Erika Sturgis might not have moved far from her hometown of Tolland, Connecticut, but she has been able to create her own world and become a leader within UConn. She is a program director for a volunteer program and a teaching assistant for multiple classes. After she graduates in May with a major in allied health sciences and a minor in psychology, Erika plans to become an occupational therapist. Here is what she said about her experiences as a CAHNR student.
What attracted you to UConn? I liked that UConn was a big school with lots of school pride. While it was close to my home, and I knew many people there, I was confident that I would be able to branch out within UConn. I could choose to be as connected or disconnected from my hometown as I wanted. In addition, UConn had great academics, rising ratings and many opportunities for students, making it the perfect choice.
Why did you choose your particular major? Originally, I planned to major in communication. Right before entering UConn, however, I switched to allied health sciences. I knew that I wanted a more health-centered career, but I was not exactly sure in which area.
The allied health program offers so many options and prepares students for a wide variety of careers. While my career goals continuously changed throughout my first couple of years at UConn, I always knew that I wanted to work with people.
Eventually, I chose occupational therapy because it is the perfect combination of all of my interests. The allied health major introduced me to occupational therapy and allowed me to complete all the necessary graduate school prerequisites.
Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why? My involvement with UConn Community Outreach had the most impact on my college experience. I became involved with community outreach during my sophomore year as a tutor at a local school. However, I was not sure if this was the right program for me.
After exploring more, I discovered Special Olympics, a volunteer program that partners with Special Olympics Connecticut (SOCT) and hosts different events on campus that promote and raise funds for SOCT. Now, I am the program director for Special Olympics. I started the R-Word Campaign, which raises awareness about the derogatory use of the “R-word” on campus and in local schools. Through this campaign, I had the opportunity to make a promotional video with President Herbst and do a presentation about the Special Olympics program at UConn at a social justice conference at Wesleyan University.
I also participated in community outreach training, an intensive week in which I learned about outreach programs and the importance of community service. Through training, I developed relationships with other student leaders. In addition, I am on the committee that plans the Husky Classic, an annual Special Olympics soccer tournament at UConn that involves both UConn students and Special Olympic athletes. Last year, it was amazing to see all of our hard work and planning come together into a successful event. Through community outreach, I have developed skills in leadership, management and working with others.
Name two other experiences that have enriched your studies. This semester, I was a teaching assistant (TA) for two allied health courses. I took the courses, counseling and teaching for the health professional and management for the health professional, last spring, and both of the professors asked if I would be a TA this fall. Throughout the semester, I did a lot of administrative work, but I also cultivated strong relationships with the professors. I got a glimpse of what it would be like to be a professor, and this is a new interest and career possibility for me.
I also enjoyed being a resource for the students in the class, answering their questions and seeing them become as interested in the coursework as I was. In addition, I chose aspects of the course materials that I was particularly interested in and conducted further research. This was rewarding because I was able to expand my knowledge and tailor my research to focus on occupational therapy.
This summer, I worked at Kids Cooperate, a social skills program for children with developmental disorders. I worked with both elementary and high school students. I helped to create environments in which the children could participate in normal social encounters. This skill that did not come naturally to them. This was a great experience because I was able to build relationships with the children and witness their progression from June to August. In addition, I realized my love for working with children and my interest in being an occupational therapist within a school system.
What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career? My biggest challenge was building confidence in all aspects of being a student, including academics, extracurricular activities and employment. I learned the importance of finding my strengths and building upon those. I also learned that I should continue to challenge myself by taking difficult courses and becoming involved in new things.
When do you expect to graduate? What then? I plan to graduate in May 2016. After graduation, I am taking a 25-day trip to Europe, and I am incredibly excited. In the fall, I plan to attend graduate school at Bay Path University and study occupational therapy.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I work in the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) office and deal with funding for the large number of student organizations at UConn. Even though I had no interest in business or finance, I found this job the summer before my freshman year and have continued to work there throughout my entire time at UConn. This job has been a huge part of my college experience. I have gained great relationships and learned valuable skills that I can use in any future career.