Erick Klein knew in high school he wanted to go to college. He also knew he wanted the U. of I. He didn’t want “anything less,” he said.
But Klein had other things to do first: join the navy, train as a corpsman (medic), serve in Afghanistan and then work two years at a base hospital in the U.S.
Add to that, he got married, too.
Klein had funny and awkward moments with classmates talking about their high school jobs, then asking what he had done. When marriage was part of class discussion – as it often was in his human development and family studies major – he could actually speak from experience.
Now 27, the Carthage, Illinois, senior is graduating this May and heading to a doctoral program in occupational therapy at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
For him, it’s a natural career path. “I’ve always been interested in helping people and I’ve really had an interest in health as well,” he said. His decision to join the military grew, in part, from interests he shared with his history teacher father; the helping part that led to being a corpsman came from his therapist mother. “I kind of wanted to bridge both sides of it,” he said.
In Afghanistan, as a corpsman with a marine unit, Klein learned how much he enjoyed the rehabilitation part of medicine. “I really enjoyed just seeing people feel better, especially when they were hurt or injured,” he said. He tended to both their physical and mental health, often just by lending an ear.
While at Illinois, his career direction was clarified further seeing the role of occupational therapists in helping his wife’s grandmother recover from an accident. “I saw the work that they did and that really inspired me to do that. And ever since that's my track,” he said.
In pursuing his ambitions, Klein credits attention he got from professors in his Department of Human Development and Family Studies program, especially Brent McBride and Kelly Tu. “They have been a really big influence on my career,” he said.
Under McBride, Klein served as a student researcher on a study looking at fathers’ involvement in family meal times and possible links to childhood obesity. Klein had the opportunity to help present the research at a conference and will be a co-author when it’s published. He now thinks research may be part of his future.
Klein’s academic and research pursuits centered mostly around Doris Kelley Christopher Hall, a center of family research on campus. His center of support, however, was the Chez Veterans Center.
The center’s “extremely committed” staff can help with everything from academic and career counseling to accessing benefits earned through the GI Bill, Klein said. It also serves as a place for veterans to congregate or just hang out.
“A lot of the people who work there are also veterans or have family members who served in the armed forces,” Klein said. “So you felt like you were back with your own people. If you talk about your military service, they have gone through it. They are able to see the things you saw, or they really relate to you on a deeper level.”
They aided his transition from the military to college, he said, and to future plans.