Senior Maggie-Jo Zeeman knows that every decision, no matter how small, has the power to change the future.

Zeeman, a huge proponent of making pro-con lists, describes herself as an extremely analytical person. But her time at Virginia Tech has taught her to embrace her creative side as well, and, when life offers unexpected opportunities — to take them.

The fashion merchandising and design major doesn’t believe in sitting still. From the moment she arrived at Virginia Tech, the New Jersey native has strived to make the Blacksburg campus feel like home. She’s achieved that feeling by diving head first into her classwork and involving herself in as many activities as she can.

Her tenacity, commitment to education, and endless curiosity have served her well. The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences has honored Zeeman with the 2022 Outstanding Senior Award — a distinction that is given only to one student in each college. It recognizes students who have demonstrated exceptional academic performance, co-curricular engagement, leadership skills and service contributions.

“I feel so grateful and lucky,” Zeeman said.  “It’s just a really nice way to close out my education and time at Virginia Tech.”

The first organization she joined, and perhaps her most influential, was College Mentors for Kids – a program that pairs college students with children for weekly on-campus activities. One of the organization’s goals is to motivate children and college students to reach their full potentials.

“I was there as an 18-year-old, homesick student, and found comfort in my friendship with a 7-year-old girl,” Zeeman said. “It was really, really cool to see not only the impact that it had on her, but also the impact that it had on me.”

Zeeman is a Beyond Boundaries Scholar, and during her time in Blacksburg, she has also participated in Hokie Ambassadors, Fashion Merchandising and Design Society, and Greek life. The Oris Glisson Scholarship recipient has also served as a research and teaching assistant in the Department of Apparel, Housing, and Resource Management.

Saying yes to new experiences has proved to her what she is capable of and taught her that life often has a way of evolving in unexpected ways. One of the ways Zeeman surprised herself was by joining Gamma Phi Beta freshman year.

As one of the only women in her family to participate in Greek life, she said the concept of a sorority was foreign to her — but she turned it into a learning experience. During her time there, she served as the education executive vice president, making sure members were on track academically, and planning sisterhood events. She also served as a Rho Gamma for two years to help guide potential members through the recruitment process.

“Having it within yourself to push yourself outside of your comfort zone at the beginning of college builds up your confidence and your ability to put yourself out there,” Zeeman said.  “It makes you realize that you can handle any obstacle that comes your way.”

Growing up, Zeeman always thought she would become a teacher, like her mother. But during her time in high school, she developed an interest in business, and decided to forge her own path. She applied to different colleges with different business majors in mind, and was accepted into every one. But, as the time to make a decision approached, she found herself unsure of what school to attend or what she wanted to major in.

Ultimately, Virginia Tech caught her eye, because of its commitment to education, and its spirited atmosphere.

“I definitely wanted a school where the main focus was on education and academics, because that is kind of who I’ve always been and was always my priority,” Zeeman said. “But I also wanted the whole college experience. I wanted somewhere with the college town feel, the downtown life, and the big football games. I wanted somewhere with a sense of community.”

While scrolling through Virginia Tech’s list of majors, she landed on fashion merchandising. She thought of the major as the perfect way to merge her analytical and creative sides.   

“It’s definitely not something I always thought about or even knew was an option, but once I realized I could major in something that combined my two interests, I was really excited,” Zeeman said. “I’ve always been super creative and super into fashion. That’s when I realized the business end of the fashion industry would be perfect for me.”

This fall, Zeeman will start a job with Ross Stores, Inc. in New York City as an assistant buyer. She said she would love to eventually work for major brands, such as Kate Spade — her favorite. But much like her college experience, Zeeman believes her dream career will emerge based on the choices she makes, and the skills she learns along the way.

“I feel like my career goals will change and evolve as I do professionally,” Zeeman said. “Nothing is set in stone. I just want to be able to learn and grow within a company and the industry itself.”

Dina Smith-Glaviana, an assistant professor of fashion merchandising and design and the director of the Oris Glisson Historic Costume and Textile Collection, said faculty nominated Zeeman for the award not only because of her outstanding academic achievements, but because of her service to the department as both an undergraduate teaching and research assistant.

Smith-Glaviana recently presented Zeeman with the Phi Kappa Phi Medallion, which is awarded to the senior with the highest academic standing in each college.

“Her service has supported the faculty in their efforts for teaching and research, and we are appreciative of that,” Smith-Glaviana said.  “We are happy to have had Maggie as a student in our department and our college and wish her the best in her career.”

Looking back at the last four years, Zeeman says it’s the small moments at Virginia Tech that she will remember.

Among her favorite memories, she recalls how grumpy, early-morning carpools with sorority sisters resulted in her finding her best friends and current roommates. She remembers the 7-year-old girl she befriended freshman year, during her time volunteering with College Mentors for Kids, and how she made her feel at ease in a new environment when she was feeling nervous and far from home. And she viscerally describes the full-body chills she still feels each time she steps foot into Lane Stadium and “Enter Sandman” blares through the speakers.

Zeeman is one of two students who will be giving remarks at the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences’ May 13 commencement.

Her advice for graduates is the same as it would be for incoming students.

“Once you get to this point in your life, you’re your strongest advocate,” Zeeman said. “If you are interested in something, you need to stand up for yourself and respect yourself enough to put yourself out there and get involved in those things. Be confident in yourself.”

Written by Kelsey Bartlett