Public Affairs News

What Have We Been Up To?

Summer 2020 has caused many of us to change our plans, find new hobbies or interests to fill our time, and explore new and creative ways to connect virtually. Here’s what some of our students and faculty have been up to this summer!

Kaillee Philleo enjoying this summer.

Kaillee Philleo, a senior double major in Criminal Justice and Psychology, spent her summer learning to play the guitar. “I have always enjoyed picking up new instruments and have had a guitar for a few years. While I could always play some basic chords, this summer Fender was offering a free 3-month subscription to their online guitar lessons,” Philleo said. With some extra time on her hands, she “took advantage of this and decided to learn some songs and more difficult chords and other tips and tricks to better my guitar playing!” When asked if she has plans to perform using her new skill, she said “I am just doing it for fun!”

Maggie Lewis, “all smiles and super stoked to get to spend my day doing what I love.”

Maggie Lewis, a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in German language and culture, worked as a Recovery Advocate at a residential facility in her hometown. She said she got the position by being in the right place at the right time. “I was dropping coffee off at my mom’s work and one of her clients was the Clinical Director of the facility I worked at. After a quick conversation about all things mental health I ended up with the best job I could have for the summer.” As a Recovery Advocate, “my role is to help supervise clients outside of their therapy sessions, take behavioral notes for therapists and insurance companies, and ensure that all clients feel safe and secure in their stay with us,” she explained. Her favorite part was knowing that each day she made a positive difference in someone’s life. She gave a recommendation for Dr. Hilton’s Abnormal Psychology class. “[It] prepared me beyond belief to tackle a job in this field. If you get the chance to take it, you definitely should.”

Dr. Andreea Mihalache-O’Keef (bottom row, center) on a Zoom call.

Dr. Andreea Mihalache-O’Keef, one of our International Relations professors, kept busy this summer co-organizing a half-day workshop on studying political risks for business as part of the Academy of International Business meeting, which was held virtually. “Our workshop had participants from many countries on several continents and led to great discussion about global business.” She especially loved this experience because she got to work with several Roanoke students, namely Ale Carino, Gastón Ocampo, Owen Gold, Jenny Engl, and Brooke Axelrod. “Working with all of them truly fills my heart with joy and makes this a very special project to me,” she said. Dr. O’Keef also worked with a local breastfeeding and infant nutrition advocacy group to organize virtual events for World Breastfeeding Week. She spent her free time gardening and riding a scooter alongside her daughter. She wrapped up by saying, “I am impressed and humbled by the resilience, creativity, activism, and kindness so many of the PA students and faculty have shown through the crises of this spring and summer. I love our community and love to see it grow stronger!”

Stay tuned to hear more about what our department has been doing this summer!

Casey Wilson
Contributing Writer

Public Affairs News

Student Spotlight: Michelle De La Cruz

Recent graduate Michelle de la Cruz.

Recent graduate Michelle De La Cruz put her Criminal Justice major and concentration in Legal Studies to good use in three different internships—one on the state level, one national, and one international. She was also a part of the Student Government Association, Academic Integrity Council, National Residence Hall Honorary, Student Conduct Council, and was a Spanish tutor with the Subject Tutoring Center.

Her first internship was with the United States Department of Justice through the Lutheran College Washington Semester. “The Department of Justice, you know being a criminal justice major, it’s exactly what I wanted to look more into.” She worked in the Office of Programs and Events, which manages large events like the 66th Annual Attorney General’s Award Ceremony. This program honors outstanding individuals in law enforcement. She said it was a highlight of her time there. “I was in the presence of some phenomenal and amazing, heroic, patriotic people, and we were able to recognize them, which was really cool.” She also worked on proofreading speeches given at the ceremony. “They were reading things that I personally wrote or I personally read and edited, so that was really cool.”

