Zerian Hood is the first in his family to go to college. A love of sports led him to an exercise and sport science major at the University of Georgia, and he intends to go to physical therapy school after graduation. Often juggling two or three jobs, he aims to be a beacon of hope for his family and other first-generation students.
Degree objective: Exercise and Sport Science (Pre-physical therapy track)
Expected graduation: May 2023
What has surprised you about UGA or defied your expectations?
UGA has given me people that I can count on to be there for me. Everyone that I have come in contact with has welcomed me with open arms and has been nothing short of spectacular.
What is your favorite class you’ve taken?
It’s probably a tie between ENGL 1101, COMM 1500 (Interpersonal Communication), and PEDB 1400 (Introduction to Weight Training).
English 1101 was amazing. I had a great professor in Vanessa Swenson. In one paper, we focused on the journey of how I made it to college. In another paper, I transformed into a travel agent to write a paper about a place that I had never been before. I did my paper on Dubai. While conducting research, I learned about structures like the Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab. These two structures are beautiful and just being able to learn something about them was great.
Secondly, Interpersonal Communication with Christin Huggins was a course I also loved. The greatest thing about this course was learning ways people converse and interact with one another.
I took Introduction to Weight Training for the PE requirement. I thought it would be an easy course because after playing sports in high school, lifting is second nature to me. However, I did learn exercises that I had never even heard of before and I learned how to work muscles that I never knew I could isolate. Devin Anderson aka Coach Dev is also a great person to be around. He is very cool, genuine and relatable.
How did you choose your major?
I thought I was going to be an architect. I soon realized that I don’t like geometry and my drawing skills are lousy. I considered sports broadcasting and finally, I landed at exercise and sport science and want to be a physical therapist for a professional, collegiate or even high school sports team. The dream of becoming a professional football player (I played running back in high school) soon ended when I chose an academic scholarship over a sports scholarship. However, being a physical therapist allows me to be on the team, but not on the field. That is my sort of “shoot for the stars” type of dream, and my “land on the moon” type of dream is to end up in a great clinic or any other physical therapy facility.
What are your top three UGA highlights?
- Getting on the dean’s list spring semester.
I was working two jobs, taking classes, and still trying to have a social life. It was tough.
- Ringing the Chapel bell for the first time.
This experience was the best and the worst experience. I rang the bell to signify the end of my first semester. Being that I am a first-generation college student, I didn’t know what college was going to be like. To finish my first semester of college, it really felt like I finally belonged. It was also the worst experience. It was late December and cold. I came outside in sweatpants and slip-on vans with no socks. So, although I got to ring the bell, I also came back home with frozen toes.
- The UGA versus Notre Dame game (2019)
I love football and going to the best school in the land just made it all the better. That game was like no other. On top of all that, we won the game! My favorite tradition on Saturdays in Athens is lighting up the fourth quarter and I’ve never seen a better performance of that than what we displayed at that game. It was breathtaking.
What have you had to overcome to get where you are today?
In middle school, I took my schooling lightly, barely making a “B” to keep my mom off my back. My mother, father and older brother and sister either has received a high school diploma or a GED. Then my older cousin told me that “I was supposed to be the one to change the path for my family.” He said, “If you don’t, no one will.” And that’s when it all changed. After a couple of semesters in middle school and acquiring many titles, awards and honors, I missed the principal’s list by two points in the last semester of eighth grade. I was very upset, but I knew that I never wanted to be in that position again. I declared to my family that day that I was going to be the valedictorian of my graduating class. A declaration to my mother that I was going to be the first of her children to graduate high school, the first to be the top of the class, and the first to go to college.
But my world was flipped upside down in high school. My family and I were kicked out of our apartment and from November 2018 to January 2019. I was living out of a hotel with minimal clothing, a brain full of knowledge, and a heart full of hate. After senior night for the last game of the season, I had to get dropped off at my old apartments and get picked up by my stepdad because I didn’t want my friends to know that I lived in a hotel. But I made it to the other side.
I ended high school with a 4.0 GPA, the highest honor of all my classmates in being valedictorian at Benjamin Banneker High School. I got into the college of my dreams, and I have people who love me.
- UGA Visitors Center (tour leader)
- UGA Health Center: Physical Therapy & Massage Therapy clinic (Federal Work Study Student Worker)
- Under Armour Brand House (sales associate)
I typically interact with customers and dress them in Under Armour apparel. It is very cool because I essentially turned into an Under Armour model.
At the Visitors Center, we started back with in-person walking tours in April. Although it’s not the full tour of campus, it still shows the atmosphere of this amazing campus and town. I didn’t get to tour campus before coming here. My first time ever stepping on campus was new student orientation. So, I took that leap of faith and I came up big. However, I wanted to give that college tour experience to others, especially those first-generation college students in the same shoes I was in just two years ago. Being a beacon of hope is something I am for my family. I want to be the person for everyone who wants my help, including potential students.
I am essentially an extra hand at the health center. I work side by side with some great physical and massage therapists. I clean off equipment, pull charts, schedule appointments and make copies. I also build tools that the physical therapists use with their patients (two tennis balls wrapped in duct tape used for massaging peoples’ back, and TheraBand loops/straights for lateral band walks). I shadow physical therapists. Sometimes, I even get to demonstrate workouts, give my input on what a patient might be doing wrong during an exercise or what else might be able to strengthen the troubled area. Often I get to conduct the first part of the workout session for follow-up patients (get them warmed up and start them on the first round of exercises they are doing throughout the session).
What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?
My passion is to become a physical therapist. And to help people as much as I can. I hold the title of role model in my family, and I give them all of me. From the experiences I have had to the daily advice I give to each of them, I want them to know that they can do it, too— graduate high school, go to college, and just be able to follow their dreams. And I am definitely happy to spread the love to anyone else who would love to hear it. That is why the Visitors Center is so special.
What are your plans for after graduation?
My plan is to go to graduate school: a three-year degree program to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy.
I #CommitTo: Facing adversity head-on