Student earns online MPH while working as yacht crew

The day Michelle Finn had to take a final exam in one of her online Master of Public Health courses, the yacht on which she served as both lead stewardess and sole medical crew member was scheduled to sail. WiFi would be non-existent, and she had to convince the captain to keep the vessel close to the shoreline so she could use her hotspot. Luckily, the captain agreed. 

For the next couple of hours, Finn worked through each exam question while the rocking motion associated with shallower depths encouraged seasickness. Just as the captain came to tell her they had to move into deeper waters, Finn hit the submit button—she passed with flying colors! 

As an undergraduate, Finn received a bachelor’s in psychology from FIU in traditional, face-to-face classes. After graduation, working a job she did not enjoy, she decided to look for new employment and pursue the public health degree through a fully online program.

Finn describes herself as someone who thrives on high intensity and challenges. The yachting position would be an adventure for her soul while her pursuit of the master’s would offer her the adventure of a lifetime of service.

“With a degree in public health, I could help more people at a time,” she says. “I am really keen on health promotion and understanding people’s behavior in order to change global health and how people live in underdeveloped communities.”

Finn has sailed to South Africa, Spain, Palma de Mallorca, England, the Bahamas and St. Lucia. Her travels have only compounded her interest in public health as her yachting excursions have taken her to places that are off the beaten tourist path, some of which “ignited my interest in public health,” she says. “I really became interested in underdeveloped communities and how to treat health in these communities.”

Some days on ship were longer than others, with Finn often starting at 6 a.m. to get a jump on studying and on occasion pulling all-nighters to catch up with assignments.

“But that’s the beauty of online learning,” Finn explains. “You can pick and choose your study schedule to make your deadlines.”

It was stressful at times, she admits, because there was always the possibility of missing deadlines due to connectivity issues, whether at sea or docked at foreign ports. But her professors were understanding, she says, and committed to helping her succeed.

“Education is one of the best ways to help solve public health crises. Because of this, I want to be a public health educator,” she says. “I feel very lucky I’ve had this opportunity.”

Finn graduated August 2020 and looks forward to finding a public health position with a nonprofit organization. Currently, 67 students are enrolled in FIU’s fully online Master of Public Health program. It is ranked among the top 10 online programs nationally by PublicHealth.org.