Through Study at Queen Mary University of London, Marissa Gannon ’23 Will Advocate for Equitable Economic Development

Marissa Gannon ’23 has always been good with numbers, and when she was just 16, that skill landed her a finance job with a community college near her Maryland home. She has continued in that position throughout her four years at Hollins, and just as her responsibilities have evolved in the College of Southern Maryland’s Facilities Department to include project planning, so have her academic interests as an undergraduate.

“When I first got here, I intended to study business with a concentration in finance, and I took all the finance classes offered by [Professor of Finance and Economics Emeritus] Casimir Dadak,” she explains. “I really enjoyed finance because I like the logical flow of things.” But during the economics classes that were required for the business major, Gannon found that she “also liked the big picture of economics and the theory behind it.” She switched to an economics major.

A hallmark of each of the classes Gannon took with Dadak was a major research project, and the senior and recent Phi Beta Kappa inductee took advantage of those opportunities to delve into some very timely topics. “During Covid, I looked at the impact on Moderna’s stock prices and how companies could profit off the pandemic. I also did deep dives into different companies’ financial records to see how they avoid paying taxes.”

Gannon went on to spend a semester last spring studying abroad in London, where she took courses on human rights and on the history of the city. “Every week we went out on tours to different areas. I discovered that London is very gentrified. I found this very interesting, especially after I learned in my human rights class about gentrification’s potentially devastating impact on the culture of a community.”

The experience became the basis for Gannon’s senior honors thesis analyzing urban regeneration in the United Kingdom. She used London for her case studies. “When low income or migrant communities are gentrified, housing becomes too expensive, and people are forced to move. Historic areas that were in place for decades are unfortunately transformed into hipster enclaves.”

Gannon adds that gentrification causes detrimental effects on the community’s mental health. “A lot of migrants rely on tight-knit neighborhoods to fill the gaps that are not covered by state benefits. When you have to disperse to find different housing, you can lose that connection of family and community as well as those social bonds and safety nets those communities built for themselves. Gentrification has an implicit impact people don’t think about when it comes to urban renewal.”

In her research, Gannon specifically explored ways to mitigate gentrification through community engagement. “I found a United Nations (UN) report that lists 16 characteristics of community involvement and how legislation can reflect those characteristics to ensure people have a role in the way their communities evolve. Then I found a 2010 report ranking different London boroughs by their gentrification levels. I picked four of those and looked into their policies to see if they matched up with the UN report. I tried to see if there was a correlation between how gentrified a particular borough was versus how much community engagement was instituted into their urban renewal policies. I did find there was a pretty significant correlation between the two: the more gentrified a community, the less involvement people who already lived there had in the process.”

Just a few weeks into her study abroad experience in London, Gannon emailed her advisor, Associate Professor of Economics Pablo Hernandez, to say, “I want to go to grad school here.” He recommended several prestigious universities for her consideration, including Queen Mary University of London, which has been placed among Great Britain’s “Ivy League” of top research schools. “When I got back home, I started looking into these universities and figuring out what I want to do. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, Queen Mary University of London is a really big school, but if he thinks I can do it, I’ll do it.’”

Not only was Gannon accepted, but she also received a significant scholarship to study public and social policy. “I have a general idea of what I want to accomplish. I don’t know yet what specific job I want, but if there’s a system already in place that’s working for people, then let’s reinforce that rather than trying to get them to conform to something else. Culture plays a huge role in economics, that’s one of the things I love about it, and I think it’s important to maintain that when you are going into places to help people. It doesn’t mean forcing your ideas upon them for what you want them to do.” Her interest in this field has been enhanced this semester through a course she’s taking called Economics of Development and Globalization, offered for the first time at Hollins by Visiting Associate Professor of Business Rathin Basu. “I absolutely love it,” she says.

As she prepares to enroll at Queen Mary University of London this fall, Gannon admits that “London was never the plan to begin with” when she first came to Hollins. However, “it was that semester abroad where I took the reins. Now, I’m very passionate about economic development and equitable development.”



