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Public health alumna studied below deck and derived inspiration from travels

by Monica Smith

Oct 07, 2020, 12:00 PM.

Alumna Michelle Finn recounts her experience as a fully online master of public health student working aboard a yacht as the lead stewardess and medical crew member.
Michelle Finn
Michelle Finn

The day Michelle Finn had to take a final exam in one of her public health courses, the yacht she was working on would be sailing. 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 hot spot. Luckily for Finn, who was lead stewardess and the medical crew member, the captain agreed.

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

Panther returns to FIU

In 2017, Finn received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from FIU in traditional, face-to-face classes, but after she graduated, she decided she wanted to do more—especially after experiencing an unprofessional and demeaning work environment in a job where she was responsible for creating community engagement campaigns. 

She made the decision to find another job and pursue her public health master’s degree at about the same time.  When she obtained her yachting position, she knew that while it may be challenging to study for her public health degree with all of the travel, she could take her FIU classes with her, so she switched to the fully online MPH program.


Finn describes herself as someone who thrives on high intensity and is inclined to more challenging roles than the routine. The yachting position would be an adventure for her soul while her pursuit of a master’s degree in public health would offer her the adventure of a lifetime of service. 

“With a degree in public health, I could help more people at a time, with more frequency,” she reasons. “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 traveled to countries such as South Africa, Spain, Palma de Mallorca, London, 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. 

“These areas are what ignited my interest in public health. I really became interested in underdeveloped communities and how to treat health in these communities,” she states.

Study habits

Some days were longer than others, but Finn always found time to study when yachting. Most days she awoke at 6 a.m. while the other crew members started their days at 7:30 a.m. This extra time each morning gave her the quiet time needed to focus. Some nights she pulled all-nighters and studied between 2 and 3 a.m. 

“But that’s the beauty of online learning, you can pick and choose your study schedule to make your deadlines,” she offers.   

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

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

Finn graduated August 2020 and looks forward to finding a public health position with a non-profit group.

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