A new award to assist students enrolled in the Department of African American Studies in Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts has been established in memory of Penn State alumna Yaayaa M. Hunt, who passed away unexpectedly at age 26 on December 29, 2019.
“She had the biggest, brightest personality, and for her, the sky was the limit,” said Penn State alumna Alecia Panuski, a friend of Hunt’s, who is helping create the Yaayaa M. Hunt ’16 Award with a $5,000 lead pledge. “After talking with some friends from Lion Line and Yaayaa’s mother, I knew we had to do something — to start a fund in her name — right away.”
Hunt grew up in southeast Washington, D.C., the first in her family to attend college. While at Penn State, she worked as a student supervisor for “Lion Line,” Penn State’s telefund organization. Hunt also was involved in several campus organizations and was universally revered by peers and professors.
After graduating, Hunt returned to her hometown to teach. Her most recent position was at Eastern Senior High School, where she taught mostly Black and low-income students.
“It was clear that Yaayaa cared deeply about Black students, Black people, and Black history because of what she had been exposed to growing up,” said AnneMarie Mingo, assistant professor of African American studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. “[Washington] D.C. mattered to her, and she became a bridge, an inspiration, and a role model to students in her community.” Hunt had taken one of Mingo’s classes, titled “Scandal: Black Women, Power and Politics,” where her “zest for life” was evident, according to Mingo.
“The cost of this kind of loss is just too great,” added Mingo. “Yaayaa was doing work that she loved in a community she loved. She was reaching students and touching the next generation. This memorial fund extends a legacy allowing African American Studies students for years to come to know Yaayaa’s name and what she stood for here at Penn State and beyond.”
“To me, the greatest tragedy is that there are students who will never have the chance to learn from her or to know her energy, her positivity, and her determination to help others succeed,” said Panuski. “She was a rare find in a person and a friend.”