Julia Smith’s name has graced Dean’s Lists, President’s Lists, and will soon be bricked along the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Walk of Honor.
But there were moments in her college journey when it looked like Smith might not make it.
“I feel like I went to college excited for the social part of it, but not really focused enough on the academic part,” Smith says.
To turn things around, Smith had to step back from UL Lafayette, re-evaluate her study habits and identify an academic path that would engage her and prepare her for the future.
She found that path through the B.S. in Health Services Administration online.
A Quick but Beneficial Detour
Originally, Smith enrolled as a nursing major, but after two semesters, she found herself languishing as a student.
She attended classes but struggled to find where she fit, so she mostly remained quiet at the back of the room and just drifted along with the flow.
Smith eventually needed to transfer to a community college closer to home so she could rebuild her GPA and maintain her financial aid eligibility.
Initially, having to leave UL Lafayette shook Smith’s confidence in herself, but her parents cheered her on consistently.
“Each time I doubted myself or questioned if I was headed in the ‘right direction,’ they remained optimistic and constantly reassured me,” says Smith.
Her parents’ support fed her determination to correct course and succeed.
“I just did a complete 180,” she says. “I went from being someone whose priorities weren’t in line to actually having all of that together.”
As she grew into a more effective student, it dawned on Smith that she was not meant for nursing, but she was still drawn to health care as an industry.
“Whenever I realized ‘I don’t think nursing is for me. What else can I do?’ I knew I had more of a business mindset rather than working clinically,” says Smith.
A former roommate had told Smith about the Health Services Administration online program and she felt it click into place.
“It instantly felt right for me,” says Smith. “I just felt so much more, like, at ease and comfortable about where my future was headed because now I had some sort of clear direction.”
New Path, New Confidence
In switching to online courses, Smith quickly noticed the good habits she cultivated during her rebuilding year — participating in classes, being unafraid to ask questions, and communicating with instructors — were crucial to her success.
“The teachers are so personable,” she says. “With Health Services Administration being online, you really have to rely on your teachers to be good at communicating, or responding back, and they’ve all been excellent at that.”
Still, Smith wanted to find the close community of a study group but she wasn’t sure how that would work with online classes.
“I was like ‘How do you get to know people? How do you reach out to them?’” remembers Smith.
Her solution was to email all her classmates in all her classes.
“Whoever answered, answered. Now, two years later, I talk to them every day,” says Smith. “From then on, we were trying to schedule the same exact classes.”
Through forming her unofficial cohort, Smith kept up her study habits, learned to collaborate with a team and to give and receive encouragement. Best of all, she wasn’t the only one who benefited.
Dominique Llopis, who also graduated in Health Services Administration, met Smith through a finance class and appreciated the support she found in the study group and the way Smith developed as a leader of her peers.
“Julia is passionate, and goal-driven and embraced everyone in the group with open-mindedness and support,” says Llopis. “Julia is a stranger that became a friend.”
Not only were group members there for each other when they shared a class, but they were cheerleaders for one another when someone was struggling in a class another classmate had already completed.
“One girl I study with, she was stressed out,” says Smith. “And I said, ‘I know there’s a lot going on, but trust me, you will be so glad you took all these classes. Once it’s all done with, it’s so worth it.’”
Jonae Dunbar, who also earned her Health Services Administration degree in 2022, was a study group member and was impressed with Smith’s work ethic and positive influence.
“Ever since Julia reached out to me and we began working together, I have been more driven and grown more confident as a person as well as a student,” says Dunbar. “She pushed me to learn more and change a lot of my habits when it came to doing work and studying.”
For her senior internship, Smith shadowed an administrator with the Our Lady of Lourdes care network.
Getting a close-up view of how responsibilities, resources, and accountability flow through an organization of that size affirmed to Smith that she switched to the correct program.
“My favorite thing has been sitting in on their leadership meetings when all the clinic managers come together and they sit and they talk about each thing that’s going on in their office,” she says. “It’s been a very eye-opening experience.”
At each step along the way, Smith met challenges and setbacks and persevered, growing into a more determined and caring leader, and an outstanding student. She was even inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society upon completing her degree.
Smith returned to the University for graduate school this fall and now is working toward her MBA in Healthcare Administration online.
“Luckily,” says Smith, “undergrad has prepared me for the online format of the grad school.”
Do you feel like your skills and leadership in administration could make health care better for patients and providers? Apply to the Health Services Administration online program today.