Hollins University is one of the founding partner institutions for a new women-focused professional development program that offers students technology and career readiness skills.
Hollins and Sweet Briar College are joining with technology company Cognosante as the Falls Church, Virginia-based firm launches its Women in STEM Alliance, which seeks to prepare women for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
According to Jeffrey White, director of Career Development and Life Design at Hollins, the partnership offers students of most any major the opportunity to engage their liberal arts competencies in a tech and government work environment. “Although the program emphasizes STEM,” he explained, “Cognosante also has a need for interns in a variety of departments such as human resources, research, and communications.”
“Proactively addressing gender inequity in the workforce is essential to enhancing diversity within the federal government contracting industry,” stated Cognosante Chief Administration Officer Jennifer Bailey. “The women’s colleges we partnered with share our commitment to eliminating gender bias through meaningful opportunities and developing the next generation of leaders.”
The Women in STEM Alliance features a 10-week paid Summer College Analyst Program, which assigns students with managers and departments aligned to their academic goals; a semester-long paid Scholars Program, in which students can earn college credit while working full-time at a Cognosante office; and the Cognosante Campus Connection, a series of on-campus seminars, speaking engagements, and mentoring. As part of the program, Cognosante customizes aspects of the experience to address known challenges for women in the workforce, specifically securing opportunities, gaining access, and developing leadership skills.
“This opportunity can help take Hollins students to a new level of career readiness and marketability,” noted White.
“This immersive program provides hands-on experience to accelerate the start of a STEM career. It also gives students with non-technical aspirations the chance to work in the tech industry and develop the skills needed for a career in business, strategy, or operations,” said Jackie Ackerman, vice president of data science at Cognosante. “We are excited to provide Hollins and Sweet Briar students with an opportunity to develop highly applicable skills and expand their professional network.”
Collaborating with her psychology professor and mentor, a Hollins alumna has published an article in a national, peer-reviewed journal that sheds new light on the connection between self-concept and mental illness stigma.
“Mental health stigma and psychological distress have been shown to be a barrier in help-seeking*,” Malik said. “The topic of help-seeking and its predictors in addition to stigma remains essential in an effort toward improving mental health campaigns.”
One predictor that has received little investigation, Malik noted, is self-concept clarity (SCC). “The broad definition of self-concept is the perception of oneself, influenced by the interaction between the environment and subsequent experiences,” she explained. “SCC is the extent to which self-beliefs are clearly and confidently defined, internally consistent, and stable over time. A lower SCC is associated with mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety, resulting in psychological distress.”
Malik stated that mental health stigma “can be further classified into personal stigma and perceived public stigma. Personal stigma has been shown to be negatively associated with help-seeking, but perceived public stigma was not found to be associated with help-seeking in previous studies**. The current study altered the perceived stigma reference group from ‘public’ to ‘peer’ to investigate whether this change would influence the association with help-seeking.”
Mann added, “Social norms typically influence health behaviors, so we wondered whether a more precise variable of perceived peer-group stigma would show more relevance.”
With 111 Hollins University undergraduate study participants, Malik and Mann sought “to develop a better understanding of the relationship between SCC, stigma, and help-seeking behavior,” Malik said. “To our knowledge, this was the first study to explore the concept of SCC and help-seeking together.”
The researchers developed four hypotheses. “The first hypothesis predicted a positive correlation between SCC and help-seeking,” Malik stated, “and the results showed that individuals who have a higher SCC have a more positive attitude toward seeking mental health services.
“A negative correlation between SCC and psychological distress was the second hypothesis. We found that as SCC increased, psychological distress decreased.
“The third hypothesis predicted a positive correlation between personal and peer-group stigma. This was the first study to investigate peer-group stigma. We did find that higher perceived stigma in the peer group corresponded with higher personal stigma. As perceptions help shape personal beliefs, the direction of respondents’ personal stigma matched their perceived peer group stigma.
“The fourth hypothesis predicted no correlation between perceived public stigma and help-seeking, but a negative correlation between both personal and peer stigma with help-seeking behavior. Consistent with previous literature, personal stigma continued to be associated with help-seeking, whereas perceived public stigma was not associated with help-seeking; however, perceived peer stigma was associated.***”
“Sometimes when you’re not finding an expected effect, it’s because you’re not measuring it precisely enough,” Mann said. “It makes sense that the reference group for young college students is not ‘the public’ at large but their own sociodemographic group.”
