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Pandemic Gives Student Real-World Experience in Emergency Management

Grace Elmudesi sitting on the grey stone granite steps of Folwell Hall, U of M

Grace Elmudesi’s experience providing services to the homeless solidified her sense of purpose while she pursued her Health Services Management bachelor’s degree

Grace Elmudesi arrived at the University of Minnesota from her home state of Wisconsin in 2017, interested in a career in emergency management but undecided about her major. “Emergency management stands out as a way for me to help the community during natural disasters, but the U didn’t have a major in that field, not many did, so I was exploring courses in a few different programs,” she says. 

Grace’s sophomore roommate was in the Health Services Management (HSM) program and convinced Grace that it was worth looking into. “In the HSM program, they cover all those management components from a health care perspective. I get to learn about accounting and finance, HR, and program and project management, all with a public health focus.” 

Plus, she says, “it’s a tight-knit group, so you are usually taking classes with a lot of familiar faces. My very first course was Healthcare Delivery Systems. They shared a lot of case studies about how hospital systems function and the decisions that administrators need to make. The teamwork component was what I liked the most. The course helped me decide to pursue the HSM major because I recognized that I’d learn many of the skills I would need to work in my chosen field.”

Grace Elmudesi standing in the doorway of Folwell Hall, U of M

“Another course I loved was the HR (human resources) course,” says Grace. “We got a lot of good background and case studies, and I liked how the professor connected with the students. They weren't afraid to answer tough questions and, since he also works in the field, he’s teaching us about the tasks that he’s doing everyday.”

This Is Not a Drill

In the summer of 2020, the pandemic presented an opportunity for Grace to get actual hands-on experience in emergency management. She worked for a term with an AmeriCorps Emergency Response Initiative partnering with Ramsey County, setting up shelters in area hotels for the most at-risk populations of unhoused people: young adults, the elderly, and those with adverse health conditions. 

“An internship that I had lined up was rescinded when the pandemic hit, so I reached out to my academic advisor and my career advisor for some assistance finding another one,” Grace said. “They are super fantastic resources and have helped me so much throughout my experience in the program! They ended up posting opportunities about the Americorps Initiative as last-minute options for students whose internships weren't able to go through... They helped prepare me for the interview process and I was offered a position.” 

Grace’s responsibilities as a lead shelter staff included checking people in, reviewing house rules, connecting residents to appropriate resources, conducting room checks, arranging transportation to health care appointments, and helping older residents with laundry. At the end of the summer internship, Ramsey County hired Grace in the same capacity for the fall semester.

Grace says the experience gave her a better understanding of how an emergency program works at the ground level. “It also provided me the opportunity to escape the bubble a lot of college students find themselves in on campus and be able to connect with the surrounding community better. This program helped open my eyes to the different needs communities face in the midst of a disaster, and allowed me to actively participate in addressing those needs. This experience helped me solidify my sense of purpose in the career field that I want to go into. Emergency management is a field that works toward making communities more prepared and resilient than they otherwise would be when confronted with a disaster. That's what this shelter program was accomplishing, and that's what I hope to do for other communities in the future.”

A Big 10 with Options

Grace Elmudesi standing on the grey stone granite steps of Folwell Hall, U of M

Grace says she chose the U of M because “it’s a Big 10 school that offered a lot of options to explore for someone who was undecided. I knew that, whatever I chose, they’d have a really great program.” 

Once she found the HSM program, though, she was convinced that she’d made the right choice.

“The HSM major helped solidify my desire to go into the field of emergency management,” says Grace. “All the courses emphasized a patient-centered approach to care, an emphasis on innovation, and building positive work cultures. These are all things I value and feel to be very pertinent to emergency management. These courses reinforced my interest in the management-side of health care and public health, because I feel I have proven myself to exceed in these areas.”

Advice: Know Your Peers

Looking back on her journey through the HSM degree, she recommends newbies to the program make connections with peers as well as professors and advisors.

“This program is relatively small, and you realize how much you have to learn from the people who are exploring similar fields to you,” she said. “Getting to know my peers was a great way to see what options there were and what various paths people could pursue in the major. The major itself is very teamwork oriented, so establishing relationships with peers early on makes facilitating group work a lot easier down the line.”

Grace graduated in May and has accepted a 12-month internship with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District in Cleveland. 

“My role as an emergency management paraprofessional intern will give me experience working with multiple agencies to create and update emergency plans for a public utility,” she says. “I’m excited to work with professionals in the field and to be exposed to a variety of emergency planning opportunities.”

To learn more, visit the Health Services Management website.