Hollins’ collaboration with KU is our sole partnership in Africa, which in turn is critical for providing our students with a diversity of study abroad experiences in terms of location and disciplines,” explained Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh. “Partnering with KU means our students can gain practical field experience on cross-cultural issues related to GWS and public health. In addition, this partnership will enhance career readiness for GWS and public health students through the establishment of international internships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Nairobi.”

Jalloh, Director of International Programs Ramona Kirsch, and Assistant Professor of Sociology Jennifer Turner made up the Hollins delegation that traveled to Nairobi and the KU campus in June to finalize a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the institutions. The Hollins team met with KU’s international programs staff and faculty from the university’s humanities and social sciences department, as well as with the director of KU’s Women’s Economic Empowerment Hub, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The delegation also visited potential internship sites including the Port Health Authority at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport.

Hollins Delegation KU Internship Site
Visiting the Port Health Authority at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, the Hollins team was accompanied by Isabell Kingori (second from right), who teaches in KU’s School of Public Health and was Hollins’ Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence last year. They consulted with Port Health Officer-in-Charge Florence Muriithi (third from right) and a KU student intern (third from left).

The MOU, which has an initial term of five years, details four general areas of cooperation between Hollins and KU:

  • Academic Partnerships (scholarships, international seminars and conferences, program support, and/or facilities for students and employees as an element of a degree or program of each partner)
  • Research and Innovation Partnerships (joint grant proposal writing, research, innovation, and support for the development of knowledge)
  • Community Outreach Partnerships (community-based participatory research, community service, community-wide health improvement, community/economic development, environmental justice, legal aid clinics, and business literacy education)
  • Utility Partnerships (access to utility capabilities, including unique technology, specialized equipment, facilities, and training or knowledge, which can be used to support a range of activities including education, research, and development)

Kirsch noted, “In addition to establishing a partnership to provide our GWS and public health students opportunities for study and internships abroad, our long-term plan with KU is to develop an exchange program to benefit both Hollins and KU students as well as to create joint faculty research projects and teaching exchanges. There are many potential directions with this partnership and Hollins will work with KU to nurture these directions in both depth and breadth.”

With its main campus located on more than 1,000 acres, KU is home to some of the world’s top scholars, researchers, and experts in diverse fields. Offering undergraduate, master’s, and Ph.D. programming, KU emphasizes providing practical, hands-on knowledge and skills training in a nurturing environment.

 

Top Photo (from left to right): Assistant Professor of Sociology Jennifer Turner; Women’s Economic Empowerment Hub Director Judith Ndombi Waudo; Director of International Programs Ramona Kirsch; and Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh

 

 


Jacquelyne Abe ’24 Prepares for a Public Health Career with Healthcare Workforce Internship, Major Conference Presentation

Since arriving on campus two years ago, Jacquelyne Abe ’24 has enjoyed a transformative Hollins experience.

She has embraced two majors she never considered before coming to the university, and they have sparked her interest in becoming, in the parlance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a “disease detective.” She just completed a summer internship with the government agency responsible for collecting and measuring data on Virginia’s healthcare workforce, and this fall at a prestigious conference, she will present a paper based on research she conducted during that internship.

Jacquelyne hails from the Ivory Coast in West Africa, and her academic odyssey began in high school when, through the U.S. Embassy in the city of Abidjan, she connected with EducationUSA. The network, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, provides guidance on accredited American colleges and universities to prospective students in more than 175 countries. An EducationUSA representative “thought a women’s college would be perfect for me,” she said. “She knew that I liked family and being close to people, and she believed I would thrive in that setting over a big university.”

After doing some exploration, Jacquelyne chose to apply to Hollins and was accepted. During her first year, she discovered and “fell in love with public health,” and then was pleasantly surprised to learn that “I could double major in the U.S. So, I decided to see what else I could be doing.” Ultimately, she realized that environmental science and public health would be “the perfect combination for me.”

While the EducationUSA network encouraged her to pursue a women’s college, the Hollins alumnae network helped lead Jacquelyne to the summer internship that would have a profound impact on her academic and career development. Through Rebecca Smith ’04, a senior adjudication specialist with the Virginia Department of Health Professions (DHP), Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh learned of an opportunity with the DHP’s Healthcare Workforce Data Center. Located in Henrico, DHP licenses and regulates over 380,000 healthcare practitioners across 62 professions in the commonwealth, and the Healthcare Workforce Data Center regularly assesses workforce supply and demand issues among those licensed practitioners.

When Jalloh shared the internship with a class she was taking last semester, Jacquelyne said she “thought it sounded really interesting and I wanted to dive into it. I needed to find out if this was something that would be good for me and my future career. It was time for me to experience something instead of just thinking I might like it.”

Supervised by Yetty Shobo, director of the Healthcare Workforce Data Center, Jacquelyne immersed herself in multiple projects over 10 weeks, most notably the dashboard tools that, according to the center, “inform students, policymakers, program designers, healthcare practitioners, and the general public about issues related to Virginia’s healthcare workforce.” During Jacquelyne’s internship, the center received a data request from Shillpa Naavaal, a board-certified dental public health and health services researcher with Virginia Commonwealth University’s Philips Institute for Oral Health Research.