Her second internship was with the administration of Governor Ralph Northam (VA) during the summer of 2019. There, she worked in the office of the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry. For the majority of her time there, she collected data on food insecurity, SNAP benefits, and low-income families to compile a census report on urban agriculture in Virginia and nationwide. “Multiple times a week, we would have brown bags, which essentially are with officials within the department, like directors and high-end officials like that. They would have meetings with the entire group of Fellows, and they would kind of tell us what they do, and we would have back and forth questioning. We even had one with the Governor.” These lunches were her favorite part of the internship. “We got to speak with so many different office officials, and they had some really cool experiences and stories and recommendations for us.”

Her final internship was at the Embassy of the Dominican Republic in the Kingdom of Belgium, for which she also earned a Gilman Award. She worked in the Consulate section of the embassy, mainly working on visa processes and helping Dominicans living in Belgium, Dominicans coming to Belgium, and Belgians going to the Dominican Republic. She valued “being able to be in the presence of the Ambassador himself, and to work collaboratively on so many different projects and to be able to utilize my Spanish in a country that I didn’t even know Dominicans resided in. It was really cool to be able to represent my culture there.” She also helped manage the Premio Al Merito Award. “It was basically a project that we would contact schools to get their qualifying Dominican students who had good grades and academic standing and all that, we would select a winner at the end, and they would have an all-expense education trip to the Dominican Republic.”

“Get out there and do these experiences,” she said, “I think internships are sometimes not as emphasized as much as they need to be, and they’re super important.” She also emphasized self-advocating for your work during an internship so that you can get the most out of your experiences. Additionally, she advised that you build your network, form relationships that really matter, and find a mentor who can help you during an internship. She finally said “And be nice to everyone, including security guards and maintenance workers…it made my time so much easier, and I had friends all over, and they’re such sweet people…employers see all of this, and it reflects on your character as well.”

Casey Wilson
Contributing Writer

Public Affairs News

Student Spotlight: Peyton Holahan

Holahan at home in Long Island, New York.

Peyton Holahan, a native of Long Island, New York and a Political Science major, earned the honor of being one of Roanoke’s two salutatorians this year. She most certainly made the most of her time at Roanoke, picking up three internships and participating in several student organizations.

She first heard of Roanoke after an admissions counselor visited her high school, and upon visiting campus, she “immediately fell in love with the campus and small-school atmosphere.” Holahan was also a part of Alpha Phi Omega co-ed service fraternity and was the secretary of the Rotaract Club, the collegiate branch of Rotary International. With Rotaract Club, “we partnered up with the Salem Rotary Club in organizing and volunteering at local community events such as Olde Salem Days and Christmas for Kids.”

She completed three internships during her four years at Roanoke, the first of which was in the Roanoke office of US Senator Tim Kaine (VA). Holahan said, “I helped the regional director and staff assistant with constituent affairs and also developed a better understanding of the roles of regional and national politics.” She explained that this experience lent itself well to preparing her for an internship in Washington, D.C.

Following her internship in Senator Kaine’s office, she participated in the Lutheran College Washington Semester, which she said was a major factor in her choosing Roanoke. There, Holahan interned in the office of Congresswoman Kathleen Rice (NY-4), who represents her home district. “That internship experience was incredible because along with handling constituent correspondences and attending briefings and hearings on Capitol Hill, I got to give tours of the Capitol Building to constituents which I thoroughly enjoyed as a U.S. History nerd,” she quipped.

After completing that semester, she opted to stay in DC for the summer and complete another internship through LCWS, this time with a management consulting firm in Alexandria. “Interning and living in D.C. for the spring and summer was incredible because I learned so much from my work experiences but also got to enjoy all that the city had to offer on the weekends,” Holahan said.

