At Ignite Retreat, First-Year Students Embrace How to Create Change

Ignite Retreat-Hollins Students

Students from a Hollins University first-year seminar recently immersed themselves in a community of changemakers at a gathering sponsored by an organization dedicated to inspiring young people.

Members of the “Ask Not What Your Community Can Do for You: Sustainability and Social Innovation” class traveled to Black Mountain, North Carolina, to take part in the Ignite Retreat. Hosted by the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation, which for nearly 90 years has sought to “ignite the good and place service to others above self-interest,” the weekend event offered college students the chance to learn how to become social entrepreneurs and spark change in their communities.

The retreat complemented the goals of the “Sustainability and Social Innovation” course, which is taught by Assistant Professor of Education Teri Wagner in collaboration with Student Success Leader Abigail Phillips ’25. The seminar upholds stewardship as the heart of sustainability and social innovation and emphasizes that the concept can be applied not only to the environment and nature, but also to economics, health, information, theology, cultural resources, and more.

“This class explores ways to address those issues as they present themselves in our local community,” Wagner said. “Students are challenged to develop innovative solutions to complex problems by applying design thinking principles while working in multidisciplinary, collaborative teams.”

Wagner noted that students in the class also learn about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 interconnected objectives whose stated mission is to provide “a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.”

“They choose a goal that holds personal significance to them and explore ways to address issues in our local community related to that SDG.” Wagner explained. “We utilize the design process while working in multidisciplinary, collaborative teams to develop innovative projects to address these complex problems.”

Ignite Retreat Attendees
The Ignite Retreat welcomed undergraduates from colleges and universities across the southeastern U.S.

The Ignite Retreat gave attendees the opportunity to tackle projects, gain insight into possible career options, and do a deep dive into issues they are passionate about. The three-day program was divided into three tracks intended to “meet each participant where they’re at and help them get where they want to go next.” These included:

  • Personal Track: Facilitated better understanding of an individual’s skills and passions while growing confidence and delving into the mindset of a social entrepreneur.
  • Problem Track: Designed for those who want to address a particular issue or problem but aren’t sure how to be a part of solutions.
  • Project Track: Helped students who are ready to begin working on a specific project, venture, or campus initiative they’ve been considering.

In addition to networking with undergraduates from colleges and universities from across the southeastern U.S., Hollins students received one-to-one mentoring from coaches who have launched nonprofit organizations or other social ventures and enjoyed an array of hands-on workshops.

The first-year seminar program at Hollins is intended to improve student learning at a critical early stage in undergraduate education, offer a unique class bonding experience based on academic excellence, and introduce students to a number of general education skills and perspectives. All of the seminars share the same scholastic goals, allowing students to participate in a common learning experience in their first term at Hollins. All first-time, first-year students must enroll in a first-year seminar in the fall term. The instructor/advisor for each first-year seminar is assisted by a student success leader, an upper-class student mentor who attends the seminar, helps students with advising, and answers academic questions.