Health Promotion Major Makes Helping People Her Mission

Aria Bolman stood on a high school volleyball court, posing for photographs and celebrating with her teammates after a match in 2016. Then, in the corner of her eye, she spotted a familiar face she wasn’t expecting: her mother, a member of the U.S. Air Force newly home after a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

It was the kind of reunion that has typically gone viral on social media over the years, as members of the armed services return home unexpectedly to surprise their loved ones. All captured on video, Aria ran to her mother as her teammates looked on and cried, as well as people in the stands waving signs. “I looked at her and asked, ‘Are you really here?’ and started bawling. It was a breath of relief to see her,” she remembered.

With a mother as an airman for 22 years, she grew accustomed to the life of a child of a military parent. A family of an armed services member makes sacrifices out of dedication to their loved one: long separations, frequent moves, late nights, and training schedules. But as Aria reflects over those years growing up, it sounds more like an adventure with her mother, who she calls her best friend.

Now, Aria is on track to graduate with a degree in health promotion at the University of Central Arkansas and recently got accepted into the UCA Graduate School to pursue a Ph.D. in Occupational Therapy.

She has put her personal experience as a child of a military parent to use at UCA, as she is also a student worker in the Veterans Resource Center. This campus office aids veterans and military dependents in transitioning to college life and advises on the benefits available to them. As she prepares for graduate work and her career, she is more focused than ever on helping people while drawing from her own life experiences.

From ages five to 10, Aria lived in Germany where her mother was stationed. She stayed in base housing, an apartment building filled with other American military families. They formed a tight-knit community, where neighbors congregated in each other’s apartments and all the kids attended the school at the bottom level.

At any opportunity, a young Aria and her mother would hop on a plane or train to explore Europe, visiting the world’s great wonders and absorbing culture that she still appreciates today. “Seeing these places and experiencing these cultures was influential since I was so young,” she said. “It expanded the way that I think about people.”

Aria says that the experience only enhanced the bond they share, as it was just her and a single mom exploring the world together and later moving back to the United States. Before her mother married, Aria would stay with her grandparents during shorter deployments to places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Communication was never easy, but they always found those moments to share all they could about their days. They would speak over social media and Skype, although time zone differences made conversations challenging.

“I learned how to write letters for those moments when I really needed to talk to her,” she said. “Those were harder times as she was deployed for important periods of my life, like when I started high school. But they’re also great times.”

Growing up with a mother in the Air Force taught Aria the value of respect and appreciation for military dependents. In her work with the Veterans Resource Center, she sees the community of veterans, active service members, and dependents as a family. Much like those days of living in base housing and spending time with her neighbors, she sees her work of making sure that students are taking advantage of their benefits as a way of looking out for others with the same background.

“We’re all connected by one thing. Even if we don’t see students for a while, they can come in and we can pick back up where we were because we have the military in common,” she said.

The passion to help people led her to occupational therapy, where she plans to specialize in pediatrics and have her own outpatient clinic. Occupational therapists help children improve their motor skills, which bolsters their daily activities like handwriting and computer skills important for school performance. It also boosts their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment.

“Occupational therapy values align with mine. It’s humanistic,” she said. “I want to help people with their daily life tasks but also educate and advocate on issues like disability and mental health. I can teach people how they can better their lives and make the world a little better by building a community that isn’t judgmental.”