Because the data was collected during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the research “utilized a convenience sample, which greatly limits the generalizability of our results,” the authors stressed caution in interpreting their findings. However, “One of the major strengths of the current study is that we investigated the relationship between variables that have not been studied before to help fill in the gaps in the literature. Being the first study that we know of to explore SCC with help-seeking, replication is highly recommended.” They also noted that “this is a population, young people with lower SCC and higher distress, that needs to be targeted by not only mental health help-seeking intervention programs, but also anti-stigma campaigns. Youth mental health was categorized as a crisis by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy at the 2022 American Psychological Association convention.”
“Predictors of Help-Seeking” became one of the first recipients of the Psi Chi: Journal of Psychological Research’s new Diversity Badge. According to Psi Chi Editor Steven V. Rouse, the badge recognizes projects that “examine whether psychological phenomena differ as a function of human diversity, highlight psychological characteristics within a historically marginalized group, or identify factors that are related to diversity-based prejudice or discrimination.”
For Malik, the publication is gratifying in a number of ways. “By disseminating our research to mental health professionals and the public at large, we can start removing barriers to treatment.” On a personal level, inclusion in a peer-reviewed journal reflects the degree of scholarship that Malik has achieved, a key factor in earning acceptance into a Ph.D. program. “Doctoral programs in clinical psychology are very competitive. It’s important for them to see your experience in the research cycle: Formulating your hypothesis, collecting and analyzing the data, and writing up and disseminating the results. If you’re not prepared, you won’t succeed.”
Malik praised Mann for her guidance with “Predictors of Help-Seeking,” which she completed as part of the first cohort of students in the psychology department’s clinical and counseling concentration. “Dr. Mann inspired me to explore my interests. I learned theory and got to apply my skills in a real-world clinical setting,” performing a supervised field placement at Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center in Roanoke. “She also encouraged me to apply for grants that made it possible for me to present my research at various conferences.” Notably, the Janet L. MacDonald and Beatrice E. Gushee Award ensured Malik could attend the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, the L. Starling Reid Psychology Research Conference at the University of Virginia, and UCLA’s Psychology Undergraduate Research Showcase.
In addition, Malik credits Mann for urging her to submit her research for publication and go beyond simply completing it as a requirement for her thesis. Mann, she said, directed her to the Psi Chi Journal as a good fit for undergraduate research.
“What sets Hollins apart from other schools is that you build these very strong relationships with your mentor. You get a lot of chances for one-on-one direction.”
Eventually, Malik hopes to specialize in clinical neuropsychology. Her ideal work environment, she said, would be in an academic medical center. “I want to incorporate my equal affinity for research, teaching, and clinical practice. I could have a research lab, and I could train future psychologists and mentor them as research assistants. A clinical practice would inform my research and vice versa. I like that integration.”
“I know Hinza will continue to make great contributions to the science and treatment of mental illness and brain diseases,” Mann stated. “She arrived at Hollins with a passion for psychology, which was a joy to witness, but what blew me away was her focused determination and her willingness to put that into practice, even during the hardships of the pandemic. Hinza expanded her research and clinical skills every single year. I’m not just proud of her work, but I’m inspired by working with her.”
**Boerema, A. M., Kleiboer, A., Beekman, A. T., van Zoonen, K., Dijkshoorn, H., & Cuijpers, P. (2016). Determinants of help-seeking behavior in depression: A cross-sectional study. BMC Psychiatry, 16(1).
Eisenberg, D., Downs, M. F., Golberstein, E., & Zivin, K. (2009). Stigma and help seeking for mental health among college students. Medical Care Research and Review, 66(5), 522–541. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077558709335173.
***Golberstein, E., Eisenberg, D., & Gollust, S. E. (2009). Perceived stigma and helpseeking behavior: Longitudinal evidence from the healthy minds study. Psychiatric Services, 60(9), 1254–1256. https://doi.org/10.1176/ps.2009.60.9.1254.
Research projects by two recent Hollins University graduates were recently featured at the Virginia meeting of one of the world’s largest life sciences societies.
