Aba Acquaah Helped Keep the Football Cavaliers’ Passing Offense Flying

For Aba Acquaah, who worked as football team hydration specialist while earning her degree in chemical engineering, traveling to new cities and trying new foods made the already-cool view of games from the sidelines all the better. Beating Virginia Tech in Scott Stadium is a pretty good memory, too.

Aba Acquaah on the field at a football game

  Aba Acquaah, B.S. chemical engineering, 2021

How and why did you become a hydration specialist for the football team?

One of my older brothers played football in high school and college, and I spent a lot of time at his games while I was growing up. I got really interested in the sport and became a manager in sixth grade, and I have loved doing it since.

What were your responsibilities?

During practices, which were Tuesday through Thursday mornings for about three hours, I stayed with one position group and provided water and Gatorade to those players if they needed it. I generally worked with the wide receivers coach, Marques Hagans. I also had a radio during practice to communicate injuries and tell the sports medicine staff if a player needed attention. Our crew was responsible for setting up hydration stations before practice and cleaning them up afterward.

During games we stayed near the 50-yard line and replenished water and Gatorade at the main table throughout the game. If we had an away game, we left the day before and came back to Charlottesville as soon as we packed everything up after the game was over.

What was is it like working with the wide receiver group?

The position group and coach were really, really nice. Sometimes the whole group would give me high fives after practice. My birthday is in-season, and they would all say happy birthday to me.

What was the job was like this year? How did COVID-19 make it different from previous years?

There were several measures in place to minimize points of contact and encourage social distancing. We generally took five buses to transport our staff to certain destinations, but that number more than doubled during COVID. We were not allowed to carry refillable water bottles like we used to during practice, so we had to wheel around 20-gallon jugs with attachable hoses with our position group. And we sprayed these down with sanitizer during practice. Everyone was always wearing a mask, and we weren’t allowed to leave our hotel when we did travel.

We also came back to grounds two weeks before the season started so we could quarantine and were tested at the end of that two-week period before we could work practices. We were also tested up to three times a week during the season. And we were expected to comply with the rules for student athletes.

What was the coolest part about the job?

The coolest part was traveling to places I hadn’t been before and getting a unique perspective of our games because I got to be on the field. Throughout my time, I have visited Miami, Nashville and Atlanta. Before COVID-19, we could leave the hotel and explore the city, and one of my co-workers challenged us to try food we couldn’t find in Virginia.

  •  Aba Acquaah, B.S. chemical engineering, 2021
  •  Aba Acquaah, B.S. chemical engineering, 2021

Did you work with your fellow ChemE student, Catherine Barton?

I did. Catherine worked for the equipment staff, while I worked under the sports medicine department. Our jobs were quite different. She worked with the equipment that players use during practice and helped with some drills. We both stayed with our assigned position groups. She primarily worked with defense, while I worked with offense. Catherine and I actually met during football orientation and ran into each other again on our first day in a ChE-specific course. We always sat next to each other.

What’s been the worst thing about the pandemic’s impact on your college experience? How did you make the best of it?

I would say the worst part of COVID is it has limited the opportunities I have had to explore Charlottesville. My friends and I have been trying takeout from restaurants that are only in the Charlottesville area to compensate for that.

Why did you choose a degree in chemical engineering?

I chose ChE because of its connection to the medical industry. I knew from a young age that I wanted to work within the pharmaceutical industry. The vast applications of the technical content I have learned allow me to do that, and for me to explore several aspects of that industry.

What was the best part of your education at UVA?

I love the accessibility of our professors. Especially now that I am working on my capstone, it is very helpful that they offer their time and advice so willingly.

What was your capstone project?

The project was a chemical plant design and manufacturing process for the COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin. The vaccine is not approved in the U.S. right now, but our plan complies with FDA regulations and could fit inside the first floor of O-Hill Dining Hall. One plant could make 713 million doses of the vaccine. Professor Eric Anderson was my advisor.

Where/what is your favorite local spot or activity to get away from the pressures of work and school?

I like to run the Monticello trails when I need to clear my head. I ran track from fourth grade to my senior year of high school, so running has always been an outlet for me. I also really enjoy cooking. During quarantine, I tried a lot of new recipes.

What is your favorite UVA memory?

My favorite UVA memory was watching us beat (Virginia) Tech in football last year. I worked that game, so it was very exciting to watch. A close second was storming 14th Street after basketball won the national championship.