Michelle White '90 entered UMass Dartmouth as an accounting major—the first person in her family to graduate from high school—and she was driven by her desire to "do something that matters."
That drive led her to change her major to nursing, and then later earn two graduate degrees with a third one underway. She has built a diverse career in health care as a nurse, teacher, and leader.
For more than 25 years, from Rhode Island to Texas, White has been reinventing her future so she can better advocate for others.
"Everything I have done is to be an advocate for people to help them be the best they can be, to reach their potential, to help them with their challenges. Although my roles have been pretty diverse, advocacy for staff, patients, and their families is at the heart of what I do," said White.
Learn with determination
After receiving outstanding medical care during a complicated pregnancy, White decided to switch her major from accounting to nursing. "I was fascinated by science and what it could do. When I arrived at UMassD, I was nervous. But the professors and school were very supportive," said White.
"They gave me the confidence, the skills, and the knowledge. They also taught me to be very humble, to realize what I didn't know and not be afraid to ask for help," she added.
Along with her BS in nursing, White graduated with a feeling of empowerment that she could achieve anything.
"The most important thing UMassD taught me was 'don't give up.' I honestly believe that I would not have been able to take my career to where it is without the confidence and study skills I learned at UMass Dartmouth," said White.
Advance with agility
From her first job as a surgical nurse at Miriam Hospital in Providence, RI, to working in Massachusetts at a psychiatric unit for children and adolescents, White loved working with patients.
When White and her husband moved to Texas for his career, her aspirations changed. She enrolled at Texas A&M University School of Law to earn her JD and better advocate for patients. "It was a fascinating experience, and I learned so much that would help me in many different positions," said White.
While White's law degree hung on her wall, her career went elsewhere. Her love of teaching took the forefront for several years, including her experience as the director of the Allied Health Programs at the University of Texas at Arlington. While there, she earned an MBA.
When she became director of nursing at Sante Center for Healing in Texas, a treatment and rehab center for those recovering from addiction and behavioral health issues, her law degree and MBA came into play. They have proven invaluable in mediation, contracts, policy development, and her leadership role.
White is currently working on her fourth degree as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner so that she can have greater impact on the multidisciplinary patient teams on which she works.
"We have to help people make choices and understand the importance of those choices. People need to ask the right questions, be more informed, and advocate for themselves," she added.
Excel with creativity
White advises new graduates to find a company that appreciates talent and innovation. "Try to find an environment where they are going to nurture you, and find a mentor who is going to help you grow."
"Being open to changes in technology and different cultures, and staying up-to-date in your field are important if you want to stay relevant," said White. She continues to attend conferences and has earned certifications in teaching, addictions, and eating disorders.
Emotional intelligence has helped her innovate in her job and her career. "You have to understand the value of relationships and how your personality affects people. When you find that synergy, it's powerful and you can accomplish so much," she said.
Live with integrity
When hiring staff, White looks for candidates who are authentic and resilient. "I want to know how you've been challenged and how you dealt with it. You can always teach skills, but if you don't have integrity, if you're not authentic or resilient, it's going to be more of a challenge. Doing the right thing when nobody is looking is really important," she said.
Inventing your future requires that you are agile, said White. "You have to be flexible and open to new opportunities that may look different than what you expect them to be. You have to adapt to changes that are happening. It's hard to predict what those changes will look like."
White and her husband, David, live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and return to New England often.