In her office, Amber Allen hangs up three maps: Missouri, the United States and the world.
Allen, a Missouri State University alumna from Kansas City, Missouri, is a human development and family science field specialist at the University of Missouri Extension. While based in Springfield, she oversees 10 counties in the southwest Missouri region.
She teaches in-person and virtual community education classes focused on stress management, childcare provider professional development, mental health, parenting, families and healthy aging. Participants have spanned from southwest Missouri to Canada and Japan.
As a student at MSU, Allen interned with Community Partnership of the Ozarks. It was there she realized she wanted to work in community-based education as a profession.
Allen finished her bachelor’s degree in child and family development in 2013. She furthered her studies with a master’s degree in nonprofit and civic leadership from Drury University. She is now pursuing her doctorate in education in educational leadership and policy analysis at the University of Missouri.
Allen said Missouri State laid the foundation for her success — not only on the theory side of things, but also for the research and application skills she uses daily.
Community education and social change
Allen loves “connecting the dots.” She does this by connecting individuals to classes or communities to opportunities. This is where her three maps come into play.
“What I do here in southwest Missouri can affect the whole state. What is happening in Missouri can also make an impact across the country,” Allen said.
“One thing you do, even as a student, can impact so many more than you know. Educating one individual or doing one family education event can create lasting change,” she said.
These “little ripples” are key to the prevention-based education Allen champions. Often, her research focuses on stress management and mental health.
As a certified family life educator and advanced prevention specialist, Allen shares her knowledge with field professionals. Through her classes, she can spread evidence and research-based education to the entire world.
Advice for students
Allen has two main pieces of advice for students interested in her field: “Expect the unexpected” and “never take for granted a sticky note.”
As a student, Allen struggled with finding an internship she felt was right for her. She spoke to one of her professors, who scribbled a phone number and a name on a sticky note. From this sticky note, she found an internship where she met many of her colleagues. The first steps to her current position started with an email address written on a napkin.
“Those unexpected moments can set the trajectory of your career path,” Allen said.
Because of this, she recommends getting to know classmates in your field. Allen believes many Missouri State students “bloom where planted.” Connections made in a simple group project can be a lifelong networking link for those who stay in the area.
These local connections and opportunities spread outward. Allen has been a speaker at both the state and national level, most recently presenting a webinar on Guidance for Family Practitioners to Manage Stress for the National Council on Family Relations. Each new opportunity is another pin on her three maps.
Taking the next steps
If you told freshman Allen of her current successes, she would not believe you. But as she completed her degree, that mindset changed. MSU professors sharing their experiences showed Allen post-bachelor’s education was an exciting prospect.
She said her mentors at Missouri State pushed her to take the next steps in education. Now, she is completing her doctoral program.
According to Allen, the little ripples of opportunity she found at Missouri State have shaped her career. Through her work, she is able to help improve the well-being of individuals and families.