“Dr. Naavaal was interested in seeing how the oral healthcare workforce evolved from 2013 to 2021, and I researched the data and prepared graphs,” Jacquelyne explained. “We saw significant disparities in race and gender, issues that needed to be addressed in order to achieve better health outcomes.”

Shobo was so impressed with Jacquelyne’s work that she encouraged her submit an abstract to the Southern Demographic Association (SDA), a scientific and educational organization composed of demography and population studies professionals. The SDA accepted Jacquelyne’s abstract, “Uncovering Racial/Ethnic Gaps in a State Oral Healthcare Workforce,” for presentation at the 2022 SDA Annual Meeting, which will be held October 17-19 in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Jacquelyne is excited to represent Hollins at the conference and see her project showcased. But she is equally proud of what else she has gained through her summer internship. “It helped me improve my skills and enabled me to grow as a person. I made a lot of mistakes, but Dr. Shobo said, ‘That’s okay, we’re here to learn from each other.’ And I thought, ‘You have a Ph.D. and I haven’t even graduated from college, and you say you want to learn from me?’ Her humility taught me to be humble, to understand that you don’t have to know everything. You just have to put your heart in what you do.”

This year, Jacquelyne is hoping to participate in “Ecuador: A Bio-cultural Journey on the Equator,” a January Short Term course that will offer Hollins students the chance to spend two weeks immersing themselves in one of the most biologically and culturally rich countries on Earth. She is confident that exploring the biological and cultural diversity of the Andean highlands and the Amazon jungle will further prepare her to pursue a Master of Science degree in epidemiology, “the science part of public health,” after she finishes her undergraduate career.

“I really see myself doing something in research and looking at the distribution of a disease across a population. I want to find out what happened and why so you can address the problem and prevent new incidences.” Still, as she demonstrated when she first enrolled at Hollins, Jacquelyne is leaving the door open to other possibilities.

“For my future career I can do anything I want, and if I change my mind tomorrow, I know it’s okay. I just have to put in the work and believe in myself.”


Coordinating Her Community’s First Multicultural Festival, Lilibeth Arzate ’25 Is Helping Underrepresented Groups Feel Seen and Heard

Located in southeastern North Carolina, Sampson County and the City of Clinton (the county seat) boast an array of cultures and peoples. When Clinton’s Planning and Development Department envisioned celebrating this rich diversity by organizing the city and county’s first-ever multicultural festival, the planning director called upon a local resident and Hollins University sophomore to lead the initiative.

Lilibeth Arzate ’25, who intends to major in political science, served as the Planning and Development Department’s summer intern this year, an opportunity that came about after she became a Simple Gifts Scholarship recipient. The scholarship is awarded to high school seniors in Clinton and Sampson County “who graduate in the top 25% of their class, exemplify academic achievement and excellence, and demonstrate outstanding character and leadership.”

“I told my scholarship coordinator of my interest in doing something in local government and she recommended me to the planning director for the internship this summer,” she explained. When Arzate began work in May, her supervisor immediately sought her opinion regarding the festival idea and “I thought it sounded great. She said, ‘I want your job this summer to be to get started on that.’” Arzate also played a key role in meetings involving her department and other City of Clinton officials, but “75% of my internship was laying the groundwork for this festival.”

From the beginning, Arzate said she “wanted to focus on the main cultures and races in Sampson County. The white Americans are the most common, but there are also Black Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans – there is a Coharie Tribe in our county. I did the best I could to reach out to every single part of each culture and/or race. I held multiple meetings and got great feedback.”

Arzate was struck by what she heard from two constituencies in particular. “I am Hispanic, so I found it easier to contact Hispanic organizations and people. They want this festival, but when we told them the location was going to be in front of the courthouse, they said, ‘I’m not going to go there.’ A large undocumented community exists here and they have a fear of anything to do with the government. We don’t want this group of people to shy away from learning about all the other cultures present in Sampson County, but they’re scared to go out. I didn’t realize that such a large quantity of people has that fear, or how it impacts people’s everyday lives on such a scale.”

Meeting with the Coharie tribe, Arzate learned that “they don’t feel like their presence is portrayed enough in local government. One person told me, ‘Whenever you tell people that Native Americans are here, they don’t believe you. That’s the main reason why I want to do this festival, to let people know we’re present in Sampson County and we deserve a voice.’”

Arzate said the dialogues in which she has engaged “have expanded my empathy for underrepresented groups in my community. I really want people here to learn about each other. And just possibly, that will help every one of the citizens in Sampson County live in harmony. There are a lot of issues going on right now that divide everybody, and maybe if we do this, we get people to see the humanity in each other.” Despite some of the concerns that were expressed, she said the groups all emphasized to her that “they felt seen, they felt heard, and agreed this was a great idea. They said this multicultural festival is going to show the rest of the world that we are growing together.”

