CSUN alumna Katie Hill prepares for her first day on the job as California’s most famous freshman member of Congress.
The epiphany hit Katie Hill ’11 (Honors English), ’14 M.P.A. (Public Sector Management) during her senior year, thanks to a flyer she spotted while strolling through California State University, Northridge’s Jerome Richfield Hall. It was a career panel aimed at English majors:
What to do with your English degree if you don’t want to teach?
It was 15 minutes before the session was scheduled to start, and Hill was dressed in undergraduate casual: sweatpants and a tank top. But it felt like fate, so Hill made a beeline for the program. Among the panelists was CSUN alumnus Phil Matero ’87 (Special Major), M.A. ’95 (English), head of the nonprofit Los Angeles Conservation Corps, which provides at-risk young adults and school-aged youth with opportunities for success through job skills training.
“I went up to him wearing my tank top and sweatpants, and before long, he’d helped me get a job writing for LA Conservation Corps — even before I’d graduated,” Hill recounted this week in an interview at Santa Clarita City Hall.
It was a fortunate moment of chance and Matador connection that launched Hill on a remarkable ascent — from that first job in nonprofit work to another LA nonprofit, People Assisting The Homeless (PATH), where she made a rapid rise to executive director, and now, to Congress.
On Nov. 6, as part of California’s sweeping “blue wave” in the midterm election, voters in the state’s 25th Congressional District elected Hill, 31 — after what she dubbed “the most millennial campaign ever,” due to her age, tireless work for the homeless and LGBTQ rights (she identifies as bisexual) and her scrappy, grassroots campaign run primarily by 20-somethings.
2019 will mark her first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, and her first-ever elected office, for that matter. Hill, a Democrat, defeated incumbent Republican Steve Knight in the former red stronghold district, which includes Hill’s native Santa Clarita, Simi Valley and stretches all the way to Lancaster and Palmdale. Hill and her husband live on a rescue animal farm in Agua Dulce with their dogs, horses and baby goats.
In 2017, on International Women’s Day, Hill declared her candidacy as part of “a wave of young women seeking elective office,” according to a profile in The New Yorker magazine. She earned support from Emily’s List, a political action committee that aims to help elect pro-choice Democratic female candidates to office, and endorsements from celebrities such as Kristen Bell. Hill and her staff also were featured in a two-part documentary on Vice News Tonight on HBO.
On Dec. 10, Hill was still moving at breakneck speed. She’s preparing for her first day on the job in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 3, 2019, when she’ll be sworn in with the 116th Congress with her family watching from the House gallery. She’s addressing logistics large — “staffing up” to take over Knight’s three district offices — and relatively small, such as buying a Congressional winter wardrobe. That December morning, Hill noted, she’d signed a lease on a new place to live in D.C., where she’ll share a place with one of her fellow freshman members of Congress.
“I can equate this experience with college orientation,” Hill said, grinning. Indeed, she’d just returned from two weeks of “Congress Camp,” the new member orientation held at Harvard’s Kennedy School. In keeping with the college metaphor, her class of 63 newly elected Democrats elected Hill as their “freshman leadership representative.”
With the House majority, she plans to hit the ground running in her first days in office, and Hill is spending these transition weeks zeroing in on the role she’ll play.
“What will I actually be doing that’s helpful and effective for our community?” Hill said. “How will I be influencing the ACA (Affordable Care Act), and HR-1,” a bill aimed to block conflicts of interest and gerrymandering, and shore up the Voting Rights Act, some of the pillars of her campaign.
A daughter of a police officer and emergency-room nurse who live in the district, Hill attended College of the Canyons before transferring to CSUN to pursue her English degree. As a multigenerational Matador, she said, it felt like a natural fit. Hill’s grandmother, Sarah Campbell ’71 (Anthropology), and her dad, Mike Hill ’98 (Organizational Systems Management) also earned their bachelor’s degrees from CSUN.
“I knew [CSUN] was a good option because it was close by, and it’s a great university,” Katie Hill said. “My grandfather, who was a poli sci professor at UCLA, was a huge influence in my life. He had gotten Alzheimer’s, so I wanted to stay close by and be with him.” She also worked nearly full time in Santa Clarita while in school, Hill said. Her grandfather passed away in 2011.
She raved about her undergraduate and graduate school experiences at CSUN.
“I went into the Honors English cohort at CSUN, and I spent a lot of time in Sierra and Jerome Richfield Halls,” Hill said. “I loved that cohort — we were very close. It shaped a lot of who I am.”
While working at PATH, Hill said, she realized that she wanted to pursue a master’s degree as she rose through the ranks of nonprofit leadership. She returned to CSUN, completing a Master of Public Administration degree in 2014.
“It was totally conducive to working people,” Hill said of the master’s program. “I knew the program was immediately applicable to what I was doing in my work. I can’t recommend that program highly enough.”