As an undergrad, Olivia Larkins became a master of odd jobs — retail, work study, babysitting, and dog sitting, among others. All the while she earned her bachelor’s in Health Promotion and Wellness online, segueing into the pursuit of a master’s and, possibly, a doctorate.
Larkins, originally from New Orleans, chose the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as a freshman in biology in 2012.
“I knew I wanted to go away to college, but I didn’t want to go so far away that it wouldn’t be feasible for me to go home regularly,” she says.
By 2014, Larkins didn’t feel biology was the right fit. She says she wasn’t interested in medicine, but wanted to be in a health-related field.
Through the online HPW program, she found the chance to explore a number of career opportunities from corporate wellness to community health promotion as a health educator or community health worker.
“The curriculum does a good job of exploring potential career paths so you have an idea of what to pursue after graduation,” she says. “The program has a very broad area of study so it really gives you the opportunity to pursue your specific interests. ...The program showed me there were a lot of opportunities to pursue health education careers.”
The online format also fit Larkins’ busy lifestyle.
“I always had multiple jobs while I was in school. So when I found out it was online, I thought it would be better for me and more flexible,” she says. “I like to complete work in advance, when possible, and that allowed me to have more flexibility with my work schedule and my personal time rather than having a set on-campus schedule.”
Staying on top of coursework and an array of jobs meant staying organized. Larkins says she set daily schedules for herself to stay on track. Deadlines and assignments for each class were merged into one calendar so she never missed anything.
That system and the ability to complete coursework from anywhere kept Larkins on track to graduate even after she broke her foot.
But when she needed support, she says, she found it.
“Many of the online professors are still available for office hours, if you decide you would like to go in, but I’ve found they have been really available to me via emails and phone calls,” she says. “They’re flexible with their online students because they know many of them are working during the day.
“They really set it up so that you can be successful.”
That includes preparation for the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) exam. Larkins passed her exam in May 2018, earning her CHES certification.
“With any degree that comes with the opportunity for credentialing, I think it’s very important to take the exam, especially since the program does a really good job to prepare you for it,” she says. “It just felt natural to take the exam once I graduated, almost as a culminating exercise after everything I had worked on.”
The relationships Larkins built with faculty and advisors have persisted as she’s continued to advance her education through the Master’s in Kinesiology program in Sports Management, Recreation, and Health Promotion.
Larkins works as a graduate assistant with Dr. Susan Lyman, kinesiology professor, who’s continued to guide Larkins in her interest in becoming a research professor.
“I’ve connected to her for a number of reasons,” Larkins says. “She serves as a mentor to me in many ways.”
True to form, Larkins divides her time among not only her graduate studies and assistantship, but also as a clinical research coordinator, screening patients and collecting data, for a blood pressure study in conjunction with a private university.
Larkins will soon begin comparing doctoral programs. She says she’ll begin applying in order to transition immediately from the master’s program to Ph.D. studies.
Since coming to the University six years ago, Larkins says she’s fallen in love with the culture and support she’s found through HPW and beyond.
“I’d love to come back in the future and teach at UL,” she says. “I love the family environment. It’s just a very homey place. Everyone is so nice, and they really take the time to impact each student on an individual level even though it is a big school.
“I’m hoping the same impact the professors at UL had on me, I can have on future students.”