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Taking the Lead: Heather Opsahl ‘94

Posted on Sep 5, 2012
Heather Opsahl, a 1994 UW-Superior alum, gained experiences at the university that would set her up to successfully operate her own non-profit association.
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Taking the Lead: Heather Opsahl ‘94

Graduating from UW-Superior in 1994, Heather Opsahl completed her education with a major in Social Work and a minor in Speech Communications. She began her career work as a Medical Social Worker, but her family connections eventually pulled her in a different direction. Opsahl was asked by a friend of the family if she would be interested in taking a position working with the Lake Superior Medical Society. She accepted the position and started her new career as an Executive Director, working in Duluth, MN.

College Experience

Without even knowing that her work at the university would directly correlate to her future career, Opsahl took on the role as the Student Activities Director while she was attending UW-Superior. She had many responsibilities in this position, some of them including tasks such as coming up with event ideas, finding means to fund the events, getting the word out through marketing, and setting up the venue. These duties, along with plenty of others, are the same types of things that Opsahl works with in her current position.

Opsahl was also a member of the Student Advisory Committee (SAC) in college. This group gave her experience in dealing with other members of the community as well as members of various non-profit organizations. The committee proved to be a great opportunity for her to learn more about the people she would one day be working with.

Another way Opsahl was trained for her career was through her classes at the university. Social Work Methods III and Political Science were just a couple of the classes that were full of information that she daily applies to her work. If given the option, Opsahl would enjoy the opportunity to take these classes again in order to go back through the material that she comes into contact with so often.

Running the Show

At her current job, Opsahl now manages a non-profit association for physicians. As the Executive Director of this society as well as the sole employee, Opsahl is in charge of running the whole operation by herself. As a part of her job, she works to gather physicians together in order for them to have a say in legislative matters.

One of the things that Opsahl enjoys the most about this her work is that what she does has an influence on the way healthcare in carried out at the state level as well as the national level. She also likes to see that what she does has such a positive impact on others.

Even though her previous experiences certainly helped her, the hardest aspect to Opsahl's job is working with so many different things. As the lone member of the association, she needs to be able to complete numerous jobs ranging from setting up board meetings to designing the organization's website without much help.  With her background experience in social work, it is a challenging task to work within areas that she is not very well familiarized with. She often needs to learn new things in order to carry out the work that needs to be done.

Advice from Experience

For those interested in delving into the field of Social Work, Opsahl has some advice to share. She explains that Social Work often has a heavy workload, so it is important to know what boundaries to stay inside of in order to prevent burn-out or too much stress. Though Opsahl received instruction at the university about where to draw the line with client work, she knows from experience that it is a much harder concept to carry out than it is to actually learn. Taking on too much can lead to an unhealthy amount of added stress, and she encourages getting help if it is ever needed.

For all of the time that goes into this career, Opsahl understands that the pay does not always match the workload. She knows that one must have a passion for the job and appreciate the fact that it is not always about the money; it is helping other people that counts.

According to Opsahl, the key to getting recognized for a job in any field is using the power of communication. She believes that it is who you know and how you present yourself to others that will ultimately get you a foot in the door. She feels this is even more important than how thorough of an education you received. It is important to be able to highlight your strengths and show off the qualities that make you perfect for the job. Opsahl comments, "Communications skills are so important.  Learning to sell yourself is an art that needs to be practiced throughout your life, even when you think your job is secure." 

Heather Opsahl was interviewed as a part of the Career Services Day in the Life project. Her full interview and those of other UW-Superior alumni can be found on the Day in the Life website,

Interview conducted by Tashina Martinson on March 13, 2012. Article written by Kristen Jasperson.

News Contact: Shannon Gilligan | 715-394-8026 | sgillig1{atuws}
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