With Commons coming in a close second, she said that her favorite part of Roanoke was the people. “Roanoke would not be what it is without the people who make up the campus and are committed to its mission and success,” Holahan said. “From taking Constitutional Law with Dr. Peppers to Political Theory with Dr. Garrison and International Politics with Dr. O’Keef, I loved learning about the different facets of Political Science and getting to know my professors outside of the classroom.” She also said that the experiences she gained here, such as meeting speakers Amanda Knox and Monica Lewinsky, were some highlights of her undergraduate years. “I don’t think I would have ever had such amazing opportunities at a larger school and am grateful to both the professors and staff in the department who push for us to seek new experiences and follow our passions outside of the classroom.”

Next up, she is heading to Washington and Lee University’s School of Law, where she said, “I don’t know exactly what type of law I would like to practice but I’m eager to learn more about the racial and economic disparities within the criminal justice system that prevent some defendants from receiving adequate counsel.” She urged students to explore classes that interest you, regardless of your major or minor. “I think that taking classes in different subject areas—besides just the INQ requirements—can be really beneficial and allow you to explore all of your interests and curiosities.”

Casey Wilson
Contributing Writer

Public Affairs News

Student Spotlight: Gastón Ocampo

Ocampo during a research trip to Tunisia.

Gastón Ocampo, an International Relations and Business Administration double major who came to Roanoke from Argentina, was featured as a 2020 graduate in a recent edition of Horizons, the newsletter of the Office of International Education. He was also the Public Affairs Department’s Howard Warshawsky International Relations Award recipient this year. It is likely you have heard his name, as his involvement on campus was quite far-reaching.

Ocampo was the co-founder and president of the International Club, chairman of the Public Affairs Society, and both treasurer and vice president of the Honors Program. Additionally, he was a student assistant with Dr. Rubongoya and lead research assistant with Dr. O’Keef in the Public Affairs Department.

Ocampo studied socioeconomic issues in Africa and Latin America, and he was able to publish his research in one book and three academic journals. As chairman of the Public Affairs Society, he organized lectures on political questions and domestic and international issues. Ocampo’s work with the International Club helped to bridge international and local communities and cultures to bring awareness about global issues on campus.

His relationships with Dr. Rubongoya, Dr. O’Keef, and Judi Pinckney were among the highlights of his Roanoke career. “They not only believed in me and exposed me to amazing opportunities during the past four years, but they also encouraged me to continue working hard and fighting for my dreams,” he said. Ocampo explained that his research in Turkey and Tunisia with Dr. O’Keef, his May Term trip to Uganda with Dr. Rubongoya, and his walks and lunches with Judi were all particularly special to him. “There is an implicit understanding about the difficulties of living in a foreign country that can be sensed when interacting with them which I really appreciate– they are examples of what I dream to achieve during my professional career and personal life.”

With support from the Office of International Education, Ocampo was able to create a video, “I Am an Immigrant,” with fellow student Snigdha Somani. He said it “was a momentous way to crown the initiatives that my fellow international students and I tirelessly worked for during these past four years – all of which would have definitely not been possible without the constant support of Carmen [Boggs-Parker], Pam [Serota-Cote], and Toni [Fazzler].”

Next up after graduation, Ocampo has plans for a job here in the US, then following up with a master’s degree in Europe or Southeast Asia so he can “continue fighting for the betterment of the underprivileged people of the Americas.” He left some words of wisdom for incoming students. “Take advantage of every single opportunity that Roanoke has to offer. In times when fewer international students can pursue an education in the US, it is our duty to represent our international backgrounds the best way we can.”

Casey Wilson
Contributing Writer

Public Affairs News

Student Spotlight: Ben Vester

Recent graduate Ben Vester in his hometown of Morgantown, West Virginia.

Ben Vester, a Political Science and Economics double major from Morgantown, West Virginia, earned the honor of being one of Roanoke’s three valedictorians this year, as well as Senior Scholar in Political Science. He originally came to Roanoke because he wanted to play soccer on the D3 level at a small liberal arts school. His choice proved valuable. After ending his athletic career his freshman year, he was able to benefit from a well-rounded experience at Roanoke.

