Human and Health Services Administration (HHSA) student Vanessa LaGrange is excited to become the first person in her family to earn a master’s degree. A mother of three, LaGrange has spent the majority of her time during the past 10 years pursuing higher education from the ground up, starting with an associate degree from a local community college.
“I had a pretty good upbringing,” she said. “My parents did the best they could for my siblings and me. They put a lot of emphasis on the importance of education while we were growing up and that drove my desire to be successful.”
LaGrange describes herself as just like any other person, but from an early age she showed exemplary drive. She graduated from Garland High School in Texas at the age of 16, but, like so many others, her family wasn’t in a position to pay for college.
“I worked a lot so I could pay my way through college and my mother helped out as much as she could,” she said. “I knew I would have to do something more to finance my bachelor’s degree, so I joined the Oklahoma National Guard and was able to join the ROTC at the University of Oklahoma.”
Three years later, LaGrange received her bachelor’s degree and an officer’s commission in May 2010, and she recounts this as one of her best days.
“Receiving my bachelor’s degree was one of the happiest days of my life. Honestly, there are only three days that I consider better than this day: the day I married my husband Robert, the day I had my twin daughters and the day my son was born.”
LaGrange also acknowledges she would not have reached her goals without support from her family.
“I’m sure it sounds very cliché, but I have to thank my family,” she said. “My parents always encouraged my siblings and me to try our absolute best in everything we do, and I pride myself on that. It’s a behavior I hope to pass on to my own children. I would also of course have to thank my husband for his unwavering support. I spent a lot of late nights working on my assignments while he took care of our kids. I definitely would not have been able to maintain a 4.0 throughout the program without him.”
For many people, a master’s degree is a pinnacle of higher education, but LaGrange has developed a taste for advanced academics.
She is considering pursuing a doctorate in medical law, which regrettably stems from personal loss.
“A very unfortunate situation actually influenced my HHSA thesis topic selection—the Right to Die initiative. I watched a family member diminish from Alzheimer’s disease and all he wanted to do was die,” she said, remembering her father-in-law near the end of his life. “This was evident in the types of advanced directives he had in place. It was a true demonstration of how our current healthcare laws and government are failing the terminally ill. Medicine has the opportunity to significantly impact those it is able to reach, but due to the lack of legislation allowing medicine to accomplish its goal of relieving patient’s suffering, a lot of people and their families suffer unnecessarily.”
LaGrange’s passion for the topic is evident, and she hopes to use her education to effect future change and help create a better world for her children and family.
Though her thesis topic was not an easy subject for LaGrange to examine, following such a close family tragedy, she feels the knowledge she gained will be invaluable in the future as well as the present.
“I believe many career opportunities will become available to me after I finish my degree. I know it will definitely help me get into the leadership role I want to be in. The manager I am today is definitely not the same manager I was before I began the program. This program has definitely contributed to my success.”
In her own words, Vanessa LaGrange has come a long way from when she began the HHSA program. In addition to her professional growth, she considers her education her greatest achievement and plans to stay in healthcare management for the foreseeable future.