By Monica Parpal Stockbridge
Jessica Flores-Faisal never intended to go to college.
“When I was in high school, I didn’t really think about pursuing higher education,” she said.
The 28-year-old, who was born in Mexico and adopted and raised in Aurora, joined the Air Force Reserve at age 17. She has spent over a decade in the military.
Today, she has her bachelor’s in Health Care Management from Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver) and is working toward her master’s degree with the University while stationed in Germany. She credits MSU Denver for meeting her where she was: passionate about her experience in the military and looking for a career where she would be able to grow her service in new directions.
The right fit
Flores-Faisal initially pursued a degree in Mechanical Engineering at a different four-year college but ultimately decided the program didn’t align with her passions. A friend who is a nurse in the Air Force suggested she look into health care administration because Flores-Faisal is detail-oriented and enjoys helping others.
“I ended up transferring to MSU Denver because it was the only school that offered a bachelor’s degree in Health Care Management,” she said.
Once enrolled, she found that the smaller class sizes, more diverse student body and one-on-one interaction with professors felt more personal. She appreciated that strong communication in particular since her classes were remote.
Amy Dore, Ph.D., has been a key figure in Flores-Faisal’s education journey. Dore, who graduated in 1996 from the HCM program — which is celebrating its 50th anniversary — has been teaching at MSU Denver for more than 20 years. “So when I get the opportunity to work with students like Jessica, it’s extremely rewarding,” she said.
Flores-Faisal knows she wants to be a health care administrator in the Air Force but said getting chosen for that duty is intensely competitive. “It seemed like a lot of people that were getting selected for it had their master’s degrees,” she said.
So after finishing her bachelor’s degree in May, she immediately began the master’s program in Health Administration (MHA).
In January, she’ll start a job in financial management in the Air Force. She hopes that after completing her MHA degree in December 2023, she’ll be selected for the Medical Service Corps Program — a group of professional health care administrators and executives within the Air Force’s large, diverse health care system.
A focus on aging services
While taking classes in Health Care Management, Flores-Faisal learned about aging services and the stigmas older adults face in health care and in broader society. The field immediately sparked her interest.
“I wanted to continue that knowledge of aging services and bring that awareness to other individuals,” she said, “especially because the older population is just continuing to grow.”
At the same time, Dore was working to develop an Aging Services Leadership Certificate and Digital Badge, something she had heard about at conferences. Micro-credentials are short learning programs focused on gaining specific skills or knowledge, while badges are electronic emblems or icons that students can put on digital résumés or social media that link to the sponsoring college and credential criteria.
“I thought a digital badge could be a really great way to serve our population of students who might want to dip their toes into a topic that they don’t know much about or maybe they would want to add on to and enhance their portfolio,” Dore said.
That turned out to be true for Flores-Faisal, who recognized that her interest in studying aging populations and aging services would be amplified for future employers.
She became the first student at MSU Denver to pursue the Aging Services Digital Badge and complete five milestones, which include the Ageism First Aid Certificate from the Gerontological Society of America. Today, the badge is visible on Flores-Faisal’s LinkedIn profile, with live links to the relevant credentials and coursework she completed.
“The badge is innovative in the way that it celebrates specific learning that students can showcase to future employers,” said Shaun Schafer, Ph.D., associate vice president of Curriculum, Academic Effectiveness and Policy Development at MSU Denver. “We want as many students as possible to take advantage of digital-badge opportunities to help demonstrate their own achievement.”
For someone who never thought she would pursue higher education, Flores-Faisal is proving her mettle with her accelerated studies and lofty career goals.
“I really enjoyed the coursework at MSU Denver,” Flores-Faisal said. “I did my internship at Swedish Medical Center, and then I got to shadow different departments.
“And so all that confirmed that this is definitely what I want to do with my future.”
Monica Parpal Stockbridge is a contributing writer with MSU RED. This story originally appeared on MSU Denver RED.
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