Each semester Honors scholars contribute short pieces about their experiences in the program for our biannual newsletter, Honors Outlook. If you want to see what we’ve been up to lately, please check out Honors Outlook from Fall 2018 (Honors Outlook Fall 2018), Spring 2019 (Honors Outlook Spring 2019), and Fall 2019 (Honors Outlook Fall 2019).
Recent Honors Scholar Spotlights
by Emma Snyder
If you’ve ever heard about COAR, a community-service organization on the campus of Mary Washington, the name Elisabeth DellaRova hopefully rings a bell. DellaRova came to UMW with an Associate’s degree in English under her belt from high school. Her goals were to complete the English major and a business minor within the next few years, but she knew from the start that she wanted to be involved at UMW beyond the educational aspects. DellaRova is passionate about helping people, and sought a club on campus that would help her expand on this interest. During her first semester, she was drawn to COAR, or the Community Outreach And Resources club at UMW.
“I knew I wanted to do something involving service, because I wanted to get involved in the Fredericksburg community beyond campus,” DellaRova said.
In her own words, COAR is unique because it’s completely student-run. It has its own network of volunteers, staff, interns, and a council. It also hosts a variety of weekly programs where student staff drive volunteers out to various sites to work in the community of Fredericksburg. Additionally, COAR puts on community-wide volunteer events every semester.
Volunteering at the Thurmen Brisben Center was DellaRova’s initial interest during her first semester with COAR. The work involves playing with children and entertaining them while their parents are working or doing other activities at the shelter site. As soon as a spot opened for DellaRova to lead the program as COAR staff, she took it.
From there on out, DellaRova quickly rose through the ranks of this organization. She found herself as the staff director, which is the highest position in COAR. She helped run bigger events such as “Into the Streets” and “Pumpkin Palooza,” which attract other students who aren’t usually involved with the organization and the community of Fredericksburg. Though she loved helping with these projects, DellaRova’s personal passions were found in the Thurmen Brisben Center and Downtown Greens, which encourages environmental care within the community.
Downtown Greens was also her project for Honors Service Learning, which requires Honors scholars to complete 20 volunteer hours. DellaRova went above and beyond this requirement, clocking in over 100 hours at Downtown Greens. After this commendable service, she acquired a grant to become an intern there. On Giving Day, she helped the organization raise twice the amount of money made previously.
“Reflection on service is really, really important,” DellaRova said of the Honors Service requirement. “I don’t know if I would have done the Downtown Greens internship if it wasn’t for Honors Service Learning. It was very helpful to have [Director of the Honors Program] Dr. Slunt’s support.”
DellaRova’s exceptional work will leave her legacy behind at COAR and UMW long after her graduation in December 2019. For now, she’s focused on the future, where she has her dream job lined up in New Jersey working for a company that makes technology for non-profits.
Back in high school, Sarah Parker was known as the “angry feminist” among her peers, even being referred to as a “feminazi” by a fellow student when she crossed the stage at her graduation. When she came to Mary Washington, Parker brazenly enrolled in the freshman seminar “I’m Not a Feminist, But…” to explore her passion in women’s rights. When Dr. Kristin Marsh asked who in the class was interested in pursuing a major in Women’s & Gender Studies, Parker was the only student to raise her hand.
Women’s & Gender Studies, or WGST, is still a small major at UMW. Less than 20 students are declared in it. All of the faculty are ones from different departments who wanted to bring this program to life. Because it’s a 33-credit major, the faculty often encourage those declared to double-major, which is made easier by the interdisciplinary nature of the program. Parker chose English with a concentration in Creative Writing, which allowed her to bring feminist theories into her writing.
As she continued with these majors, Parker noted that she hardly knew any of the other majors in the WGST program. She decided to create a club akin to the on-campus Creative Writing and Biology clubs where declared majors could start getting to know each other.
“I wanted a space where Women’s and Gender Studies majors could come together and connect with each other and also connect with the faculty and everybody can work together and find opportunities through that,” Parker said on her creation of the club.
Parker was admitted to the Honors Program in the midst of all these growing responsibilities, and she believes this encouraged her to do more with her academic career than she initially planned.
“I feel like being part of a group on campus that’s so focused on academic integrity and also aspiring to bigger things — it’s made me someone who knows that I can take on more than just the minimum. Like right now, I’m in the Honors Program, and I have two majors, I work for the Women’s & Gender Studies department, I’m running the club, and I’m also working in Dodd Auditorium as a supervisor. I wouldn’t have taken on so many responsibilities if it weren’t for the culture in the Honors Program.”
With plans to graduate in 2021, Parker is already focusing on doing her independent study for WGST alongside Dr. Kate Haffey.
“The topic for it is going to be a literary analysis of dystopian literature and how the effect of the romanticization of female oppression in dystopia affects women in our time and in the past and throughout history – how it takes what’s fiction and puts it onto the rest of the world. Female oppression and tragedy in connection to women and violence against women, when that’s romanticized, it becomes easy to ignore the real violence and oppression,” Parker explained when asked about the independent study, which she is completing during her junior year.
For now, Parker is focused on finishing the next two years at Mary Washington and plotting out this independent study. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career that’s focused in activism and equality, foundations which are rooted in her passion for women’s rights.
Congratulations to the following UMW 2019 Honors graduates who were featured by the university for their outstanding scholarship, leadership, and skills!
Milen Mehari (double major in English and Women’s and Gender Studies, minor in Digital Studies) emerged early as a leader at UMW, revitalizing the African Student Union, building programs and student trips related to social justice, and reflecting on it all in her poetry. Read more about Mili in this feature piece.
John Cronin (Political Science) was named UMW’s 2019 Male Student-Athlete. A former captain of the basketball team, John was named by Governor Ralph Northam as a Virginia Management Fellow, a paid internship that gives him the two-year opportunity to study Virginia government and prepare for his next step as a leader. Read more about John’s undergraduate work and future plans.
Ren Koloni (double major Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies) drew on their experience as a nonbinary individual with several disabilities to ground important research in the intersections of queerness and autism and did linguistic studies of the medical discourse used by those in gender transition. Ren will continue their studies on a scholarship to George Washington University’s graduate program in English. Ren was featured by the university in this longer piece.
Corey Staier (Computer Science, minor in Digital Studies) is heading to a graduate school program in Game Design at the University of Southern California. At UMW, he captained the men’s rowing team and managed to work in 40 more credits than he needed to graduate, in fields as diverse as Physics and Contemplative Studies. Read more about Corey’s multifaceted journey through UMW here.