UI students taking course work in the College of Applied Life Studies know whom to see when they need direction or just a quick sugar fix: Carol Firkins, academic adviser in the department of community health and coordinator of applied life studies. Firkins, a past winner of the Campuswide Award for Excellence in Advising Undergraduate Students (2002) and the ALS Academic Professional Excellence Award (2001), has developed a reputation for dispensing both good advice and sweet treats, as evidenced by the plaques on her office wall and the ubiquitous bowl of candies on her desk. “Even when they’re not coming in for a counseling appointment, the students will come in and get a Life Saver,” Firkins said. “I hand them out at graduation and sometimes I’ll send a bag to a class in one of our majors if I know they’re having a big test.” Firkins, who joined the UI staff in 1996, earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications from the UI and a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Eastern Illinois University.
Tell me about your job.
I’m responsible for advising about 350 students who are designated community health majors or who are in other departments but taking courses in the college.
I’m also the coordinator for the internships. The students have a required 320-hour internship one semester, and right now I have 85 students placed in organizations such as the YMCA, the hospitals, nursing homes, McKinley Health Center, Planned Parenthood, the American Cancer Society, Prairie Center, A Woman’s Place and Frances Nelson Health Center. Each site has a preceptor that the students job-shadow so they can learn about various facets of a job they’re interested in.
I help students choose classes, help them on their career paths and help them balance out their resumes in terms of volunteer activities and work experience. Plus, I have the students in two classes that I teach: Community Health 111, which is orientation, and Community Health 280, which is introduction to internship.
It is a great job. I love what I do. Every day students come through my door with unique problems for me to help them with. They’re just a great, great group of students. They’re ‘people people’ and they have big hearts. I’m so lucky to get to work with this group because they are so caring.
What’s the most challenging part of what you do?
Keeping track of all the students. I really like to get to know my students as individuals.
What’s your favorite part of what you do?
Working with the students and helping them find their niches. I consult with the professors and the contacts that I have to help the students find the right field for them. When the kids say, ‘Wow, this is what I came to school for,’ that’s probably the best part of my job.
What types of careers are they typically looking for?
Health care is such an open field right now that the list of the different fields our students can go into is endless. I’m always saying that for every part of the body and every disease there’s an organization that’s looking for professionals.
What kinds of activities do you enjoy when you’re not working?
I have three boys – 10-year-old twins and a 13-year-old – so sporting events, youth activities at our church and school activities occupy me a lot. I also bring my boys to our students’ activities such as theater and sporting events. A lot of the students have younger siblings at home that they miss, so they enjoy seeing my boys.
Tell me about your involvement with IlliAAC.
It’s a group on campus that promotes and develops quality academic advising. We also support professional growth and provide a forum for discussion, debate and exchange of information. It’s open to academic advisers, faculty advisers, assistant deans and different support people on campus who work with students. We meet two or three times a semester. We always have a fall training workshop for new advisers, and a spring professional development workshop that is open to all our members.