Tenacious teen pours heart into academics, civil rights

Photo by Amanda Valentovic
Danielle Samake and Hildie Steiner

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Danielle Samake is in the midst of her last three months of high school, and dealing with all that comes with wrapping up four years in the same classrooms. Deciding where she’ll be heading next is at the top of her to-do list. The Columbia High School senior was accepted to a hefty list of colleges, including Princeton University, Williams College, Johns Hopkins University, Fairleigh Dickinson University and Drew University. Walking her through the college search and application process was Hildie Steiner, founder of High Five College Prep, a college advising firm that helps high school students through the process. During the last year, Steiner has worked with Samake on a pro bono basis.

According to Samake, the two met at the CHS college night a year ago, which Samake’s mother was unable to attend. Samake was overwhelmed and stressed out, and needed someone to help her figure out where she wanted to land after high school.

“I had been looking around, but I needed some more help,” Samake said in an April 2 interview.

She and Steiner began setting up college tours and putting together a list of places to apply. Steiner usually recommends students apply to between 10 to 12 schools, and the national average is eight. But Samake admitted she got a little carried away when filling out her applications and ended up sending them to about 25 schools, getting accepted to about half.

“It was stressful and I would not recommend it,” she said. “But it did become kind of a challenge, like ‘Where can I get in?’”

Steiner said that, even though Samake probably applied to too many colleges, she was impressed with the student’s tenacity.

“There was no way I wasn’t going to help,” Steiner said in an interview with the News-Record on April 2. “She was so determined to get into the best schools she could.”

Samake already knows what she wants to do when she gets to college. She’s planning to major in international relations and then head to graduate school to become a human rights lawyer, motivated by her parents’ experience as immigrants. Her mother is from Jamaica and her father is from Mali.

Her parents aren’t the only inspiration for what Samake wants to study. She’s currently the president of the People on Women’s Equity and Rights club at CHS, an organization that promotes feminism and girls’ education. Samake read the book “Sold,” by Patricia McCormick, when she was in middle school and has been interested in the topic ever since.

With a little less than a month left until May 1, the deadline for accepted students to notify the schools they intend to attend in the fall, Samake still hasn’t decided where she’s heading. She is still considering what the best fit will be; partly it will come down to finances and figuring out where she can afford to go, and the rest will depend on the school environment.

“I see all this injustice in the world and I have a passion for helping to change things,” she said. “I have this triple perspective and that’s really fueled me.”