Hollins Sophomore Awarded State Department’s Gilman Program Scholarship to Study in Japan

Abigail Phillips ’25 has been selected as a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, which supports the U.S. Department of State’s efforts to expand the number of Americans studying and interning abroad.

The Gilman Program offers awards for U.S. undergraduate students of limited financial means to pursue credit-bearing academic studies or career-oriented internships abroad. Such international exchange is intended to enable students to thrive in the global economy and interdependent world and to contribute to solutions for shared global challenges, while at the same time gaining skills that are critical to national security and prosperity.

“The applicant pool was highly competitive, making [Phillips’] selection an impressive accomplishment,” said Chief of USA Study Abroad Heidi Manley and Gilman Program Officer for USA Study Abroad Theresa Gagnon.

The award will support Phillips as she spends a year studying abroad in Japan. “I will be studying the Japanese language, their culture, East Asian history, and Japanese instructional methods for the classroom,” Phillips explained. “I will also take classes in other disciplines such as religion, folklore, and traditional Japanese music such as the koto.”

In addition, Phillips plans to serve as a volunteer assistant in teaching English and American history to students at Osaka’s Shijonawate High School. “I’m double majoring in history and secondary education for social studies at Hollins. I hope to teach abroad in Japan after graduation.”

Based on the quality of her application and the fact that she will be studying a critical need language while abroad, Phillips has also been presented with the Critical Need Language Award. Combining that honor with the Gilman Scholarship, she will receive a total of $8,000, the maximum amount possible.

“Hollins has had several Gilman recipients, but it is unusual to receive both the Gilman Scholarship as well as the Critical Need Language Award,” said Hollins’ Director of International Programs Ramona Kirsch. “Abigail is a very motivated student with a passion for learning and intercultural communication. She will thrive in Japan as she becomes more fluent in Japanese and moves toward her goal to one day teach there.”

The Gilman Program is part of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs with funding provided by the U.S. government. It is supported in its implementation by the Institute of International Education.



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



Hollins Receives State Department IDEAS Grant to Fund Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives in Study Abroad

Hollins University is one of 44 colleges and universities across the United States selected to receive funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Increase and Diversify Education Abroad for U.S. Students (IDEAS) Program.

The schools will use the IDEAS grants to create, expand, and/or diversify American student mobility overseas in support of U.S. foreign policy goals. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State and supported in its implementation by World Learning.

“We are thrilled that Hollins is a 2022 IDEAS grantee, and this was a true team effort between faculty and staff,” said Ramona Kirsch, Hollins University’s director of international programs. “The grant will fund a new program, “Building Capacity in Kenya and Expanding Student Access to Global Experiences,” which will focus on democracy, human rights, and global health from an interdisciplinary and intercultural perspective with our new international partner, Kenyatta University in Nairobi. The grant will also enable us to move strategic diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives forward in our study abroad programming.”

Each IDEAS grant carries a maximum allotment of $35,000 and Hollins was awarded approximately $34,800.

“The U.S. Department of State is committed to supporting U.S. colleges and universities as they continue to rebuild study abroad capacity impacted by the global pandemic,” said Heidi Manley, USA study abroad chief for the department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). “That is why ECA is proud to be awarding double the number of IDEAS grants this year so that we can support more institutions as they work to provide important international educational opportunities to their students.”

Manley added that this year’s IDEAS grant recipients “reflect the full diversity of the U.S. higher education system – including community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), rural institutions, and more – and we are committed to working with them to build study abroad programs that are accessible for Americans of all backgrounds and that provide more opportunities for American students to engage with people in more diverse destinations around the world.”

Since 2016, the IDEAS Program has awarded 145 grants to 139 institutions in 48 states and territories to create, expand, and diversify their U.S. study abroad programs in 71 countries across all world regions. In addition to the IDEAS grant competition, the program also offers opportunities for faculty, staff, and administrators at U.S. colleges and universities to participate in a series of free virtual and in-person study abroad capacity building activities.

