New year, new direction.
Jennifer Wilkins enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Public Health online program at the University of Texas at Arlington in January 2019 after three years in the online Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. She initially made the move to expedite graduation.
“I was disappointed to leave nursing, but I like everything I’ve been doing with the public health program,” she said. “It’s funny how sometimes life gives you what you need. I think I am better suited on this side, and I enjoy it. I’ve already learned a lot more than the preconceptions I had of public health.”
Wilkins, 44, is a business owner and single mother to Dylan Wesley (18) and Jacob Wilkins (12). She lives in League City, Texas, and serves as marketing director for a group of more than 55 personal injury doctors whose target market is attorneys.
“When I started school, I cut my client load,” she said. “But I’ve been working with this same group for nine years, Houston Injury Solutions Network, and stayed with them. I contract and do business development and event planning. I’m in the medical field but on the fringe.”
The online format works well for Wilkins and her busy schedule, which includes attending select baseball games to watch Jacob play. Dylan is a freshman in college.
“It is manageable,” she said. “If I didn’t have the flexibility of online classes, I would not be able to finish my education. I wanted to be a nurse to do a job I felt fulfilled me and wasn’t just a job. I wanted something where I felt like I could give back. With the public health program, we do so many site visits, windshield surveys and interviews. I’m excited to see where it can take me.”
Wilkins is originally from Texas City and started college before moving to Austin in her 20s with aspirations of becoming an actress. Instead, she got a solid business foundation working for car dealership conglomerate Leif Johnson Ford.
“I started my first big administration job when I was 23 years old,” she said. “I attribute most of my success to working for Leif Johnson because they taught me so many things. They had my hand in so many cookie jars and taught me a lot of different aspects of their business, which helped propel me into these other positions with major companies.”
From there, Wilkins worked as a high-level administrative assistant for senior vice presidents of major corporations before losing her job during the Great Recession of 2008.
“I didn’t qualify for jobs because they wanted a degree,” she said. “I had the experience, but I didn’t have the piece of paper. Some places wouldn’t talk to me because I was overqualified, so I started my company, Jennifer Wilkins and Associates, out of necessity.”
Once Wilkins was ready to return to college and change careers, UTA was the obvious choice.
“It is one of the only schools that had a straight-through BSN program and not just a bridge conversion,” she said. “I had some of my prerequisites done, but I did not have my RN license. UTA also partners with a lot of the hospitals here, and I live five hours away from campus.
“The communication I had with them when I decided to go back to school
The Plot Thickens
Wilkins has completed two courses in the online BSPH program. KINE 3350: Urbanization and Vulnerable Populations hit especially close to home for her.
“That class opened my eyes to the fact that I can drive to Dickinson ISD, which is one mile from my house, and it’s a completely different racial demographic,” she said. “It’s diverse. One mile over, cost of living is completely different. It taught me about things that I didn’t really think about and opened my eyes to the diversity around me.”
Once Wilkins finishes the online BSPH program, she hopes to transition into an exciting new chapter of her career.
“I want to stay in the public health side and maybe become a program administrator, either with a private or government agency like county services,” she said. “When I first decided to switch to public health, I thought I could stay with a hospital. I know somebody who does all of the fundraising for University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. I thought I could move into that realm.”
As an added bonus, Wilkins is setting a good example of the importance of higher education for her sons.
“You can do college any time, but I wanted to show Dylan that whatever you want to do, do it now,” she said. “I am basically earning this degree for myself. It was something that was important to me. I made choices and didn’t get to finish school. I’ve been a single mom for 12 years. I wanted to show them that if you set a goal for yourself, you do what you have to do to get there.”
With the experience Wilkins has in the two UTA online programs, she believes earning a degree is manageable for most anybody.
“You have to be prepared to allot the time to do the work,” she said. “It’s very doable. Make yourself and your education a priority. I think this degree will open up opportunities for me to prepare for retirement and to have that degree to be able to open doors for jobs I’m qualified to do, intellectually and skill-wise.”
Wilkins is excited about making the five-hour drive to Arlington on graduation day in May 2020.
“I know some friends of mine who got their degrees online and didn’t go to graduation,” she said. “It wasn’t important to them. I said, ‘That is my holy grail, and I will be crossing that stage and picking that degree up.’
“I worked hard for it. I have family in Benbrook and Arlington. I talked to my aunt yesterday and said, ‘Look, y’all stay healthy because I need somebody there cheering me on.'”
Learn more about the UTA online BS in Public Health program.