School of Social Work outstanding grad to focus on forensic work

The spring 2014 outstanding graduate for the ASU School of Social Work originally intended to major in something else.

“My entire family is in criminal justice,” says Samantha Hill. “I was like ‘might as well major in criminal justice.’”

But during orientation, the Bakersfield, Calif. native met Laura Orr, the student and academic services manager from the School of Social Work. Orr convinced her otherwise.

“I ended up switching to social work before I actually even moved into Taylor Place,” says Hill. “And it's been a wonderful ride ever since.”

That ride will continue at the University of Washington this fall, where Hill is one of two candidates selected out of hundreds for a fast track graduate program. Her goal is to go into forensic social work.

“With forensic social work, you work with individuals that have committed a criminal act,” Hill says. “And that criminal act can be anything from a misdemeanor to a felony and beyond.”

Hill served as a psychiatric social work intern at the Arizona State Hospital her last year at ASU. The facility is located a couple miles east of downtown Phoenix. It serves people who are involuntarily committed as severely mentally ill, those convicted of crimes but ruled insane, and sexual offenders who are considered threats to public safety. Hill loved the experience. 

Duke Beard is not surprised. He supervised Hill at Taylor Place, the ASU downtown dorm, where Hill was a community assistant for upperclassmen from the College of Public Programs. The School of Social Work is one of four schools and 16 research centers that make up the College of Public Programs.

“The patients that she's working with, I would have run from,” says Beard. “And I work in higher ed with college freshman and I have a master's in this. She has gone to work every day, manages to throw on a smile, even on the most stressful day that she has with working with these patients.”

Beard has worked with dozens of college students over the years, but Hill stands out. Not only for her smile, which rarely leaves Hill’s face, but for her warm and caring nature.

“Sam is probably one of the most genuine kind hearted caring people you will ever meet,” Beard says. She just has a silent strength about her that really draws you in and lets you lean on her and kind of raises you up and brings you to a better place.”

That nurturing personality served Hill well as a community assistant at Taylor Place. It also led her to serve as a chancellor for the National Residence Hall Honorary and as an executive board member of the national Residence Hall Association, a student government and programming organization for students living on campus. Hill has also volunteered at a dozen organizations in her hometown and in Phoenix, including Arizona Bridge to Independent Living, Central Arizona Services and the St. Vincent de Paul Center. She was even selected as a member of the 2013 ASU Homecoming court, one of seven ASU students to serve alongside the homecoming queen. 

“She just manages to do it all and have no idea how she does it,” says Beard, who is the community director at Palo Verde West residential hall.

Hill is not secretive about how she does it.

“My planner is my best friend,” Hill says. “It really is.” 

It has to be. Her last semester of school, Hill was up at six a.m. every day and usually didn’t get to bed until 1 or 2 in the morning. That’s because Hill took five or six classes a semester in addition to her work as a community assistant, member of student organizations, and time devoted to interning and volunteering. Taking so many classes each semester allowed her to graduate in just three years, saving a year of out-of-state tuition. And Hill managed to maintain good grades, graduating with a 3.85 GPA.

"I have decent grades,” Hill says. “They are A’s. I wish they were higher, but they’re A’s.

Her high grade point average allowed Hill to be a member of several honor societies, including the Theta Tau Chapter of the Phi Alpha Honor Society for Social Work, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and the Golden Key International Honour Society.

College wasn’t all work for Hill. She took advantage of what living in downtown Phoenix has to offer. That included catching Phoenix Suns or Arizona Diamondbacks games, watching the latest movies at a nearby theater, and seeing the latest singer or group on tour.

“Lady Gaga was here a year ago and most of the building went,” Hill says. “And it was nice to be able to just walk home."

Hill looks back on her experience at ASU and is thankful her high school math teacher, ASU alumnus Tom Gundry, suggested she consider an out-of-state university. And she couldn’t be happier with a degree in social work.

“We have such an umbrella sort of major where you can go anywhere and do anything with a degree in social work,” says Hill.