Siani Aikens arrived at Eggerts Crossing Village when she was in second grade. An Every Child Valued alumna, she has since graduated from Lawrence High School, Mercer County Community College, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), and was directly admitted into the Master of Science degree program in business at Syracuse University. All of these successes have taught her how important it is to represent the best that her family, teachers, mentors, and sorority sisters have modeled for her.
When she arrived in Eggerts Crossing Village, at eight years old, Siani was introduced to a new world. She remembers many of her after-school teachers that helped her throughout her time at ECV. She also remembers Arzaga Dillard, the Every Child Valued Program Director, who took a hands-on role in operating the Every Child Valued program. Siani reflects, "it is good to have someone who actually cares about the kids and who wants to see a successful program." She knows that the mark of a good leader is that the programs continue when the leader has retired. Siani noted, "it (every Child Valued) is still going on today." She also remembers the personal attention. Mr. Dillard gave the program and how he remembered her, even after he left his position at Every Child Valued. She noted, "he even took my graduation photos when I graduated from The College of New Jersey."
The two groups of people who have had the greatest impact on her life are her family and her sorority sisters at TCNJ. In both of these cases, she cites “representation” as being the biggest factor in influencing her to move outside of her comfort zone and achieve as much as possible in her education and in her contributions to the community.
To Siani, the concept of representation has multiple layers. First, it is important to be represented. That is, it is important to have people in your life who support you and understand your life’s journey from an experiential perspective. The second layer is that representation has to do with how you represent yourself. The third layer of representation is how you use your personal representation to influence others.
Siani remarks that her mother and her brothers were her first and most important representatives. Her mother always wanted her to be well-educated and respectful. Her mother always told her to be the “best representation of herself” that she could be. Equally important, Siani understood that she represented something to her younger brothers and that her example would help lift them to be the best that they could be.
Siani’s sorority sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha impacted her by representing something she wanted to be. She said, "I saw them on campus, putting in a lot of time and effort to help the community and our college. Seeing young women being in important positions, and setting high standards ethically and academically made me want to work harder. I wanted to be that representative of a young black woman."
I saw them on campus, putting in a lot of time and effort to help the community and our college. Seeing young women being in important positions, setting high standards ethically and academically made me want to work harder. I wanted to be that representative of a young black woman.
Being a Dean’s list student, Siani was initiated into TCNJ’s chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and soon participated in voter registration drives, volunteered at the Trenton Soup Kitchen, and at Woman’s Spaces along with her fellow sisters.
Lawrence Township public schools were also influential in Siani‘s success. She remembers, "one of my favorite teachers was my third-grade teacher Mrs. Strauss." And there were teachers at the high school, including Mr. Rick and Mrs. Schneck, who made her "fall in love with business," even more than she was predisposed to do. She points out, "it is good to have teachers who care about the subject, and also have experience. That makes it 10 times better." As much as she loves marketing and business management she admits that science just was not her subject. But she members Mr. Babuschak and confesses, "he would not let me fail. He made me believe that I could do anything."
Perhaps it is the kind of representation that Siani has experienced in her life that has allowed her to take great leaps out of her comfort zone. Perhaps this kind of representation helped her to be the first person in her family to graduate from college. Perhaps this kind of representation gave her the confidence to leave home for Syracuse University where she started her life in a new place, making new friends, and developing new relationships with professors and academics.