Counseling alumna’s research helping students with disabilities

Jackie Peila-Shuster and Julie Hill at graduation
Assistant Professor Jackie Peila-Shuster (left) and Julie Hill (right) at Hill’s graduation from the Counseling and Career Development master’s degree specialization program, 2014

Julie Hill was a preschool special education teacher and considering her options for pursuing a master’s degree when she was diagnosed with a medical condition that rendered teaching children impossible.

At a crossroads, Hill was certain that she wanted to pursue a career in which she could work with people. She applied to the counseling and career development master’s degree specialization, offered by the School of Education at Colorado State University.

Her master’s thesis focused on adolescents with chronic illness, something that hits close to home. During her time at CSU, she was able to work with experienced faculty, teach special education courses, and gain valuable counseling skills.

‘It’s been a really good mix’

After graduating from the program in 2014, Hill relocated to Fayetteville, Arkansas. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in rehabilitation education research at the University of Arkansas. One of the reasons she chose this particular doctoral program was the research her adviser is conducting on chronic illness and health issues.

“It’s been a really good mix of using skills I’ve learned working as a counselor and with working with people who have chronic health issues or disabilities,” she said.

Initially the idea of getting a Ph.D. was intimidating for Hill, who has had to overcome major health issues and complications – including multiple brain surgeries – during her time in college. She was nervous that she didn’t have the stamina, and wouldn’t be good or competitive enough for the program.

Thriving in counseling and rehabilitation

However, her experience has been just the opposite: Hill has thrived in the world of counseling and rehabilitation. She earned the Savickas Scholarship for Outreach and Achievement in the Rehabilitation Counseling Field. Nominated by faculty and the dean of her college, she also won the Outstanding Ph.D. Student in Rehabilitation award.

“Getting an award affirms that, yes, I can do this, and I’m doing a good job,” said Hill.

Nearly finished with her Ph.D., Hill’s ultimate goal is to help differently abled students who are trying to figure out a career after college without any guidance. Combining her counseling skills and her background of working with people who have disabilities, she’d like to be a professor at a research school.

Published author

She is already making a name for herself. Hill is the sole author of an article about vocational rehabilitation considerations for individuals diagnosed with a rare disorder; the article was recently published in the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation Special Issue on Emerging Disabilities. Additionally, she presented a paper about chronic pain at the National Counsel of Rehabilitation Educators Conference in California.

Hill is considered a trailblazer and could be the first in the field to formally combine counseling and rehab to help students with disabilities.

“It was not the path I ever anticipated,” she said, “but I’ve always been drawn to working with people and this population.”

The School of Education is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.