Staff member making education possible for students in need

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During a Sept. 19 ceremony, VCU President Michael Rao told Marquita Aguilar, executive administrative assistant to James Coleman, dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences, that she demonstrates the dedication and service that epitomizes the university’s new tagline.

“Marquita, you absolutely make VCU real.”

Aguilar was honored at the event when the VCU Staff Senate changed the name of its annual Virginia’s Caring University Scholarship Walk-A-Thon and the scholarship program that it helps fund to the Marquita Aguilar Walk-A-Thon and the Marquita Aguilar Scholarship.

“Today, I am proud and pleased to be celebrating a very special member of the university, Marquita Aguilar,” said Rao. “I am very grateful to you for being a role model to the rest of the university.”

A staff member at VCU for 27 years, Aguilar has served numerous roles within the university and received multiple honors and awards for her engagement and passion. She served as a senator on the Staff Senate for 12 years and worked on various committees and in several leadership roles.

Out of all of her accomplishments at VCU, she is perhaps most proud of the establishment of the Walk-A-Thon and scholarship program. As a staff member who interacts almost daily with students, she is in tune with the needs and challenges they face.

“The vision I had was that the kids here would receive the funds they needed in order to finish their education and graduate,” she said. “I know their struggles, they tell me their achievements - I know it all, because they confide in me. I feel like they’re my kids, and it’s such a closeness I have with them.

“The staff is the face of the university. We are the front door. When students walk through these doors at VCU, they meet us,” said Aguilar. 

With a will to help deserving students reach graduation and a desire to have the Staff Senate leave a legacy, Aguilar developed the concept of the Walk-A-Thon, which was established eight years ago.

Since 2005, the scholarship has helped almost 80 undergraduate students continue their educations and graduate from VCU by raising more than $75,000 from the VCU and VCU Health System communities. This year, nine recipients were awarded scholarships, and they were recognized at the Sept. 19 event.

“The scholarship really is a blessing,” said Latessa Miracle Allums, a senior psychology major and 2012 recipient. “It means a lot, and I wouldn’t be here without it.”

Funds for the scholarship are raised on a volunteer basis, with the majority coming from staff and faculty members, with some corporate donations on various years and even a few student-gifted donations. This year more than $5,000 was raised in only two months through the 8th annual Walk-A-Thon.

To be eligible for the scholarship, applicants must be full-time undergraduate juniors or seniors with a minimum GPA of 2.7, be employed a minimum of 15 hours per week and possess a need for financial assistance. This year’s winners and their majors include:

  • Ly’Shawn Powell, criminal justice
  • Amelia Tonelli, fashion
  • Joseph Stemmle, real estate
  • Brittni Trofort, psychology
  • Derek Cook, art education
  • Letessa Allums, psychology
  • Olasunkanmi Ayeniz, environmental studies
  • Simone Biasuzzi, international studies
  • Tarsha Page-Brown, psychology

Reuban Rodriguez, associate vice provost and dean of student affairs, presented the students with their awards at the ceremony. Afterwards, the official declaration of the Walk-A-Thon and scholarship name change was made, and Aguilar was honored.

“She is not only a tireless advocate for staff, but she also recognized a student need and was motivated to figure out how to address it,” said Katherine Poarch, office manager for the Department of Strategy and Marketing for the VCU Medical Center and 2012-2013 Staff Senate president. “Marquita Aguilar is a wonderful example of a staff member being engaged in the big picture of VCU - student success - and a fantastic ambassador for Staff Senate.”

The Staff Senate is marking its 20th anniversary this year as the university’s and health system’s representative body for staff. The senate works to facilitate honest and open communication to support staff employee development and resources and build a stronger university community.

“For 20 years, the Staff Senate has been the greatest imaginable partner to the university,” Rao said.

Also at last week’s event, Ernest and Betty Mooney, the president and vice president and local co-owners of the Virginia Book Company, presented a $1,000 check to the Marquita Aguilar Scholarship fund. The bookstore is on VCU’s campus.

“This is what it’s all about,” said an emotional Aguilar.

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