Humans of CASE: Hazel Hooker

Inspired by Humans of New York, where Brandon Stanton shares short stories of hundreds of New Yorkers, we went on a quest to find students, alumni, faculty and staff within the CASE community who make us see the world in a different light. This is one in a series we’ve titled, Humans of CASE.

Hazel Hooker grew up thinking she was destined to be a doctor. She didn’t realize it wasn’t for her until she was about to enter medical school.

“Breaking the news to my parents was difficult,” she said. “My dad in particular was convinced my brother and I would be medical doctors, but I realized I didn’t want to invest thousands of dollars in something I wasn’t passionate about.”

After graduating with dual degrees in biological sciences and chemistry, Hooker decided to stay at FIU and pursue a master’s in public health. She also worked as a student assistant helping students study for an exam that was needed to graduate from Florida universities at the time.

That’s when things clicked. Her passion, she realized, is helping students succeed.

Upon completion of her master’s degree, she became an FIU academic advisor. But she never thought she’d make a career out of it.

“No one ever thinks ‘Oh, I’m going to work at a college’ when they’re younger,” Hooker said. “The chance to become a higher education administrator is something people learn when they get here.”

She’s seen FIU go from in-person and over-the-phone registration to an entire system – Panthersoft – dedicated to enrolling and student success.

Now, almost 20 years later, Hooker is the director for the newly formed Center for Student Engagement. One of the main goals of the center she leads is to encourage students to build an affinity with FIU. Her staff focuses on leading programs and events that help students who want to get involved, but don’t know where to start.

“The transition to college is difficult for many,” Hooker said. “We’re working to broaden the student experience, align their interests with clubs and events happening at the university and help them have a diverse portfolio.”

Hooker noticed undergraduates lean on fellow students as they navigate the start of their college years. So Peer Mentors, students who assist instructors with the first-year experience course and help freshmen get a pulse of all the things happening at FIU, lend a hand. They serve as a resource both in and outside of the classroom.

Through her appointment as a lead instructor for FIU’s Honors College, Hooker also knows that some students are more like herself. They start college thinking certain majors can send them down a certain career path or that choosing one major over another can pigeonhole them in the long run. However, Hooker cautions, few degrees are that focused.

Hazel Hooker

Only through a quirk of fate and by taking the time to explore her options, did Hooker realize becoming a doctor was still within reach.

“That’s probably one of the reasons I love the exploratory student population so much – I want to save them the grief and help them figure out it’s okay to not always agree with your parents,” Hooker said. “It’s OK to be undecided. For me, I’m taking another route to becoming a doctor. I’ll be a Ph.D. instead of an M.D.”

Hooker is a Ph.D. candidate in Higher Education at FIU. Naturally, her dissertation and research is focused on the exploratory student. She hopes to learn more about their FIU experience and use this research to develop more intentional resources for them.

Hooker’s journey in higher education was accidental. Now she calls FIU her “little corner of the world.” She hopes to rise up the career ladder in the years to come. She knows she has many more undecided students left to inspire by sharing her story with the classes she teaches and participating in events such as panels during Panther Alumni Week.