Isabella Jessee ’22 and Geneva Waynick ’21 presented their work at the 2022 American Society for Microbiology Virginia Branch Annual Meeting, held November 4-5 at Laurel Ridge Community College in Middletown.
Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Mary Jane Carmichael served as coauthor of Jessee and Waynick’s individual research studies and accompanied them to the conference.
Jessee delivered an oral presentation on “Variability in Antimicrobial Properties on Multifloral Honey in Southwest Virginia,” representing her thesis work at Hollins. Currently working as a medical scribe for Carilion Clinic Pediatric Orthopaedics in Roanoke, she is building clinical hours as she prepares to pursue her M.D.
Waynick gave a poster presentation entitled “The Influence of Infant Formulae on the Growth of Commensal and Pathogenic Streptococcus Species in the Infant Oral Cavity,” also based on her Hollins thesis. She works in the COVID testing lab at Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in Roanoke and is applying to graduate school at the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary.
Top photo (from left to right): Isabella Jessee ’22, Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Mary Jane Carmichael, and Geneva Waynick ’21 attend the 2022 American Society for Microbiology Virginia Branch Annual Meeting.
In the introduction to their book Indigenous Peoples’ Cultural Heritage: Rights, Debates, Challenges (Brill, 2017), editors Alexandra Xanthaki, Sanna Valkonen, Leena Heinämäki, and Piia Nuorgam noted that “Indigenous rights to heritage have not been at the centre of academic scholarship until quite recently. It became clear that more work needs to be done on this topic, more stones to be uncovered, and more discussion to be had.”
Javeria Piracha ’25 has contributed to the growing study of this issue by conducting research under Assistant Professor of Global Politics and Societies Ashleigh Breske during the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program this past summer. Alongside Breske and fellow student researcher Makda Kalayu, the applied economics major analyzed the interaction between Indigenous peoples and those owning their cultural property, and that research recently earned her a speaking opportunity at a regional International Studies Association academic conference.
Piracha became interested in cultural heritage when she took Breske’s Introduction to International Studies course in the fall of 2021. “That was the first course I took in international studies and I really enjoyed it,” she said. She’s now considering declaring a second major in the subject. “During the course we visited the [Eleanor D.] Wilson Museum at Hollins. We viewed these stone carvings that had been donated to their collection many years ago, and about which they knew very little.”
According to Wilson Museum Director Jenine Culligan, the objects were made by the Taíno people, an Indigenous group in the Caribbean. “We know these carvings are found in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and parts of Mexico, and they’re associated with crops or other plants,” she explained. “Unfortunately, we have no provenance (history of ownership documentation) for these objects, and we haven’t yet been able to identify their country of origin.”
The mystery surrounding the carvings intrigued Breske, who was first introduced to the objects in fall 2018 by Culligan and decided to pursue this research first with her Spring Term 2022 Cultural Property, Museums, and Rights class and then with the two students in the summer of 2022. Piracha’s turned part of this research project into her conference paper, “Economic Impact of Museum Industries: A Study of Provenance and Authenticity of Taíno Zemi Objects.”
“This project is a case study of Taíno sacred stone figurines, known as zemí figures, that are held by institutions and in private collections,” Piracha said. “It makes use of items from the Wilson Museum as well as other items that have either been sold at private auctions or are in the collections of American museums. The project focuses on the ethical obligations we have to return objects to their rightful places because of their heritage value; the diversity, equity, and inclusion claims museums make in the United States; and the reasons it is morally required for cultural objects to be returned after the 1970 UNESCO Convention,” which advocated for ending the illicit trafficking of cultural property. “Looking to the future, this project also explores the various ways repatriation could help the economies of countries in the Caribbean.”
Piracha submitted the project to the International Studies Association (ISA) South regional conference for its 2022 annual conference this fall in St. Augustine, Florida. Established in 1959, the ISA is one of the oldest interdisciplinary associations dedicated to understanding international, transnational, and global affairs. It features more than 7,000 members from around the world, including academics, practitioners, policy experts, private sector workers, and independent researchers.
Breske has encouraged SURF research students to submit abstracts to the ISA regional conferences for the past two years so that they can gain the experience of speaking to academics and professionals in the field. Piracha was invited to deliver her first academic conference presentation at ISA-South. “The people who presented with me and who were in the audience were all professors and all at the Ph.D. level, so I was surprised I got a chance to present,” she said. “They asked excellent questions.”
