Changing Direction

Psychology major Nikki Pearl '18 (Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
November 14, 2016

Bradley psychology major Nikki Pearl ’18, of Manchester, Missouri, knew she wanted to work in a health profession, but didn’t know which direction to go. After several academic program changes, she found a passion for public health that prepared her to address global mental health concerns after graduation.

Pearl journeyed through four programs under Bradley’s pre-health umbrella before following her father’s footsteps into psychology. With guidance from Bradley’s Health Professions Advising Center, she tried majors or minors in health science, biology, chemistry, psychology and health. Along the way, her goals shifted from physical therapy to medical school before she found her niche in public health.                             

“If I knew what I wanted to do right away, I wouldn’t have had all these opportunities to do everything,” Pearl said. “We students often fear we have to figure out what we want to do right away, but that’s not true. You add more to the resume that is your life if you try different academic programs. You end up more passionate about what you want to do.”

With three formal major changes, Pearl’s academic adventure fits the average student experience, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. However, she will finish classes a semester early thanks to diligence in AP and dual-credit courses in high school.

“Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “I didn’t think all my majors would make such a difference in my success, but I see it now. I never knew there was so much connection between biology and psychology or business and psychology. It’s interesting to see how classes in different departments relate.”

Pearl credited her Bradley adventure to the wisdom of HPAC director Dr. Val Bennett and psychology professor Dr. Dawn Roberts. These mentors guided her to job shadowing experiences, suggested a public health goal and connected her with an ongoing internship with the Peoria County Health Department.

Bennett also helped Pearl launch a chapter of Alpha Epsilon Delta, the only honor society on campus dedicated to students interested in all health-related professions.

“When I thought about college as a high school student, I never thought I’d get so much personal attention from professors,” Pearl said. “It means a lot to have faculty who care so much and who go out of their way to offer guidance.”

Family-inspired globetrotting also shaped Pearl’s health care interests. With seven family members in the airline industry, she sought opportunities to explore the world while in college. A summer 2016 cultural exchange trip to Tanzania cemented her international health interest. Next, she will study abroad in the Czech Republic during the fall 2017 semester.

Her experiences on the Hilltop, at internships and overseas prepared her to impact the world after graduation.

“Because of my everything I’ve done, I’m open to learning different perspectives and the differences between people and places,” Pearl said. “I’ve discovered there’s a need for what I want to do. It’s reassuring to know I can make a difference with my career.”