Remarkable scholar overcomes severe health challenges to give back to her campus and local communities
Emily Grace Swanson, 22, a student in the Medical Administrative Specialist program at Dakota County Technical College, has received the 2020–2021 Dave Schroeder Outstanding Student Award. Emily Grace is on track to graduate from DCTC this May with her Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree.
“I was so surprised and excited to receive this award, and so incredibly honored, too,” Emily Grace said. “I am very grateful to the teachers and staff that nominated me. And I am so thankful for them and the many dedicated and excellent teachers and caring staff here at DCTC who have given of their time to teach, mentor, inspire, support and encourage me these past four years.”
A 2017 graduate of Burnsville High School, Emily Grace is an exceptionally engaged student at DCTC. She has been a TRIO/Student Support Services member for four years, making the most of TRIO’s tutoring and other educational opportunities. She has participated in the Student Senate for three years and is currently serving as vice president. She has represented DCTC students at multiple LeadMN leadership conferences.
“During fall semester 2020 and the start of spring semester 2021, I also fulfilled the responsibilities of the Senate’s secretary role,” Emily Grace related. “I serve on the Auxiliary Committee, and I am the student representative on the DCTC Foundation Board.”
Emily Grace has enjoyed volunteering at annual DCTC events, virtual and on-campus, including Open Houses and Ready, Set, Go! Her goal through campus volunteerism is to connect with incoming students to make them feel welcome at the college.
Why did you choose healthcare as your career field?
More than 20 years ago, I was born with a severe birth defect called a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), which is a condition that mainly affects the development of the lungs among other issues, and the doctors did not think that I would live.
I was on life-support and spent many intense months in the hospital. Since that time, I have overcome many medical issues, but I still continue to live with ongoing ones. I have spent nearly 300 days in the hospital and have had 34 surgeries, 11 of them on my spine.
Living with medical challenges has given me a unique perspective on life. During the course of my own medical care, I have come to know many wonderful doctors, nurses and medical staff who have inspired and encouraged me into my chosen field of study. I love caring for people, greeting them with a smile and putting them at ease.
My personal health challenges have given me great empathy and a unique opportunity to understand and serve patients and their families, as well as understand and help organize a clinic’s schedules for its medical staff.
In the same way a community of people has invested in me throughout my life, I want to give back, encourage others, and make a difference in their lives by pursuing a career in the medical field by being a medical administrative specialist.
Emily Grace Swanson
2020–2021 Dave Schroeder Outstanding Student Award Recipient
Dakota County Technical College
Amy Evanson: Faculty perspective…
Emily Grace is one of most joyful people I’ve ever met. It has been a pleasure to be an instructor and watch her journey into the medical administrative specialist role. She couldn’t have picked a more fitting industry than healthcare. Her kindness, compassion, and willingness to help that I’ve seen of her at DCTC will translate to a long career filled with success!
Administrative Support Faculty
Dakota County Technical College
More about Emily Grace…
Emily Grace has been an active member of Christians on Campus (COC) for four years. Since starting classes at DCTC in fall 2017, she has attended nearly every weekly meeting of the club.
“I enjoy welcoming new students when they attend meetings and have started a prayer initiative to cover the entire DCTC campus in prayer,” she said. “Each week, we pray for the instructors and students of two academic programs. I then email the faculty of these programs to let them know Christians on Campus prayed for them, and to see if they have any specific prayer requests. Our club has received very positive responses to these emails. I have also served at Operation Christmas Child through COC.”
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Emily Grace was very active in the DCTC Lions Club. She volunteered at the Chili Cook-Off, packed meals for Feed My Starving Children, ran in the Healthy Knight 5K, served families of patients at Ronald McDonald House, and cleaned bikes with Free Bikes 4 Kidz. She belongs to Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), attended an Etiquette Luncheon, and completed the Leadership Exploration and Development program at the college, which includes training in Strengths Based Leadership and service as a 360 Degree Leader.
