Florida Firefighter Comes to Campus to Accept Bachelor’s Degree

WIU graduate Tonnie Rollins, right, is pictured with WIU Academic Advisor Ron Pettigrew of the Distant Education Support office during the May 12 graduation ceremony in Macomb.

The strain of a 950-mile road trip is nothing compared to the two-year trek by a Tallahassee, FL firefighter to get his bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University.

Twenty-one year firefighting veteran Tonnie Rollins has spent the past two years earning his bachelor’s degree from WIU in general studies. He was in Macomb May 12 to walk across the stage to accept his diploma in person.

“I made a promise to myself when I enrolled that when I completed the program I would fly to Macomb and march with my class,” he said. “This was my first trip to Macomb.”

Rollins said he decided to pursue his degree because it was a personal goal and he would like to be a fire chief someday. He is currently a lieutenant with the Tallahassee Fire Department.

Rollins began his studies at WIU during the Fall 2010 semester and said he chose Western because of its affiliation with the National Fire College in Emmitsburg, MD. He said his favorite class was LEJA 481, Advanced Fire Administration.
“It gave me an insight on what administrators deal with on a daily basis,” he said.

For more information about WIU’s General Studies Department, visit www.wiu.edu/distance_learning/bachelor_of_arts_in_general_studies/.

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‘Riding the wave of awareness’

‘Riding the wave of awareness’

Student helps organizes preventative screening for those in need

Kymberly Miller is excited about educating people on a topic that few like to talk about.

Miller, a non-traditional student who is taking courses at Western Illinois University-Quad Cities while working full-time for Trinity Regional Health System in Rock Island, Ill., organized a free colorectal cancer-screening event earlier this month for qualifying people in the Quad Cities region, the first event of its kind in the area. (Click here to see Miller receiving the Lujack’s Extra Mile Award on WQAD Channel 8).

Miller, who works in Trinity’s GI Lab, took on the additional responsibilities of an internship for the organization, through which she helped provide preventative screenings to the uninsured or to those would not have been able to afford the procedure otherwise. Since last fall, Miller has been working to coordinate donations, medical staff, and patients who meet the qualifications. Her efforts resulted in five doctors and 35 staff members volunteering their time on a Saturday (March 5, during Colon Cancer Awareness Month), providing preventative procedures to as many as 15 patients who could be at risk for the disease—which include factors such as family history and being over the age of 40.

“Our main goal with this has been to educate people, raise awareness, and provide the screening for people who’ve met the criteria,” she said. “Getting screened is the best way to diagnose cancer. There is no better way.”

(More, below the photo)

photo of Kymberly Miller
Kymberly Miller, WIU-QC student

In her position at Trinity, Miller is responsible for assisting with basic operations of the department. While she doesn’t have a history of colon cancer in her family, she has seen firsthand the benefits of early screening—and, at the same time, the devastating news that a cancer has been found too late, and could have been easily prevented.

“I’ve seen people who’ve put it off and put it off… and then it’s too late, and you just feel bad. It’s such a preventable cancer. If you get it early, there’s a 90 percent chance you’re going to be fine. You hear so much about breast cancer, and colon cancer actually kills more women, but you don’t hear about it as much because nobody wants to talk about colon cancer preparedness. But it’s not anything to be scared of. The screening is usually done in 15 minutes.”

A new kind of lab, a new direction

Not long after beginning her new life as a student and full-time worker, Miller took on an internship, which consisted of coordinating the free screening event. And though the event may have only been one day, it became a reality through Miller’s efforts to coordinate patient care technicians and secure donations from medical supply companies. She wrote proposals that resulted in a company providing all of the day’s pathology reports for free, to the scope provider donating extra scopes for the day.

Miller explained that she was a facilitator for an idea that had long been in the works in the community. Trinity has representatives on the Colon Cancer Free QCA Consortium, through which area doctors’ offices collaborate to raise awareness and educate the public, and general practitioners ensure that people are getting screenings if they meet the risk factors. Trinity and the consortium partnered with a free clinic in the area that offers services to the working uninsured to identify individuals who would qualify for the free screening.

Miller came to her job and her internship at Trinity after having worked for several years in quality control in a chemical plant. But a few years ago, she found herself unemployed. So she took an entry-level position as a technician in the GI Lab at Trinity, and at the same time decided to pursue a degree in general studies at WIU.

“I’ve taken several classes over the years, and with the job market the way it is, I definitely wanted to go back and finish that up,” she explained.

Now in her second year of studies at WIU, Miller has focused on management and communications courses, and her classes—particularly those with Mary Hogg, associate professor of communication at WIU-QC—have helped her with her with the internship, and vice versa.

“Mary Hogg had me speak about the screening event in class, and she ran off the flyer that I’d made up, offering extra credit to students who want to come and write something up about it.

“I’ve had to speak with doctors, with the president of Trinity, present my progress to the senior team, the CEO and COO,” she added. “It has helped me build confidence, definitely. A lot of doctors have been very supportive. When they tell you how proud they are and give you words of encouragement, it’s nice. And it all boils down to the fact that you’re helping people.”

One giant team

Miller explained that in addition to donations secured for the screening day, the Trinity Foundation provided funding for the event. But Miller got so involved in the cause, she decided to create her own fundraiser to help out even more—a Taco Tuesday at a local pub that donates proceeds to local causes.

“I just felt like this event was something worth growing and sustaining,” she said. “So I hit up local business to provide certificates and baskets for a silent auction. But it was also just a way for all the volunteers to blow off steam, have a good time, and kind of ride the wave of awareness we’ve been going on.

“What keeps me motivated is that I’m helping people, and the fact that this has never been done before,” she continued. “I’ve enjoyed the people-contact, too; I love to talk to people, and when I can get people to feel good about giving to the cause, when it becomes a giant team, that’s fulfilling, also. It’s a huge project, and I feel blessed that I got such a cool project to work on. And to be the first one to do it is pretty cool too.”

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