Unlocking potential: A journey from doubt to distinction in public health

Micheal Mastrosimone

Michael Mastrosimone

Online Population and Health Sciences Degree Program; NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach at One More Rep Fitness and Athletics

Michael Mastrosimone struggled to succeed in college, and he began believing that higher education was not meant for him. A lifestyle change caused him to reexamine that notion, and, ultimately, change his narrative. He returned to college determined to excel, and, now, he is on track to graduate from the online Master of Public Health program in Population and Health Sciences from the University of Michigan School of Public Health in May. As the Long Island native nears the end of his graduate studies, he shares the motivations, challenges and moments of revelation that have shaped his path in the field of public health. 

Why did you choose to earn your MPH online with Michigan Public Health?

I chose online specifically because I’m comfortable with online formats. I like learning at my own pace. I like doing things my own way. I also had some personal considerations like, what kind of program was going to be best for my mental health. Also, I liked that taking the GRE wasn’t necessary to apply to Michigan Public Health.

Once I decided I wanted to earn my master’s degree, I was looking up all the best schools for public health online and Michigan, of course, was consistently at the top of those lists.

It was my fiancée—a Michigan graduate—who encouraged me to apply here. She said, “Michigan was such a good experience for me; you should do it.” I wasn’t totally convinced because all I could think was, “there’s no way I could get in.” It felt like an impossible dream. 

All I could think was, “there’s no way I could get in.” It felt like an impossible dream. 

Why did you feel Michigan was out of reach for you?

I was actually a community college drop out. I think it was one of those people who didn’t apply themselves a lot earlier in life. I had a difficult upbringing and it just didn’t give me a lot of motivation or the know-how to succeed.

Around the age of 26, I just began to turn my life in a different direction. I was bettering myself personally and education became a part of that transformation.

I decided to go back to college. I did everything in my power to go back to my community college and nail a 4.0 semester. I was taking the maximum amount of credits and working hard just to get my GPA to the point where I could get accepted to a state school and earn my bachelor’s degree in public health.

The change was pretty dramatic: When I dropped out, I had struggled to earn a 2.1 GPA. But by the time I graduated from Farmingdale State College, I had earned a 3.86 GPA and several of the college’s highest honors. 

Later, when I was considering graduate school, I still had a severe lack of confidence. I thought, “There's no way; they’re going to look at all my history and they will see that I almost didn't walk at my high school graduation.” 

I had myself convinced that I belonged somewhere else, somewhere without that much prestige. I didn't even perceive Michigan as an option.

It was important to show the admissions committee that I really want to make something of myself, and I wanted to pursue something meaningful. I think, in the end, the committee recognized the hard work I put in. 

When I got my acceptance letter from Michigan—and especially because I'd also earned a scholarship—I cried.

It feels like such a journey, and, now that I’m here, I just own it! I have Michigan lanyards, coffee mugs and sweaters because I'm so proud to have made it here.

I began thinking 'Why couldn’t I make a career out of helping others be healthy?'

Why did you choose to study public health?

Part of the personal transformation I went through was changing my health. In 2017, I lost about 125 pounds. I stopped drinking and I made a lot of changes to improve my health. As people started to see those changes, I was constantly getting asked, “How did you do it?”

At first, it just made me happy and boosted my confidence to give advice. But I began thinking, “Why couldn’t I make a career out of helping others be healthy?” That led me to take my personal trainer exam while I was in my first semester at Farmingdale.

I still do personal training on the side but at a certain point I realized what I was enjoying was helping people and that I could get a degree that will allow me to help even more people. That’s what brought me to study nutrition. 

I currently work as a strength and conditioning coach for youth athletes. While it doesn’t seem like a typical public health role, it allows me to educate young people about injury prevention and basic nutrition. It’s also a flexible job while I complete my MPH.

As I’ve continued to learn, I’ve developed a deep interest in environmental health sciences. Through this program, I found a passion for the areas of exposure science and pollution and could see a future for myself in that. 

This program has given me the opportunity to explore these interests in meaningful ways. One of my applied practice experience projects (APEx) delves into the environmental impact of school buses, focusing on electrification benefits and pollution concerns. Another project, with my local health department, involved creating educational materials to dissuade young people from using nicotine vapes. These projects have let me interact with and impact issues that matter to me like environmental health and adolescent health.

Looking ahead, how do you envision your future in public health?

My dream job lies in preventing or cleaning up environmental disasters. Whether it’s avoiding EPA disasters or collaborating with them on superfund site cleanups, I want to contribute to a healthier, safer environment. Educating the public about potential health hazards and advocating for environmental safety is where I see my future.

My path in life is just to help everyone I can. Even though I haven't narrowed down how I want to do that, I’m not worried. I feel like my options are wide open now thanks to Michigan Public Health.