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The HBCU Experience

Hampton’s Aria Hill is a double winner at HBCU Awards

Pharmacy student honored as female student of the year and for founding the best student organization

Remember when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly gave the Oscar for Best Picture to La La Land instead of Moonlight?

Fortunately, nothing like that happened at the 2017 HBCU Awards, which acknowledge the positive impact of HBCUs on American culture.

For the past six years, HBCU Digest has hosted an awards ceremony highlighting historically black colleges and universities and their students. One of the biggest awards, the equivalent of Best Picture at the Oscars, is HBCU of the Year. There are 27 others, from Best Marching Band to Best Female Athlete. Students and institutions can be nominated for an award by anyone. This year’s awards ceremony was presented by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and took place in Washington, D.C. Winners were selected by a group of HBCU alumni, presidents, students, faculty and reporters who regularly cover HBCUs.

Hampton University student Aria Hill received awards for Best Student Organization and Female Student of the Year.

Hill, 21, is a fourth-year student in Hampton’s six-year pharmacy program. In 2020, she expects to graduate with a doctorate degree in pharmacy.

Hill was up against five other female students for the award — from Fayetteville State, Prairie View, Dillard University, Elizabeth City State and Alcorn State University. According to the judges, the Hampton student stood out because of her “locally and nationally recognized work as an entrepreneur and campus advocate.”

“It was an easy choice for the selection committee,” said Jarrett Carter Sr., founding editor of HBCU Digest and a 2003 graduate of Morgan State University.

Hill, who also was named to HBCU Buzz’s Top 30 Under 30 list this year, was modest.

“[Female] student of the year? That’s a big deal. But I don’t want to think about it like that. I feel like it takes you out of your humble space,” said the Columbia, S.C., native. “I try not to let it soak in too much. I just tell myself, ‘Keep doing your job. Keep doing what God has called you to do.’ ”

This calling has led her to work with various groups on campus. Hill is the director of student relations for Hampton’s Student Government Association. She’s also the chairwoman of community service for first-year pharmacy students, a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and founder of Service Spree, the group that won Best Student Organization in the HBCU Awards.

Aria Hall and volunteers at the annual Mayflower Food Drive for Farm Fresh grocery stores in the Hampton Roads, Virginia, area.

She established the nonprofit group because she was unable to find a community service project for a class during her freshman year. Service Spree connects Hampton students with social service organizations on the Virginia Peninsula. The ultimate goal, according to its website, is to “never leave a service project helpless.”

“It started with about 10 people who signed up to fill spots for one event, then it grew,” said Martha Baye, 21, Hampton SGA’s president and a friend of Hill’s.

In four years, Service Spree has blossomed to more than 200 volunteers. They serve at 10 community sites: Virginia Peninsula Food Bank, Good Mojo, Coliseum Nursing Home, First Baptist Church, Veterans Affairs Hospital, Habitat for Humanity, Huntington Middle School, Dunamis Christian Church, Access AIDS Care and Williamsburg Community Garden.

“I know that [Aria] will be a person who makes a unique impact wherever she chooses to focus her time and her gifts,” said Maria Quigley, volunteer coordinator at the Virginia Peninsula Food Bank. “When she sees a need in the community, she does not just work within existing systems. She has the vision, the patience and the knowledge to create her own path to make positive change.”

Service Spree has enhanced the lives of its volunteers as well.

“To actually see the real world outside of my day-to-day college life, people are actually struggling to get by, but you can take a couple hours out of your day to make it a little bit easier for someone else. That to me is the greatest asset I’ve gained from Service Spree: compassion,” said Nathia Thomas, 21, a Hampton student and site director for Service Spree.

Service Spree served as a launching pad for other initiatives. Gentelligence is a “big brother” mentoring program for Hampton men and young men at a local middle school. Passionate Purses donates purses stuffed with female necessities to women in shelters. This year, Hill even established a scholarship through Service Spree called Service Spree Across the Seven Seas. It’s for Hampton students who are studying abroad.

Hampton was nominated for 11 HBCU Awards and received three. Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, won the award for Historically Black College/University of the Year. Best newspaper went to Howard University’s The Hilltop. Tarik Cohen from North Carolina A&T University and Hampton’s Malia Tate de Freitas won for best male and female athlete, respectively.

Kyla Wright, a journalism major at Hampton University, is one of six Rhoden Fellows, an initiative by The Undefeated to train the next generation of sports journalists from historically black colleges and universities. The fellowship – established as part of The Undefeated’s mission to develop new voices and serve as an incubator for future multicultural journalists – is run by William C. Rhoden, an Undefeated editor-at-large and former award-winning columnist for The New York Times.