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Virginia Hill visited the School of Social Work on February 16 to give a presentation on the opportunities available for social work students. Hill said that while social workers typically practice on a micro scale, she wanted to show students the opportunities at the macro level.

Presidential Management Fellow speaks to students on job opportunities

With graduation approaching, some students may worry about the future. Today’s graduates face a distressed economy and a weakened job market, and must have a competitive set of skills and leadership experience to find work when opportunities are slim and job seekers abound. LSU graduate and Presidential Management Fellow Virginia Hill has advice to offer and a story to back it up.

Hill visited the School of Social Work on February 16 to give a presentation on the opportunities available for social work students. The presentation, “Why Social Workers Make Great Leaders,” included information about Hill’s career path, along with advice to graduating students.

“You will have all the skills you need for this field when you graduate,” she said. “There are many opportunities, it’s just about taking advantage of what’s available.”

Social workers are trained to connect with people in diverse situations. Hill said she has been able to solve problems among groups of co-workers during meetings. According to Hill, social workers make great leaders because they know how to communicate and are very understanding.

Hill also discussed micro and macro practice, saying about 70 percent of social workers are employed in micro practice jobs such as case management or counseling. However, Hill does similar work on a bigger scale for the federal government and wanted to show social work students the myriad of opportunities available to them at the macro level.

A Chicago native, Hill moved to Baton Rouge three weeks before Hurricane Katrina made landfall. She had earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Illinois and enrolled in LSU’s School of Social Work for graduate study. When the storm hit, she threw herself into her work by serving as a social worker to communities in New Orleans.

“Social workers were really needed,” she said. “It was a tough adjustment; people kept telling me Baton Rouge wouldn’t be the same after Katrina. They said it would never be normal, and I didn’t even know what ‘normal’ was.”

Hill’s career path has been anything but normal. It has been closer to extraordinary.

“I applied to LSU because I wanted a change, and I wanted to experience the culture,” Hill said. “Being in a diverse culture is important as a social worker.”

Hill said the switch from psychology to social work was not a difficult one because she knew she wanted to help people. Hill had two internships as a therapist, which she said helped her in her current job because she learned about human motivation and conflict management.

During her second year at the University, Hill was completing her studies in social work and was serving as the president of the Social Work Student Association (SWSA) when she received a broadcast e-mail from then-Chancellor Sean O‘Keefe, explaining the Presidential Management Fellows Program.

“The e-mail outlined the program, and I saw it as a challenge,” Hill said. “I applied online right then.”

The Presidential Management Fellows Program is an internship opportunity under the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, an agency committed to public service and the federal workforce.

To become a fellow, an applicant must be recommended by the dean of their graduate program. The applicant is then tested in several categories, such as analytical reasoning.

“The test was like the LSAT, which of course I’ve never taken,” she said. “Social work is not traditional for the Presidential Management Fellows Program or a government job.”

The score from the test determines a group of finalists. The finalists then have one year to find an internship within the federal government. The Presidential Management Fellows Program hosts a job fair in Washington, D.C., to help finalists in their search. There, Hill met with tough competition.

“I was up against people with PhDs and political degrees,” she said. “But social workers have an advantage because we study ways to communicate. That was my charge of energy.”

At the job fair, Hill interviewed with eight companies in two days. She left with a job offer from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where she works today.

The NIH is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is made up of 27 institutes and centers.

“I knew I wanted to work in the largest agency in Health and Human Services,” Hill said. “My job still relates to social work, it’s just on a much bigger scale.”

Hill has six months of her internship at NIH to go. As part of the program, she has been able to work in several different departments of the agency.

“I move every three to six months; we’re rotating all the time,” she said. “It is a challenge, but it’s really a unique opportunity.”

Hill started at NIH under the Office of Management and has since worked at the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. As for the future, Hill knows she wants to keep working for the federal government.

“I’m networking and seeing what my options are,” she said. “I would love to work at any of the places I’ve been; anything is possible.”

Holly Ann Phillips | Writer | Office of Communications & University Relations
February 2009