Alumni Profile: Sam Duty

For Sam Duty, a poster on a classroom wall at Hill Learning Center mirrors his experience as a Hill Upper School student.

“I still remember it,” he explains with a smile. “It said, ‘I can’t learn this’ but that was crossed out and then above it was, ‘I will train my brain to learn this.’ I really liked that.”

Up through freshman year, math class had made Sam feel like he was treading water and trying to not slip below the surface. “I remember being in algebra and feeling like everything was moving so fast. I felt like I was asking questions constantly and holding everybody else back,” he recalls. “I knew it was all graspable for me, but it was just going too fast.”

Seeing how Sam was struggling with math, his parents gave him the option to enroll at Hill Learning Center for the fall of his sophomore year. Sam confesses to feeling a little skeptical about the change at first, especially because it would mean less time with his friends at Durham Academy. However, he was intrigued by the smaller scale, the one-on-one attention, and the more personalized pace of learning.

In the three years Sam spent at Hill, he was taught by three talented, responsive math instructors: Sue Roth, Becky Rohn, and Bonnie Cheek. “My teachers at Hill were able to explain the information really well,” Sam says, adding, “And they didn’t move on before they knew I really understood a concept.” The material was still rigorous and challenging, he admits, but the four-to-one ratio and the chance to receive customized support boosted Sam’s skills and confidence in a subject area that had brought so much stress in the past.

A 2018 graduate of Durham Academy, Sam is now in his senior year at Appalachian State University, where he majors in Computer Information Systems. He has made the A/B honor roll twice and gushes, “I just love anything related to my major.” He especially enjoys the layered, complex networking side of IT. To him, “it’s like a big onion.”

In his free time, Sam loves hiking, taking river trips with friends, listening to “so much music” (he is an avid collector of vinyl, especially from the 1950s through 90s), and spending time outside.

One of Sam’s proudest accomplishments was returning to Hill Learning Center as the Summer 2021 tech intern. He assisted Hill’s tech team in preparing for summer school and transitioning back to on-campus learning for the fall.

His chosen field is challenging and often requires considering multiple strategies for solving a problem — much like the math classes that brought him to Hill in the first place. But he has learned, “Just because you don’t get it immediately doesn’t mean you can’t get it. It just takes time.”

His advice for current Hill students is to “stick with it because it helps a lot,” even in moments of frustration. “Besides,” he adds, “you’re not going to get an experience like this anywhere else.”

When asked for his final thoughts on his time as a student, he pauses to reflect for a moment before breaking into a smile and replying, “I just really, really love Hill.”

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