FIVE MINUTES WITH – SAMANTHA HICKS
Samantha Hicks has been an impactful and proud member of the Coastal Carolina University family for more than a decade. After graduating from Conway High School, she became a first-generation college student at CCU. Hicks was a financial aid student worker and fell in love with helping families with financial hardship afford college. Hicks understood the struggles some families face when deciding how to pay for college because she experienced many of the same financial worries.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2009 with a perfect 4.0 GPA and receiving the President’s Award, she knew her work at the University was not complete. Following a brief stint as a teacher at nearby Aynor Elementary School, she accepted a financial aid counselor position at CCU in 2010. Following years of dedicated hard work and several promotions, she was recently named director of financial aid and scholarships at her alma mater.
Hicks’ educational background includes earning an MBA from CCU and an Ed.D. with a specialization in higher education leadership from Walden University.
Tell us about your background and how you ended up at CCU?
I was born in Winston-Salem, N.C., and moved to Conway in 1996. I attended Homewood Elementary School, Whittemore Park Middle School, and Conway High School. Go Tigers! I graduated from Conway High School in 2005, second in my class. I am the third born of six children. Neither of my parents finished college. My mother attended some classes but never finished, and my father dropped out of school in the seventh grade. What we lacked in finances, we had in love. My parents were hard workers. They worked miracles with the little they had. I am forever grateful to my parents and their sacrifices. They instilled in me a hard work ethic and the value of education. No one can take away your education.
However, I knew my parents could not afford to send me to college. Thanks to my good grades, I received several scholarship offers to various schools; and I chose to attend CCU because it had a great elementary education program. I was very blessed to receive the Provost’s Merit Scholarship, the S.C. Palmetto Fellows Scholarship, and other scholarships and need-based aid from the University, the Coastal Educational Foundation, the Horry County Higher Education Commission, and the Conway High School Educational Foundation. I was the first of my siblings to earn a college degree.
As a result of my financial aid and the assistance of great financial aid counselors such as Meg Hurt, I had no student loan debt for most of my undergraduate degree. I decided to leave teaching when a financial aid counselor position opened up at CCU in 2010. I always tell people I still get to teach, it’s just a different topic. I am passionate about affordable education opportunities for college students and helping them become financially literate.
Why did you decide to come back to CCU to pursue your career?
I love CCU. The people here are the best part about the place. My experience helping students with their financial aid as a work-study student sparked a passion for helping students in this area.
Explain your passion for working in the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships?
It became evident to me quickly that helping students to achieve their collegiate dreams, have access to affordable education, become financially literate, and be successful after college was a passion of mine. Even on the hard days, that passion has kept me going. I have had wonderful opportunities working at CCU and have been able to help other first-generation college students and students who come from less fortunate situations attend college. I have also been able to see many of the students I have helped eventually graduate and do great things in their life. You get kind of addicted to that feeling!
What is your favorite and most challenging part about working at CCU?
Working at CCU has been very special. The people here are incredible. The faculty and staff are not afraid to cross-departmental boundaries, roll up their sleeves to work together to solve problems, undertake projects, and help students. March through October 2020 was probably one of the most challenging times in my career due to COVID-19’s impact on CCU. However, it was the people in our financial aid office who helped get me through. Financial aid can be challenging because we have to work to develop a financial plan for students to attend college and navigate complex federal and state regulations that are forever changing and can cause barriers for students. Keeping up with those changes, working with students through complicated financial situations, and not having a never-ending bucket of money to give students in need is a challenge, but I feel that our office does a good job of managing all of those things.
Describe your workday and how it impacts the students at CCU.
Most of my day is spent empowering our staff to do their jobs. I try to listen to them and help them find solutions to make processes less complicated for them and ultimately, our students. I get to partner with other departments and organizations, both on and off campus, to help our students in various ways. I also enjoy meeting students and their families and participating in presentations, orientations, and workshops. There are two moments I love about my job. The first is watching students and parents get joy at seeing how affordable CCU can be once they receive their financial aid package. The second is seeing those same students graduate. If I can be involved in either of those moments, I am happy!