For more information about other study abroad resources and exchange programs offered by ECA, visit

Photo (from left to right): Assistant Professor of Sociology Jennifer Turner, Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh, Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence Isabell Kingori, and Director of International Programs Ramona Kirsch comprised the faculty/staff team at Hollins that successfully brought the IDEAS grant application to fruition.

Margarite Fisher ’22 Gets Ready to Build Her Business Expertise Through Graduate Studies in France

When Margarite Fisher ’22 was deciding where to apply to college, her mom, with whom she is very close, had just one request.

“My mom attended a women’s college (Wellesley College in Massachusetts),” Fisher recalled, “and she was very insistent that I apply to at least one women’s college.” Born and raised in Berryville in Virginia’s northern Shenandoah Valley, she wanted to stay within a six-hour drive and “Hollins fell into that. We drove down here one day, and the campus was just so beautiful. Everyone I talked to was so nice. There was just a different type of community and a different type of bond here on campus that I really, really liked.”

Fisher did not want to go too far away from home for her undergraduate education, but the business major’s Hollins experience has her ready and excited to travel halfway around the world to pursue a master’s degree in digital marketing beginning this fall at the Rennes School of Business in France. Fisher said the one-year program offers several distinct advantages and opportunities. “I signed up at Beyond the States, which is a website that specializes in finding programs abroad that are taught in English,” she explained. “I wanted the majority of my program to be in English with the possibility of learning more of the French language or taking classes in French. I also specifically targeted schools that had sizable international populations.” In addition to those attributes, Rennes boasts triple crown accreditation, which reflects recognition of excellence in business education in the US, UK, and Europe, so her studies will be recognized on her return to the US.

The economic benefit of completing graduate school overseas was another of Fisher’s major considerations. “The cost of graduate school is less expensive in Europe, even if you’re an international student.”

Fisher is no stranger to French language and culture. Her mom speaks French fluently having lived in Belgium and France for two years, so Fisher occasionally heard the language growing up. She took four years of French in middle and high school and is completing a French minor at Hollins to complement her business degree. She first went to France during the January Short Term of her first year at Hollins as part of the university’s “French in Tours” travel/study program. “This was a fun program and fueled my desire to spend more time in France,” she said. Fisher was subsequently realizing her dream of spending an entire semester studying abroad in Paris during the spring term of 2020 when just a few weeks after arriving, her visit was cut short by the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was heartbreaking for me. Before I went to France, I was extremely nervous whenever I spoke French. It wasn’t because I was necessarily saying anything wrong, but when it’s not your first language, there’s nothing in your brain to tell you, ‘Oh, you said that incorrectly.’” After she got to Paris, “I had to speak French regularly and I really became comfortable with it. I was so sad to leave as one of my goals was to learn to speak French fluently and I was not quite at that point when I had to leave.”

Thus, Fisher sees going to graduate school in France as a chance to finally fulfill the journey that was interrupted two years ago and achieve her goal of becoming fluent in French. “It’s a bit of an out-of-the-box solution,” she said. “I get to the opportunity to continue my education while at the same time living aboard and becoming fluent in a language I have always loved. It’s a win-win situation.” Rennes is located just an hour and a half from Paris, and with the country’s centralized transportation system she said she will find it easy to do a lot of exploring. She is also “completely leaving open the option of staying there a few years more” after she completes her master’s degree.

Fisher plans to make her time in France a success by “going in with a very positive mindset. If you go in thinking you’re going to have a great time, you’re probably going to have a great time. But if you go in with a negative mindset, then you’re probably going to have a really bad time. You have to have that kind of attitude when you go abroad because everything will be different. It helps that I’ve been there before, so some processes I’m already familiar with. Other ones will be brand-spanking new,” but because of the study abroad experiences that Hollins has provided, she noted that she is ready for the challenge.

