Student Trustee: ‘I have always sought to impact the lives of others’

Hilary Bentman, Assistant Director of Communications
Student Ijjae Hill stands in front of the 'W' statue

From the moment she arrived at Widener, Ijjae Hill ’23 ’25 wasted no time in distinguishing herself as a leader.

Supported by faculty and staff, and a seemingly endless drive and passion, Hill has built a long and impressive resumé. 

A visual and performing arts major who is part of the 3+3 pre-physical therapy pathway, Hill is a C.R.E.W. orientation leader and resident assistant. She’s also a member of the Black Student Union, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and Pride Pack Dance Team, all while sitting on two campus diversity task forces.

The Maryland native recently added another title to her repertoire – student trustee on the Widener Board of Trustees.

Hill calls being appointed to the two-year term as “one of the most rewarding moments of my life.” She will serve on the Academic, Student Affairs, and Civic Engagement committee, a perfect appointment for someone so deeply committed to enhancing the student experience, and to civic engagement in particular. 

Part of Widener’s Presidential Service Corps / Bonner Leaders program, Hill has thrown her energies into a number of service organizations, projects, and issues, including health care equity and access. This past year, she secured a grant to provide COVID-19 tests for uninsured Chester residents, to conduct research on health disparities, and to host an educational forum.

In her role as student trustee, Hill will bring the student perspective to board discussions. She hopes to use the position to help propel the university forward by advocating for more diverse student voices in university life. 

We recently caught up with Hill to discuss her new role, her Widener experience, and her goals for the future.

Why did you choose Widener?
After graduating high school with a class of 800 students, I knew I wanted to pursue a more personalized education. Widener was a perfect fit because the unique 3+3 visual and performing arts / pre-physical therapy pathway allowed me to combine my lifelong love of dance and passion for physical therapy. As soon as I stepped foot on campus I felt so welcomed and knew this was the place for me.

What made you pursue physical therapy as an academic study?
I have been a competitive dancer for the majority of my life, and dance, coupled with a car accident, took a physical toll on my body. After having to seek physical therapy as a result, I fell in love with it. In addition to discovering creative ways to treat patients, I wanted to impact the lives of others by helping to restore physical movement and promote confidence and independence.

Three students sit on a couch in a residence hall lounge
Hill serves as a resident assistant and C.R.E.W. orientation leader.

Why were you interested in serving in the role of student trustee?
In my time at Widener, I have made connections with students from all walks of life. I want to use my position to ensure that the student voice is heard, and that each and every student feels included and supported. This position also allows me to contribute to the advancement of student affairs while ensuring the university meets the needs and interests of all students.

As a student trustee, you will bring a valuable voice and perspective to the board. Are there any topics or issues, in particular, that you are hoping to bring to the table? What do you want your fellow trustees to know about the student experience?
Integral aspects of the student experience are housing and campus engagement. Both the Office of Student Engagement and Office of Residence Life do a great job at providing innovative ways to keep students engaged. However, fundamental advancements to housing and more events that cater to a wider range of students would contribute to an enhanced student experience. 

Is there an aspect of Widener you’re hoping to address or even see change in some way? Are there any initiatives you’d like to see started at the university?
I feel that there is under representation of minority voices on campus. Widener is definitely moving in the right direction with the DiversiTEAs, Common Ground, and Town Hall conversations. Initiatives that could strengthen this would be to expand student involvement in student leadership and campus life, increase dialogue among all students so that everyone can feel comfortable to engage in open conversation to address issues we are facing in the country, and keep diverse students involved in the decision making of the university.

You are deeply committed to civic engagement. Why is it important for you to give back to others, and where does that desire come from?
Unfortunately, there are people who go without having many things that some take for granted. I have always sought to impact the lives of others and use the resources I have to close the gaps for individuals and their families. One of my favorite quotes is, “I cannot do all the good that the world needs, but the world needs all the good that I can do.” ~ Jana Stanfield

Two students and a community partner standing outside Everest Urgent Care
Hill secured a grant to provide COVID-19 tests for uninsured Chester residents, to conduct research on health disparities, and to host an educational forum.

Is there a particular area of civic engagement that you’re most interested in?
Health equity is an area I have been deeply invested in as I will soon be entering the healthcare field. However, I have also served at CityTeam and Chester Eastside, pursuing my interest in homelessness and the education system.

How has Widener supported you and helped you continue your mission to give back?
My commitment to advancing change, coupled with the encouragement and wisdom of the Widener community, is driving my mission to give back. In everything I do, I vow to make the change I want to see in the world, and I do so confidently knowing that Widener will be there every step of the way. Each of the initiatives I am working on would not be possible without the support of the staff, students, and faculty.

You’re involved in numerous organizations at Widener. How do you balance those activities with your academics?
I definitely get this question a lot and I laugh a little each time. Sometimes I amaze myself at how much I am able to do! Prioritizing what needs to be done, organization, and maximizing my time helps me to get everything done while still staying focused on my academics.

You have quickly emerged as a campus leader. How has Widener nurtured those leadership qualities?
I feel that I am truly a testament to the support that Widener provides to student leaders. Widener has actively created an environment that fosters necessary leadership qualities such as critical thinking, advocacy, and development, working hand-in-hand to create change makers.  From leading student run organizations to immersing myself in the Chester community, I have acquired skills that will not only contribute to my personal growth, but will allow me to propel the success of my peers and inspire future generations.

Dance student in a mid-air jump in front of the 'W' statue
Hill's career goals combine her love of dance and physical therapy.

What are your career goals, and how do you think Widener is preparing you for your future?
After graduating from Widener’s doctorate of physical therapy program, I plan to become a physical therapist for a collegiate or professional athletic team. Later in life, I dream of owning a joint physical therapy clinic and dance studio. Many overlook the interrelation between dance and physical therapy, but they truly come together in perfect harmony. Widener houses a prestigious group of professors that have provided an enriching academic experience and continue to connect me with professionals in the field.

What advice do you have for your fellow students or for prospective students?
I encourage each and every student to take advantage of the amazing opportunities Widener has to offer. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone, talk to new people, and challenge your perspectives. Also, there will always be a fellow student, staff, or faculty member that will be there to assist you, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
 

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