Presidential Scholar Samuel Hanks: Ready for the College Grind — and Whatever Comes Next
The shimmering golden dome of Georgia’s state capitol is visible from most spots on Georgia State’s campus. That’s exactly the kind of view freshman Samuel Hanks was looking for when he was deciding where to go to college.
“I want my major to be something to do with politics or public policy. Because of that, for at least the last couple years, I knew I wanted to go to college in a state capitol,” Samuel says. “By being so close, I can learn about the process, see where my place is and find out if that’s really for me.”
The choice came down to Florida State University in Tallahassee or Georgia State, but Samuel had made up his mind even before being selected as a Presidential Scholar. The Honors College Visit he attended last fall, he says, was the tipping point. “It was nice to see they considered me a person, not just a number,” he says. “Even then I knew Georgia State was going to be a better choice for me. Whoever organizes those, they get props — that impacted my decision a lot.”
Learning Began at Home
Samuel was born in Hawaii to a pastor father and a Japanese-American mother. “I was raised in a Hawaiian-American culture,” he says. “That’s the family that I knew — a very large family on that side, a lot of cousins and distant relatives.”
Since the age of 10 or so, Samuel and his family “bounced back and forth” between Georgia and Florida depending on where his father’s work took him. But Samuel says he was fortunate to never really have to adjust to new schools or new environments: He and his siblings have all been home-schooled. That sounds like an awfully tall order in a family with seven kids (Samuel is the oldest), but he says the older siblings have branched out into more independent, online learning opportunities as they’ve advanced into their teenage years.
“One issue home-schoolers have is their homework is not accredited, and my mom really wanted us to have the documentation we’d need to get into college,” Samuel explains. “So I’ve attended Florida Virtual School, an online public school — I started when I was in eighth grade. It’s pretty solitary, though they do try to get you to interact with other students.”
Starting with his sophomore year of high school, Samuel says he did start “dual-enrolling” in online classes and an in-person school in Florida. “So I really have had one year of actual classroom experience, and in that time I realized just how much I like learning with other people around,” he says. “Being in an academic atmosphere, talking to other people, I love that.
“And that’s going to be a fantastic atmosphere at Georgia State. I really am looking forward to the discussions and just being able to interact with other students in that kind of environment.”
An Incubator for the Next Generation’s Leaders
Though Samuel happily characterizes his interests as “decidedly nerdy,” he’s managed to develop a range of activities that’s just as varied as it would’ve been had he attended a public high school. He’s dabbled in computer programming, worked the backstage crew at a community theatre, and devoured books on everything from sports to string theory.
Politics, though, remains one of his main interests — and a potential career path. Through Georgia State and the Honors College, he says, he hopes to gain access to internships that will give him a first-hand look at the political process in a state government. “One of the things they told me on the tour is that Georgia State has two or three current students who have already been elected to the House of Representatives,” he says. “That kind of blows your mind — the fact that they’ve got people who are still in school, yet they’re going all the way to the top in state politics. That was phenomenal to learn.”
Of course, Samuel is prepared for the possibility that Georgia State will expose him to a completely different path he wants to pursue. “I love the field of politics, but it may happen that I decide to do something else down the line,” he says. “For now, this is the chance to work hands-on in public policy and develop a little bit more of an idea of what I want to do.”
Keeping It in the Family
By choosing Georgia State, Samuel says he’s also stoked a bit of a family rivalry. His dad graduated from Florida State — “He was a sophomore the year Bobby Bowden came in,” Samuel remembers — but his mother is a proud Georgia State Panther.
“Back when she attended school, it wasn’t anywhere near what it is today. When she went back with me last fall, she was amazed at how much had sprung up in the last few years.
“When we found out a few years ago that Georgia State was going to start a football program, mom immediately decided she now had a reason to create a little rivalry,” Samuel says with a smile. “For us older kids, we’ve been brought up as Florida State fans, but the younger kids, mom’s been trying to sway them to the Panther way of life. I look forward to that aspect of college life too — I enjoy sports and I know tickets are fairly easy to get. So I’m sure we’ll be going out there as a family.”
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