Along with her studies and extracurricular activities, Emily Grace worked at Chick-fil-A for three years until the pandemic arrived in March 2020. She greatly enjoyed working on the drive-through team and greeting each new customer with a smile.
She has also served for three years as the assistant coach for the Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville Blazing Cats, a Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) adapted softball team. She was a varsity pitcher on the Blazing Cats for six years (grades 7–12).
For now, Emily Grace doesn’t have plans to transfer to a four-year college, but she’s open to the idea in her future.
“I plan to use my degree and skills to work as a medical administrative specialist in a medical setting,” she explained, “such as a medical clinic or hospital, or work as an administrative specialist for a college or in a ministry setting.”
Originally from Burnsville, Minnesota, Emily Grace enjoys playing the French Horn and piano as well as singing. She also enjoys fishing, paddle-boarding, swimming and going on walks. She resides in Burnsville with her parents and her younger brother, Joshua.
Emily Grace was fishing with her dad at her grandparents’ cabin in Wisconsin when she landed a 21.5-inch largemouth bass using a fishing pole she bought at a garage sale for $3. Emily’s dad released the bass, which wasn’t far off the Minnesota state record: a largemouth bass caught in Auburn Lake in 2005 measured 23.5 inches long.¹
“Her dad wanted to catch the fish,” Emily’s mom explained, “and I think he was surprised that she caught it…on that tiny little pole that almost broke in half. We call Emily Grace the ‘Fish Whisperer’ because while her dad and brother go and buy all of these expensive fishing poles and lures, Em catches more fish than they do EVERY time with just her little 25¢ plastic lures—and when they fall off, she can literally catch a fish with just a hook and not a thing on it.”
Emily Grace family and life gallery
Campus community perspectives…
It has been an absolute joy to work with Emily Grace the past four years. Emily Grace’s positive attitude and smile brighten a room (and zoom meeting!). She brings so much positive energy to the groups she is involved in and is a joy to be around. Emily Grace has a strong work ethic, is caring, and considerate of others. She takes the time to get to know those around her to build relationships.
On the Student Senate, Emily Grace has been willing to step in and help with anything that is needed without seeking credit or recognition. Emily is humble and is a servant leader. I believe Emily Grace is deserving of recognition as one of the Dave Schroeder Outstanding Student Award recipients due to her commitment to her education, excellence in academics (even in the transition to online learning), her exceptional involvement on campus, and her service in the community.
Associate Director of Student Life
Student Senate Advisor
Dakota County Technical College
Emily Grace Swanson is a former English Composition 1150 student of mine and is also an active member of the Lions Club, of which I am the advisor. Emily’s talents are of a wide range. She is an outstanding student and has a remarkable drive for success. She has built a high level of trust and respect among peers and faculty as she executes her classwork with enthusiasm, determination and creativity.
Emily is respected by everyone she comes in contact with at the college as she has a perpetual willingness to help others, and does so with enthusiasm and alacrity. Emily’s work ethic, intelligence, empathy, kindness to others, and active classroom participation were very apparent to fellow students. Her attention to detail and impressive class preparation had a positive effect on others, and many observed her academic success and modeled their actions and behavior to hers.
Lions Club Advisor
Dakota County Technical College
Emily has been a fantastic addition to the Student Senate Executive Team and has shown a tremendous amount of leadership growth during her time at DCTC. She is involved both on campus and in her community, and I have enjoyed working with her. Her kindness, empathy and caring attitude and welcoming personality have impacted students, faculty and staff, and she is very deserving of the Dave Schroeder Outstanding Student Award.
Director of Student Support Services and Student Development
Student Senate Advisor
Dakota County Technical College
Emily Grace Swanson • Q & A
What do you like best about the Medical Administrative Specialist program?
I like that the Medical Administrative Specialist program combines medical, administrative, and computer classes for this degree. I have really enjoyed the variety of these classes, and the teachers have been so amazing!
They are so encouraging and always willing to give extra time and help when needed. Even though most of my time with them has been virtual these past two years, their dedication and encouragement in helping their students shines right through my computer screen.
