May 10, 2024

Health care executive, Purdue Global Law School alumna encourages new grads to take opportunities, give back to others

Allyssa Spates started as a volunteer firefighter/EMT, now leads emergency management division in health care system

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Allyssa Spates knew early in her life she wanted a career that involved helping others in times of need.

Spates began volunteering for her local fire department in Connecticut while in high school. She went to college with the goal of earning a fire science degree, but she took one emergency management class that changed her life.


Spates lives near Hollis, Maine, and serves as vice president of emergency management at one of New England’s largest health care systems, where she helps the system and communities they serve navigate through incidents with support and care.

Spates, who earned her Executive Juris Doctor from Purdue Global Law School (formerly Concord Law School at Purdue Global) in 2021, delivered the keynote address at Purdue Global’s spring commencement ceremonies May 4 at Purdue University’s Elliott Hall of Music in West Lafayette. Purdue Global is Purdue’s online university for working adults.

“Look around, to your left, to your right. These are your partners in this adventure toward change. Utilize one another, lean on one another, and collectively we can take those steps towards extinguishing the fires present around our communities every day, and together we will change the world. Take opportunities presented to you along the way to help us shape a better future for tomorrow,” Spates said.

A full text of Spates’ speech is available online.

From the volunteer fire station to online classes

Spates’ first role was a volunteer firefighter/EMT, which opened her eyes to careers in emergency response and management.

“It was fascinating to be able to support people who were going through unfortunate times in their lives,” she said. “There’s a lot to learn in that field. It helped me become a responsible person, which has helped me later in my career.”

While in college, she signed up for an emergency management course and liked it, leading her to do more research on the field. Following graduation, she began work at a private college where she developed their emergency response plan.

Through her career she has worked and coordinated emergency management responses at state, regional, national and international levels.

“If you asked me if I knew what I wanted to do in high school, I would have responded with something in the emergency department,” she said. “I knew I liked health care. Coordinating emergency management in public health and health care is a different aspect.”

Spates was one of the first people in her family to go to college. She set out with a goal of earning the highest degree possible.

Following the completion of her Master of Public Administration for emergency management, she consulted her mentor about next steps, as several emergency management doctoral programs were similar to what she had completed.

“We were talking about what would be the best degree and fit for me. I love research and I’m good with public speaking and critical thinking. He recommended law school,” she said. “The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much of an impact I could have with this degree. That’s when I made the decision to go to law school.”

Spates enrolled at a traditional brick-and-mortar law school in Massachusetts. Then the COVID-19 pandemic started, and everything changed.

“I wanted to find something that was more flexible. I was working full-time and going to school full-time. A lot of traditional law schools don’t honor that,” she said.

Purdue Global Law School’s Executive Juris Doctor program stood out to her — as she wanted the law degree to help navigate the complex rules and regulations around emergency management, but she didn’t want to become a practicing attorney. She enrolled in July 2020.

“Purdue Global’s approach is very different, which was exactly what I was looking for,” she said. “Purdue Global set the precedent of what a successful online curriculum should look like. I felt it was very organized and things just made sense.”

Classroom and work experience going hand in hand

Advocacy and having a keen eye for detail are two talents she has developed through her various roles and law school.

“There is a lot that goes into emergency management, especially when a disaster is declared,” Spates said. “It’s nice having people understand how that works in an administrative capacity, being able to advocate for those things from the state or federal level. One of the biggest skills I took away from law school was to interact with people, external organizations, and advocate for the best interest for everyone.”

With that background, Spates and her team can look at the bigger picture, advocate and address gaps in emergency plans, even approaching it from a different angle, which is something she learned in her classes.

One of her favorite law professors was Scott Johnson, who taught administrative law.

“It was one of my favorite classes because he had such a unique approach of how we were going to handle each topic,” she said.

The goal was to research and figure out how administrative organizations work and operate, with the final project arguing for a change in the law.

"I felt like I was using realistic skills and would walk away knowing how to use these skills. It was different than just listening to a lecture about different administrative organizations and how they work,” she said.

Spates said the way professors helped students understand the basis of the law, as well as how it was presented and delivered, propelled her to success.

Celebrations and comebacks during and after a global pandemic

Though she finished in 2021, she celebrated at the October 2022 commencement with eight of her classmates who completed courses at the same time.

“It was neat to meet and connect with my classmates. I remember seeing them in discussion boards or on various projects. We’d be online working on some group assignments together,” she said. “Something we have in common is that a lot of us were working full-time and going to school full-time.”

Spates worked to find balance with her classes, especially since she was putting in extra hours trying to keep the health system running and safely staffed during the pandemic. She kept her class load a little smaller than usual to manage.

“It took a long time to find balance,” she said. “The pandemic wasn’t going anywhere. I think it was important to consistently remind myself that we were going to get through it. We implemented these emergency plans and mitigation factors, but we had to remember we are people, we have families, and we have other priorities that are conflicting.”

Spates was excited to be selected as the keynote speaker for Purdue Global’s May 4 ceremonies. Her goal was to deliver a great speech, sharing tidbits she wished people had told her as she was graduating. She also wanted to remind the graduates that it is OK to not know what the future holds.

“Society has created this norm around ‘You went to school for this and this is what you’re going to do for the rest of your life,’” she said. “You might head out on a career path this way and take a completely different direction, and that’s OK.”

Spates said it is important to take advantage of opportunities when they arise, no matter how scary it might be. It’s also important to give back and support the communities the students, faculty and staff call home.

“We’ve suffered a lot of loss. We sometimes think our degree, skills and education we learn are tied to work, but in reality, we can do a lot of volunteer work that is so important and critical with the same skills and background,” she said.

With Purdue Global being about comebacks, she shared this thought.

“I had a vision of the type of work that I wanted to do for a long time. It took me a long time to get where I am today. I faced a lot of challenges and took a lot of unique opportunities along the way. I have a very diverse background because of it, of which I am grateful,” she said. “I landed in a place where I belong. It finally paid off.” 

About Purdue Global

Purdue Global is Purdue’s online university for working adults who have life experience and often some college credits. It offers flexible paths for students to earn an associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, based on their work experience, military service and previous college credits, no matter where they are in their life journey. Purdue Global is a nonprofit, public university accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and backed by Purdue University. For more information, visit

Writer/Media contact: Matthew Oates,, 765-496-6160, @mo_oates

Source: Allyssa Spates

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