Black-and-white portrait of ASU alum Suzy Engwall.

Online courses cleared path for nursing alum to reach new heights

More than three decades after taking her first college class, Suzy Engwall is the proud holder of a Bachelor of Science in health entrepreneurship and innovation from ASU’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, thanks to the program's online course offerings that allowed her to take classes while juggling a busy schedule.

Growing up in the Midwest, Engwall initially wanted to work in the film industry. She dropped out of community college after landing a job in Los Angeles. A few years later, Engwall’s passion transitioned to health care, which is when she realized a bachelor’s degree would come in handy.

Securing a job in the health care field was not an issue for Engwall as she had a friend that hired her for an entry-level position despite not having taken any relevant coursework. The challenge she faced was in trying to move up within the profession. To progress, she would need to go back to college and earn a degree.

I was already at a national director level but kept running into walls, which is the reason I finally finished, and I am so glad I did,” Engwall said.

Only now Engwall had two boys and a full-time job, which meant a full class schedule would not be possible. 

Given that she was working in health care innovation, Engwall was drawn to Edson College’s Health Entrepreneurship and Innovation (HEI) program when searching for degrees. A bonus was that she could complete the program online, taking classes as it worked for her busy schedule. 

Being a nontraditional college student, Engwall said she enjoyed learning from the younger students about how they view the health care profession.

Engwall currently serves as the vice president of early MedTech development at Alira Health, and she has loved every second of it.

“I have been working in this space for about seven years, and it is my true calling,” she said.

In addition to this role, Engwall serves as a mentor to health care startups at the Founder Institute and is on the board of GameChanger Charity, which “has grown into a passionate and diverse team of staff and volunteers dedicated to helping children and families through the challenges that come with hospital stays,” according to the official website.

Although she loves her current role at Alira Health, Engwall has big plans for the future. 

“If I could do anything, I think it would be to start and run a venture studio in health care,” Engwall said. “This model enables hospitals, entrepreneurs and investors to work on solutions for real-life challenges in a human-centered way, and they are all brought in from the beginning instead of having startups create something new then compete for places to pilot and funding.”

A proud Sun Devil alum, Engwall joined the Edson College Alumni Board in the summer of 2023.

In the below Q&A, Engwall looks back on her time in the HEI program and discusses some of the challenges she faced working full time while enrolled as a student.

Question: How did your degree program help you in achieving and maintaining the position you have now?

Answer: My biggest challenge wasn't industry knowledge — it was the lack of a degree. Several of the companies that I worked for in the past simply would not allow me to move up without it. My health innovation and entrepreneurship degree from ASU helped me move forward quickly. 

Q: What is a favorite memory from your time in your program?

A: I really enjoyed working with a variety of students from different age ranges and backgrounds. Being an older student, it was nice that there were others like me, but it was also nice learning about how the younger generations view health care in the United States. Graduation was a pretty good memory as well.

Q: What advice would you give students who are currently enrolled in the program?

A: Keep going! It's worth it. And don't be afraid to reach out to those in the profession for help, advice and mentorship. When I was young, I didn't have an easy way to do this, but I wish I did. Use LinkedIn and other sources to create and grow your network and find good mentors. Learn from the people who work in this space. You'll be better off for it.

Q: What were some unique challenges, if any, you had to overcome while pursuing this degree?

A: For me, my challenge was going to school, working a demanding job with heavy travel and being a parent. I had to do a lot of juggling and couldn't take more than one class at a time, so it took me a long time to complete my degree; but in the end, I am so happy I did. On the upside, our two boys got to see how hard it was to work full time and go to school, and neither of them wants to have to do this, so I hope it will encourage them to finish school while they are young and free of financial burdens.

Q: What is one thing you learned from your degree program that has helped you out in your current position?

A: I think the most useful thing I learned given my role at the time was about institutional review boards (IRBs) and how they functioned inside of health systems. I knew enough to be aware prior to the program, but going through the ... program helped me to be more aligned with the hospital research teams that I interacted with.

Written by Max Baker, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation student worker