As a transfer student from Pennsylvania State University, Amy Flaherty came to Michigan State University’s campus with aspirations to become a lawyer. Eventually, her coursework in the College of Social Science sparked a passion for sociology and steered her in a different direction than initially planned. Additionally, the MSU alumna’s extensive participation in volunteering with organizations, such as the Michigan School for the Blind and a crisis line in Lansing, helped her narrow her sociological focus.
Flaherty enjoyed her time on-campus, spending her undergraduate years living in the dorms and working in Holden Hall as a receptionist. Graduating in 1988 with a degree in sociology, Flaherty continues to dedicate herself to advocacy work and volunteering.
While taking advantage of a variety of volunteer opportunities to help her find her niche in sociology, she learned where her passions lay after working at a summer camp for those with intellectual disabilities. Following this transformational experience, Flaherty became a case manager for people with intellectual disabilities. In this role, she worked as an advocate, connecting individuals with support services and striving to enhance their quality of life.
Despite her passion for her work, Flaherty and her family relocated to Harrisburg for personal reasons. She then accepted a position with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For 11 years, Flaherty worked in Medicaid policy, learning about underserved populations and government interventions in healthcare.
This focus on healthcare facilitated her transition into the public health arena. Flaherty began working in maternal and child health and brain injury support. She currently serves as the program director for the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity in the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Her work focuses on incorporating healthy habits into the lives of impoverished populations. She strives to facilitate access to better nutrition and physical activity resources.
Flaherty’s careers have covered a variety of social issues and diverse populations. She has learned much about the advocacy work she began in her college years.
For those interested in advocacy and working in social science, Flaherty suggests finding ways to make yourself marketable. “I made myself available to a lot of volunteer opportunities,” she said. These types of experiences help undergraduates hone their professional skills while finding their passion in the diverse field of social science.
Flaherty also found ways to “always make a big school feel small.” Her tight-knit classes in the sociology department allowed her to build connections with her peers, professors and advisors, while also learning community-building skills.
To nurture these connections, Flaherty stresses the importance of interacting with others on a personal level. To this day, she has relationships with peers and professionals she met during her time at MSU. This early exposure to connection-building helped her form meaningful relationships. Flaherty’s various mentors include many of her past supervisors, whom she credits with modeling her leadership style.
Flaherty decided to attend graduate school later in her career. She graduated with a Master’s Degree in Community Psychology and Social Change in 2010 from PSU.
Though there can be pressure to continue in higher education immediately after undergraduate instruction, Flaherty said “you need to do what is right for you.” She was able to finish her degree while working full-time and maintaining her quality of life. For those interested in pursuing advanced degrees, she suggests pursuing them on your own schedule. By not setting artificial goals or creating unrealistic expectations, students and professionals can get the most out of their educational journey, she said.