Stillman's Cristi Hitt Draws a Crowd
Cristi Hitt, Stillman’s Director of Scholarship Programs, is seldom lonely. Her office in the Batchelor Building is often abuzz with students who drop by after classes. Space is tight, but that does not deter visitors. A few arrive with furrowed brows. They are the ones who need money. Fortunately, when Hitt pulls out her divining rod, she can uncover even the most subterranean scholarships. Once, she steered a desperate student toward a $6,000 scholarship mere hours before the first classes of the semester began. But don’t expect a repeat performance, she warns.
“The earlier students begin looking for scholarships, the more likely they are to find them. Those who wait until the last minute often miss the deadline,” insists Hitt, a former high school guidance counselor who has been with Stillman for three years.
Fortunately, the vast majority of the students who gather in her office are not cash strapped. Some come because they are members of the Stillman Chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS), a group that she advises. Many students just drop by to relax and chat. But they playfully admit that she invariably puts them to work. They come by to socialize and sometimes end up researching new scholarships, planning community service activities, or writing scholarship essays. Lately she has been urging students to take advantage of scholarship opportunities that would allow them to study abroad. She has also motivated dozens of students to join NSLS.
Eliza Carter, a sophomore from Birmingham, says, “I love Ms. Hitt. She is like a second mom to a lot of us. I love coming to her office because it gives me a calm feeling. She’s so down to earth. When I have a problem, she listens to me and gives me good advice. She also gives me lots of scholarship links.”
Hitt playfully responds, “And we’re going to get Eliza to join NSLS.”
Perhaps one of the reasons students feel so at home in Hitt’s office is that she has it decorated with their photos, which adorn a tall bookshelf behind her desk. A vibrant map from Trinidad and a carving from Belize—both compliments of Stillman students from the Islands—are among the other homey touches that make her office such an appealing place to gather. There are four computers in the lab adjoining Hitt’s office, so students sometimes chat with her through an open doorway while they write scholarship essays or finish homework assignments. They don’t mind when she pushes them to excel academically, encourages them to fill out tedious scholarship forms, or doles out motherly words of wisdom. In fact, Carter believes that Hitt’s genuine concern for others is one of the things students like most about her.
When she steps out of the Batchelor Building and heads to the cafeteria in the Hay center, students who spot her from across the campus cheerfully exclaim, “Miss Hitt! Miss Hitt!” And those who aren’t waving from a distance are likely to show up at her table in the cafeteria, where she never eats alone. Given her obvious popularity, no one on campus was surprised when, last semester, she was named “Favorite Staff” at the Student Choice Awards ceremony.
Hitt modestly states that she doesn’t know why students are so fond of her. “People say that I’m a good listener,” she ventures. “When they come to discuss scholarships, sometimes I have an opportunity to hear their life stories—why they need money and why getting a scholarship is so important to them and to their families. I get to know them.”
To anyone observing Hitt interact with students, it is obvious that she is as fond of them as they are of her. She admits that she loves being surrounded by students. Nevertheless, she has become increasingly enthusiastic about an opportunity that could send Stillman scholars thousands of miles away from campus for anywhere from six weeks to an entire year.
“Dr. Linda Beito and I recently attended a workshop in Atlanta that the International Institute of Education held at Morehouse to share information about Fulbright, Boren and Gilman scholarships,” Hitt says. “These scholarships allow American students to study abroad and serve as ambassadors to other countries. Participating would broaden a student’s educational experience, and open his or her mind to the world and our influence in it. I learned in the workshop that, statistically, individuals who have traveled abroad earn much higher wages than those who have not studied or lived in another country.“
“I’m so used to seeing students every day that I would really miss anyone who went abroad for an entire year. But the programs have websites that allow you to stay in touch with students while they are in their host countries. It wouldn’t be the same as seeing them in my office, but it would be so exciting to keep up with their blogs.”
Students interested in scholarship opportunities may e-mail Hitt at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply follow the trail of students headed to room 212 in the Batchelor Building.
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