Monica Machacek-Chiapello

Monica Machacek-Chiapello in safety gear

When Monica Machacek-Chiapello of Hixson, Tenn., started working on her master's degree in healthcare administration at Tennessee Tech University in 2020, she found herself on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic response team for the Knox County Health Department.

“I wanted to have ‘boots on the ground.’ I wanted to be in the thick of it,” she recalls. “Because this was global and historical, and I wanted to help. Tech allowed me to have the flexibility to work on myself, my career, my future and also be able to provide my community support.”

Using data from the health department where she worked, she wrote her master’s thesis on infection rates of COVID and provided evidence that lower-income communities in the area were suffering the highest infection rates. She was able to directly apply what she was learning in her classes to help her community, while simultaneously completing her graduate studies.

After graduating, Machacek-Chiapello realized she wanted to focus her career path specifically to work with the topic of public emergencies. Now, she works as an emergency management consultant both for the company Constant Associates and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Her expertise lies in chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive threats – also known as CBRNE.

“So, take for example, if we had a dirty bomb go off and there was a chemical Monica Machacek-Chiapello sets up emergency equipment.exposure to patients. I train hospitals on how to decontaminate them, how to triage and how to make sure that we're managing supplies in order to provide the most support to the greatest number of people possible. It’s a lot of logistics,” she explained.

When she graduated with her master’s at Tech, Machacek-Chiapello says had no idea she would end up in this very niche career field, however, what she learned in the program has given her an edge over many of her peers in emergency management who don’t have a strong background in healthcare administration. Because she is familiar with the inner workings of both types of careers, she’s been able to help bridge gaps in understanding and communication between two different fields that sometimes don’t see eye-to-eye.

“It is almost like speaking two different languages and being able to find common ground,” she said. “We’re all trying to work to save people.”

For those considering pursuing graduate studies in healthcare administration at Tech, Machacek-Chiapello wanted to emphasize that it is okay to not know exactly what career they want in their field. She followed her passion to help her community and ended up in a place where she has the skills and knowledge to do just that.

"Your degree doesn’t define your path; it’s a tool that you can use to get to the place you want to be," she said. “I just fell into what I do now and I'm absolutely in love with my career field. I really hope that people get the opportunity to be as passionate about their work as I am.”



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