Another research project related to cultural heritage that Piracha has undertaken and submitted to the ISA-Northeast 2022 Annual Conference in Baltimore, held November 4 and 5, was “A Sense of Belonging: An Analysis of the Afghan Refugee Population in the United States and Ways Their Cultural Identity is Being Kept Alive.”
“It’s an overview and analysis of the Afghan refugee population in the United States and how cultural heritage can help them create a sense of belonging and help in their integration in the host society,” Piracha said. “A refugee often chooses to flee from their home country in hope for a better chance at life. However, they do wish to maintain aspects of their cultural identity.”
“A Sense of Belonging” addresses the underrepresentation of refugee communities in cultural heritage discussions and the different ways their heritage can be preserved. In her research, Piracha explores methods for keeping cultural heritage alive such as preserving oral history, promoting cultural participation, and understanding the significance certain objects carry of memory and ancestral affirmation.
“My case study revolves around refugees from Afghanistan who fled to the United States between 1979 and 1992. The study also examines how the Afghans maintained the production of culture after their arrival in the United States, the difficulties they encountered, and the length of time it took to build a community in the United States.”
The ISA conference presentations, for which she received travel funding from Hollins’ Warren W. Hobbie Ethics and Service Endowment, are part of what is shaping up to be a busy but rewarding academic year for Piracha. She will spend the 2023 Spring Term in London, where she will take economics courses and complete an internship in public policy (she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in the field after graduating from Hollins). It will be her second study abroad experience as a Hollins undergraduate, the first occurring during the 2021 January Short Term when she traveled to France.
“Learning about different cultures, getting to experience various traditions first-hand, and understanding the perspectives a country has to offer have always excited me.” Piracha explained. “As an international student, I have developed a knack for wanting to assimilate different cultural experiences in my own identity to better equip myself to become an intentional, globally aware citizen. Thus, studying abroad in France was the perfect opportunity for me to embark on these cultural journeys. By knowing more about the educational and cultural aspects of other countries, I can use them to shape my future and the communities I want to serve.”
After completing her spring term in London, she will return to the U.S. next summer for an internship with a marketing company in Orlando.
Ultimately, Piracha hopes to work in economics analyzing data that include economic indicators. “My own country, Pakistan, has a declining economy and lately has had a number of internal displacements as a result of the climate issue. With a degree in public policy, I will be able to do research for Pakistan and predict emerging trends that will aid in developing long-term objectives for those who have been internally displaced.”
Piracha will also draw upon her experience working with various nonprofit organizations. “Previously, in Islamabad, I founded and led an organization that focused on destigmatizing taboo topics such as period poverty that affect low-income women in Pakistan.”
Two research projects led by a Hollins University professor have been published by the official journal of the Virginia Public Health Association.
“Learning Modalities and Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Literature Review,” a paper coauthored by Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh and Annie Morgan ’22, and “Examining the [Social] Determinants of Health Among Immigrant and Refugee Families: Lessons Learned from the Field,” a poster presentation by Jalloh, appear in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of the peer-reviewed Virginia Journal of Public Health.
“Learning Modalities and Mental Health During COVID-19” grew out of Jalloh and Morgan’s faculty-student research fellowship at Hollins in 2021. With an emphasis on Virginia, they looked at the potential impact of learning modalities (in person/face-to-face, virtual/online, or a hybrid of the two) during the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of K-12 students between March 2020 and May 2021. The authors examined 39 data sources, including health and educational sources from two government agencies and three school districts in southwest Virginia.
“The literature reviewed for this study suggests a possible link between some learning modalities and K-12 students’ mental health during the pandemic,” the authors conclude. “While virtual instruction was more likely to lead to negative mental or emotional health (including anxiety, depression, sense of helplessness, isolation, and others), the literature implies a possible link between in-person learning and positive mental health for students, which may be attributed to social interaction and receiving mental health services at school. Hybrid learning has been the least studied of all learning modalities. [It] may be a critical component in addressing the gaps described with virtual and in-person instruction.”
