Pace Magazine

Katina Hill-Thompson '00: Making History in Service of Others

Zack Boehm
January 18, 2024

In a life defined by devoted service and compassion for others, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences alumna Katina Hill-Thompson ’00, PhD, LCSW, DSW, QS, has still found the time to make history through her own personal achievements.

Over more than 20 years, Hill-Thompson has forged a career founded on a higher calling—a passion for uplifting and inspiring others through social work and mental health counseling. All the while, she has recognized the value of continued education and professional growth in expanding her personal mission of service. To help others, she would need to invest in herself. And if that meant breaking down barriers and doing something that has never been done before, then so be it.

Because sometimes, that’s exactly what it takes.

In 2023, Hill-Thompson became the first-ever African American to graduate with a Doctor of Social Work from Florida Atlantic University. It was a landmark moment that cemented her legacy as a pioneer at the university and a trailblazer in her profession. But for Hill-Thompson, it was never about the recognition. In fact, she was already well into her doctoral studies when she first learned that her graduation would mark a historic first.

“I was floored when they first notified me,” Hill-Thompson said. “It was even more of a reason for me to continue moving forward no matter what battles I would face. I wanted to kick down the door to let others come through.”

"I wanted to kick down the door to let others come through.”

As a Pace University undergraduate, Hill-Thompson knew she wanted to dedicate herself to the health and wellbeing of others. It was something deeper than a career objective. It was a vocation, a sense of duty that she knew she would carry with her for the rest of her life.

When she enrolled in her first psychology class as an elective, she discovered a potential path for putting that calling into action. She found that she was fascinated by the human mind—the way it was shaped by its environment, the vast and endlessly compelling differences between individual people. She began to conceive of a way that she could help the vulnerable and marginalized with a holistic approach, taking into consideration not only their mental health, but their broader circumstances, the fullness of their stories and experiences.

She knew she wanted to marry her interest in psychology with her passion for care. But she credits a steadfast Pace mentor for helping her to take the next steps.

“Dr. Marie Werner was my mentor at Pace, and she continues to be my mentor to this day,” Hill-Thompson said. “She was the Black Student Union faculty advisor, and she solidified everything for me. I wanted to emulate her, be just like her. She helped me every step of the way, at each stage of my growth. She saw far more in me than I saw in myself. Our relationship remains strong, and I tell her all the time that she is the reason that I am who I am today.”

After graduating from Pace, Hill-Thompson attended Barry University in South Florida and earned a master’s degree in social work, a field at the convergence of her interests in human psychology and structural inequalities. Since then, she has assumed leadership positions at several social work organizations throughout her South Florida community, working in clinical and managerial capacities to provide counseling, care, and support to vulnerable patients, many of whom come from historically disadvantaged populations.

It is in her work with these groups, Hill-Thompson said, where she has seen her call to make a difference come most meaningfully to life.

“I’ve always been drawn to people who were disenfranchised and marginalized, because I am someone who comes from those populations,” she said. “Mental health was my calling, but social work allowed me to work with patients and understand their full experiences. I have a passion for showing them that no matter their background, they can achieve fulfillment in their lives. They can persevere. They don’t have to be a statistic. That’s what has driven me.”

That drive to empower others to rise above their circumstances—to become their best selves—is not merely a professional credo. It is a principle at the heart of Hill-Thompson’s worldview, a value that is central to her sense of self. This is evidenced by her partnership with her husband as longtime pastors at their church, where they provide counsel and spiritual ministration to a dedicated congregation.

As in her social work, Hill-Thompson’s spiritual leadership was born from an innate drive to help others overcome challenges and improve their lives.

“My faith has always been a part of keeping me strong and grounded, getting me through different difficulties,” she said. “I am very passionate about my work as a pastor. It’s something I will continue to do for the rest of my life.”

From Hill-Thompson’s time at Pace as a motivated undergraduate with big dreams, through her accomplished career, to her graduation as a doctor of social work—the first African American to earn that distinction in Florida Atlantic’s 63-year history—one thing has remained constant: an unwavering selflessness that inspires her to put the needs of others before her own.

Now, as a freshly minted PhD whose call to serve burns as bright as ever, Hill-Thompson has never been more motivated to continue harnessing her energy and experience to make the world a better place.

“Being the first African American to graduate with a doctoral degree in social work from FAU—I was shocked. I’m still shocked, but I know I have to keep going,” she said. “I want to show people that they can’t take no for an answer. That they’re stronger than they think they are, and that they have to fight for what they believe in. I am going to continue opening new doors for myself and creating new opportunities for others.”

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