What do you find most interesting about the medical administrative specialist occupation?
What I find most interesting about the medical administrative specialist occupation is that I can combine my current administrative, medical and computer skills from my degree with my medical background and history.
Working in a medical clinic, especially one like Gillette’s, just feels like “home” to me. And I know how important it is to be greeted as a patient with a smile, and have help in scheduling new appointments. I also love how this occupation allows me to use my computer and organizational skills in helping a clinic run smoothly for its patients, doctors and staff.
Three words that describe you as a college student:
HARDWORKING. DETERMINED. KIND.
Emily Grace: “If I could only pick one word that describes me as a person—along my medical journey and life so far—it would have to be sisu.”
Why should students get involved in Student Life by joining student clubs and organizations?
I think sometimes at a technical college students don’t always think about getting involved in Student Life since we all come and go throughout our day, and don’t live on campus as you might at a liberal arts college.
But getting involved in the Student Life by joining clubs and organizations is a great way to feel a part of the DCTC community. Even during this pandemic, where most of college has been online, I have found that being involved in Student Senate, Christians on Campus and TRIO is a great way to stay connected to other students and staff.
I look forward to our Zoom meetings, and I enjoy our time together and getting to know each other better. Either virtually or in person, finding a place to get involved in Student Life is a great way to make new friends, develop new skills, and serve and give back to the greater community surrounding DCTC.
What advice would you give students thinking about participating in TRIO Student Support Services?
I would encourage students like me who have had extra challenges in life, or different ways of learning, to participate in TRIO, to receive all of the extra support and encouragement they can while being a student at DCTC. There are so many willing staff waiting to help you succeed here at DCTC.
Whether it’s finding tutors to help you prepare for your exams, or seeking assistance from the writing center to help edit your papers, there are so many knowledgeable staff waiting to answer any questions or concerns you may have, to help you do well in your courses.
What is one of your favorite memories from an extracurricular activity or event at DCTC?
One of my favorite memories has been serving meals to families at Ronald McDonald House with the Lions Club on several occasions. I know how much these meals meant to my family on the receiving end when I was hospitalized so many times, so it was great to be on the giving end these times.
And it’s so much more than a meal—it’s a way to offer hope to these families, to provide a refuge and a place to relieve their stress while they enjoy homemade food, and to share in their burdens as well, with a listening ear and a caring smile. It was such a joy to encourage these families at Ronald McDonald House, in the same way being there and receiving these meals made with love, encouraged our family.
What has been your toughest challenge in life?
My toughest challenge in life has been going through 34 surgeries, 11 of them on my spine (while always trying to keep up in school). Even during my time at DCTC, I have had three surgeries, and have spent many days in the hospital, but I have always found a way to keep up with my studies, even if it meant working on homework while in the hospital. But I am so thankful that God was always with me, and saw me through, and gave me His encouragement and strength.
What person has influenced you the most in life and why?
My parents. With their constant love and support, they have always encouraged me to do even more than I imagined I could. They have been by my side throughout my entire medical journey, and most importantly, they have prayed for me and taught me to trust in the Lord and love Him with all my heart, soul and mind.
One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:
About the Dave Schroeder Outstanding Student Award
Emily Grace Swanson and Ronnie Gaine have been selected to receive the 2020–2021 Dave Schroeder Outstanding Student Award.
This award is given in honor and memory of Dave Schroeder, Dakota County Technical College’s first president. Ronnie and Emily will be formally recognized during the college’s Virtual Commencement Ceremony.
Nominations are based on the following criteria:
- College involvement and participation
- Academic performance
- Service to community
- Other considerations, including perseverance in the face of adversity or unique challenges
Also nominated for the award were Daisy Mairura, Vera Kaizer and Roni Egopija.
Emily Grace Swanson • 12 Answers
- Favorite sport or physical activity: Softball and basketball
- Favorite Season: Summer
- Favorite Holiday: Christmas
- Place you most like to visit: My grandparents’ cabin in Wisconsin; I love to fish, paddle-board, swim, water ski, and just enjoy the lake and all the fun times there with my family.
