Hollins University's slogan, "Women Who Are Going Places Start at Hollins," has endured because it best captures what this independent liberal arts institution means year in and year out to its students. Hollins has been a motivating force for women to go places creatively, intellectually, and even geographically since it was founded as Virginia's first chartered women's college more than 160 years ago. As Hollins graduate and Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Dillard has said, Hollins is a place "where friendships thrive, minds catch fire, careers begin, and hearts open to a world of possibility."
The university's approach to education is simple yet effective: Teach students to think and encourage exploration and discovery. "The Hollins environment is especially conducive to learning and creativity," commented one student. "The academic experience downplays competitiveness and stresses the benefits of discussion, interaction, and support from both professors and fellow students."
Added a recent graduate, "I could personally experiment while learning, and I got a lot of different ideas and perspectives from the people who taught me. My professors were a constant source of encouragement, always assuring me, 'You can do this, you can do this,' and that made all the difference for me."
Incoming students find that they are as much colleagues with their professors as they are pupils. As longtime English and creative writing professor Richard Dillard explained, "We are all students and teachers alike." One of the hallmarks of the Hollins faculty is their accessibility; many professors live on campus, take late-night calls, include students in their research and writing, and have open-door office policies.
"From the first time I visited campus, they made me feel welcome and took every opportunity to get to know me," a student said about the faculty. "Since I enrolled, I've received a lot of individual attention and have benefited greatly from the small class sizes." Hollins' student/faculty ratio is 9 to 1.
Hollins offers majors in 29 fields of study. While perhaps best known for its creative writing program (described by "Creative Writing in America" as "pound for pound, the most productive writing program in America"), the university also features strong programs in the visual and performing arts and the social and physical sciences. "The acceptance rate of students from Hollins into veterinary and medical schools is phenomenal," said a biology major.
To complement its major fields of study, Hollins in 2001 introduced an innovative new general education program called "Education Through Skills and Perspectives" (ESP). It is designed to help students see the world in different ways and allows them to apply knowledge in practical ways.
"ESP opens doors to the perspectives and skills that will make students more employable or more successful in whatever ventures they take in life," explained Hollins Provost Wayne Markert. "Employers and graduate schools want students who learned to think and to do."
ESP focuses on the acquisition of knowledge across the curriculum. Students learn to apply this knowledge through a skill set of writing successfully, thinking critically, reasoning quantitatively, expressing themselves effectively, and becoming adept technologically. While students must complete courses over four years that satisfy all perspective and skills areas, the emphasis in ESP is helping each student find a field that is rewarding and enjoyable.
Hollins encourages its students to pursue learning opportunities outside the classroom - and even outside the country. It was among the first colleges in the nation to offer an international study abroad program, recognizing that the global nature of business, technology and international affairs makes learning in another country an increasingly vital component of education. Today, more than half of Hollins' students - 10 times the national average - study abroad in such places as Paris, London, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Greece, and Spain. "Without question, my year in Paris was the most important year of my life in terms of personal development," said a former study abroad student. "I look back now and think, 'What would I be like if I hadn't gone?' It's amazing how much that one experience changed my outlook on life."
It is important to add that at Hollins, study abroad is a reality for students from a variety of economic backgrounds: They can take their financial aid packages with them.
Extensive internship opportunities are another of Hollins' distinctions. These days, building a resume with relevant, on-the-job experience during college is as essential for launching a successful career as earning a diploma. Thanks to an active and dedicated network of alumnae and friends of the university, one-third of Hollins students put their education to work through internships with a diverse group of organizations. CNN, Amnesty International, the Children's Defense Fund, the Bank of Boston, the National Gallery of Art, and the National Geographic Society are just a few of the prestigious places around the world that enthusiastically welcome Hollins students.
One recent graduate performed not one but two internships with the New York Stock Exchange. "Throughout my entire experience, I was treated like a peer, not just a 21-year-old college student," she said. "I had the opportunity to exceed many traditional 'intern' tasks and perform duties above and beyond my wildest dreams.
"My internships were unforgettable, some of the best experiences of my life. It was so exciting. I was working with people from all over the world."
The graduate said she originally chose to attend Hollins because of the university's strong Career Development Center, which provides a wide range of services to help students plan their futures. The post-college success of Hollins graduates has been outstanding: On the average, 98% of students move on to jobs or graduate school after they graduate.
