ETTRICK — Though they’re on summer holiday, members of Virginia State University’s Trojan Introduction Program (TIP) eagerly joined President Dr. Makola M. Abdullah in the school’s conference room on Tuesday to boast about their beloved university.
Last week, the school took home multiple honors at the HBCU Awards, which is hosted by the blog HBCU Digest, which reports on news from HBCUs across the country. The VSU Board of Trustees was named Board of Trustees of the Year, and rising sophomore Briana Brundick-Kelly was named Female Student of the Year. The school also took home the top prize of being named HBCU of the Year.
“It’s important that we’re not the best-kept secret in Virginia, or Petersburg, or Chesterfield County,” said Abdullah. “But that we take our place as one of the top institutions in the country, and let people know that we’re not afraid to say it.”
Winners from the awards ceremony were selected by a panel of previous HBCU Award winners, presidents and chancellors, and members of the media which cover HBCUs.
“We all know and understand that VSU is a fantastic place,” said Abdullah. “But I think it’s wonderful for the faculty, the staff, and the students to get that affirmation from someone else, that says VSU is among the top institutions in the country.”
The students assembled around Abdullah talked about what the university and its new distinction means to them.
“I’m from Petersburg, so my whole family are all Trojans,” said sophomore Camrien Jarmon. “I always knew VSU was number one in my opinion, but now that we have the award, we can brag about it. I can talk to my friends who go to ODU and say ‘hey, where’s your award?’. But it also makes me feel great as a student, that I’m part of such an amazing Trojan family.”
Bundick-Kelly, who took home Female Student of the Year over a host of other impressive candidates, talked about what the award meant to her. Bundick-Kelly made a viral video of her imitating Beyonce’s performance at Coachella in April. Her dance moves got her on the popular talk show “Ellen”.
“I went against a lot of amazing people,” said Bundick-Kelly. “One was a 64 year-old woman who graduated alongside her granddaughter, and another woman did a bunch of research in science. I was like ‘how can I beat all these amazing people?’, but I got to meet them, and we just shared it together, it was kind of cute.”
The students also talked at length about being a part of the “Trojan Family”, and how the interconnectedness among the whole community makes VSU a special place to them.
“I came here just to attend VSU,” said sophomore K’Rise Chesterfield, who hails from the U.S Virgin Islands. “My favorite experience was coming to school for the first time, because that was the first time I actually saw the campus, I never visited or anything. But I had a feeling inside that I made one of the best decisions of my life, to come here and further my education and get the best HBCU experience.”
“You cannot get lost here,” added sophomore Jaedyn Franklin. “There is always someone to help.”
The students also credited their professors, describing them as “people who look out for you.”
Sophomore Monique Daniels talked about her business professor Jonathan Young, and how he helps the students with their career goals.
“I met him on my visit here,” she said. “And when I came back he remembered my first and last name, and the fact he made me feel so welcome is just another aspect of the family atmosphere here.”
Daniels said she had made connections at multiple accounting firms for possible jobs after college because of Young.
“That’s one of the big parts about the faculty, they’re always there for you,” she said.
Another professor who was mentioned was mathematics professor Daniel Fritz.
“He’s one of those professors who will really stick his neck out there for you,” said Bundick-Kelly. “If you need help after class, he’ll set up his own session. He’s just one of those special people.”
Abdullah expressed a lot of pride after the university he heads was described by HBCU Digest as “a model of success for all institutions, historically black or otherwise.”
“This allows us to focus on some of the great work that our students and faculty are doing to help change the community,” said Abdullah. “I’m very excited; I’m excited for what we’ve already done but also for what we can do.”