The City of Clinton is planning to hold the inaugural multicultural festival on the first Saturday of May 2024. “We want to take our time to make sure we do things right the first time,” Arzate said in explaining the lengthy process. The event will feature ethnic foods (“I’ve spoken to multiple people and downtown businesses about being food vendors”), music and entertainment representing each culture (“We’re going to have a lot of dancers and performers from the Coharie tribe, for example”), and arts and crafts (“I have an aunt who does culture garments and she said she will be coming”). Even though Hollins’ spring term will still be in session in early May, Arzate stressed there is no way she won’t be in attendance. “I will be there even if I have to take three days away from Hollins,” she smiled. “I hope my professors don’t mind!”

Arzate will be interning for the Clinton Planning and Development Department again next summer, but she also wants to continue her work on the multicultural festival remotely from Hollins during the 2022-23 academic year. “I’m really proud of what I’ve been doing here in Clinton,” she said. “I never thought I would be in charge of bringing something like this to my community.” Her long-term plans include completing a paralegal certificate program after earning her political science degree and eventually becoming an immigration attorney.

“Who knows, life might lead me to being in Congress one day. Once you have that power, you can do great things. But I’d like to start off by coming back to Sampson County and working for our local government. I don’t see a lot of resources for immigrants here and I would like to be that help for the undocumented community.”

 


From London to Roanoke, Julia Mouketo ’23 Builds an Impressive Resume for a Journalism Career

Growing up in the Republic of Congo, Julia Mouketo ’23 didn’t have to look far to find a role model for discovering her career path. “My mom works in institutional communications, but because of her studies and training, she has always told me that at heart, she is a journalist,” the senior communication studies major recalled. “I remember even when I was very young, probably no more than three or four, I was saying, ‘I want to be a journalist like my mom!’”

With her internship this summer at The Roanoke Times, Mouketo has taken the next important step toward realizing that dream. Beginning in June and concluding this week, she has undertaken reporting assignments that have given her significant experience in her chosen field.

Mouketo embarked on a unique, often challenging, but ultimately rewarding journey to arrive at this point. In 2016, she was a high school junior in her home country when her mom announced that she had been offered the opportunity to advance her own career with her employer, the World Bank – but it would require relocating the family to Washington, D.C.

“I did not want to move, but obviously I didn’t really have an option,” Mouketo said. Her reluctance was understandable: She spoke no English and would encounter a completely different educational system in her new home. “My courses didn’t translate, so I had to repeat 11th grade twice – once from January to June and again for another full year.” College preparation is a priority for high school juniors, but Mouketo said she was skeptical about her chances of being accepted at an American college or university. “I thought, ‘There is no way I’m going to get into those schools.’ I had no GPA, and as much as I was trying to make good grades, it was very, very difficult. I told my mom that it would be easier for me to just go to university in France. We even paid the deposit to go to business school.”

Mouketo’s pessimism about her access to American higher education began to ease, however, when she took a college prep class during her senior year. Part of her grade depended on applying to schools and going to college fairs. “That’s when I first met Hollins people. I had never heard of it and had no idea where Roanoke was, but they gave me a whole lot of information and I just thought it was nice.” She decided to apply to Hollins and to several other schools. She was accepted at all of them, but to her what made the difference in choosing Hollins was the university’s generous offer of financial assistance. “My mom literally fainted when she learned how much Hollins was willing to work with us on what we could afford,” she noted. Visiting the campus on Admitted Student Day confirmed her decision. “The people were so amazing. Today I believe that Hollins is really the only place that took a chance on me.”

Mouketo entered Hollins intending to major in business, but because of her writing and photography interests, she decided communication studies would be a better fit. With her mom’s example as her guide, her interest in journalism began to coalesce during the 2020 January Short Term.

“I grew up in a household where we watched and talked about the news every night and I was always aware of what was going on in the world. There was a lot happening that month with Brexit and the emergence of COVID, so I got the idea to start writing and sharing news summaries on WhatsApp. I did it every morning, I enjoyed it, and a lot of people encouraged me to keep doing it.”

Being Mary Jane, a BET series starring Gabrielle Union as a cable television news anchor, and the support of a relative who was attending law school at Washington and Lee University, were also inspirations. “When I decided what I was going to do, the first person I told was my cousin. I said, ‘I want to be a journalist.’ She replied, ‘You know what? That makes sense.’”

In the midst of a pandemic, Mouketo struggled to get jobs and internships for experience. Her breakthrough came last fall while studying abroad in London. She connected with Made in Shoreditch, “a sort of hip, cultural magazine about one of the city’s artsy areas. I had the opportunity to do so many things,” including covering nightclubs, restaurants, and concerts. For Mouketo, it was confirmation that “This is the life I want!”

After returning to Hollins, Mouketo was more determined than ever to enhance her resume. She pursued opportunities with Lee Enterprises, a media company that owns several daily newspapers throughout Virginia. The Roanoke Times offered her a summer internship and gave her the chance to immerse herself immediately in news gathering and reporting.

