Hollins University president talks about changes, future plans

Pareena Lawrence is working to make university more community focused


ROANOKE – Pareena Lawrence because president of Hollins University on July 1.  As she gets close to one year at the private women's university, we talked with her about plans for the future.

"Whatever it is, the magic of Hollins, it's an incredible place to be," said Lawrence, who enjoys the university's 800 students the most.

"What really surprised me is how motivated they are to make a difference in this world," said Lawrence.


She's working to make the university more community focused.

"Come together for 15 minutes, if that's all we have, but coming together as a community for those 15 minutes; meeting people that you don't usually see. That sort of builds those bonds of what it means to be the Hollins community," said Lawrence.

"She's brought a lot of life and excitement and she's really engaged students in different parts of our community and her initiatives," said Emili Mcphail, a Hollins University senior.

For some students, that's being involved on campus and in the Roanoke Valley.

"We already do a lot of service opportunities in the community but making that much more intentional within our course structure. More community-based learning projects and being engaged more in our community so that it makes a difference that Hollins is located in the Roanoke Valley," said Lawrence.

But to do that, she says transportation has to improve. Right now, there's no bus service for students without cars.

"Connections that I want to build with the Roanoke Valley, the distance is a problem. So we have to figure out transportation," said Lawrence. "That would be really nice if there was more development. Coffee shops, shopping, other things that were nearby."

Renderings of Hollins Senior Village. (Courtesy: Hollins University)
Renderings of Hollins Senior Village. (Courtesy: Hollins University)







Changes are also happening on campus, with a new senior housing development starting this summer.
Eight students will live in each two-story home and the first one goes up this summer.

"It will be built over time because Hollins doesn't take debt. So we are not incurring any debt, we are raising funds," said Lawrence.

"I think campus is making some exciting progress forward. I'm not exactly sure what that's going to look like but I know that it's going to be for the best," said Mcphail.

Lawrence says students need to have more options when thinking about what they want to study.

"We want to be much more intentional and making sure that our students think about their lives, their purpose, their meeting. What is it that they want to do? And not fall into that I want to be a biology major or I want to be a business major," she said. "We want to make sure students have these jobs when they graduate from Hollins but thinking more about what is their calling, what is their purpose because that's what leads to fulfilling lives."



Lawrence also admits being an all women's college for undergraduate students can be a challenge, seen recently by Sweet Briar College.

"We know there are challenges and how do we prepare and face those challenges? We understand that we need to make a case for women's education, why is that important, small liberal arts colleges, what is unique about us, what is special, what is it that we do differently that a large public institution or any large private institution cannot do. It is that customization, the idea that we know our students really well and we can help them on their path to success. Success to us doesn't always mean financial success. It could, but it isn't just that. It is about this life of purpose, this life of consequence," said Lawrence.

She says the women's college is looking at new academic programs like business leadership and entrepreneurship to train women, adding a counseling concentration within psychology and looking into public health and digital arts. 

They also want students to be able to adapt to the changing workforce, where new industries are popping up all the time.  Lawrence says the college landscape is changing too but there is no plan to go co-ed for undergraduate students.

"We are expanding our reach to more international students, becoming more welcoming to our students of color and making sure they have the same sense of belonging when they come to a campus like Hollins," said Lawrence.


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