Jalloh and Morgan say their study’s findings should be interpreted “with caution because they are not based on a correlational research design, and thus cannot establish a relationship between any particular learning modality and mental health outcomes. More research is needed in Virginia and across the country to foster our understanding of the potential impact of different learning modalities…in order to come up with recommendations on best practices with a focus on addressing students’ mental health.”
“Examining the [Social] Determinants of Health Among Immigrant and Refugee Families: Lessons Learned from the Field” reflects Jalloh’s extensive background working with immigrant/refugee families, students, and out-of-school youth from diverse ethnicities and nationalities. He drew upon his first-hand experience with migrant agricultural workers across Iowa and his collaborative endeavors with healthcare providers in bridging the gap that often emerges due to sociocultural differences between migrant families and local healthcare providers.
“These families frequently move across the U.S. in search of agricultural work,” Jalloh explains in the poster presentation’s abstract. “This migration exposes them to a myriad of challenges and opportunities related to social determinants of health.”
Jalloh cites the language barrier; deficits in insurance, transportation, and information about how and where to access essential social services; and confusion regarding medical and dental bills as some of the primary obstacles faced by migrant agricultural workers in Iowa. Still, most migrant workers in the state reported gains they had made regarding income, improved educational options for their children, a greater ability to support families back home with money, and meeting new people from different places and learning about other cultures.
“Understanding the social determinants of health that impact the lives of migrant agricultural workers and families would help tailor public health interventions, policies, and social services to address the unique challenges experienced by this underserved population,” Jalloh noted. “For example, providing affordable housing and better working conditions are critical to improve their livelihoods and health outcomes.” He stresses the need for further studies of migrant workers’ experiences to better understand their needs.
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.”
Over the past 10 weeks, the students “engaged in a wide variety of projects tackling real world problems in many disciplines,” said Keri Swaby, director of Virginia Tech’s Office of Undergraduate Research. “I am humbled by the quality of work, and I hope [these students] have been inspired to continue exploring.”
The 240 students collaborated with 24 organized funded programs and a number of independent labs and gave a record-breaking 206 poster presentations.
“Summer affords undergraduates the opportunities to dedicate significant time and effort to the planning, execution, and analysis of a research project,” explained Jill Sible, associate vice provost for undergraduate education and professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech. “They have also had the chance to become authentic members of research teams by working with faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and research staff.” She shared the university’s appreciation for “the diversity of ideas and cultures that [these students] have brought to our research programs.”
The following undergraduates represented Hollins at the 2022 Summer Research Symposium:
Malaika Amin ’25/ Biology Fullerene-functionalized Metal Chalcogenide Nanosheets for New Electron Transport Material in Flexible Solar Cells
During the United States’ Antebellum Period, considered by some historians to have lasted from the late 18th century to the American Civil War, Indigenous and enslaved peoples engaged in widespread legal mobilization as a means of challenging the exploitation they endured. Their suits for freedom, and habeas corpus petitions for remedy against wrongful imprisonment on both institutional and interpersonal levels, are crucial to the principles of the American legal system. However, the details behind those actions for the most part have not been studied or circulated.
This summer, Autumn Green ’24 is among eight undergraduates from across the U.S. conducting historical legal research through the Digital Legal Research Lab at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. The initiative is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) site and is considered an interdisciplinary hub for the social scientific study of freedom making in the United States during the 19th century.
“I’m very, very interested in social and historical context in relation to complex legal civil rights issues rather than just doctrinal rule of law,” said Green, an English major who plans to become a lawyer. She is one of three students this summer working with University of Nebraska Professor of History William G. Thomas III on “O Say Can You See: Early Washington, D.C., Law and Family,” a project documenting the challenge to slavery and the quest for freedom in early Washington, D.C. Green and her fellow students have been examining digitized records from petitions and suits filed between 1800 and 1862, as well as tracing multigenerational family networks.
At the same time, Green is learning about the findings of the other five peers in her cohort who are working with University of Nebraska Associate Professor of History Katrina Jagodinsky, the primary investigator for a second project underway this summer. “Petitioning for Freedom: Habeas Corpus in the American West” is looking at more than 8,000 habeas corpus petitions from Black, Indigenous, immigrant, institutionalized, and dependent petitioners over the 19th century in Washington, Oregon, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona.