“My first week I was given the assignment of covering the Miss Virginia competition in Roanoke, beginning with interviewing the reigning Miss Virginia. I shared the interview transcript with my editor, who in turn gave me another assignment: ‘I want you to find three themes in what she said and explore one of those themes.’” Mouketo focused on “sisterhood,” and the resulting article, “A Forever Sisterhood: Miss Virginia 2021’s Advice to Successor Is to Stay Authentic and Show People Your Unique Self,” became a front-page story. Covering the competition itself gave Mouketo an idea of the stamina – and late hours – that are sometimes required of a journalist. “The competition ran on a Saturday for eight hours until 11 p.m. and then I had to write and file my story that night.” The article, “Ashburn Woman Wins Miss Virginia Title,” earned Mouketo another front-page placement.

Throughout her internship, Mouketo also gained valuable research skills. With a staff reporter’s help, she learned everything from how to look up public courthouse records to using a geographic information system (GIS) to identify property via Google Maps.

“It was a very enriching experience,” Mouketo said. “I was able to use all of my skills and talents for the things I love to do and get paid for it. I’ve been able to take pictures for my articles, make videos, and perfect my craft when it comes to writing.” Describing herself as “more of a backstage person,” she is at this point leaning toward a career in print rather than broadcast journalism, though she isn’t ruling out transitioning to television or radio at some point. First though, she plans to complete a master’s degree in journalism after graduating from Hollins next spring.

For now, Mouketo is taking great pride in her accomplishments at Hollins and beyond, which perhaps crystallized in one special moment following the Miss Virginia competition.

As audience members were leaving Roanoke’s Berglund Center after the event concluded, Mouketo had already “run into the lobby and was typing my story. People were walking through and saying, ‘Oh, she’s a journalist.’ And I said, ‘Yes, I am a journalist!’”


During Her Summer Internship, Margarite Fisher ’22 Is Helping Veterans Access Quality Healthcare Close to Home

For years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been committed to providing veterans with timely and convenient access to healthcare. As the number of veterans grow and VA enrollees become more dispersed across the nation, appointment backlogs and significant travel necessary to attend appointments challenged the VA to create a solution that better served this deserving population of American citizens. Previously, referring veterans to physicians within their own communities was often a time-consuming task for VA staff that presented obstacles impacting everything from follow-up treatment to reimbursement procedures.

Since 2017, the VA, in partnership with Cognosante, a leading technology provider based in Falls Church, Virginia, has been working to solve that problem. Cognosante launched the Community Care Referral and Authorization Program (CCR&A), which, through user-friendly software technology, is streamlining the VA’s patient referral process for millions of veterans. For ten weeks this summer, Margarite Fisher ’22, who graduated from Hollins University this spring with a bachelor’s degree in business, is serving on the team created to help veterans get the care they need faster.

The CCR&A system allows VA caregivers to more quickly refer veterans to local healthcare providers, including the coordination of treatment with doctors the patients already know and trust. The results have been dramatic: Over the past three years, CCR&A has generated more than 17 million community referrals and authorizations for more than three million veterans and reduced wait times by 75 percent, all while reducing costs for both the veteran and the VA.

Senior Program Director Sue Burke noted that Fisher, who will pursue a master’s degree in digital marketing beginning this fall at the Rennes School of Business in France, has played a key role on the CCR&A Project Team. “Margarite is using her strong marketing background to create an interactive team newsletter, while also working on long-needed updates to project standard operating procedures (SOPs) and other mission critical process templates. Her ‘can do’ attitude and willingness to dive into various facets of project management on a large and highly visible government project have proven valuable to our progress as a team this summer. We’re incredibly grateful to have her as part of the CCR&A team.”

Fisher’s opportunity to enhance the public healthcare experience comes through her participation in Cognosante’s inaugural Women in STEM Alliance – a program in which Hollins is a founding member. In partnership with women’s colleges, this unique diversity program is designed to increase access to IT careers for women technologists and offers non-technologists a front row seat to the skills needed for a successful career in business, strategy, or operations. Students apply academic studies to real-world projects, gain marketable career experience, and learn to collaborate with peers and professionals across the organization.

“Our University Engagement partnerships help develop the workforce of the future,” said Jennifer Bailey, chief administration officer at Cognosante. “Through mentoring, power skills training, and project leadership responsibility, these transformative opportunities set young professionals on a path to long-term career success. We’re excited that Hollins recognizes the value of the program and look forward to deepening this partnership to serve the university’s students for years to come.”

 


By Researching the Gut Microbiome, Hana Olof ’22 Seeks Ways to Strengthen Immune Systems

The gut microbiome is the community of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms that live in the human digestive system – and a very big deal in terms of our ability to fight disease.

“The gut microbiome is the most important scientific discovery for human healthcare in recent decades,” said James Kinross, a microbiome scientist and surgeon at Imperial College London, in a July 2021 article in The Guardian. “It’s a vital organ in your body and you need to look after it,” noted Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, in the same piece. “If you do that, it will look after you.”

