The rigors of higher education are so demanding for some college students, it’s all they can do to successfully balance their studies with some semblance of a social life. If they’re especially deft with their schedules, they may squeeze in one or two on-campus extracurricular activities.
Then there’s Samienta Pierre-Vil ’13.
A 21-year-old senior, Pierre-Vil is the 2012-13 Student Government Association (SGA) president, and previously served as secretary on its executive board. She was an Alternative Spring Break group leader for the Suffolk Organization for Uplifting Lives through Service (S.O.U.L.S.), working with Habitat for Humanity in Denver; she won the SGA Leadership Award for Outstanding Junior of the Year; she’s a member of Theta Phi Alpha sorority, a College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Honor List perennial, and a Retention Scholar with the Office of Retention Services, helping underclassmen adjust to life at Suffolk. Pierre-Vil has been involved with campus cultural groups such as Caribbean Student Network and, this semester, she is a resident advisor at the 10 West dormitory. Until this semester, she also was a member of Wicked!, Suffolk’s hip-hop dance group, although she says she’ll remain an “unofficial member” and might perform in their yearly show.
“I like everything,” says Pierre-Vil, who is majoring in government with an education minor. “Growing up, I was always the one who did everything. I played piano, but then I tried soccer. I played the violin for a while, then I tried saxophone. I played softball, and I was on the prom committee. I always want to get the most out of every experience and to help people, and that’s what I’m doing at Suffolk.”
She’s also been a volunteer for the Samaritans, a suicide prevention hotline, since she was 16.
One of her newest experiences came last semester with a call from Suffolk University President James McCarthy, who asked her to join his 15-member Strategic Planning Committee as its undergraduate student representative. Though some of the Committee’s recommendations may not be fully implemented until after her scheduled graduation in May, Pierre-Vil says she still felt compelled to participate.
“If you just sit back and say, ‘Well, I’m leaving and don’t have to worry about it,’ then new students will come, they’ll have to deal with it, and no change will ever happen,” says Pierre-Vil, known among friends and professors as Sammy. “It’s about making positive changes for the students who come after us. That’s important to me. That’s why I became an education minor.”
Such dedication has made Pierre-Vil “an outstanding member of the Committee,” McCarthy says, who “has represented her fellow undergraduates extremely well. When you see the final Strategic Plan, you will have no doubt whatsoever that student voices are reflected in the plan. The entire University has Sam, and her fellow students on the Committee, to thank for that."
That desire to get involved made Pierre-Vil a standout among the 40 students in Elizabeth Robinson’s Introduction to Education class during her sophomore year.
“She was always a smiling beacon, and always a lot of fun to have in class because she’s so enthusiastic,” said Robinson, an instructor in the Department of Education and Human Services who also had Pierre-Vil in her Culturally Responsive Education class. “To have a class that size and have actual discussions was amazing, and Sammy was instrumental in that. She was great in groups, whether she was being a leader or a member. She was always so willing to participate and share her ideas.”
Pierre-Vil, whose dazzling smile matches her ebullient personality, said Robinson’s engaging approach made her students eager to attend and participate in her classes.
“I love being in a classroom where the professor loves what they do and is really there for the students. Never once did I want to miss a class, because every time I walked in I knew she really wanted to teach us,” she says. “I could ask her any questions and I never felt uncomfortable. That’s why she inspired me, and I learned so much from her. I also wanted to continue my education minor because of her.”
Though Pierre-Vil arrived at Suffolk undecided about her major, after taking classes in government and education she found the two to be a “perfect combination.”
“It has to do with wanting to make change,” she says. “When I became an education minor, I realized a lot of the changes won’t happen unless you understand politics. When you’re working on education policy, you need to have that knowledge of how government works.”
Pierre-Vil says she chose Suffolk partly because of its location. “I wanted to be in the city, but I didn’t want to be in a huge school. Suffolk was just the right size. Plus the State House was right there, so it really felt like I belonged there.”
Born in Miami and raised in New York until she was four, Pierre-Vil considers Westborough, MA, a suburb west of Boston, her home. Her parents moved from Haiti to the United States before she was born, and although her mother, a nursing assistant, chose to stay in the U.S., her father soon returned to Haiti, where he is a politician. Pierre-Vil insists her interest in government wasn’t influenced by her father’s career, but by her own concerns about inequities in the educational system.
“I made it to college because of my school system. I’m a first-generation American, and my mother couldn’t have known everything to get me where I wanted. No matter what I did, she supported me and made sure I did what I was supposed to do, but in terms of applying to college, applying for financial aid, doing all that, our school system really helped, and I realized not every school system has that,” Pierre-Vil says. “I tutored students at Dorchester Academy, English High, and Boston Tech, and I could see that the resources those students had were not enough. That’s why I became an education minor—because students don’t always have the resources I had.”
Despite her interest in education, Pierre-Vil knew she did not want to be a teacher.
“In high school, my teacher would always say to me, ‘You should be a teacher,’ and I was like ‘Why? I want to go to law school because [I am] fascinated by the legal system.’ But he would say, ‘You’d love it, you love children, you love education.’ But I never understood until I came [to Suffolk] and took a class here in education, that you can never change anything without politics.”
Yet she also knew she didn’t want to be a politician.“I’m passionate about the education system, but I don’t think I would be a good politician,” Pierre-Vil says. “I love the legal system, and I can really see myself practicing law or being a prosecutor. But I can’t see myself running for governor of Massachusetts. The most important thing is to make sure I’m in a place so I can help people. When I can help someone or make someone happy, that makes me happy.”Originally appeared in Fall 2012 issue of Suffolk Alumni Magazine.