College of Human Ecology unveils new concentration

COOKEVILLE– Tennessee Tech University is the first college in the state of Tennessee to offer Child Life as a concentration through the College of Agriculture and Human Ecology beginning fall of 2014.

As of fall 2014, the School of Human Ecology is now offering a concentration in child life. Although the fall of 2014 will be the first time child life can be declared as a concentration, Cara Sisk has been working on starting the program for quite some time.

Serving as the child life program director and instructor, Sisk has been working to start the child life program at Tech since 2011. “It’s just taken this long to get everything in place to make it its own concentration,” said Sisk. “We have been building the program since I have been here.” Since the coursework was gradually developed over the course of a three-year period, the creation of the new concentration was natural. Before Sisk arrived in 2011, there were no child life courses offered through Tech.

As the concentration evolves, new clubs are being added as well. Tech’s first Child Life Association was started within the concentration.  President of the Child Life Association, Haley Bradfield explains child life, as a whole, is a new concept of a career. “It’s such a new profession. It’s in its first 30 years or so. The student growth in the major is evident of that too.”

This fall, there are 37 students that are under the child life concentration. Many of those are juniors, and 10 of the 37 are seniors. However, this fall was first time child life was offered as an option to incoming freshmen. The recent count showed six freshmen involved in the program since the unveiling in August. “This is the first cohort of freshmen I have had,” said Sisk. “Usually, they’re coming to me as sophomores or juniors.”

According to, child life specialists are child development experts who work toward allowing children who are chronically ill or struggle in challenging environments to live a normal life while receiving healthcare treatment. Many times, child life experts partner with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals providing the best environment for the children.

Today, child life is thought to be one of the most competitive job fields. With the fierce job competition, curriculum in Tech’s program is shaped to prepare students to overcome those challenges. Katy Crockarell, a transfer student from Maryville College explained how the program prepared her for her practicum at Vanderbilt University. “When I completed my practicum, I was told that my knowledge of development and theory was above average, and I believe that’s all because of this program,” said Crockarell.

 “They [professors] really crack down on you to know your theory and development,” said Laura Partin, a junior child life concentration major. “The fact that we have our own concentration and very rich child life curriculum has put us toward the top of competition for child life internships.” Sisk said an average internship position receives 50 applications with only two spots available in one semester.

The program at Tech also has requirements to be accepted into the child life concentration. Students must maintain a 3.0 cumulative grade point average and a 3.2 GPA within Human Ecology. Other requirements include completing a minimum of 10 credit hours for coursework in the school of Human of Ecology.

Upon graduation, students are required to undergo a certification examine called the Child Life Professional Certification Program. If the student passes the exam, he or she is then certified to work in a hospital, clinic, or other healthcare setting.

Most child life specialists will receive a master’s degree after finishing their undergraduate degree but are not legally required to by any employer. “I will definitely get my master’s,” said Bradfield. “I don’t know when exactly, but I will get it to keep up with the certification standards as I go along in my work.”

As the program continues to develop, changes and additions are still being made. Partin said, “Child life is constantly evolving and changing, yet Mrs. Sisk keeps us one step ahead.”