“We discovered it – or rediscovered it – in the age of genetic sequencing less than 15 years ago. The only organ which is bigger is the liver,” Kinross added, while also admitting, “We don’t really know how it works.”

Hana Olof ’22 intends to become one of the scientists who unlocks the mysteries of the gut microbiome and harnesses its potentially considerable impact. The biology major and psychology minor first learned about the investigation of gut health when she took a microbiology class at Hollins with Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Mary Jane Carmichael.

“We were encouraged to read recent articles in that field and were assigned a weekly article review. Through that, I discovered the gut microbiome,” Olof said. “It introduced me to a whole new different area of study, and since then I’ve been reading more and more about it. I’m so fascinated with it. I didn’t realize gut microbes were associated with different diseases, or that you could also use them to reduce the effect of diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome.”

Investigating the gut microbiome has solidified Olof’s burgeoning interest in biomedical research. “It has been really helpful to work with the different faculty in the biology department. My classes and lab experiences have trained me on how to do research, prepare lab reports, and analyze data. They create an environment where asking questions is encouraged.”

Wooten Olof Munir SEPA
Hana Olof ’22 (right), Soha Munir ’23 (center), and Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Alex Wooten (left) represented Hollins at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Psychological Association in March.

Olof said that foundation has been invaluable in the experiences she’s enjoyed as an undergraduate beyond the classroom. In the summer of 2020, she participated in an internship through Eastern Virginia Medical School and sponsored by the Hollins biology department where she worked with a team to develop a hypothetical treatment for COVID-19. The project was conducted entirely online with video technology due to the pandemic. Drawing on her psychology minor, she was awarded a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship the following year and conducted research on the topic of “The Influence of Prior Suspect Familiarity on Cross-Race Effect.” This March, Olof and Soha Munir ’23 presented a poster on the topic at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Psychological Association.

“Their work was motivated by the large number of wrongful convictions that have been due to the cross-race effect, which is the finding that witnesses to a crime are worse at correctly identifying a suspect of a different race than their own,” Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Alex Wooten explained. “This has unfortunately led to a disproportionate amount of innocent Black individuals being falsely identified.”

Wooten noted that Olof and Munir’s research is significant in that it establishes that “the cross-race effect also applies to situations where the suspect is casually familiar, which has yet to be shown before. The findings suggest that just because an eyewitness says they are familiar with a suspect following a crime does not guarantee they will make an accurate identification, particularly when the suspect is of a different race.”

“I want to thank the psychology department and Dr. Wooten for all the valuable skills I learned,” Olof stated.  “The fellowship really helped me to see the steps that go into research design.”

Engaging in those remote projects served her well during the 2021 January Short Term, when she completed an internship at the Atlanta Botanical Garden remotely from her home country of Ethiopia. “I didn’t have a lot of experience in botanicals but it was a really amazing experience to work with them because they helped me to learn about the conservation of plants and grow my skills at analyzing data.” Olof added that the Garden staff graciously accommodated her circumstance working from home. “They were kind enough to factor in the time difference. So, instead of meeting in the morning, we would meet in the evening to talk about what we did throughout the day.” She was also challenged by less-than-reliable internet service, “and there were times when I had to go to different places to get a connection. But in the end it worked out well.”

For the 2022 January Short Term, Olof and two other Hollins students completed a Signature Internship with San Antonio-based Vascular Perfusion Solutions (VPS), which is developing ways to help transplanted organs last longer outside of the body. “We observed procedures related to the preservation of hearts for transplantations,” she explained. “Currently, the preservation time is only four hours and their aim is to extend that so that people in distant locations can have more of an opportunity for organ transplantation.”

Olof said the opportunity for her and her fellow students “really taught us a lot. This is when I really appreciated what I learned at Hollins. We already had so many experiences writing articles and so we were asked to edit some of VPS’s articles before they were published. We analyzed a lot of data for them as well, and our experiences through our different biology classes enabled us to do that accurately.” Because of Hollins biology department’s emphasis on query and examination, Olof was comfortable initiating a dialogue anytime she came across something she didn’t understand, and that confidence enabled her to call attention to an error she found during her VPS data analysis.

Olof’s search for the right graduate school to further her study of the gut microbiome and the immune system came to fruition when she learned of a faculty member at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg who is focusing on that area. “I reached out and said I’d really like to work with her,” Olof recalled. “She called me for an interview, we talked more, and then I got accepted to her lab and to the university.” Olof will begin her two-year master’s degree program in September and can continue at the university if she decides to go on to earn her doctorate. “They offered me an opportunity to pursue my Ph.D. work there, and if I do that then there’s a potential for me to finish it faster than the typical six years because they would take my master’s degree into account.” If Olof chooses to enter the workforce after completing her master’s degree, “they have connections with industrial companies that focus on gut microbes.”

Olof is excited about the possibilities offered by gut microbiome research. “Nowadays there are many conditions that don’t respond to the traditional method of treatment – there are so many antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Plus, in developing nations such as my home country of Ethiopia, there is no easy access to medications. So, this idea of treating disease through dietary modification or reducing disease by taking a prebiotic feels very promising to me. And if we could find innovative treatments that won’t have as many side effects on people as drugs do, I feel like that would also be a great thing to pursue.”

