#WhyIChoseEducation: ‘There’s This Power in Being Able to Mentor and Develop Others,’ Says Richmond Hill ’01MED
Growing up, Richmond Hill ’01MED wanted to be a meteorologist. It’s what led him to NC State University. But the summer after sophomore year, his dad told him about a summer camp in Beaufort, North Carolina, that was looking for college students to serve as camp counselors.
“My experience with the kids that summer just totally changed my course,” Hill said. “I really loved working with these kids.”
He decided he would become a school counselor instead. When Hill returned to NC State, he switched his major to psychology and earned his master’s degree in counselor education soon after. As he launched his career as a school counselor in Virginia’s Prince William County Schools, he never expected it would one day lead him to be named provost of Northern Virginia Community College’s (NOVA) Woodbridge campus. But throughout his career, educational leaders noticed his potential.
“In K-12 education, it was people and administrators who saw something in me that were pushing me towards leadership, even though I didn’t see it at the time,” Hill said.
Hill was serving as director of school counseling and GED program administrator in Prince William County Schools when NOVA first approached him. Every year, he invited representatives from the community college to speak to his students, and when the supervisor for NOVA’s counselors saw him in action, he was asked to apply for an open position.
As a counselor at NOVA, Hill had the opportunity to work with adult learners and he continued to take advantage of leadership opportunities, eventually taking on roles such as coordinator of student success and associate vice president of student support services before being named provost of Northern Virginia Community College’s Woodbridge campus in 2022.
As provost, Hill said he works to see the potential in others, the same way educators saw the potential in him.
“As mentees have been having conversations with me about career growth and trajectory, I tell them — and I always preface it because it’s not proper English — you’re readier than you think you are,” Hill said.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why I Chose Education:
I always found educators to be nurturing to me and to push me, and I felt like I always encountered educators that saw something in me that maybe I didn’t see.
Education and educators have an opportunity to really shape lives and to really offer opportunity and to help students break particular cycles that maybe their family has been in. That’s why I love the community college so much because there are not a lot of barriers for you to get here. But once you get here, due to our open admission policies, the sky’s really the limit.
Education is important. There are not a lot of men in education, and there is this power in seeing somebody that looks like you. There’s this power in being able to mentor and develop others. I’ve always loved it.
How Education Has Shaped Me:
Coming from a household where my mom was a teacher, it was always just a part of our home. As far as how it shaped me, I was fortunate to have educators in my life who not only were concerned about the content knowledge, but they were also concerned about my character development.
The goal of education — some great philosopher said this — is not only to develop the mind and to impart knowledge, but to develop character and to develop a good citizenry.
I’ll never forget my fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Monroe, who was one of my favorite teachers. I actually saw her about a year ago. I still remember the fight I got into in her classroom and the conversation she had with me after the fight. I will also never forget the conversation when some of us in the classroom were picking on a student and the conversation, the real forceful conversation, the teacher had with us about how we were affecting that student. Those two things have remained with me throughout my life. Education shaped me in a way that [my teachers] were not only concerned about my learning, but being a good young man and developing into somebody that not only could my family be proud of and the community be proud of, but that I would be proud of.
What I Enjoyed Most About the College of Education:
I learned a lot. I learned a lot, first of all, about just being professional working in [Associate Dean for Student Success] Anona Smith Williams’ offices as a student hire. As far as classes, a course I will never forget was with [retired Professor] Rupert Nacoste.
I always felt that there was just a lot of support. Everybody was your cheerleader. That was just a palpable feeling when I was in Poe Hall. Every step of the way, there was somebody saying “we want to see you make it; we want to see you succeed.” That meant a lot.
What Others Should Know About the College of Education:
It produces well-prepared educators. They made sure that I felt well-prepared. I was very proud to say I was a product of the College of Education at NC State. It’s well-respected and I feel like the curriculum prepared me. I feel like it was well-rounded. I don’t feel like there were any gaps or anything I missed. I came out confident, prepared and ready to go. I think that if you come to the College of Education, and you use the resources that are available to you, you can be successful.
The Last Thing That Inspired Me:
When I was here as a counselor, there was a student, Rose Mary Bellamy, who was in her mid-50s. She was the wife of a Marine. Her husband had done his travel and her kids had done their school and college. She said, “You know what, it’s my time.”
Whenever she would come to me, she was always prepared. She listened; she took it in and she had this go-get-it attitude. She makes it through our business administration program. She graduates and I’m so proud of her. She leaves us and goes to George Mason University and gets two bachelor’s degrees. Well, most recently, she and her husband have started a company called Grandpa Foods. It is a barbecue sauce and spice company. They have this no-salt seasoning that I use all the time and they have several versions of apple-butter-based barbecue sauce. What inspires me is here she is gaining this momentum. Their product is about to be on Food Lion shelves. They’re selling it all across Virginia. What’s been inspiring to me is that story. It’s just a testament that as educators we, to some degree, are gatekeepers to a certain quality of life to people. You can discourage or you can encourage. You can lift up or you can put down.
Another student, Sohail Naheem, was in my mentoring program back when I was a counselor. He left us with a degree in business administration, went to George Mason University and he’s now working as a principal data analyst at Northrop Grumman. That’s my latest inspiration, those student stories.