Lots of students perform community service. But for criminal justice major Sarah Herrick, helping vulnerable children, teens and families is a passion that’s become a vocation.

Herrick, of Billerica, volunteered at a Nashua nonprofit that supervises court-ordered visits between troubled parents and their children. Through service-learning classes and community internships, she created marketing materials for a Lowell community development corporation and worked on grant proposals for a charter school. She’s undergone suicide prevention training, compiled resources to help ex-offenders build new lives, and co-founded a campus group to educate students about sexual and relationship violence.

“I’ve always had a passion for helping kids, and I want direct experience,” she says. “I want to change the world, even if it’s just one kid at a time.”

Then last summer, she volunteered full-time at a camp for low-income and refugee children in Lewiston, Maine. It was rewarding – and difficult, because she shared some of the discomforts of their daily lives: She ate the same school breakfasts and lunches; she got bedbugs; and her cell phone was stolen.

“It was total immersion. It’s really transformed my empathy for other people into an actual, physical awareness of what people go through every day, because I had to go through it,” she says.

It also prepared her for a full-time job after graduation as a behavioral counselor at Youth Villages in Arlington, Mass., a residential facility for troubled teenage girls.

Herrick began college as an early childhood education major at Elon University. But after taking a class on terrorism her freshman year, she decided to work in counter-terrorism. She started researching colleges with good criminal justice programs – and found a great one in her own backyard.

She transferred to UMass Lowell as a sophomore, majoring in criminal justice with a homeland security concentration. She took a sociology class and loved it, so she added it as her minor. As she began applying her studies in real-world situations, working with both victims and perpetrators, she became more interested in the root causes of violence – and shaped her own course of study, taking classes like victimology and intimate partner violence, and switching her concentration to violence. She also did research with professors as an Emerging Scholar.

“I really liked that I had different class options. Even in concentrations, you’re not locked in,” she says. “The advisers have been really incredible. They allowed me to go wherever I needed to go.”

Herrick says she also gained valuable work experience at UMass Lowell, starting with a campus job as an orientation leader the summer after her sophomore year, and then by working in the Solution Center and the admissions call center.

“Orientation was the first time I had professional development experience. We set goals, and they set goals for us, and we met a couple of times during the summer to discuss our progress, which is huge,” she says. “UMass Lowell doesn’t just talk about real-world experience; it is real-world experience.”