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Learning, Living and Giving Back: First Group of ASPiRE Students is Eager to Start

VCU’s first ASPiRE class is a diverse group, including students pursuing degrees in anthropology, dentistry, women’s studies and more. In all, members of the first class are engaged in 30 fields of study on both VCU campuses. 

And while the 148 sophomores who make up the inaugural ASPiRE class may view college, careers and life from different perspectives, they are drawn together by a shared desire to give back to their communities.

“ASPiRE was a major factor in my decision to come to VCU,” said Hilary Smith, a transfer student from Hanover who is majoring in business.

Smith is looking to build on earlier community service experiences, including working at a library in Hanover, participating in a program to offer income tax assistance to low-income people and volunteering for the Rappahannock Council of Children and Parents.

“I feel best about myself when I’m doing something for someone else and I think ASPiRE is going to give me plenty of opportunities to do that,” Smith said.

Mark Hairston, a biology major from Locust Grove in Orange County, said participating in ASPiRE will look impressive on his resume, but even more importantly, it will help him further a commitment to community service that began at an early age.

“It really goes back to my childhood,” said Mark Hairston. “I grew up in the country and I am active in church and I learned very early that it’s important to give back.”

As the 2012 academic year begins, the students left their homes from across Virginia, neighboring states and as far away as New York and Arizona to take part in a brand new experience at VCU.

“We’re kind of the guinea pigs,” Hairston said of the first ASPiRE class. “But that’s not a bad thing because we’ll have a chance to help build and influence the program.”

Yusra Islam, who is majoring in health services and pre-med, learned of VCU’s new ASPiRE program by accident.

Islam was a commuter student, living at home with her parents in Chesterfield. Her parents announced plans to move to Maine, and Islam began to look quickly for on-campus housing for the coming school year.

“A friend told me about ASPiRE and I knew I had to apply to be a part of it,” Islam said. “Service learning is a great way to learn about community needs and to stay involved. I love volunteering and I love Richmond.”

ASPiRE resident assistant Shari Jackson agrees.

The psychology and pre-occupational therapy major is about to begin her third year as a resident assistant at VCU. She said she has skipped partying at college in favor of volunteering, supporting World Pediatric Project, HandsOn Greater Richmond and Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU .

“I really, really do believe that it’s important for us as students to give back to the community and also to really become a part of the community,” Jackson said. 

Mark Hairston
Mark Hairston
Hilary Smith
Hilary Smith
Yusra Islam
Yusra Islam
Shari Jackson
Shari Jackson