- Most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Caught a 21.5-inch largemouth bass on a $3 garage sale fishing pole 🙂
- Favorite TV show you’re watching now: During the pandemic, I’ve enjoyed watching old favorite shows; I just finished watching nine seasons of The Middle and am now enjoying reruns of Leave It To Beaver.
- Your personal motto if you had to have one: “A cheerful heart is good medicine.”
- Your national bird if you were your own country: As a Swanson, I would have to say a swan, which makes a perfect fit for my own country of Swanland.
- Dream occupation: Using my degree and skills to work as a medical administrative specialist for Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, or an administrative specialist at DCTC, Young Life, or other medical settings or ministries.
- Person you would most like to meet: Jesus
- Skill you would most like to learn and master: Due to my congenital diaphragmatic hernia, I only have one and one-third lungs, and only about 26 percent lung capacity. So with the unique way my small lungs are made, the skill I would most like to learn and master is swimming above the water…instead of under it. 🙂
- Most important issue or problem facing humankind: I think in these uncertain and ever-changing times, people are looking for hope and peace. It is my prayer that they will find true hope and peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who loves them so much. I know firsthand, that trusting in Christ, who never changes, and relying on His unending strength, will fill you with peace, no matter what, and hope and joy for your future.
Emily Grace’s Medical Journey
Emily Grace’s parents made the following video, A Story of Grace, for her high school graduation to give people a sense of what their daughter experienced during her first 18 years of life.
After being born with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) in 1998, Emily Grace has gone through a harrowing array of medical-related traumas:
- 3,338 pokes and IVs…and counting
- 277 days in the hospital
- 204 days missing school—that’s nine months or one full school year
- 182 days having a PICC line (catheter) in her arm
- 120 days of first hospitalization as an infant until she came home
- 40 trips to the ER
- 36 hospitalizations
- 36 cases of pneumonia
- 34 surgeries/surgical procedures—11 surgeries on her spine
- 20 feeding tubes
- 16 ear infections
- 15 sinus infections
- 11 antibiotic allergies
- 8 days on ECMO—extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (life support)
- 7 cases of strep—hospitalized three times
- 6 9-1-1 calls/ambulance rides
- 6 TLSO braces over 10 years to try combating scoliosis and straighten her spine
- 5 cases of influenza
- 3 cases of pleurisy
- 2 blood transfusions after surgery
- 2 occurrences of pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
- 1 episode of pancreatitis
- 1 bout of bronchitis
- 1 case of osteomyelitis (bone infection) of the jaw after “routine” wisdom tooth surgery
- 1 chopstick in the eye–seriously!
- 1 right carotid artery tied off for ECMO
- 1 right jugular vein tied off for ECMO
- 1 appendix removed
One Amazing and Gracious God: Priceless
What is Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH)?
CDH stands for Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia, which is a birth defect that occurs when a baby’s diaphragm (a thin sheet of muscle that separates the abdomen from the chest) fails to fully form, allowing abdominal organs to enter the chest cavity and prevent lung growth.
CDH occurs in approximately 1 in 2,500 births, with more than 1,600 babies diagnosed each year in the United States alone. There is currently no known cause, but studies have suggested that it is likely due to a number of genetic and environmental factors.
The prognosis for babies diagnosed with CDH remains statistically at 50%. Unfortunately, there is no reliable indicator to predict the outlook of each case.
Learn more about the birth defect, congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), by visiting:
Learn more about the Medical Administrative Specialist program at DCTC by contacting:
Administrative Support Program Faculty
Academic & Financial Aid Advisor
Many tears were shed watching the video of Emily’s first 18 years. Truly she is a real live walking miracle. ONLY GOD. He will continue to use her story as she serves Him. We are among the many who have prayed through the recent years that we have known her. To know her is to love her! “Keep smiling, Emily! Your smile is contagious!”