Hannah Slusser ’24 was all set to attend a college other than Hollins. At the last minute, however, she experienced a change of heart.
“I was in a group chat on social media for both schools. The students in the session for the other college were really not nice, but the people at Hollins were sweet and kind,” she recalls. “So, I decided to come here.”
Shortly thereafter, the Bedford, Virginia, native came across a page on Hollins’ website devoted to the university’s FLI program, which welcomes first-generation and limited-income students. “I thought, ‘That’s interesting, I want to do that.’ I emailed [Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students] Patty O’Toole and asked her how to join and she said, ‘You’re in.’”
For Slusser, being a part of FLI’s year-long programming and activities during her first year at Hollins meant “instant friends. You meet these people and they have the same background as you. I definitely was a shy person before I came here, but now I definitely talk a lot more and I know how to express myself to other people.”
Slusser says she thoroughly enjoys the social aspects of FLI, which include group meals and game nights, but there are other qualities of the program that are equally beneficial.
“As a first-gen student, I didn’t really know how financial aid works or how to sign up for classes. With FLI, I could get information quickly and on a personal level.”
FLI’s emphasis on sharing knowledge helped convince Slusser to become an FLI Guide, a sophomore, junior, or senior mentor who works closely with students during pre-orientation and throughout the academic year to enable them to build relationships, connect with valuable resources, and learn important tips for success. “My group and I hang out every day, and I am advising them as we go through the year. Engagement is constant.”
One of Slusser’s goals at the outset of becoming a FLI Guide was “to introduce new students to Hollins and help them know their way around.” Prior to the beginning of fall term, she took her group of FLI students on a tour of campus, including where their classes were located. She’s also focused on showing them how they can successfully make the transition from high school to college classes. “There’s a lot bigger workload and many other differences. I sort of just coasted through classes in high school, but now I feel like I can challenge myself, and I actually learned how to study.”
Slusser offers other practical advice. “First, don’t be afraid to ask questions. I get on so many people’s nerves because I email them constantly, but if I have a question I have to ask! Second, don’t feel guilty for going to college. I know it’s a lot of money, but it’s worth it in the end to go because you’re gaining something from it. You’ll have a degree and you’ll have the knowledge to further yourself even more. It will work out in the end. Third, make sure you talk to your advisor. They are there to help you.”
Slusser had told her own advisor, Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette, that she wanted to be a librarian, “and she has arranged for her college roommate, who is a librarian, to come to campus to talk with me. She is the best.”
Along with serving as a FLI Guide, Slusser is active in other activities on campus and beyond. In support of her dream of becoming a librarian, she works at Hollins’ Wyndham Robertson Library as a student peer coordinator, where her duties encompass everything from training new library assistants and making sure everything is in the right place on the library shelves to opening and closing the library itself. She also is a member of the Hollins Activity Board (HAB) formals committee and is running for SGA Senate and HAB positions.
In addition, “some of the people in my FLI group and I are trying to start a book club focusing on young adult literature and reading for fun outside of class. The library just got a new section of young adult novels, so we may try to partner with them.”
Through a grant from Hollins, Slusser completed an internship with the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford this summer.