 

 

 

 

 


Chin Wai “Rosie” Wong ’22 Embraces a Passion for Communication at Hollins and Beyond

When she was eight years old, Chin Wai “Rosie” Wong ’22 discovered that she enjoyed keeping a diary. She loved it so much in fact that one day she noted in it, “I want to be a writer.”

Throughout her education growing up in Hong Kong and mainland China and her undergraduate career at Hollins, Wong has indeed pursued a remarkable enthusiasm for communication. “I started doing communications work a long time before I came to Hollins,” she recalled. “I was a personality on my high school radio station’s English-speaking channel, and I helped plan and host student activities and performances, including my high school graduation. I’m so glad my school trusted me. I got the chance to work with other students with similar interests.”

Wong’s decision to attend college abroad had its genesis when her middle school summer camp traveled to the United States in 2013. “That was the inspirational moment where I thought, ‘This is somewhere I want to go,’ because I grew up with music, movies, and a lot of other cultural elements from the U.S. It was a part of me as I grew up.” While she never got to visit Hollins as a prospective student, she chose it because “it matched my criteria for undergraduate studies. I was looking for a liberal arts college with small class sizes. I did a lot of research on the majors Hollins offers, and I learned I could double major in communication studies and theatre, something that I always wanted to do.”

After coming to Hollins, Wong found that she could “study communication in a more systemic and scholarly way that just opens paths and makes me want to keep pursuing it.” Improving her ability to speak English fluently is also a source of delight. “It’s such a big compliment when I meet someone and they ask me, ‘Are you from here?’ Being physically in a space and communicating with local people is so different from learning English from a textbook, and I have learned not only what to speak about but how to speak as well. That’s why I see language as more than just a tool. It is everything.”

Wong’s theatre major complements her communications work. “I enjoy being in productions and meeting new people. There are such close relationships in the theatre space. The faculty and staff are collaborators who welcome your vision whether you are an actor, a designer, or serve in other roles.”

Wong has grown her skills as a writer through the internships she’s completed. During her sophomore year, she spent her January Short Term with Peace Boat US, a non-governmental organization in New York City that enables people from around the world to study global concerns such as war, environmental degradation, and gender violence. Wong worked on a variety of internal projects where extensive writing was needed. This year, she interned with the Global Communications team at The Estée Lauder Companies, also in New York City.

“Whenever you intern in an organization, you have things to learn,” Wong noted. “You learn about the culture of the organization. You have to learn how things are done and what you should do. You are not an isolated individual, because what you do affects many others. I definitely think that being a communication studies major helped me understand and practice that.”

As a contributor to The Teen Magazine, Wong is drawing upon her time as a Hollins student to inform high school students and ease their anxieties as they prepare for college. “I was inspired by my role as a tour guide last semester. I got to meet with students to introduce them to Hollins and explain what we have here. I thought, ‘Why not amplify such a message to almost anyone who is going to college?’” Her first article for The Teen Magazine earned over 1,000 views. “I was able to write about something that I’m really passionate about, and that’s my life experience.” She also served as an ambassador for Hollins’ international programs. “We have so many things to offer current and prospective students. And this is what I longed for before entering college.”

Wendy-Marie Martin and Rosie Wong '22
Chin Wai (Rosie) Wong ’22 interviewed Hollins Theatre Chair Wendy-Marie Martin (left) for the new HU Sound podcast channel.

In her final semester at Hollins, Wong helped pioneer the launch of a podcast network for the university called HU Sound. She envisions podcast episodes covering a wide range of topics, but she is especially excited about one particular aspect. “I want to amplify faculty voices. I love working with all my professors and I want to hear their stories.” Fittingly, the first podcast Wong produced and hosted features Assistant Professor of Theatre and Theatre Department Chair Wendy-Marie Martin. As an alumna of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins and now the head of Hollins Theatre, “I thought it would be a very valuable moment for me and for the community to hear what she had to say,” Wong stated.

After graduation, Wong will be assisting the Global Communications team at The Estée Lauder Companies as the digital editorial consultant. She will be working with the Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization designed for international students who wish to remain in the United States to acquire work experience. Wong believes academic knowledge and professional practices go hand-in-hand in her growth and achievement.

She’s also taking the time to assess how her four years at Hollins have impacted her. “Being a college student really transformed me as a person. I am more confident now. I speak English more naturally. I’ve also cultivated a futuristic mindset. I love reminiscing and I feel nostalgic every now and then, but my action shows I’m always moving forward.” Even though coming to the United States for college meant physical and emotional distance from her parents back in China, “they have been very supportive, and they are impressed that I’ve come so far. My parents are very proud of me for being so insistent about English as a language and communication in a broader sense. They are also proud that I’ve become more independent and able to do things on my own. Now, I’m not just their daughter, I am also their closest friend.”


