President's Award Winner: “My Experience at Widener has been Transformational”

Ijjae Hill ’23 ’25, President’s Award Winner
Student Ijjae Hill with stethoscope in PT office with spine models behind her.
Student Ijjae Hill '23 '25 has been named the President's Award winner for the graduating class.

Widener University has given me a chance to develop my career, explore my passions, and find my voice. When I arrived at Widener, I would have never believed the students, faculty, staff, and community would not only support my initiatives and dreams, but also become my family. Within these four years, I have learned a tremendous amount about myself and the community of Chester where Widener resides.

Completing my bachelor’s degree in visual and performing arts ’23 and continuing my education here to receive my doctorate in physical therapy ’25 was an opportunity for me to engage in two of my passions: dance and physical therapy. The unique pathway program has allowed me to invest in my academic, personal, and professional interests. The well-rounded education I have received in the arts and sciences has shaped the student and person I am today.

President Stacey Robertson and student trustee Ijjae Hill in a hug.
President's Award winner Ijjae Hill and President Stacey Robertson

With multiple areas of support on campus including the Office of Student Success, Career Design & Development, the Writing Center, and most importantly Multicultural Student Affairs, I felt prepared to develop my professional skills in an environment that fosters a great sense of belonging and connection. Within my first semester at Widener, I was immediately connected with my success coach and was supported in planning the next four (and maybe even 40) years of my academic and professional career. Within the MSA office, both Assistant Director Kortne Smith and Director Micki Davis have been integral in the development of my leadership, impact on campus, and mission to advocate for students from diverse backgrounds. The MSA office has truly supported me at every step of my journey these past four years, and for that I am forever grateful.

I have also felt supported in my mission to give back to the community through the Bonner Scholar program and with the encouragement and partnership of both Associate Professors Marina Barnett and Jayne Thompson. I have secured multiple grants to create sustainable impact because of my natural love for art and passion for health equity. Installing the “Chester Grows” mural was a culmination of my work at Widener where I felt united with both the university and the city of Chester. The mural is a pinnacle representation of everything I wanted to pursue these past four years: capturing the beautiful connection between the people of Chester and Widener. This mural can now be viewed on Metropolitan Hall.

Within the Office of Residence Life, I also created and led the first committee dedicated to Diversity Equity Inclusion and Belonging. It was the perfect culmination of my advocacy efforts throughout my time at Widener. The committee provided an opportunity to integrate DEIB efforts into the residence halls. Under my leadership, we have worked to create and enhance inclusive programming and a sense of community for all residential students. The connections I have made here allowed me to learn how to encourage all students to find a space at Widener to use their potential to make it a better place.

The university has offered a plethora of ways to get involved. Most notably, the joys of being initiated into the Upsilon Pi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and the responsibilities of becoming the president of the National Panhellenic Council. Former Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Philip Gatling was a vital piece to the growth of these programs, creating a space for students from diverse backgrounds and serving as a mentor to me as well. Leading the National Pan-Hellenic Council alongside him, and supporting its growth, with the chartering and expansion of Divine 9 sororities and fraternities, has been an impactful experience. Members of these organizations, both at Widener and in the broader community, have continually supported me, and I am so glad I have been able to play a part in providing that experience for others.

In my last four years I have realized the power of being a Black woman in leadership. Representation across all sectors of leadership is important. Overcoming barriers from not being heard, being misunderstood, or being the “only” in a space has driven me to transform those obstacles into opportunities to further develop. I have navigated showing up in spaces as authentically myself, being resilient in the face of adversity, and most importantly uplifting and inspiring those who come after me. The activities and conversations I have had with my peers, staff, faculty, and broader community members provided an opportunity to build mutual understanding and leverage the talents that Black women possess. In particular, serving as the university’s student trustee was a role that allowed me to bring perspectives to the table that otherwise may not have been heard. Throughout my time in that role, I received unwavering support from Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Katie Herschede and President Stacey Robertson, who affirmed me and shared commitments to advocacy and belonging.

There have been so many remarkable women who have mentored and supported me. Though their names are too numerous to mention, those experiences have been nothing short of inspiring. I hope I have been able to serve in that capacity for other women of color as well. I encourage all students of color to embrace their full potential and know you too can find your family within the Widener community. Do not sit back and be a spectator in your own experience; control your own narrative.

Thus far, my experience at Widener has been transformational. There is truly no place like a home away from home. I urge all students at Widener not to be afraid to find your voice and never question your purpose! Be the change you wish to see on campus, in the community, and in the world, and know that you will be supported every step of the way, just as I was!

--With thanks to Riya Sembhi ‘25 for her support of this article.

You May Also Like