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After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill in May, senior Sophie Hass will attend Columbia University to study historic preservation through a storytelling lens and a focus on the American South.

Headshot of Sophie Hass leaning against a column in Wilson Library, a small statue in the background.
“I think stories are really important, whether they’re fictional or not, for documenting who people are, how they inhabit the world and how they interact with each other.” (Photo by Donn Young)

Sophie Hass is a storyteller at heart. She has spent the past four years working to uncover and share the stories missing in narratives about the South, and she will continue that work as she heads to graduate school to study historic preservation.

“I think stories are really important, whether they’re fictional or not, for documenting who people are, how they inhabit the world and how they interact with each other,” Hass said. “Stories and humanity and culture unify all of my studies in a really beautiful way.”

The Conover, North Carolina, native initially chose UNC because of the strength of its research and teaching about the American South and the opportunities that afforded her. She will graduate with double majors in American studies (with a Southern studies concentration) and English and comparative literature along with a minor in geography.

“I feel like what I’m doing is kind of niche and specific, and I feel very supported and like my area of study has been validated here,” she said.

Hass has sought opportunities across departments to pursue her passion for storytelling through different mediums, including essays, fiction, music and maps. She recently completed a senior honors thesis in English and comparative literature in which she studied the way that young adult novels set in the American South fail to represent the ideals of the generation that make up both their characters and intended audience, Generation Z.

Last summer, she interned as a student research fellow for the Institute of African American Research where she studied how folklore from the coast informs Appalachian folklore. She found that spiritual beliefs of the Gullah Geechee people, who have traditionally resided in the coastal areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, have actually influenced Appalachian folklore. Yet none of the white Appalachian authors that she read credited the Gullah Geechee people whose beliefs and stories influenced their own.

She hopes to continue working with stories left out of the broader American narrative, particularly stories of influential Black communities, as she studies historic preservation at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. The program offered her their Dean’s Scholarship, which will cover the majority of her tuition, in recognition of her “exceptional talent.”

“As much as I love reading and writing, I’m ready to actually be in the dirt digging to have a hands-on impact in what I’m doing while still storytelling,” Hass said. She will study the science of preserving physical artifacts and architecture while making sure their stories are told fully and justly.

In recognition of some of her many accomplishments at UNC, including her role as the president of the Undergraduate American Studies Student Association, Hass recently received the Peter C. Baxter Memorial Prize in American studies. The award honors a senior who exhibits “intellectual excellence, personal warmth and contribution to the American studies program.”

She was also a UNC finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship, a fully funded postgraduate award offered by the University of Oxford, earlier this year.

In addition to applying her storytelling passion and skills to academic research, Hass has spent time sharing her love of writing with others across the UNC community.

For the past three years, Hass has been a writing coach at the Writing and Learning Center, a resource through the College of Arts and Sciences that provides personalized academic coaching and resources to help students succeed. She recently reached her 500th appointment as a writing coach, making her the most prolific undergraduate writing coach in recent history. She said that she finds the center to be both a collaborative and kind space, and it’s a resource that she uses as a student outside of her work there. In fact, Hass just booked her 60th appointment as a student while working on her senior honors thesis.

In her personal pursuits, Hass has published four poems, three through UNC Short Edition, which supplies the eight short story dispensers across campus, and one through the North Carolina Poetry Society, which will be included in their spring 2023 anthology. She has also finished her first novel, a coming-of-age story informed by Appalachian folklore that explores how teenagers feel about the American South and the ghosts that haunt its land and history.

“Storytelling has always been central to my life,” Hass said. “People have been telling stories since the beginning of time, and I want to be a small part of that effort. Stories are so directly tied to who we are as humans – regardless of where or what time we exist in the world.”

By Andy Little ‘24, College of Arts and Sciences

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