DECATUR — Millikin University sophomore Emily Talbott has discovered a passion for eyes.

As Talbott sets out on her career path, she wants to make taking care of eyes more than just a job. To ensure her path is successful, Talbott has sought opportunities being made available to her and other Millikin students.

Talbott, a biology major from Champaign, began working this year with Temmen Advanced Eyecare in Mount Zion.

“It's my future life,” Talbott said. “I want to see what I can do in the future. I want experience that will set me apart.”

The Millikin Institute for Science Entrepreneurship aims to provide students with enhanced opportunities to gain experience in their fields of interest, said David Horn, a biology professor at Millikin. Horn worked with chemistry professor George Bennett and physics and astronomy professor Casey Watson to form the institute that was originally funded by a performance learning enhancement grant in 2012.

It has received additional funding from the Coleman Foundation and an anonymous donor to develop a speaker series.

The speaker series was launched at the beginning of the school year to introduce Millikin students and others in the Decatur community to the possibilities science-related entrepreneurship can create. The spring installment launches Thursday with Robin King, CEO of EPL BioAnalytical Services near Niantic. She will be discussing her company's experience over the past 25 years in analyzing agricultural samples.

Horn said science related jobs are going to be critical to Decatur's future economic success. With all the innovations being made, Horn said careers in the sciences are becoming more entrepreneurial than ever before.

Many of the careers students will be working in do not currently exist, Horn said. A one-credit seminar has been added to the curriculum focusing on how to create a scientific business venture, and career options are frequently discussed during existing classes taken by natural and health science students, Horn said.

“We're showing a pathway science students can take so business ownership is not such a daunting task,” Horn said. “They can be ready for it later on in their career. They should first know the science. Entrepreneurship opens up additional opportunities.”

Horn wants students such as Talbott to recognize the opportunities available to them. He is working to find businesses representatives willing to talk or work with students.

Talbott is grateful for the experience Dr. Camda Temmen and the staff at Temmen Eyecare are giving her. Talbott was introduced to Temmen through Millikin vice president of university development Dave Brandon who asked if Talbott could job shadow, as she has done at other practices in the past.

After seeing the student's passion and interest in the job, Temmen offered her the chance to not only watch what happens in the office but work directly with patients.

“Not a lot of people would take that chance,” Temmen said. “She used that resource. Not a lot of students have that motivation.”

Talbott understands much of the science in her field, but she says it's the business side she needs to learn more about as she looks toward four years of ophthalmology school and eventually setting up her own business.

“That's what really scared me,” Talbott said. “After taking a class on the business side, it's not that bad.”

Some people will never have done such things as using a screwdriver to put together a pair of glasses, Temmen said.

“Not everybody inherits a business from their mom and dad,” Temmen said. “They have to take that leap of faith and listen to suggestions.”

By participating in opportunities such as the one Talbott has found, Horn said it meets the goal of integrating theory and practice for Millikin students. He wants them to learn important lessons before they're out trying to survive on their own.

“The best way to learn is to do it while in a safe setting,” Horn said. “They can gain experience and then have lessons learned.”

Developing opportunities for Millikin students fits with the mission leaders of the Grow Decatur initiative are seeking, said Bruce Nims, a co-founder of the group. Part of the group's goal is to make Decatur an attractive place for young professionals to live and work after they graduate from Millikin or elsewhere, Nims said.

“We'd like to hang onto them and have them be part of the future here,” Nims said. “We'd like for those who go elsewhere for college to come back, too.”

Science is part of the puzzle that Nims said includes a broader diversification of resources. Getting students out of the classroom and seeing what Decatur has to offer will help, he said.

“They can get a feel for the neighborhood environment,” Nims said. “People like it here, but they have to be here first. You don't get that out of a textbook.”

Talbott helps with tasks such as pretesting patients and checking their medical and eye histories along with running vision tests. Talbott will ask questions if she's asked to do something she doesn't understand, Temmen said.

The experience is more than Talbott thought was going to be possible when she first approached Temmen.

“I wanted to see how the practice worked,” she said. “I was lucky enough to get a mentor.”

Temmen said Talbott has exhibited the traits she looks for in any employee.

“She is so full of interest,” Temmen said. “Now is the time to figure it out. The knowledge she's gaining is almost as valuable as anything you'd learn in the classroom.”

Horn said the relationship is an example of exactly what the institute is intended to encourage. Temmen said she has no official ties to Millikin but realizes having mentors and developing a network of trusted advisers is important for anyone throughout their careers.

Talbott can already see her work aiding others.

“That's just the best feeling in the world that people can see because of me,” Talbott said. “I'm making a difference. That's really my favorite part.”

The institute is working with companies in Decatur ranging from large, global firms such as Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Caterpillar Inc., to smaller businesses such as EPL and EliteCare Center, a Decatur chiropractic practice. Its owner, Dr. Rich Lohr, was one of the presenters during the fall speakers series.

Horn said the opportunities are available to change the downturn in economic trends for Decatur.

“It never ceases to amaze me how many world-class organizations we have in Decatur,” Horn said. “The institute brings together those companies to build something bigger to grow in the community and provide for societal well-being. We have the systems and organizations in place to not only reverse the trend but to thrive here.”

​clusvardi@herald-review.com|(217) 421-7972

Business Writer for the Herald & Review

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