“Every Day Was a Different Kind of Adventure”: Environmental Science Major Studies Wolves in Minnesota

In her first year at Hollins, Virginia Lucey ’24 experienced an epiphany after taking classes and labs in environmental science and ecology. “I really got into it,” the sophomore from Great Falls, Virginia, said. “I was definitely interested in pursuing environmental science as my major.”

For her ecology lab, Lucey got a taste of experiential work beyond the classroom when she and a friend tracked bird migration. She realized, “My favorite part of science is getting my hands dirty, the going outside part,” and she set her sights on performing field research during this year’s January Short Term. Because of the richness in biodiversity there, she learned there were numerous opportunities for field work in locations around the equator. She intended to pursue such projects someday, but for the moment, Lucey wanted something a little closer to home. In addition, she was more interested in how northern species have evolved and was drawn to studying more about them.

Struggling to find programs that focused on northern ecology, Lucey contacted her advisor, Assistant Professor of Biology Elizabeth Gleim. “She reached out to some Hollins alumnae, and one of the opportunities she quickly found involved researching wolves in Minnesota. I thought, ‘That sounds amazing.’”

For J-term 2022, Lucey was accepted at Osprey Wilds, a private, nonprofit residential environmental learning center located in east central Minnesota. Blending classroom instruction with extensive hands-on research, the center “allows students to come in and get field experience for the first time,” she explained. “The student research actively contributes to the work of Osprey Wilds.”

Wolf Ambassadors
Axel and Grayson, wolf ambassadors at the International Wolf Center.

After arriving in early January, Lucey worked an intensive schedule of ten-hour days for two weeks. She and approximately 40 other students from across the country began by absorbing the basics of everything from wolf ecology and the politics of wolf conservation to tracking wolves and other northern animals such as bears and birds. With this foundational knowledge, the group headed north to Ely, Minnesota, home of the International Wolf Center, which “advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands, and the human role in their future.” There, the students observed the ambassador wolves Axel, Grayson, and the seven-month-old pup, Rieka.

Lucey aboard a four-seater plane conducting a telemetry flight. (Photo: Autumn Pozniak)

“Every day was a different kind of adventure,” she recalled. At the Wildlife Science Center near Osprey Wilds, the students observed the behavior of more than 100 wolves. “About half of the wolves had been born at the research center and were bottle-fed, and the other half came from wolfpacks that had been rescued after they had become a problem in a certain area. It was cool to see the difference in how they behaved. Bottle-fed wolves are much more dangerous than wild wolves. To a fully wild wolf, humans are an unknown so they tend to avoid us. Bottle-fed wolves don’t fear us and almost see us as part of the wolf hierarchy.” Thus, Lucey noted, it’s humans trying to “domesticate” or “tame” wolves that leads to dangerous interactions, not wolves themselves. Wild wolves will avoid humans, whereas wolves that have been raised around them will interact more closely. They do not see humans as a source of food, but close interaction can be dangerous if they think a human is threatening their pack position or territory.

After working at the Wildlife Science Center and International Wolf Center, Lucey and her group traveled still farther north, where they actively tracked wild wolves, both in the air and on the ground. “We did telemetry flights, where we went up in little four-seater planes and tracked wolfpacks based off of radio collars,” she said. They also spent extensive time hiking in forests and on ice. “We’d be like, ‘It’s so warm today!’ when the temperature rose to minus-15 degrees. Wolf research is mainly done in the winter. The main time you can see wolves from the air is when they are traveling over frozen lakes. That’s the only time you’re going to catch them from out under the trees, where they blend in completely. When it comes to tracking them in the woods, you can follow their step-by-step paw prints through the snow. During the summer you really can’t do that unless of course you’re an exceptionally skilled tracker.”

Boundary Waters Minnesota
Minnesota’s Boundary Waters wilderness area.

 

 

 

In the Minnesota wilderness in January, weather conditions are generally the biggest potential hazard. “We spent a lot of time in advance studying about winter survival, how to avoid frostbite and warm up different appendages.” But just because wild wolves weren’t a significant threat didn’t mean she and her group could let down their guard. The students were eager to find moose tracks, but they wanted to avoid any close interactions with a live moose, particularly if they had a calf with them, which makes a moose more dangerous than wolves.

Wolf Track Plaster Mold
A plaster mold of a paw print from a wolf Lucey tracked at Lake Superior.

“A wolf will see you and think, ‘You’re not worth the trouble’” Lucey explained. “A moose will see you and think, ‘If I don’t attack you, you may attack me,’ or its calf.”

Conducting research at sites where wolves killed prey such as deer offered Lucey some of the most fascinating learning experiences. However, finding those sites often depended on happenstance. “We would be driving somewhere and would suddenly stop because our instructor had seen vultures or ravens. He would take us out to where they were and we’d find kill sites that were sometimes still in process – a wolf will come back to one several times if it’s a big prey. In one case, we got to do an informal dissection to gather information such as how healthy a deer was at the time of the kill.”

