Cole McCormick

Change of plans -- Cole McCormick, a graduating senior from Mahomet, poses with a skeleton model near the anatomy laboratories in Lindegren Hall at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.  McCormick, who initially planned to study engineering, will receive his Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical sciences.  He has been accepted in the SIU School of Medicine’s physician assistant program this fall. (Photo by Steve Buhman)

May 08, 2014

Graduate finds his true calling in medicine

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Cole McCormick’s future was pretty well planned when he arrived at Southern Illinois University Carbondale four years ago. 

The son and grandson of two prominent business owners in the central Illinois town of Mahomet, McCormick understood he would continue that legacy by carrying on his father’s heating and air conditioning business or starting his own engineering company. 

An engineering degree looked imminent, and that was OK with McCormick. 

“Growing up I worked for my dad doing heating and air conditioning every summer and winter that I could,” McCormick said. “I primarily did installations around the Champaign-Urbana area. The idea was to work for him until I could go to college. I would then get a degree in engineering. I would have been a third generation to work in the family business.” 

Only life doesn’t always go the way you plan. 

McCormick always had an interest in medicine, too. He endured several injuries as a three-sport athlete in high school and found the human body endlessly fascinating.  “There’s always more you can learn there,” he said. 

So during his sophomore year at SIU, when his beloved grandmother suffered complications from a pancreatic operation, McCormick found himself involved in her care and wanting to know more. 

“The doctor would come in and talk to her and explain the severity of her condition,” he said. “They used terminology that was completely foreign to me. Being close with my grandmother and wanting to understand why her health was deteriorating confirmed my interest in medicine.” 

That’s when McCormick found that SIU is a place that could accommodate his dreams, even when his plans changed. 

McCormick will graduate on Saturday May 10, with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science.  As McCormick participates in the 9 a.m. commencement exercise at the SIU Arena, his graduation will mark the end of one era but also the beginning of another. Accepted into the SIU School of Medicine’s physician assistant program, McCormick will begin coursework this fall. 

The same year his grandmother suffered with her condition McCormick decided to enroll in an anatomy class. He also took on a resident assistant position in a one of SIU’s Living Learning Communities, in this case, a home for science students at Felts Hall. 

Living Learning Communities give students who share similar goals and class loads a supportive network of classmates and friends to bolster achievement. 

“The amount of coursework I had on top of the job was tiring, and I was often faced with challenging situations,” McCormick said. “Through all of this I learned how to study effectively and balance stressful commitments.” 

And the coursework was fast-paced, challenging and rewarding. 

“Anatomy was the first class I took that was focused on studying body systems,” he said. “The next semester, I enrolled in a fast-paced physiology class. Learning in this class was no longer a job; it was fun. My motivation for academic success in these upper level science courses instilled a passion for knowledge.” 

McCormick also became involved in many extracurricular activities that promoted his education and development in the health care field. He served as a committee chair, vice president and president of the Pre-Health Professions Association, a registered student organization at SIU for students preparing for those careers. 

At SIU, undergraduates have ample opportunity to participate in hands-on research and McCormick availed himself by becoming an undergraduate research assistant. He worked in both the organic chemistry and biogenetics labs. 

He also became a Saluki Science Ambassador, serving on a team of student leaders who plan and participate in events for the College of Science. 

Along with those activities McCormick found time to volunteer at hospitals in Carbondale and back home. He also volunteered at the Murphysboro Humane Society, Relay for Life, and helped raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He earned Volunteer of the Month honors from the university’s Center for Service-Learning and Volunteerism in January 2012. 

Named to SIU Dean’s List five times, McCormick received the Mark A. Montaba Memorial Scholarship for academic achievement in 2011-12 and the Joan F. Knowles Scholarship for outstanding student involvement in 2013-14. 

McCormick said his family is supportive of his change of heart. 

“Heating and air conditioning was not my passion. My parents and family had large expectations for me to take over the family business, and it was extremely difficult to tell them I did not want to run the family business. Initially, they were shocked and upset that I would not be taking over the business like the family had planned,” he said, adding, “It was one of the toughest challenges I have ever encountered.” 

“My parents understood after a little while and now fully support me. Juggling many RSO activities and other activities here on campus was extremely stressful and was an experience I will never forget. Despite these challenges, pursuing a career in the medical field has been a more than rewarding experience.” 

SIU, he said, gave him the flexibility and breadth of programs to find his true calling. 

“It’s been a great place to be and it feels like home now,” he said.