“My business professors at Hollins were generous with their time in helping me to evaluate business programs in relationship to my career goals, and everyone in the French department – even a new professor that I did not know well – gave me advice on the schools and the different areas of France,” she stated. “My professors also gave me detailed recommendations that led to scholarships. Overall, the Hollins community was incredibly supportive of my goals.”

And how does her mom feel about her upcoming adventure? “My mom is so excited. She has already made plans to visit.”

Hollins to Receive IIE American Passport Project Grant to Support Study Abroad

Hollins University is one of 40 institutions selected by the Institute of International Education (IIE) to receive an IIE American Passport Project grant. The grant will enable up to 25 first-year Hollins students to obtain a U.S. passport and start their study abroad journey.

The IIE American Passport Project is intended to promote diversity, inclusion, access, and equity in study abroad and to support the IIENetwork, IIE’s global membership network, in its efforts to encourage students to go abroad who would otherwise not participate in an international experience as part of their college education.

“This grant will enable traditionally underrepresented students at Hollins to take the first step in studying abroad – to acquire a passport,” said Ramona Kirsch, director of international programs at Hollins. “This will not only serve them well during their time at Hollins but also after they graduate and continue to explore the world and become globally engaged.”

Increasing participation and diversity in study abroad has long been part of IIE’s mission. Through the American Passport Project, IIE plans to enable 10,000 students to have passports by the end of this decade.

The goal of the IIE is to help people and organizations leverage the power of international education to thrive in today’s interconnected world. As a not-for-profit with 17 offices and affiliates worldwide, IIE manages more than 200 programs with participants from over 180 countries. The IIENetwork connects more than 10,000 professionals from over 1,500 organizations to resources that support student mobility and exchange, campus internationalization, and international partnerships.

Hollins’ Dance M.F.A. Program Moves European Study to Bulgaria’s Cultural Capital

Hollins University’s M.F.A. in dance program is relocating its European Study component to a new home.

Beginning in the summer of 2022, students will travel to Plovdiv, Bulgaria, which is considered by many to be the nation’s cultural hub and in 2019 was named a European Capital of Culture.

“We will have the opportunity to access festivals and arts programming,” said Jeffery Bullock, professor and chair of Hollins’ dance program. “I am excited for our new journey.”

Boyan Manchev
Boyan Manchev

European Study will be organized and curated by Boyan Manchev and Ani Vaseva. Manchev has been a part of the European Study component since it began in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2014, teaching Dance History, Theory, and Criticism. He is a philosopher and professor at New Bulgarian University in Sofia and at Berlin’s HZT – UdK. He has lectured widely at European, North American, and Japanese universities and cultural institutions, and is the author of seven books, including The Body – Metamorphosis (2007), which deals extensively with contemporary art, performance, and dance.

Ani Vaseva
Ani Vaseva



Vaseva is a theatre director, a playwright, an author of critical and theoretical texts on dance and theatre, and holds a Ph.D. in performance studies from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Her 2017 book, What Is Contemporary Dance, explores the complex processes and conflictual ideologies that stand behind the concept of contemporary dance. Between 2015 and 2018, she taught history and theory of theatre and literature at New Bulgarian University and the Luben Groys Theatre College.



“We will be in great hands with Boyan and Ani,” Bullock said. “They are both amazing artists and radical thinkers.”

Hollins’ M.F.A. in dance is an innovative program in which students immerse themselves for five weeks during the summer in the intimate learning atmosphere on the Hollins campus, followed by three weeks of international study and immersion in Plovdiv. The program provides students with a wide range of opportunities, mentorships, and exposure to others in the international dance field, and features three tracks: Year Residency, Low Residency – Two Summer, and Low Residency – Three Summer. M.F.A. students and faculty establish a unique community of committed artists/scholars who range in ages and experiences and are working to sustain their careers and deepen their relationship to dance.

Hollins Alumnae Share in Winning Innovation in Diversity Award for Black + Abroad Series

A partnership led by five Virginia higher education institutions, including Hollins University, has been honored with the GoAbroad Innovation in Diversity Award for 2021.

