Centers’ new directors help navigate health and law careers
A dynamic duo arrived on campus last fall to lead Bradley’s two pre-professional centers. Dr. Melinda Maris is the founding director of the Pre-Professional Health Advisory Center, and attorney Nicole Meyer was named director of the Pre-Law Center.
Dr. Melinda Maris
With a Ph.D. in genetics and molecular biology from Emory University and a passion for teaching, Maris said, “The opportunity to build a center from scratch in a thoughtful way that would be responsive to what the students and faculty need” outweighed leaving the research program that she had developed in Atlanta.
“I love being in the classroom, so having the opportunity to continue to teach made it an easier decision for me,” she said. “This fall, I’ll teach Bio 111. Since I advised 239 students during my first semester here and that number will only grow, teaching one class per year is good enough to keep me in the classroom to get that ‘fix.’”
The Washington, D.C., native has three initial priorities: engaging students on the Center’s Facebook community that she continues to build; implementing a bi-weekly e-newsletter informing students about deadlines; and facilitating workshops and guest speakers who help students understand the “inside tips and tricks to the application process and preparing for the MCAT. ”
Long-range goals include raising awareness for career paths in public health — from education to policy-making to research — and in health fields outside of pre-med, including physician assistant, dentist, optometrist, veterinarian, podiatrist, and physical and occupational therapy. Another goal is to increase service opportunities to make students more competitive applicants to health professional schools.
“The application process is so non-transparent,” Maris stressed. “It’s a full-time job in itself, and students need someone to shepherd them through the system; they need an advocate. I’m looking forward to building relationships with many health professional schools by saying, ‘Look at the rigor of our curriculum. Look at the students we’re producing and the amazing experiential opportunities they take advantage of. Keep an eye out for these applicants.’ Bradley students’ hearts are in the right place, and they have the right motivation for going into this field. We’re going to produce some phenomenal health care practitioners.”
Attorney Nicole Meyer
Peoria native Nicole Meyer left a downtown Chicago law firm to mentor students and continue to develop Bradley’s Pre-Law Center. Although the DePaul University Law School graduate had positive experiences in her practice, she was ready for a new challenge.
“This position is just perfect,” she said. “I’m working with young adults, sharing my experiences, helping them navigate classes and internships, and helping them decide what they want to do after they earn their undergraduate degrees. Not many universities employ a full-time director who offers individualized pre-law advising. I can help students determine how to go to law school because it’s a serious commitment — emotionally and financially.”
Communication is key to the success of the Center. Her outreach includes Facebook communities for the Center, the Pre-Law Club, and the mock trial class she teaches. She advised about 200 students last semester.
Last September, Meyer’s mock trial class began to prepare for several competitions. Teams are critiqued by judges and attorneys, exposing them to many areas of the law.
Other experiential learning opportunities involve pairing students with young lawyers in conjunction with the Peoria County Bar Association. “Mentoring students in their undergraduate studies is important,” she added.
The Center’s most recent commitment is to Peoria County’s Court Appointed Special Advocates program (CASA). The national program relies on volunteers, and after 30 hours of training, select juniors and seniors are sworn in as officers of the court and as child advocates. “It shows students how they can make a difference in our community while gaining real courtroom experience,” Meyer said.
Attorney Maria Vertuno, the inaugural director of the Pre-Law Center in 2009, is now Bradley’s executive director of legal education programs.
— Karen Crowley Metzinger, MA ’97; Photography by Duane Zehr