Staff Voices: Derek Hill
Whether on the court or in the classroom, Derek Hill, an academic coach in the Academic Success Center (ASC) at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, has become synonymous with what
it means to be a Lion.
Hill has been part of the UAFS community for nearly two decades, starting in 2004 after the university hired his mom, Carol, who continues to work here as an academic program specialist. He recalls attending basketball games, Den Days, Cub Camp, and many more events around campus.
“I kind of just grew up here,” laughed Hill.
After graduating high school, the Muldrow, Oklahoma, native had to pick between the Sooner Schooner and Crimson and Cream of the University of Oklahoma and the Lions and Numa Navy and White. Hill chose the latter, saying the decision was easy because of the scholarship he received to attend UAFS and his desire to remain close to his family.
By the fall of 2012, Hill had become a UAFS student, where he remained until graduating in May 2016. Following graduation, Hill received his master’s degree from Arkansas State University before returning to UAFS.
“The combination of everything that happened during my undergrad led me to wanting to work in higher ed,” Hill said.
So, what exactly happened during Hill’s undergrad time that left such a lasting impression? Basketball.
While attending UAFS as a student, Hill’s love of basketball turned into a job with the team. He was named team manager, which gave him a front-row seat in juggling the stressors of being gone from class and having little time to dedicate to his studies.
During his four years at UAFS as a student and basketball manager, Hill’s juggling act gained attention from the players who turned to him for help.
“I wasn’t really tutoring them, but I was helping them navigate college,” he explained.
This work ultimately set Hill on the path to his career today. He grew up wanting to be a sports journalist working for ESPN, but his time at UAFS and work with the basketball team had Hill yearning for a more hands-on job with students and student-athletes instead of just writing about them.
“I went on to get my master’s degree in sports administration because I wanted to learn more about how I could help and where I could fit in,” he said.
Fast forward to 2021, with a master’s degree in hand, Hill returned to UAFS, this time as an employee, but picked up right where he left off by helping UAFS students succeed in the classroom. As he wraps up his fifth semester as an academic coach, it’s the full circle of his own time at UAFS and the students who mean the most to Hill.
“The second I set foot on campus, I saw just how engaged students were. It was that family atmosphere of UAFS that made it to where I didn’t want to leave, and that’s why I wanted to work here,” he said. “I wanted to be part of the next generation of UAFS students; I wanted to make an impact on these students just like people had on me in the past.”
When Hill isn’t busy cheering on UAFS athletics, he can be found on the second floor of Vines in the ASC with a door that is always open. He says some of his favorite interactions are with students he has met in passing and then sees in the success center working with other students or getting help from an academic coach.
As he looks to the future, Hill believes student success at UAFS is moving in the right direction. This year, the center had nearly a dozen student tutors, and he explained that the hiring of ASC director Andrea Burton has emphasized improving testing scores.
Outside of work, Hill’s love of basketball continues. With the NBA Playoffs in full swing, you can find him rooting for the Boston Celtics as they play their way to a potential championship. When basketball is over, Hill laughs that he fills more time than he’d like to admit watching episodes of “The Office” or “Star Wars.”
But no matter what, Hill’s fandom is rooted in all things UAFS. He is a Lion through and through, and it’s this passion he will continue to share with all past, present, and future UAFS students.
- Academic Success Center