In an article for Nebraska Today, Jagodinsky noted, “We’re unique in that there aren’t a lot of REUs that are history focused. [Thomas] and I really saw a gap in training in legal history, and legal research generally, that we felt we could address. In graduate school, researchers are expected to be able to navigate legal archival research, digital databases for legal research, and then also apply sophisticated methods and methodologies to that work, but there’s very little undergraduate training or preparation for that work.”
Since June 1, Green has immersed herself in learning and performing raw data collection and processing, archive interpretation, and transcription and encoding. She’s also receiving seminar-style instruction on relevant literature, research methods, professional development, and developing her own research questions. “It’s a five-day-a-week, all-day kind of thing,” she said. “I have been transcribing documents that aren’t on main online legal databases. Our primary investigators had to go to D.C. to collect them from the National Archives and Records Administration as well as from the Supreme Court, which tried a number of the freedom suits we are working with, and local court archives.”
Green’s work has not been without obstacles. “Many of the documents are severely damaged. I had one case that was rescued from a fire. So, when I was transcribing I had to encode it with a note to that effect and add that the language was unclear and the data could not be recovered.”
As a result of her work this summer, Green said she has acquired new research skills and the ability to apply quantitative analysis to humanities data. She’s also learned how to think of more creative ways of structuring humanities data without losing personal and important historical context. “We use a lot of spreadsheets to notate the characteristics of a suit, the arguments the individual brought, the kind of plaintiffs in a certain type of case, and the characteristics of cases that succeeded and those that failed.”
Green noted that “a significant portion” of the data set in the “O Say Can You See” project consists of “Black mothers using petitions for freedom or habeas suits to sue for custodies civilly of their children, which is not something you would expect from a modern understanding of what habeas corpus is. They’re suing for custody on the basis that their children were being wrongfully imprisoned.”
She emphasized that “while reading the decisions of different courts with a deeper understanding of case-specific circumstances has given context to what we know to be the racist and discriminatory history of the law, the focus really is on creating accessible databases that emphasize marginalized people’s legal strategies and stories recenters historical legal analysis to promote forward-facing scholarship, which recognizes communities and people that legal systems work against, or attempt to exclude.”
The culmination of the Digital Legal Research Lab will be a research fair on August 5 in which Green and the other members of her cohort will make presentations based on their work. In the future, she is “definitely interested in exploring other research experiences in the legal history realm, or the legal realm, or the history realm,” and is looking forward to applying the skills she’s learned this summer to her undergraduate studies at Hollins. “I can definitely see using more quantitative data structures and looking at raw data for research in my classes, or if I want to do a thesis.”
She is also excited about the ways in which her experience this summer will be an asset as she goes on to pursue a law career. “I feel like the knowledge of the law that I’ve gained in this program and how to conceptualize data and fact in creative and quantitative ways will be helpful.”
The opportunity is made possible through the Hollins Partnership program, which gives select Hollins University undergraduates the opportunity to identify possible mentor-mentee connections/relationships for their future graduate training.
A rising senior majoring in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry and minors in biology and physics, Fazal will work with Assistant Professor of Biochemistry Chloé Lahondère on researching mosquito-borne diseases. Specifically, she will study Culex Territans mosquitos, which feed primarily on amphibians. Fazal will investigate the pathogens these animals carry and transmit. She plans to pursue graduate studies in the future.
Building on her experience working with amphibians in both a clinical and zoological setting, Sacci will partner with Professor of Biological Sciences Lisa Belden to research the symbiotic microbial communities that reside on amphibian skin as well as the microbiome-parasite interactions in honeybees. A rising junior, she is a biology major and chemistry minor on the pre-veterinary track at Hollins and hopes to enroll in a dual DVM/Ph.D. program after she completes her undergraduate studies.
Willebeek-LeMair, a rising senior majoring in environmental science, will work with Ashley Dayer, an assistant professor of human dimensions in Virginia Tech’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. She will assist in using data from wildlife viewer surveys to write scientific reports, which will enhance her data analysis and scientific writing skills and provide her with a new social perspective on environmental conservation issues in the Appalachian region. Through Hollins’ affiliation with the School for Field Studies, Willebeek-LeMair spent this year’s spring term studying abroad in Tanzania.
The Hollins Partnership program was initiated in 2017, but has been on hold since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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.”
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.”