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Corey J. Parker '02 overcame many bumps in the road as he navigated his college career at Illinois State to a career filled with accomplishments and success.

A Redbird’s road through adversity leads to fulfillment and success

Corey J. Parker ’02 is one of two administrative directors for Barrow Neurological Institute Academics (BNI) in Phoenix. Overseeing over 100 people and multiple departments while managing relationships with top medical centers in the country, Parker’s road to success was bumpier than most.

Adversity comes in many different forms. For Parker, adversity was moving to different cities as a child, growing up as a minority, a confusing future, and losing a close friend through an unexpected, tragic event.

Growing up, Parker called many different places home. He lived in New Orleans, the South Side of Chicago, a small town in New Jersey, and ended at Normal. Normal proved to be a great home to Parker, where he was involved with his ministry, volunteered at food banks and churches, and created lifelong relationships with people in the community.

Though Normal was his home, Parker decided to travel a road outside of Illinois to attend college and called Jackson State University his college home.

“I wanted to teach,” Parker said. “I just gravitated towards knowing about the past because the past shapes your future and who you are. When I thought about the concept to pay it forward to others, at the time that was the way to do it.”

While living in Mississippi, he started to notice the challenges that teachers faced. This bump in the road pushed Parker in a different direction to pursue a different degree.

When Parker decided to go down a different road for a different degree, it was no question to him that he should attend Illinois State University. Other schools he considered discouraged him due to the lack of attention and effort. Illinois State, however, impressed him with the diverse presence on campus and individualized attention.

“It was like another home for me already,” said Parker. “I attended Normal Community High School for some time and had a lot of family connections. Plus, it’s like the Harvard of the Midwest. Why wouldn’t I want to go to the Harvard of the Midwest?”

Once at Illinois State, Parker decided to pursue marketing. Little did he know that it would change the course of his life forever.

“ISU was just what the doctor ordered,” said Parker. “It gave me a platform and a community that instilled values and civic engagement that I carry with me today.”

man in graduation attire grabbing diploma

Parker accepting his degree at Illinois State’s College of Business commencement.

Parker’s involvement with the local community church and collaborated volunteer events in Chicago presented opportunities for him and introduced him to new people and passions. He was thriving at Illinois State until the unimaginable happened.

Parker’s longtime friend and roommate was murdered during a weekend trip up in Chicago. It was through this difficult time that Parker learned valuable life lessons that led to major success in his academic career at Illinois State. This tragedy forced Parker to immerse himself in his studies and focus on the future that he wanted. It was a long and dark road, but Parker saw this challenge as an opportunity rather than a setback.

“I felt so isolated and there was some level of a disconnection, but it has shaped me as I’ve moved through life,” said Parker.

The College of Business also shaped the road for Parker, offering him several learning opportunities inside and outside of the classroom. This included a life and health internship at State Farm and an inaugural marketing intern for Kana Software. Along with internships, the college gave him support and guidance needed during the ups and downs of his journey.

“When I think of ISU and the fond memories,” said Parker, “I think about how it was a place that really supported me. It offered so many things. How many places at this time and during those years would I have been provided with those opportunities?”

Man holding small girl in arms

Parker with his daughter, Imari N. Howard-Parker.

As his time at Illinois State was ending, he came to another turn in the road when his college sweetheart got pregnant. Unsure if he could raise a child at 22-years-old, emotions were high, but after much self-reflection and planning, Parker and his college sweetheart brought their daughter into this world.

“Because of my daughter, I learned about life and how you have to appreciate all that it is and all that it isn’t. Being able to keep my head high and look at myself in the mirror is something that I don’t take for granted every single day.”

Through all the trials and tribulations, Parker’s academic success led him to the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he was a leader for academic health care. When many think of health care leadership, they think of doctors, but Parker’s role taught communication skills and behaviors not taught in classrooms to those in the medical field. It is there that he decided to pursue yet another degree and receive his master’s in public administration.

“I did a lot of research and met with a lot of people to figure out how to cultivate a pathway beneficial to me on the health care side, in business, and to pursue public office,” said Parker. He referred to his desires in health care, business, and public office as “the three-headed monster.”

The road to conquering the three-headed monster has pushed Parker toward much success and continues to do so each day.

After receiving his master’s, Parker’s road led him to transforming the educational mission for graduate medical education at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas. His success in doing so was noticed by HonorHealth, an Arizona-based health care system that focuses on improving the health and well-being of those they serve while keeping an open mind, building trust, being held accountable, respecting their clients, and showing empathy (HonorHealth, 2019). He took the road farther west and began another impactful journey here.

Working to transform educational medical programs has been a fulfilling line of work for Parker. When he started to see the societal issues that exist within the health care system, he wanted to help deal with everything. Parker’s passion for people and education has led him to his current position at Barrow Neurological Institute Academics (BNI) as a director and senior leader.

three men in suits smiling

Parker (left) joined by NBA columnist Peter Vecsey and actor Chris Tucker at the 2019 Barrow Celebrity Fight Night

BNI is a renowned medical center that cares specifically for people with brain and spine diseases, disorders, and injuries.

Parker does not work with the patients directly, but his contribution leaves a lasting impact on those who are treated by his trainees. As a director and senior leader, Parker oversees clinical trainees and research trainees, contracting, finances, reporting, evaluation, and food services. He oversees relationships with the Mayo Clinic, the University of Arizona College of Medicine, and Creighton University. Parker has the authority to approve or disprove academic initiatives within BNI. Academic initiatives can include anything from teaching styles to curriculum.

“Just as much as we need people to heal the sick, we need people to guide those to heal the sick,” said Parker. “We are just as much difference makers as those who actually treat the patients. That is what I’ve found to be phenomenal- bringing that administrative touch to an environment that can be very devastating and that can lack a level of empathy.”

Parker’s road ended at success, but it did not come without pain, change, and a lot of hard work. He credits many of his achievements to his time at Illinois State—a place where he developed self-confidence, cultivated his strengths, and nurtured his growths. One professor’s words have resonated with Parker through his lowest lows and his highest highs:

“You should dream big. You should set a goal that you may not ultimately accomplish, but it is something that you should get up to do every day.”

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