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Who says you can’t go home? Alex Honn returns to his roots for public health degrees

After accruing a decade of experience in various healthcare roles, Boise native Alex Honn needed to know more about the root causes behind the symptoms he was treating.

“It’s pretty common in public health to think that treating patients isn’t necessarily helping,” he said. “You want to know why the patients are there in the first place. I started to ask myself those questions.

“The main motivation for going back to college was getting to the root causes, which helped me lean into big-picture problem-solving and critical thinking. Those are important for me and my sense of fulfillment.”

Honn graduated from Boise State University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Public Health in August 2023. He then enrolled in the Master of Public Health.

“The idea of earning a master’s degree came about while I was working on my bachelor’s degree,” he said. “I graduated two weeks before starting the master’s.

“I was really impressed with the undergraduate program. I did well online and was able to focus and do the work. The resources were accessible, and Boise State faculty were the best.”

Although he won’t graduate with his master’s degree until 2025, Honn recently landed a grant writer position at Jesse Tree of Idaho. He is also a freelance health education program coordinator at Wildhearts Foundation in Bellingham, Washington.

“I enrolled in a public health program at another university,” he said. “I wasn’t very impressed. After that, I got a job as an EMT and worked as a wildland firefighter during the summers.

“That’s when I realized that public health is really where I wanted to be. I felt like coming back home, knowing Boise State, which has always been my number one school, had a great public health and social science program.”

Firefighter walks along forest path surrounded by smoke.

Gentleman Bronco

Although he was born in Boise, Honn spent most of his life in Washington. When he played basketball in high school, he received some advice that indirectly pointed him toward healthcare.

“Because I was a tall, scrawny kid, my coach told me I needed to start working out,” he said. “He hooked me up with a garage-style gym, where I ended up as a strength coach after becoming close with the people there.

“I fell in love with bodybuilding. I was competitive and did well. I saw all of this change happen, so it was motivating and opened my eyes to health. I geeked out more on the science side of it. I could see how things were working and why they are the way they are. I kept progressing that learning.”

The information Honn learned in the online Bachelor of Arts in Public Health is especially applicable to his role at Wildhearts Foundation.

“It’s certainly been useful with setting up public education, interventions and clinics,” he said. “The know-how on what I need to present and how to get people together came largely from the bachelor’s degree. I am jazzed about the master’s program, too.”

So far, Data Informed Decision Making, taught by Dr. Miguel Reina Ortiz, is Honn’s favorite course in the master’s degree program. He looks forward to adding to his knowledge base.

“As a professor, his patience and ability to ask questions is unprecedented,” he said. “The course material was valuable. It was very interesting.

“Leadership positions are somewhere I have naturally found myself. Having the framework to think about decision-making in that context was really valuable.”

Second Helping

Honn already knows that he wants to work with wildland firefighters, having been one of them out of Ellensburg, Washington, since 2021.

“Having worked in that role and given the political and physical environment, the climate for that population is ripe for change,” he said. “There’s a big need for a lot of health changes and improvements. They’ve been pretty underserved.”

As somebody who spends most of his recreational time outdoors hiking and backpacking, the role is a natural fit for Honn.

“Wildland firefighting is a way to protect the lands that I love to recreate in and the people around them,” he said. “I’ve always been keen on hard work and challenging myself, so it’s a good combination. It’s a challenge and a way to serve in an environment I care about.”

Since his return to higher education, Honn has enjoyed a strong support system with his family and friends, including his mother, who earned her master’s degree a decade ago.

“Because of my non-traditional route, I only told my family and close friends about the bachelor’s,” he said. “I was just getting it done. There is more community support for the master’s. In talking to people about my thesis ideas, they are all excited. I am excited, as well.”

Honn believes that preparation is a big key to success for any online student, no matter their area of study.

“It’s a good idea to identify and get in touch with faculty members who you might be interested in working with or learning from,” he said.

For Honn, the career results from earning a bachelor’s degree speak for themselves. He expects to have more opportunities once he has a master’s degree from the university he has always loved. 

“It’s impressive,” he said. “I knew I was heading to Boise, so I had been on the job hunt. The amount of outreach I have had via employment links since I completed my bachelor’s and enrolled in the master’s program is notable. Job opportunities seem to be pouring in.”

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