Virginia State University Student Ambassador Keyashia Willis wasn't feeling good one day in February 2016, so she walked to the on-campus health center.
After a few tests, doctors told her she was having stress headaches. It made sense because, although she received a full scholarship to the university, Keyashia still was having trouble paying for her books.
Then she got a call on her cell phone.
"It was probably the best call I ever received," Willis said. "The doctor just told me my diagnosis and left out of the room to get some medicine. Then my cell phone rang. Once they told me the news I was a grand prize winner in the 2016 CIAA /Food Lion/Coca-Cola® Scholarship Contest my heart jumped."
As a grand prize winner, she received a $5,000 scholarship, which she partly used to pay for her books. She also got to bring her younger cousin to the CIAA 2016 Basketball Tournament in Charlotte, N.C. Willis was one of four CIAA students winning the grand prize, while 15 students received $1,000 scholarships as first place winners.
Her winning essay responded to the question, "How safety on campus is impacting your CIAA school and what changes would you like to see happen?" She used the essay to explain her position on the current state of campus safety and offered some solutions, especially with last year's climate of alleged police brutality incidents happening throughout the nation.
Willis offered a solution to have both on and off campus police meet with students to talk "face-to-face" about what was happening and how they could avoid such situations in the future. This actually happened on her campus and she said it was "very successful."
"It's better to face it head on instead of pretending," she said.
Willis, a sophomore biology major, is hoping to become a forensic attorney. She currently has a 3.8 GPA and is very involved on the VSU campus in various organizations.
"Ever since fourth or fifth grade, I wanted to become a lawyer to stand up for those who could not stand up for themselves, Willis said. I just wanted to be part of that movement."
When asked if she had any advice for those CIAA students contemplating on entering this year's contest, the 20 year-old Chicago, Ill., native had the following words of advice.
"Never give up and always be yourself. I had a lot of critics telling me the best way to start my essay, but it wasn’t who I was. I didn’t want the essay to be any less authentic than it was and fortunately my intuition was right."