Aja Hill, ECON ’07
Representing Microsoft, Aja Hill gave a speech and rang the bell at the Nasdaq MarketSite Studio in Times Square earlier this spring
Aja Hill, ECON ’07, knew from a young age that she wanted to attend the University of Maryland; her mom, a ’77 graduate, used to take her and her siblings to basketball games, which Hill “thought was the coolest thing in the world.”
What Hill didn’t know quite as early was what she wanted to study once she got to UMD.
“My senior year of high school I had the fortune of babysitting for the CEO of Harbor Bank, one of the few Black-owned banks in the country, and since I didn’t have a car then, he would drive me back home, which meant I had 30 minutes of isolated time with the CEO of this bank,” Hill recalled. “One time he asked me about what I was studying, and I told him about this Advanced Placement (AP) economics course I was taking at the time, and he said ‘you need to stick with it … it will change the way you think and it will create opportunities for you,’ and I thought ‘well, this guy knows what he’s talking about.”
Though Hill found that AP economics course really challenging, she did “stick with it” and wound up getting a high score on the AP exam, which was the validation she needed to ultimately decide to come to UMD as a declared ECON major.
While there, one class in particular did truly change the way Hill thought about the world.
“I remember taking this class on slavery and economics, and initially I thought it would be a class combining African American Studies and Economics, but the professor challenged us to get outside of only thinking about what was socially right, and thinking about the economic impact of slavery,” she said. “Stripping away the social context of it was really hard, and in the moment I felt terrible, but as an adult and a leader, there are situations where I have to make decisions devoid of emotion, and I think that class really helped prepare me for that.”
A Modern Work Customer Success Leader for Microsoft, Hill is responsible for deploying Microsoft Teams across federal agencies, and supporting those more than 2 million users. She also voluntarily acts as Microsoft’s U.S. Women’s Employee Resource Group (ERG) Leader, in which role she ensures that the female Microsoft employees spread across the United States’ 17 chapters all have a relatively equal experience.
It was through Microsoft’s U.S. ERG that Hill got connected to Nasdaq’s Diversity, Equity and Culture team, and was asked this past spring to ring the Nasdaq bell and give a speech celebrating Women’s History Month—an experience Hill considers “a bucket list achievement.”
“Fifty years ago, prior to 1974, banks did not have to loan women money—women couldn't buy a car, they couldn't take out a loan, they couldn't buy a house without a male cosigner—and here we were, 75 women [on stage] plus another 300 on the Times Square Marquee, ringing the bell at one of the most respected financial institutions in the country … it was such a special moment,” Hill said.
Ringing the bell itself wasn’t what stands out most in Hill’s memory, however.
“One of the things I loved most about that moment was that while everyone was looking up at the Times Square marquee signs, I actually looked down, and I looked at all the women’s shoes,” she said. “There were shoes with beautiful crystals and leopard print and pink shoes and high heels, and in that moment, I was so proud of every woman for showing up as a woman; in a male-dominated industry, they were all very open to being everything that they are and owning their femininity.”
Hill never imagined that her time at UMD would have led her down this particular path—her original plan was to graduate with an ECON degree then go to law school to become an entertainment lawyer representing musicians—but she’s grateful for it nevertheless.
It’s also why she offers current students this advice: “What you're learning today may not show up as results for many years later, but know that you are learning, and just stick with it and trust the process. I can't tell you who to intern for, or how many internships to take, or what classes to take, but I can tell you you're doing something that really matters, and you will take a step back when you get 15 years down the road and look at yourself in comparison to others and see how much you've grown and how much differently you think about things based on your experience. You just have to have confidence in knowing that in every challenge, every burden, every blessing, every amazing opportunity and every heartbreak makes you the leader that you're destined to be.”