After working for 25 years in the patient revenue cycle and practice management side of the health care industry, Jackie Velilla decided it was time to go out on her own.
She saw that the industry had changed. Personalized patient experiences were being outsourced, which was eroding client satisfaction. Having recently graduated with a Master of Health Administration online from Penn State, she took the leap to start her own business, Onshore Revenue Cycle and Practice Management based in Tampa, Florida.
“My MHA provided me not only with the necessary business acumen and tools to begin the journey toward entrepreneurship, but it also instilled in me the confidence needed to pursue it,” said Velilla, who graduated in 2022. “This was the best investment of time, money, and effort I have ever made.”
Velilla is among the many students and graduates who have enrolled in one of the health and nursing degree programs that Penn State offers online through Penn State World Campus. They say the knowledge and experience they gained through their studies have helped them be successful in their careers.
Health, nursing, and human services degrees offered online at Penn State
This year, Penn State is marking 25 years of offering high-quality education online through Penn State World Campus, and the offerings in health-related fields are an important part of the portfolio of more than 175 degree and certificate programs.
With the Penn State College of Health and Human Development, Penn State World Campus offers the following graduate and undergraduate degree programs in health and family services:
- Bachelor of Science in Biobehavioral Health
- Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies
- Associate in Science in Human Development and Family Studies
- Bachelor of Science in Health Policy and Administration
- Master of Health Administration
- Master of Professional Studies in Nutritional Sciences
- Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management
In partnership with the Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing at Penn State, Penn State World Campus offers nursing degrees at both the undergraduate and graduate levels:
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing
- Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
- Two options of a Doctor of Nursing Practice: DNP–Leadership and DNP–Nurse Practitioner
Two programs in public health are offered online by the Penn State College of Medicine through Penn State World Campus: a Master of Public Health and the public health preparedness option of the Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security.
A flexible, rigorous online program in health policy
An online degree program was a must for Serena Carlson when she decided to return to school as a recently divorced mom raising three children. She had a lot on her plate, and there was no time to attend college classes in person.
She wanted to work in the health policy field, and she wanted a rigorous program from a renowned institution that would give her the skills to launch a new career. She found the bachelor’s degree in health policy and administration offered online.
“I was a single mom at the time, and in-person learning was impossible while working full-time and supporting three young kids,” Carlson said. “The flexibility and rigorous curriculum were ideal for my needs.”
Carlson immersed herself in the field during her studies. She traveled to Sweden and Costa Rica as part of an educational trip to see up close how those countries deliver health care, and she served as an undergraduate teaching assistant for a second trip to Costa Rica.
Carlson graduated in 2018, and the degree has helped catapult her career. She went on to get a master’s degree in health informatics and works as a customer engagement program manager in IT services for the University of Washington Medicine.
A nursing degree was a ‘game changer’
Rob Boesch is responsible for 2,000 nurses at two hospitals in southwestern Virginia, and he says his Doctor of Nursing Practice degree has led him to where he is today.
Boesch graduated in 2018, and he completed his degree while working as the nurse manager at the Penn State Cancer Institute in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He leveraged his degree to advance his career through vice president roles within Penn State Health and then to his current role as the chief nursing officer for the hospital system in Virginia.
“The DNP was a game changer,” Boesch said.
Boesch described his role as making sure that the system’s nurses are using evidence-based care practices to reduce patient harm and improve the quality of their outcomes while receiving care. He credited the DNP program’s emphasis on research into evidence-based practices.
“As the CNO, I’m overseeing decisions on what evidence-based practices we’re going to drive and how we’re going to improve quality of care,” he said. “It’s really important to make sure that I have a solid understanding of what data points warrant us pursuing and which data points don’t actually make sense, because they were just bad data. That is a big part of how I use my DNP program in my role.”
Getting a bachelor’s degree to advance his career
Zach Winslow is developing a summer wildlife youth program for the Chesapeake, Virginia, parks department. The goal of the program is to introduce animal species and plant species in the park to local school-age children.
The youth program is a capstone project for Winslow’s bachelor’s degree in recreation, park, and tourism management. He also works for the Chesapeake parks department as a park maintenance supervisor.
He estimated that 90 percent of his previous job experience is in park maintenance, and the degree will provide him with additional knowledge and skills to enhance his résumé and prepare him for management roles.
“The experience with World Campus has been awesome,” said Winslow, who also served in the Marine Corps and is using his GI Bill® benefits toward his education. “Upon completion of the degree, there will be more opportunities out there to keep my eye on.”
Working in public health preparedness
When Hurricane Ian hit Florida in September 2022, David Nguyen was tasked with facilitating the federal government’s response to the natural disaster. Nguyen is a program analyst with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and he has been able to apply the knowledge and skills he learned from a master’s program in public health preparedness from Penn State to the recovery efforts.
“With many different types of disasters, especially in the midst of a pandemic, I am no expert, so I have to think about each situation when I first encounter it by asking, ‘How do we recover long-term?’ ” he said. “What are the things that we need? I had to break down the recovery aspect and think about the different agencies that would be involved.”
In his job, Nguyen communicates with federal agencies, like Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He said the course work helped him sharpen his writing skills, which are essential when interfacing with the agencies.
“It’s so important for my workday to write and be persuasive and to be able to analyze that data,” he said.
He also praised the program faculty: “The program has great faculty who really care about their students. I think that has made me a different person,” he said.
A degree that helps you learn to help others
Because of her degree in human development and family studies from Penn State World Campus, Michelle Weissmann is helping people who were in the same situation she was in earlier in her life.
Weissmann is a development officer for the Sixth Street Shelter in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a program of Community Action that helps families experiencing homelessness become self-sufficient and find and advocate for affordable housing.
That is the situation she found herself in after her first husband abducted their three children and left her with -$127 in her checking account. She had to rely on government support, and after receiving an eviction notice, she got on a two-year waiting list for public housing, all while fighting to bring her children home.
“It became my mission to help people in the situation I was in,” said Weissmann, who got her children back after almost five months through the International Hague Convention. “When I saw the HDFS program and looked at the courses, I related to those courses.”
Weissmann said she thrived in her course work, especially due to undergoing and understanding traumas that individuals and families experience, as well as what it takes to break through barriers and overcome challenges to succeed.
An empirical inquiry course that introduced Weissmann to scientific writing and research triggered a passion for reading scientific articles on homelessness in the U.S. and abroad. She met people from all over the world, which enabled her to gain new perspectives and broaden her thinking in ways to help close gaps in the system.
She praised the faculty, especially Professor Marc McCann, who encouraged her and boosted her confidence. And, before she graduated in 2021, she completed an internship with the Sixth Street Shelter, which helped her secure the development officer position with the same shelter in 2022.
“The HDFS program resonated with me, vastly increased my knowledge, and it gave me a more powerful way to frame the way of giving hope to those who only saw darkness,” she said. “Penn State World Campus was a really great experience that changed my life.”
Combining experience with a new credential
Jackie Velilla, the MHA graduate who started her own business, went into her program with 20 years of health care experience and wanted to gain a credential to go with her experience.
She learned how to tell her story and create what she needed to launch her business, such as a business plan, accounting and financial documents, marketing tools, and more. She also created bonds with the students she met through her courses and the professors, whom she considers lifetime friends.
“I have used so many aspects of my degree,” she said.
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.