Hollins Partnership

The Global Change Center at Virginia Tech and Hollins University recently developed a unique graduate student recruitment model.  The program provides summer research experiences at Virginia Tech for select Hollins undergraduate students, with the explicit goal of identifying possible mentor-mentee connections/relationships for their future graduate training. This model was initially piloted in summer 2017 on a small scale, with the intent of scaling-up the initiative in future years.

The Global Change Center will:

  • Identify VT mentors that anticipate recruiting new graduate students into their labs in the coming 1-2 years.
  • Based on research interests, identify potential pairings between Virginia Tech faculty mentors and Hollins undergraduates.
  • Organize campus interviews for Hollins students.
  • Provide Hollins students with summer undergraduate research experiences through the Fralin Life Science Institute’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program, in conjunction with University-wide activities organized by the Virginia Tech Office of Undergraduate Research. Integration into these programs/activities will provide Hollins students with access to additional professional development activities such as research ethics and research symposia.
  • Provide research resources and infrastructure (e.g., lab space, equipment, supplies, etc.) for effective summer research experiences.
  • Monitor summer progress of research experience and mentor-mentee relationship, and provide follow-up logistical support for graduate school recruitment when promising mentor-mentee pairings are identified.

Hollins University will:

  • Identify outstanding mentees that anticipate attending graduate school in the coming 1-2 years.
  • Based on research interests, identify possible pairings between Virginia Tech faculty mentors and Hollins undergraduates and organize campus interviews for Hollins students.
  • Provide financial support for summer stipend and housing for Hollins students.
  • Monitor summer progress of research experiences and mentor-mentee relationships, and provide follow-up support for preparing students for graduate school when promising pairings are identified.

Summer 2019 Participants


Udipta Bohara

Hollins Undergraduate Researcher

Udipta, a rising junior, is majoring in biology with minors in mathematics and chemistry. She will be working with two mentors from the Department of Biological Sciences, Dr. Dana Hawley and Dr. Kendra Sewall. Dr. Hawley’s work focuses on wildlife disease ecology and evolution whereas Dr. Sewall is a specialist in animal behavior and neuroethology. Udipta is very interested in evolution, appreciates how it connects the present with the past, and is fascinated by what it can indicate about the future.

“I hope to gain hands-on experience on something I want to do for the rest of my life. I also hope to contribute for a change that the world desperately needs,” said Udipta. Udipta has previously worked with children with Autism and Down’s syndrome, but she is excited to get some hands-on experience in a lab setting.

Grishma Bhattarai_sq

Grishma Bhattarai

Hollins Undergraduate Researcher

Grishma is a rising senior double majoring in economics and mathematics with a data science concentration. This summer, she will study environmental economics and development economics and focus on how women play a role in the valuation and conservation of public goods in developing communities. She will be working with Dr. Kelly Cobourn, a natural resource economist in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation.

Grishma previously conducted an individual research project on the autonomy of women involved in a brick kiln in Nepal to better understand the role of female decision-making in developing communities. “I am passionate about untwining the relationship between economic growth and global development. I want to conduct research to find solutions to global issues like poverty, gender disparity, and environmental sustainability,” she said.

Summer 2017 Participants


Elaine Metz

Hollins Undergraduate Researcher

As a rising junior studying Biology at Hollins University, Elaine Metz worked in Dr. Scott Salom’s Forest Entomology Lab with graduate student mentor, Rachel Brooks. They tested species of native fungi as possible bio-controls for the invasive tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima). Elaine envisioned the summer research opportunity as a first step to advance a future career in research and conservation. She expanded her knowledge about experimental design, data collection & analysis, and what life as a graduate student might be like.

In 2016, Elaine took a year off from school and walked the entire Appalachian Trail. That experience helped confirm her career path in the natural sciences and prepared her for the excitement of the summer’s field work!


Shannen Kelly

Hollins Undergraduate Researcher

As a rising junior studying Environmental Science and Spanish at Hollins University, Shannen Kelly worked in Dr. Jacob Barney’s Invasive Plant Ecology Lab with graduate student mentor, Becky Fletcher. The team investigated the intraspecific diversity and adaptability of Johnsongrass, a noxious invasive, by measuring photosynthetic differences between populations. Shannen viewed the summer opportunity as a way to hone her research skills in the field, as well as gain technical competency in the lab.

In 2018, Shannen will be spending a semseter in Spain to improve her Spanish and hopefully work in a lab space doing environmental research. Shannen aspires to attend graduate school and later do environmental work internationally.

2017 Undergraduate Summer Research Symposium


A final Research Symposium is the highpoint of the SURF Program. After dedicating ten weeks to the planning, execution, and analysis of a research project, SURF undergrads have had the chance to become authentic members of research teams by working side-by-side with faculty, graduate students, and research staff. The research symposium gives these students an opportunity to synthesize their experiences and present their findings via scientific talks and posters.

Left: University students Elaine Metz and Shannen Kelly at the Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium in July 2017.