Although Vester was involved in many student organizations during his four years, he said “the two that stick out when I think back were the Center for Civic Engagement and the Public Affairs Society.” As secretary for the Public Affairs Society, he was able to work with the rest of the executive board to host events on campus, including when world-renowned political theorist Patrick Deneen spoke on campus this past spring.

As an alternative break leader with CCE, Vester led service education trips to rural West Virginia and inner-city New York. He also was able to work on R-House construction as part of his work with Habitat for Humanity, saying he “was lucky enough to be a part of the process from building the frame of the house in August heat in the Hawthorne parking lot during orientation to speaking at the house’s dedication the morning after a light December snowfall.”

Vester said his favorite memory of the Public Affairs Department was a book club last year hosted by Dr. Garrison, in which they read All the King’s Men, which he [Dr. Garrison] describes as a model novel on American politics. “It’s since become my favorite book, and I look back on those Saturday morning Skype calls fondly,” he explained.

He explained he owes Roanoke College for the wealth of experiences he had during his four years, including an internship in Senator Joe Manchin’s office the summer after his freshman year. He added, “my time working on the campaign proved to be the most formative experience of my college years.” The connections he formed during the internship led to his being a field organizer during Manchin’s 2018 re-election campaign, when Vester took the fall semester to continue his political experiences. He said his support from the Roanoke community helped to make that semester away as a field organizer a reality.

Vester’s favorite part of Roanoke is the support and encouragement available to students from faculty and staff. He thanked the Commons and Fintel Library staff for putting up with his “incessant ILL requests;” athletics personnel including Coach Pflugrad, Scott Allison, and the men’s soccer team, who all continued to support him after his tenure as a student-athlete ended; Dr. Peppers and Jenny Rosti, who helped him to secure his internship in Senator Manchin’s office; and Drs. Parsons and Wilson, Tommy Blair, and Jesse Griffin, who all helped to make sure his on-campus obligations could be met while working on the campaign trail his junior year.

Vester has now taken a job with Senator Manchin’s office as a field representative on his state team for a 13-county region in West Virginia as his “boots on the ground, [maintaining] relationships with local officials, business owners, etc. to keep a pulse of what’s going on in my area and see if there’s any way the Senator can be of help.” He will also staff the Senator when he is in the area, and he hopes to attend law school after a few years of working in the Senator’s office.

He gave some advice for new and current students, saying to not get so wrapped up in grades and resumes that you neglect to form meaningful and lasting relationships and memories during your college experience. Vester said to soak up every minute of your undergraduate experience-“After all, we’re lucky enough to be at Roanoke for a good time, but not a long one. Make the most of everything it has to offer.”

Casey Wilson
Contributing Writer

Clubs/Honoraries Public Affairs News

2020 Department of Public Affairs Awards

Senior Scholar
Annually, the department or coordinator in each major may recommend to the Dean as Senior Scholar a student whose work in that field has been most exemplary.

Senior Scholar in Criminal Justice:
2020 Award Winner: Elleri Vitwar

Senior Scholar in International Relations:
2020 Award Winner: Samuel McKnight

Senior Scholar in Political Science:
2020 Award Winner: Benjamin Vester

C. William Hill, Jr., Criminal Justice Award:

This award is named in recognition of the service and leadership of C. William Hill, Jr., Professor of Political Science, who began teaching at Roanoke in 1969. This monetary prize is awarded annually to the graduating senior majoring in Criminal Justice who has demonstrated academic excellence and outstanding potential for continued scholarly growth.

2020 Award Winners: Gwyneth Herndon and Winter Barry

Howard Warshawsky International Relations Award:

A monetary prize awarded presented annually to the graduating senior majoring in International Relations who has excelled in the field.

2020 Award Winner: Gaston Ocampo

The Will Selzer Political Science Award:

A monetary prize awarded annually to the graduating senior majoring in Political Science who has demonstrated academic excellence and outstanding potential for continued scholarly growth.

2020 Award Winners: Peyton Holahan and Nathaniel Willis