Walk-a-thon turns 10, helps students to finish line

Marquita Aguilar knows the financial hardships many students face. Before becoming executive administrative assistant to James Coleman, Ph.D., dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University, she spent a decade in financial aid and student accounting at VCU and saw students struggling to complete their education.

“Some of the kids really touched my heart,” she recalled. “Many withdrew from the university. I felt for them and thought there must be a way to help them stay in school.”

Inspired by a Virginia Governor’s Office Healthy Virginians initiative that encourages state employees to improve their health through exercise, including walking, Aguilar and colleagues in the VCU Staff Senate created a walk-a-thon in 2005 to raise scholarship money.

“If we were going to exercise, I thought, then we’re going to walk for our students,” she said. “This is academia, this is why we have jobs and so our main focus should be our students.”

In 10 years, the walk-a-thon has raised more than $80,000 for the Virginia’s Caring University Scholarship for rising juniors and seniors who struggle to stay in school because of financial difficulties.

Joy McNamara (B.S. ’11; M.S. ’13) is one of the nearly 90 scholarship recipients who stayed at VCU to pursue their dreams thanks to Aguilar’s vision.

“The scholarship was such a blessing to me,” McNamara said. “The opportunity those funds afforded me was priceless, and I believe that I’m still reaping the rewards, even as a Ph.D. student at VCU.” McNamara hopes to complete her Ph.D. in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in 2016.

Miracle Allums (B.S. ’13) is another grateful beneficiary. “I didn’t know how I was going to afford VCU, much less graduate,” Allums said. “The relationships I built there changed my life.”

With a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Allums is now studying for her master’s degree in social work at Columbia University.

In addition to demonstrating financial need, scholarship applicants must be rising juniors or seniors with a GPA of 2.7 or greater, must work at least 10-15 hours a week while pursuing their studies and must be engaged in community service.

At a special ceremony in 2012, VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., named the walk-a-thon in honor of Aguilar.

“Marquita Aguilar is a fine example of the staff commitment found at our university,” Rao said. “Her creation of the walk-a-thon to support our students was a selfless act to bridge our campuses and bring us together.”

To learn more about the Marquita Aguilar Walk-a-thon or to register for the 2014 walk-a-thon, contact Marquita Aguilar, executive administrative assistant to the dean, College of Humanities and Sciences, at (804) 827-0857 or mcaguilar@vcu.edu.