The university is committed to making the Hollins experience affordable, having developed a strong financial assistance program that combines merit and need-based scholarships, grants, loans, campus jobs, and special financing plans. Over 90 percent of Hollins students receive scholarships and grants and/or some level of financial aid. And, since 95 percent of Hollins graduates earn their degrees in four years instead of five or six years (the norm at many universities), thousands of dollars in college fees are saved.
Hollins' historic 475-acre campus is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia. The New York Times described it as "achingly picturesque, with brick halls and frame buildings surrounded by riding stables, tennis courts and hockey fields and bisected by a mountain stream. The college's main building features a long gallery porch overlooking a picture-perfect college quad; warm afternoons find groups of students and faculty contentedly rocking in the porch's two dozen rocking chairs, talking, reading or thinking." The nearby city of Roanoke offers a wide array of things to do, including many shopping, dining, and cultural opportunities. Skiing, biking, hiking, and other outdoor activities are a short drive away. Ten colleges and universities with 35,000 students are within an hour of Hollins.
There are plenty of on-campus events, too. Hollins' student activities office maintains a lively program schedule including nationally recognized speakers,live music performances, film festivals, and even late-night pancake suppers as breaks from studying for exams. More than half of current Hollins students participate in some kind of physical activity, ranging from recreational sports and instruction programs to intercollegiate play. The Hollins equestrian team is a perennial national powerhouse.
As befitting a 164-year-old institution, Hollins has many traditions, and one of the most beloved is Tinker Day, which takes place in the fall after the first frost. The actual date of Tinker Day each year is a closely guarded secret until it is announced by the early morning ringing of bells in the Hollins chapel. Classes are cancelled for the day and students, faculty, and staff don outlandish costumes for the annual trek up Tinker Mountain. Once at the top, the students sing class songs, perform skits, and enjoy a traditional picnic of fried chicken and Tinker cake before heading back down the mountain.
During their time at Hollins, many students become aware of the importance of volunteer service. "I was attracted to Hollins because of its sense of community," said a recent grad. "If you want to become involved, you can." She went on to co-chair S.H.A.R.E., the student volunteer organization, and was instrumental in establishing a campus-wide recycling program. After graduation, she taught special education students in the Mississippi Delta as part of the national service organization, Teach for America. The university also sponsors the Jamaica Service Project, where students travel each year to a community on the northwest coast of Jamaica and teach school or work in the infirmary.
Hollins' admission process is selective, but not exclusive. The university looks for strengths both in and out of the classroom. Academic performance, class rank, a balanced program of courses, test scores, and academic recommendations are all important. Participation in extracurricular activities, volunteer and work-related experiences, and dedication and promise in the performing arts, if applicable, are also considered.
Hollins draws students from 45 states and 10 countries and is a residential institution - 89% of students live in campus housing, and the university places great value on the interpersonal relationship skills each student gains through living with other students.
The university fosters an atmosphere of friendliness and cooperation before new students even start classes. New Student Orientation, held over five days at the beginning of the Fall Term, takes students through every aspect of life at Hollins and provides many opportunities to meet classmates before school begins. Orientation involves an academic component as well as activities aimed at teaching teamwork. Because of the way in which students are grouped in orientation based on their academic interests, many end up together in the same classes. Later, students often say that their closest friendships while at Hollins were forged in those first few days of orientation.
Charles Lewis Cocke, the founder of Hollins, once said, "This school recognizes the principle that young women require the same thorough and rigid training as that afforded to young men." Through the years, the school has remained committed to this goal, upholding a mission of "preparing students for lives of active learning, fulfilling work, personal growth, achievement, and service to society." This philosophy has produced some very distinguished alumnae, including the aforementioned Annie Dillard, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her book "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek"; Sally Mann, recently named "America's Best Photographer" by Time magazine; Ann Compton, White House correspondent for ABC News; Dr. Cynthia Hale, pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Georgia, which has grown in just 14 years from a handful of members to over 4,000; Charlotte Fox, the first American woman to climb three of the world's highest peaks; Ellen Malcolm, the founder and director of EMILY's List, the largest financial resource for women political candidates in the country; and Carol Semple Thompson, champion amateur golfer.
For every Hollins student, there are many questions, intellectually, emotionally, and perhaps even spiritually, to consider during her education here. But as the university's slogan underscores, the most important question will be asked from the moment she steps on campus until the day she leaves, and it will be asked by her professors, her peers, and especially by herself: Where do you want to go?