The award recognizes strategic efforts to expand international educational opportunities to traditionally underrepresented groups.

Jasmine Carter '19
Jasmine Carter ’19

Hollins, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Randolph-Macon College, Bridgewater College, and Shenandoah University were chosen as this year’s award winners for their initiative Black + Abroad. This virtual series, held during the 2020-21 academic year, curated a space for Black students to share their thoughts, questions, and reservations about travel (and study abroad) by engaging in conversation and storytelling with experienced travelers and study abroad alumni of color and education abroad advisors. The series was organized by the education abroad staffs from each of the five schools taking part in the collaboration.

“The mission is to close the gap between being Black and going abroad. Black students hear from their peers, engage in candid conversations, and learn about how to overcome challenges to studying abroad, whether those are financial, practical, or racial,” said Jasmine Carter ’19, who along with fellow Hollins alumnae Nya Monroe-Stephens ’20, Tori Carter ’21, and Saffron Dantzler ’21 participated in Black + Abroad. All volunteered to share their experiences as Black travelers, overseas residents, and study abroad participants.

Nya Monroe-Stephens '20
Nya Monroe-Stephens ’20

Black + Abroad was first launched at VCU as an annual event created by study abroad alumni students of color. It subsequently evolved into this year’s virtual series, which featured six free sessions and welcomed 724 international educational professionals and 258 students. Recordings of the sessions, as well as additional resources for support and guidance, are now available on the Black + Abroad website as a tangible resource for students of color.

“Studying abroad can be a scary prospect for many students, even for those who know they want to travel,” explained Carter. “Black students have their own unique concerns and challenges, which can often be overlooked or misunderstood by advisors, peers, and programs.”

Tori Carter '21
Tori Carter ’21




Carter added that by fostering discussions around “Blackness” and “Black perceptions” abroad, Black + Abroad is ensuring students “feel inspired and gain insight from experienced travelers who had to take the leap to travel for the first time at some point. At the same time, advisors will see the perspectives of Black students in order to better understand their needs and serve them in a more effective and equitable way. The goal is to help students gain answers to the following questions: What resources do Black students need to be successful? How have other Black students overcome barriers to study abroad? And, what do Black students wish they had known before they studied abroad?”

Saffron Dantzler '21
Saffron Dantzler ’21


Black + Abroad was cited during the 11th annual GoAbroad Innovation Awards, which celebrate institutions, organizations, and individuals that are advancing the field of international education. The winners are chosen by the Innovation Awards Academy, a group of international education leaders.

For more information about study abroad and global engagement opportunities at Hollins University, contact Ramona Kirsch, director of international programs at or 540-362-6214.





Aysia Brenner ’21 Sets Her Sights on Becoming a History Professor After Teaching Next Year in France

In the late winter of 2020, Aysia Brenner ’21 was among the undergraduates from Hollins and other colleges and universities across the nation enjoying what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: spending a semester studying abroad. As a second-semester junior, Brenner arrived in Paris in early February and lived and studied in France until mid-March, when she and other students abroad were suddenly told they would have to return to the U.S. due the spread of COVID-19.

Thirteen months later, Brenner is able to look at the bright side of an abroad experience that was all too short. “I still had a month and a half in Paris. It would really have been a bummer if I had got there and then a week later had to go home.”

Fortunately, Brenner is getting the chance this fall to go back to France and in many respects finish what she started last year. Beginning in October, she will spend seven months with the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF), a program of France Éducation international. Recruiting and promotion of TAPIF is managed by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States, and participants receive a monthly stipend that covers most living expenses.

“They usually get about 2,000 applicants for roughly 1,500 American English language teaching assistant positions, which are located in elementary and secondary schools throughout the country,” Brenner explained. While she’s still waiting on confirmation on the specific town or towns where she’ll be teaching, she does know the school district: the Academy of Versailles (L’académie de Versailles) near Paris, part of the Île-de-France academic region. “I’ll be working at the primary school level, which I’m excited about. I could be helping out at one or more schools.”

