Online MPA student harnesses education to prevent youth substance abuse and promote positive mental health

Daniel Kington
May 9, 2018

Eppley, TristynTristyn Eppley is pursuing an online master of public administration degree at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs while working full time in order to better understand and advocate around the issues that matter most to her: substance abuse prevention and positive mental health promotion.

Eppley has been interested in substance abuse prevention for several years; hoping to work in the field of prevention, she studied social work during her undergraduate education. While her social work degree provided an excellent background and did help her to land a position in her field, her program focused largely on work with individuals. Eppley wanted something bigger.

“I wanted to focus more on policy and advocacy, so I began researching public administration programs,” Eppley said. “I found that the public administration track would give me more of a background in policy-making decisions and a little more understanding of the way that things work in public bureaucracies.”

Eppley was specifically drawn to the Voinovich School, both because the School came highly recommended by friends in the program and because the MPA program offers an online option, allowing Eppley to continue her full-time advocacy work in Montgomery County, Ohio.

While Eppley expected that the online program would provide her with a quality education and allow her to balance work and life with her studies, she did not expect that she would feel a sense of community akin to that of in-person programs.

“The class that I’m currently taking involves a lot of group work, which is amazing,” Eppley said. “Through conference calls and other forms of collaboration I get to meet the other people in the program and bounce ideas off of them.”

Not only has the program felt personal, but the education Eppley has received has been personally applicable in her career.

“Working in the public sector, I’ve often found myself getting very frustrated with the processes of public organization,” Eppley said. “My classes at the Voinovich School have helped open my eyes to the ways that things actually work in bureaucratic systems, and directly applying those lessons has been amazing. I now have a better understanding of my actual job.”

Eppley is a project manager with the Montgomery County Prevention Coalition, part of Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County. The coalition brings together over 100 community leaders from more than 60 organizations to work jointly toward substance abuse prevention and positive mental health promotion throughout the county. For example, the coalition is using a social marketing campaign to combat the opioid crisis, which has hit Montgomery County hard.

“The campaign was designed to equip residents with knowledge to not only guide their own interactions with opioid medications, but also to provide talking points to speak with family members and friends about their route to pain management as well,” Eppley wrote in a recent article for the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.

Eppley coordinates advocacy efforts, leads coalitions, develops strategies to reduce substance misuse and abuse and manages community outreach – the aspect she enjoys most.

“I can’t say enough about community engagement and how it works in the public sector,” Eppley said. “People are just so receptive to our various initiatives: they want to get involved and they want to help. I love engaging with individuals and learning what really matters to them.”

While community engagement assures Eppley that her work is of vital importance to her county, it is often the people in her own organization that motivate her to keep going.

“I really could not do this work without the leadership team and the other members of the coalition,” Eppley said. “Sometimes I come in feeling unmotivated, but it’s difficult to stay that way, because the people I work with are always on it and they absolutely rock. Just seeing their excitement for the field and the amazing things they’re doing really makes me feel good and gives me a lot of hope for the future.”

Eppley hopes to harness her education at the Voinovich School to ensure that the Montgomery County Prevention Coalition achieves its goals.

“We just wrote a federal grant for the coalition that would fund it for 10 years; during that time I want to work to get more community buy-in, integrate the coalition into all the systems in Montgomery County and expand the coalition’s work to reach schools and businesses,” Eppley said. “In this way, I’m hoping that once the next funding cycle is complete, the coalition will be such an integral part of the community that it will continue without question.”

By making the coalition sustainable and integrating it into the community, Eppley hopes to break down the taboo and stigma around substance abuse and mental health. Eppley expects that her enhanced understanding of the public sector and of the nonprofit sector with which she works closely will help her to achieve those goals.