Nothing can stop Vanessa Kirk.
After a bumpy start to college, she picked herself up, stayed the course and recently enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Public Health online program at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA).
Kirk initially planned to become a nurse, but she did not fare well in her first two prerequisite courses at Tarrant County College. So, she completed an Associate of Arts degree before enlisting in the Air National Guard in June 2017 with a five-year commitment.
"I was a little in limbo," she said. "No matter what, I always wanted to go to UTA because I heard wonderful things about the nursing programs. One of my fellow troops attends UTA and is majoring in kinesiology. He told me, 'There's this brand new public health program.' When he told me it was an accelerated online program, I got even more excited. It was perfect."
The prerequisite courses Kirk completed at Tarrant County College provided ideal preparation for the online BS in Public Health program, which requires 45 credit hours from an accredited institution for admission.
"When I started, I didn't know about public health," she said. "Then, I did my research. It was my bread and butter and pretty much the right time, right place. Everything led up to me going into this program."
So far, Kirk has completed two courses: KINE 2350: Public Health: Principles and Populations and KINE 3351: Public Health Informatics.
"The program was exactly what I thought it was going to be, although I didn't know I was going to get that much information," she said. "When I was typing assignments, I was worrying about how to do it, where to get reliable resources and expanding my palette on where to get information. It was like, 'Oh, I am actually learning stuff.'"
Cleared for Takeoff
Kirk was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and developed a keen interest in healthcare after a first-grade classmate with chicken pox showed up at school one day.
"I was so interested in what chicken pox was," she said. "I wanted to heal her and fix her. My mom is a PCT [patient care technician], so I started asking her questions. Starting from there, I wanted to be nurse."
After Kirk spent her fifth-grade year in the Philippines and moved to Texas when she was 10 years old, she graduated from L.D. Bell High School. She didn't have to look far to see where she needed to go next, following in the footsteps of her brother, Anthony, by enrolling in college.
"He was the one who got out of a community college and actually to a university," she said. "He's my role model and mentor. He told me, 'You need to go get a degree.' He was the first one in our immediate family to get a degree and is working on his master's now."
Although Kirk took some online courses at Tarrant County College, she remained a little apprehensive about enrolling in a fully online degree program at UTA.
However, she said the flexibility of the format has made the workload very manageable — even with a full-time job. Her orders are currently in Fort Worth, but her unit is scheduled for deployment in 2020.
"Everything is reasonable," Kirk said. "You have this much time to do this much work. You just have to plan it out. Time management is a real key thing for online. It's doable work. It's not like it's impossible to do in the time period. To get the grades I wanted, I spent about 12 hours a week on each course."
Although Kirk is just starting the online BS in Public Health program, she believes she is right where she is supposed to be in her life.
"It's one of those things where we'll see where God takes me," she said. "I am okay with pursuing public health and finishing that out."
Like nursing, the public health degree opens the door to several career possibilities.
"If I would like to be commissioned as a public health officer, they have that option in the Air Force," she said. "I could also continue my education and go back and try to get a nursing degree with a public health background and be a public health nurse.
"My ultimate goal is to get my bachelor's in nursing and a master's in public health. Hopefully, I'll get there sooner than later."
Until then, Kirk looks forward to graduation day and plans to continue working hard to achieve her goals while serving her country and enjoying her free time as a competitive kickboxer. She is taking the same approach to school that she takes to life.
"Take it one step at a time," she said. "Every syllabus tells you that you have this much work to do in this much time, but I took it one step and one day at a time. The next thing I knew, the course was done and I got an 'A.'"
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