Brenner’s work and life in France will be aided considerably by the fact that she is conversationally fluent in the French language. “I’ve had about two and a half years of formal instruction here at Hollins, and interacting with my host family while I was abroad last year did so much to improve my fluency.”

Before going to Paris, Brenner, a history major and art history minor, was already intrigued by the possibility of engaging in an international program after earning her degree, thanks to Assistant Professor of History Christopher Florio. “He was constantly sharing with me different opportunities that I could pursue after graduation, from the Fulbright Program to teaching fellowships. I’m really grateful he did that for me.” Brenner ultimately decided that she might want to have some kind of abroad experience before she stared applying to grad school. “Once I got home early from Paris and was getting closer to my senior year, I started looking at various options more closely with Professor Florio. That’s when I discovered the specifics of the TAPIF program and I applied last October.”

Florio’s guidance is one example of the “really great support” Brenner noted she has received throughout her undergraduate career from the history department faculty. “[Associate Professor of History] Rachel Nuñez is my advisor and the professor I’ve known the longest since I’ve been at Hollins. I knew I was going to study history when I enrolled here, but taking her first-year seminar confirmed to me it was the right choice.” Brenner was particularly drawn to 18th century American history as her field of study, but she said Nuñez’s frequent focus on European and world history broadened her interests. “Her classes fascinated me and helped me connect what I knew about U.S. history to more of an Atlantic world history.”

Brenner is devoting her senior thesis to exploring late 18th century constructions and understandings of patriotism and national identity, and she said Associate Professor of History Peter Coogan “has been a really great help with editing the different chapters and helping me make the broader connections between each individual chapters.” She will showcase one of those chapters at the Student Performance and Academic Research Conference (SPARC) on May 8, an opportunity for all Hollins undergraduate students to present academic research or creative work to the larger campus community that has been completed under the guidance of a faculty or staff member.

Brenner will present the second chapter of her thesis, “‘And can I then but pray/Others may never feel tyrannic sway?’: Patriotism and National Identity in the Writing of Phillis Wheatley.” The 18th century poet was the first African American and first enslaved person in the American colonies to publish a book of poems. “Wheatley broadly challenged mainstream life and constructions of patriotism and national identity that worked to keep out African Americans,” Brenner explained. “A lot of my work has been exploring how she appropriated the rhetoric that many of the white founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson were using to exclude them from the national body. She worked to turn that rhetoric on its head and argue not only for her and other free and enslaved African Americans’ inclusion in the nation, but also for the abolition of slavery.”

In researching his writings, Brenner found that Jefferson echoed the common belief in colonial America that patriotism was the sole provenance of white men. “In writing and publishing her poetry, Wheatley served as a counterargument to that idea. She reclaimed the humanity denied to her and other African Americans, and forcibly brought the contradictions and tyranny of slavery to the attention of a white public who would have preferred to keep them buried under their own purely rhetorical use of slavery. Because she had been enslaved, she didn’t want anyone else to experience oppression.”

“Among the foremost strengths of Aysia’s thesis is her approach to writing intellectual history,” said Florio. “She embeds her study of some of the biggest historiographical subjects – patriotism, national identity – in people and place; hers is an analysis of ideas grounded in lived experience and the energy of the times in which the ideas emerged. Her thesis is expansive in its scope, attentive to both ideas and experiences, and written with a broad and sophisticated understanding of the transatlantic ages of revolutions. This is an exceptionally ambitious and successful thesis.”

Each year, Hollins recognizes students for high academic achievement during its Honors Convocation. This spring, Brenner received the Mary Williamson Award, which is presented for the best study submitted in the field of humanities. She was also just inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.

“Aysia is quite simply one of the brightest students Chris Florio and I have ever encountered,” said Nuñez.

