‘Purdue Global made my dream job possible’ 

Black-and-white photo of a blonde woman wearing a black short-sleeved shirt, hand in pocket and smiling.

Mandy Gray (BS health education ’21, MS health education ’23, Purdue Global) loved her job educating others on how to care for their own health, but she always wanted more influence over the process and the reach. Her Purdue Global degree got her there. (Purdue University photo/Kelsey Lefever)

This Purdue Extension educator says an online master’s degree in health education got her exactly where she wanted to go

When someone is trying to make a life change in nutrition or fitness, those who are there to guide often say to “trust the process.” Follow the plan; see results. But because the work is outside a person’s comfort zone, it’s a common experience to lose faith, to wonder if all the hard work is going to accomplish what it promises. 

As someone who has spent her whole adult life in the health and wellness industry, Mandy Gray (BS health education ’21, MS health education ’23, Purdue Global) has seen the evidence countless times that food and exercise can heal and prevent disease. Over the years, it’s become second nature to her to trust that process. 

“Public health is a huge passion of mine,” she says. “I was a personal trainer for a long time, and I really wanted to try to help people understand that there are so many things we can do to keep our bodies healthy — with nutrition, movement, exercise, mental health. We can prevent disease instead of being reactive.” 

But “trusting the process” wasn’t easy in every area of her life. 

When she started her bachelor’s degree in 1996, she got two years in before she felt burned out. Having made it halfway through, she found a way to get an associate degree out of the time she put in. 

“Finishing the four-year degree was always in the back of my head,” she says. “But I had my first child in 2001, and I thought there was no way I could go back now that I had a baby.” 

Once she’d raised that child and then a second one into their school-age years, she decided she wanted to work outside her home part time. And she found the perfect fit as a nutrition education program advisor with Purdue Extension. 

“I loved what I did — it was community education,” she says. “I knew this was my thing. But I felt like I could do more. I started classes with Purdue Global as a NEPA because I couldn’t move forward from that with an associate degree, and the job I was really dreaming about required a master’s.” 

It would have been easy for her to look at her dream job, recently filled by a qualified person, and decide it wouldn’t be worth it to start a yearslong process to become qualified for it herself. But Gray went in another direction — she decided to have faith that starting the journey toward her bachelor’s and eventually her master’s degrees would lead to the right opportunity for her and her family. 

Setting up a comeback with Purdue Global 

Even from the start of her role as a nutrition education program advisor, Gray had her eye on a role a little higher up — a Purdue Extension educator — that would give her more autonomy over designing and teaching programs. 

“I loved what I did as a NEPA, but I wanted to be able to do more community health programs, and I wanted to stay in my county,” she says. “Extension educators are allowed to teach programs in any single area you can think of that falls under the health and wellness umbrella. It even opens up opportunities for different types of certifications.” 

There was no promise — in fact, it was unlikely — that the exact job she wanted would be available at the end of the exact number of years she needed to earn the qualifying degrees. But she had faith in the power of education.  

Then it was a matter of figuring out how she could make that process work for her family. When she found an online option through Purdue Global, the pieces slid into place. 

“We’re a Purdue family, through and through. We’ve all gone to Purdue — my kids are at Purdue, my husband graduated from Purdue,” she says. “It was doable, first of all, because it was all online. I could do my classes from anywhere in the world. I could be present for class if we were on vacation, or if I was on the way to a volleyball or a baseball game. I could still be a part of everything my family was doing,” she says. 

“I never missed any important moments — ever. I remember going on vacation during my kids’ spring break. Some of the group went to dinner and I said to them, ‘I have a seminar I really can’t miss, but I’ll be here when you get back.’ I may have missed out on a dinner or two, but I still got to go on those trips.” 

She finished her bachelor’s degree in 2021. But she still had her eye on the dream job, and that would require a master’s. 

I never missed any important moments — ever.

Mandy Gray
BS health education ’21, Purdue Global 
MS health education ’23, Purdue Global 

A master’s in health education pays off 

The Extension educator role in her county wasn’t an open position, but Gray decided to trust the process of setting herself up for the right opportunity. She would continue with Purdue Global and work toward that master’s degree. 

“When I was working as a NEPA, someone new had just taken over the Extension educator role in my county. I thought the chances of the job opening up anytime soon were zero. I thought she’d retire from there,” she says.  

Halfway through, the unthinkable happened. 

About a year before she was due to complete her master’s, she got a phone call. The person who was currently in the job Gray wanted had decided to move on to a different opportunity, and she wanted Gray to have the first swing at it. 

“She said, ‘I know you’re close; you’re already working on your master’s degree, so they’ll let you apply.’ I couldn’t think straight!” she says. 

“I went through the interview process, and I got it,” she continues. “I wanted it forever. I’ve been promoted a few times since then, and I absolutely love what I’m doing.” 

Now Gray looks at her experience as an adult student and says that, while she can’t promise others will be presented with the unicorn of a job she was, she’s proud that she took the steps she did. If she’d banked on the odds and decided against earning her master’s degree, she would have missed the opportunity of a lifetime. 

“I don’t do the same thing every day,” she says. “I can teach mental health first aid today. Then I can go teach a ServSafe class tomorrow. The sky’s the limit. With the education I got from Purdue Global, I am able to create the programs I want because I have the training and education behind me. I know how to do that now. 

“And I cheer my colleagues on, too. At least five of my colleagues are taking Purdue Global classes right now. I get to help motivate them and cheer them on.”

Black and white photo of Mandy Gray.

With the education I got from Purdue Global, I am able to create the programs I want because I have the training and education behind me.

Mandy Gray  BS health education ’21, Purdue Global 
MS health education ’23, Purdue Global