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March 23, 2022
by: Janet Weyandt

Etude alum credits interdisciplinary model for unexpected career path

Etude alum credits interdisciplinary model for unexpected career path Header Image

When someone from Etude High School talks about the interdisciplinary model, it can sound odd to anyone not well-acquainted with the group and its priorities. 


One short conversation with Etude High School alumna Emily Fessler, however, is the best explanation in the world: She went from a dance enthusiast in high school to a public health professional with plans for a PhD and a career in academia.


Fessler credits the school’s interdisciplinary approach and emphasis on habits of professionalism for her career path and success so far. 


As a high school student, Fessler thought she wanted to become a choreographer. Then she toured Ripon College and sat in on an anthropology class, which piqued her tandem passion for sustainability. Fessler (whose name was Reichgeld then) even did her senior project on sustainable fishing. 


She spent a year at Ripon College, majoring in environmental science with an emphasis on sustainability. After her freshman year, she took a year off and spent part of it on a cross-country trip, which is how she found herself at Missouri State University. She loved it, so even though it didn’t offer environmental science, she stayed. She ended up with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with a focus on environmental anthropology and a minor in sustainability.  


Her path then took a few more twists. During her junior year she interned with the AIDS Project of the Ozarks, which handles prevention, testing and medical care for people touched by the AIDS crisis. 


“I fell in love with the social side of public health,” she said. “The people side of health, so to speak.” 


At graduation, she had a tough choice: whether to apply directly to a doctorate program or go for an applied masters. She ultimately chose the latter.  


Fessler will receive a Master of Public Health and graduate certification in health programming planning from Missouri State in May. She is also the project manager for #Healthier MO, the easy-to-remember nickname for a program officially called Transforming the Future of Public Health in Missouri.


In that role, she is responsible for leading a team on developing and implementing a Missouri Foundational Public Health Services (FPHS) program, which is based on a national model. 


“A couple of states have undertaken public health systems transformation efforts, and I am proud to lead the charge on Missouri's transformation,” she said. “In addition to managing multiple grants, I work on building coalitions and partnerships across Missouri for health equity and develop tools, trainings and resources for public health and FPHS implementation.”


Fessler said Etude prepared her for her career – including the winding path she took to find it – by exposing her to habits of professionalism and an interdisciplinary mindset as a young adult. 


“One of the most beneficial things that I got out of my Etude education was the ability to understand myself as a learner, as a thinker and as problem-solver,” she said. “Instead of just learning from a textbook and spitting the information back out onto a test, I was able to apply my knowledge to real-world issues that allowed me to operationalize my education. The project-based approach, coupled with the interdisciplinary model, is what allows me to be creative in my problem-solving and innovative in my work.”


Fessler’s long-term goal is to be a professor of medical anthropology, and a master’s degree in public health enables her to get into the applied side of the field instead of pure academics and theory. 


“I’ll have a good grasp of how it actually looks outside a textbook,” she said. “That’s kind of why I took this (path) – it seems like a side path but it all fits together. The world is only becoming more and more complex, and the interconnectivity of its issues means that our generation and those that follow have to be able to foster effective cross-sector collaborations in order to make meaningful change. Luckily, Etude prepared me for that.”


  • Emily Fessler Slider Image

    Alumni Speaker at Étude Baccalaureate 2022

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