When she returns from France next spring, Brenner plans to begin her graduate school search in earnest. “My ultimate goal is to earn my Ph.D. Obviously, I’m interested doing my own research, but teaching history students is what I’ve wanted to do in some form for a long time. I want to be a college professor. And, I want to teach at a small liberal arts college like Hollins because I had such a great experience in the Hollins environment.”




“I Had No Idea I Would be the Person I Am Today:” Senior Aditi Sharma’s “Leap of Faith” from Nepal to Hollins


After graduating from high school in her native city of Kathmandu, Nepal, Aditi Sharma ’21 wasn’t sure how she wanted to further her studies. But there was one thing at the time of which she was absolutely certain.

“I had little intention of coming to America” to go to college, she said. “I wanted to stay near to my family.”


The events that led to Sharma taking what she calls a “leap of faith” to venture on her own to the United States and attend Hollins University began during the gap year she took after finishing high school.

“In Nepal, the subjects you take in high school are usually what you are going to do for life,” Sharma explained. “I took accounting, so during my gap year I worked as a finance assistant to see if that field was actually for me before jumping into college.”

Sharma was employed by a nonprofit organization in the public health sector. She interacted with clients from around the globe, and it was a representative from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) who first suggested that she consider institutions of higher learning in the U.S. “He felt that there were many more programs in America that would be beneficial for me as well as some good scholarship opportunities. Financial considerations were big for me coming from a developing country.”

While not totally convinced, Sharma nevertheless applied to several U.S. universities. “My parents had studied in India and Nepal, so they had no idea what was involved. My high school counselor was very helpful, but mostly I was navigating everything from financial aid to applying for a visa by myself. It was very daunting.”

As the time to make a decision approached, Sharma found herself increasingly drawn to Hollins. “I took a virtual tour of campus and saw how beautiful it was,” she said, but what impressed her most was the personal approach of the Office of Admission.

“They reached out to me and were so open. I felt like I was being heard. I had no idea what I was doing, and they were so quick to respond to my questions, even the smallest ones. From filling out forms to learning what Hollins is about, what it offers, and what accommodations it has for international students. I felt like I already belonged to the community.”

Aditi Sharma '21 First Step
Bearing a cider bottle decorated for the occasion, Sharma celebrated the First Step tradition on Front Quad last fall to begin her senior year.

Bolstered by a belief in herself and support from the people who had seen her potential, particularly her family, Sharma enrolled at Hollins. “My family didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but they wanted the best education for me.” Sharma lived with her parents, paternal grandparents, and a younger sister, “and everyone was always encouraging, telling me to be the best I can be. I was so thankful that they trusted my judgement.”

After arriving at Hollins, Sharma enjoyed her freedom and learning so many new things. “I knew what I wanted to study (she would become a business and economics major pursuing a finance track). At the same time, being in a liberal arts environment I got to take all these amazing classes in sociology, environmental science, art history, and drawing.” Still, adjusting to a new environment, speaking English all the time, and missing her family were at times stressful. She credits History Rocks, her first-year seminar with Associate Professor of History Peter Coogan, with boosting her confidence.

“Professor Coogan and that class encouraged me to speak out. I’m very vocal now about a lot of things. My high school friends wouldn’t recognize me, I was so timid then and in the shadows. In Coogan’s class you were obliged to talk, and once that started happening my confidence grew. History Rocks really helped me, and I can’t thank him enough.”

Finding her voice, Sharma got actively involved with Hollins’ Student Government Association (SGA), Cultural and Community Engagement (CCE), and the International Student Orientation Program (ISOP). “I still remember contacting a Hollins senior before I arrived here. She helped me with things like, what and what not to pack, which flight to take, and what airport to fly into. You’re coming from your own comfortable home space, you’re scared and you’re nervous about moving into a new country, and I always let incoming international students know if they need anything I’m always here. CCE has a great structure for connecting international students and guiding communication and going through all these changes and opportunities together as a group really helps. I love seeing the international population at Hollins grow.”