Tracking Group
Lucey’s tracking group warms up during a wilderness excursion. (Photo: Bryan Wood, executive director and program director, Osprey Wilds)

 

 

 

 

 

Lucey described her two weeks in Minnesota as “an amazing opportunity for anyone who wants to look into field research and prepare for what it’s really like. It’s not always pretty – a lot of wild animal research is dealing with blood and guts and scat – but our instructors and others made sure we got to listen to a lot of cool people, leading experts who are running a lot of different wolf projects all over the world. We got to learn about opportunities that you can’t find out about online.”

Grayson Wolf Ambassador
Grayson, wolf ambassador at the International Wolf Center.

 

 

She added, “Wolves are one of those big charismatic animals that field researchers dream of working with, and the reality of getting into that selective field is small. So, this was definitely a step into that. It was just an awesome experience.”

 

 

 

Top photo: Virginia Lucey ’24 (far left) with members of her wolf tracking group (photo by Autumn Pozniak)

 

 


With Compassion for Immigrant and Refugee Populations, Sajila Kanwal ’22 Lays the Groundwork for a Career in Public Health

As a student at an all-girls’ high school in her home country of Pakistan, Sajila Kanwal ’22 thought her career path was set. She had aspirations of becoming a doctor, and was enrolled in her school’s pre-med program.

But during her first year at Hollins University, Kanwal soon discovered after taking a sociology class that she also found other fields of study equally as appealing. “It took me some time to kind of realize what I really wanted to do,” she recalled. Her educational exploration ultimately led her to classes taught by Visiting Assistant Professor in Global Politics and Societies Ashleigh Breske and Associate Professor in International Studies Jon Bohland.

With so many interests, Kanwal decided to major in international studies with a minor in social justice. Those passions coalesced last year when she took Breske’s Globalization and Local Responses course.

“I did research on women’s health in Pakistan and their access to sexual and reproductive healthcare,” she said. “I have first-hand experience of not being able to easily access those services back home because sexual and reproductive health is such a sensitive topic.” Kanwal said she hoped the subject would ultimately become her senior thesis, but a lack of available data presented obstacles. At the same time, she increasingly wanted to learn more about, and work with, refugees and immigrants in the United States. “So, I thought that focusing my thesis on undocumented immigrant and refugee women in this country, and their healthcare, would be a good idea. My research is about organizations that help women get access to sexual and reproductive services in Virginia, their policies, and what they are doing different compared to other organizations that cannot reach their goals.”

A class last spring on public health and social justice with Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh helped inform her thesis work and solidify her plans post-Hollins.

“I learned a lot about how there’s so much disparity in the healthcare system in the United States,” she explained. “Even during the pandemic, immigrants were completely ignored, even though they were bringing food to our tables. They were having to work even if they were sick. That really kind of drew me into public health, and I’m applying now to graduate school public health programs.”

In January, Kanwal will begin an internship with Ipas, a nonprofit organization based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, that promotes initiatives around the world to increase women’s ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights. She’ll work part-time and remotely in Ipas’ development department, where she will conduct individual and foundation donor research and study embassies located in countries where Ipas offices have programming. “Ipas has an office in my home country, which is amazing,” Kanwal said. “I’m going to be involved in a lot of fundraising. The contract is for one year, but I can end the internship in June if I find a full-time job after I graduate from Hollins. I definitely think it’s a great opportunity to start with in my public health career.”

“It has been such a gift to watch Sajila grow and mature during her time at Hollins,” said Ashley Browning, Hollins’ vice president for enrollment management. “She is a wonderful ambassador for our community. I am certain that her contributions at Ipas will make a meaningful impact on their work.”

Kanwal noted that she has enhanced her leadership skills through a number of extracurricular student activities. For the past three years she has served as a mentor in Hollins’ International Student Orientation Program (ISOP), and she works in the university’s Office of Admission, where her responsibilities include sharing on social media her everyday experiences with professors and her fellow students. She is a member of the Diversity Monologue Troupe, a team of student leaders that promotes understanding of the university’s rich diversity while helping to broaden perspectives on the various stereotypes common in society. She’s pursuing a Certificate in Leadership Studies from the university’s Batten Leadership Institute. And, she works as a community assistant, helping support the academic and personal development of each individual in the residence halls.

“I’ve learned a lot from my co-workers and supervisors,” she added. “Their empathy has really driven me to care for others and build my own character.”

The Hollins senior also praises her professors (“Their kindness is beyond limits. They understand you as a student, they give you honest feedback, and they want the best for you. I wouldn’t have had this at a bigger college.”) and her host parents, Marcella Griggs and Peter Trower of Blacksburg (“They have been of great support during my entire Hollins journey. They have really helped me a lot to get to where I am.”).

Kanwal is spending her Winter Break in New York City, where she will be volunteering for a refugee organization. Then, during January Short Term she’s heading to the Universidad de Alicante in Spain to immerse herself in study tours, activities, and courses in health sciences and social sciences.

“I’m proud of myself for choosing Hollins,” she said. “I wouldn’t have had this experience of self-development otherwise. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what the future brings for me in terms of opportunities and options. I’m open to everything that interests me and see the best in each possibility.”