West River Area Health Education Center

Monthly AHEC Scholar Profile - April 2021

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Meet one of our 2020 AHEC Scholars! This month we are excited to feature Melissa Heyen, a nursing student at USD in Rapid City.

Melissa Heyen headshotMelissa Heyen
University of South Dakota

Melissa Heyen is full time student at the University of South Dakota (Rapid City Campus), majoring in Nursing.  She will be graduating in December 2021 with her Bachelor's in Nursing.  She works part-time at Monument Hospital as a Patient Care Champion in the Float Pool Department.  She also will be participating in an externship this summer at Monument Hospital on the Medical Surgical unit as well.

Melissa is the youngest out of four siblings in her family and she was born and raised in Decatur, IL.  She graduated from Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville with her Bachelor’s of Science Degree (Magna Cum Laude) in Electrical Engineering in December 1999.  She received her commission on 18 December 1999, and entered the Air Force as an Acquisition Officer (Developmental Engineer).

In 2003, she was selected to participate in the Acquisition Logistics Experience Exchange Program where she also earned her maintenance badge.  She served 10.5 years on active duty and then transferred into the Air Force Reserves in 2010. On 17 Aug 2020,  Lieutenant Colonel Melissa Heyen retired from the Air Force having served honorably for 20 years.

Melissa was stationed at six different bases (Hill Air Force Base, Kadena Air Base, Whiteman Air Force Base, the Pentagon, Tinker Air Force Base, and Langley Air Force Base) throughout her career where she has served in multiple roles within the acquisition and logistics career fields.

Before COVID hit, Melissa was the president of two different parent teacher organizations.  However, since restrictions have been put in place limiting visitors within the school, these groups activities have decreased significantly.  However, she has still been able to support her children's teachers through various donations this past school year.  Melissa also represents her fellow students in the USD student senate.  She has been involved in the AWANA program in multiple churches for the last 6 years.  She has been a team manager for Destination Imagination for the last two years.  She is also an active member with the Ellsworth Air Force Base’s spouses club along with leading the 28th Maintenance Group Spouses monthly social gatherings.

Melissa is also an avid athlete.  She has run various marathons, half marathons, obstacle course races and triathlons over the last 5 years.  She signed up for her first Half Ironman competition in June of 2019 and qualified to go to the world competition that was held in Nice, France that September. This was an experience of a lifetime for her because she got to compete against other world class athletes!

Melissa is married to Colonel Chad Heyen and they have three children, Christopher (20), Caden (12), and Bella (10) along with their three fur babies, Cassie (Great Pyrenees mix), Boomer (Australian Shepherd mix) and Daisy (German Shepherd mix).  Christopher was their first miracle child, who was born 15 weeks early (a mere 1 pound 14 ounces), and is the reason Melissa decided she wanted to go into the medical career field.  They ended up spending 101 days in the NICU with him.  In addition, Caden and Bella were also early, so Melissa is definitely very interested in working in the NICU where she can provide families and babies the best care possible along with the compassion and support that was given to her.  She is ready to pay it forward!

We are excited that Melissa chose to be a part of AHEC Scholars! The AHEC Scholars program is designed for college-level health profession students interested in supplementing their education by gaining relevant knowledge and experiences in rural and underserved areas of SD. Program activities cover the following six Core Topics: Interprofessional Education, Behavioral Health Integration, Social Determinants of Health, Cultural Competency, Practice Transformation, and Current and Emerging Health Issues. Learn more about this free, prfoessional development program here.

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