Aditi Sharma '21 Windsor Castle
Experiencing Windsor Castle was a must for Sharma when she began her study abroad experience in London in February 2020.

One of Sharma’s most remarkable experiences occurred last spring when she embarked on a semester abroad in London. She had always been fascinated by the United Kingdom and reveled in visiting landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. She also had an internship lined up with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “As soon as I heard London had an internship program, I knew I wanted to go there. When I landed, it felt like I was walking on air.”

Sharma and her friends first began hearing about the COVID outbreak near the end of February when they learned students studying abroad in Italy were forced to return home. “I felt really bad for them, but I was still in denial,” she said. “There was no news of anything in London or the UK as a whole.”

But after coming back from a group excursion to Sweden in early March, London students were notified by the International Programs office at Hollins that Hollins Abroad-London was transitioning to online instruction due to COVID’s threat. Students could either continue living with their host families or go home.

“I wasn’t planning on returning to Nepal,” Sharma said. “I had lined up a job on campus with the Alumnae Association for the summer, so I was going to travel directly from London back to Hollins at the end of Spring Term.”

Then, Sharma and other students in London learned from International Programs that the U.S. policy had changed and that students who were not from the U.S. would not be allowed back into the country. Simultaneously, the UK announced it was going into lockdown within two days. “I had to book a flight immediately to Nepal. The trip is about 21 hours, and I would have to make a connecting flight along the way. What if the place where I’m in transit gets locked down and I can’t fly out from there? Fortunately, a fellow student from Nepal and I got the perfect flight out just before the UK lockdown began.”

Meredith Pierce Hunter '97 and Aditi Sharma '21, RBG Kew
Meredith Pierce Hunter ’97 (left) was instrumental in arranging Sharma’s internship with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London.

Sharma was relieved to touch down in Nepal, but deeply sorry to leave London and particularly her internship, which had been coordinated by Hollins alumna Meredith Pierce Hunter ’97. “I wanted to work in fundraising in the fine arts sector. Meredith was very involved in the whole process and all the people on the internship were extremely helpful. It broke my heart to leave without saying goodbye.” Fortunately, there would be good news for Sharma after she arrived back in Nepal: Hunter had worked with International Programs to ensure that Sharma could continue her international internship virtually. “I was so happy. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, a dream come true.”

London is six hours behind Nepal, but Sharma was able to successfully juggle taking two online classes while completing her internship. Typically, she would work on her internship between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. (Nepal time) and then attend classes remotely at night. “I was so grateful to continue the internship. I did so much work, there was no difficulty in communication, and they even threw me a virtual farewell party.”

Sharma remained in Nepal through the summer. When Hollins students were given the option for Fall Term 2020 to come back to campus or take classes remotely, she decided, “I wanted to experience my senior year in person.” As SGA treasurer this year, Sharma spearheaded one of her proudest accomplishments, a fund designed to help any on-campus resident who needed financial assistance to go home or live off-campus during Winter Break. “It worked out beautifully. My fellow roundtable members and the business office helped make sure the funds got into the students’ accounts. That’s why I did the fundraising internship in London, I wanted to see how I could use my financial knowledge to help others.”

Currently applying for jobs after graduation, Sharma is looking to build upon an already impressive resume that includes J-Term internships with Gilman Hill Asset Management, the International Spy Museum, and Omega Wealth Management. Ultimately, she plans to use that experience to earn acceptance to business school. As with her Royal Botanic Gardens internship, Sharma is grateful to the Hollins alumnae who curated those internships and continue to be very supportive. “Work experience is crucial to getting into business school because the finance and business fields place so much emphasis on learning and implementation. I’ve been reaching out to alumnae and they’ve been really helpful and responsive.”

When she first arrived in America, Sharma “had no idea I would be the person I am today. This is where I have had the most experiences, where I’ve been myself the most. I’ve been challenged, and I’ve challenged myself. It all happened here. It all happened at Hollins.”