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34 years after earning her first degree, nursing alumna set to become a two-time ASU graduate

Amanda Goodman

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

When it comes to sequels, the general consensus is they’re usually never as good as the original. But for Vicki Sowards, part two at Arizona State University was just as good for her, if not better than part one.  

“It’s been a great second time around; I think I appreciated it more this time because I paid for it myself so I wasn’t going to play around or waste my time,” she said.  

Sowards originally graduated from ASU in 1987 with a Bachelor of Science in nursing. Since then, she’s worked in a hospital as a floor nurse; at an ear, nose and throat practice; and is currently in a leadership role at Passport Health.

The decision to return to school came from a desire to “expand her brain” but finding the right fit in a master’s program took some work. After figuring out what she didn’t want to pursue, she found herself back on her alma mater’s website.

“I came across the Master of Healthcare Innovation and thought it looked interesting so I started doing some more research and the more I learned the more I liked it.”

With a focus on leadership and addressing health challenges through innovative thinking and teamwork, Sowards got a chance to put all those elements together through her capstone course. 

Her project was centered around coming up with a new and more accessible way to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. A partnership between her company, Passport Health, and Maricopa County helped make this possible, but it was Sowards who ran the operational side of things and who came up with the idea for a walk-in clinic vs. a drive-thru.

“There was a lot of IT work behind the scenes to make our online scheduling tool more user-friendly, to ensure we could report our doses properly to the state, and so on. My goal was to make this process less of a burden for people. Everybody that came through was also automatically scheduled for their second dose, same time, same place, same procedure.”

As of mid-March, Sowards says they’ve provided more than 14,000 people with their two Moderna vaccines, making their walk-in COVID-19 vaccine clinic a big success.

Now poised to graduate with degree No. 2 from ASU, Sowards is sharing some sound advice and favorite moments from her very own sequel.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

Answer: I’m one of those people that likes to think outside of the box. So if someone says, "OK, we need to do this," I’ll sit there and I’ll think about it until I come up with a way to do it. It drives me crazy until I figure out a different way and so the MHI just fits with my mentality and the way that my mind works.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: This program has a lot of courses about leadership skills and about how to lead a team, how to treat a team and just how people work. I think that was the best thing that I pulled out of it. Even with this program that we’re running right now, I have so many moving parts and so many people that I have to get to place A,  place B, and people make mistakes, and so you need to know how to deal with people who make mistakes so that they can excel as well. 

Also, I have a real problem with delegation even now, but when you get in a position where you have to do something, you get better at it. And so with the capstone project, it helped me learn to delegate a little bit better.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I think that you need to find your passion. If you’re in a class or program and you’re just not liking it or you can’t see yourself doing it for the rest of your life, you need to pull back and look and think, "Is this really what I want?" It’s a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot of effort so if that’s not something you really want to do with your life, you need to change course and take some time to figure out what you want to do.

Even if you’ve completed your degree or are almost done, see if you can take a little bend, try a different class. You just need to be open and look for those opportunities and try something because you never know what is going to click.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m just going to keep on where I’m working right now. We are in a rebuilding phase where we are going to completely rebuild our operations department so I think that’s going to be a big project.