History and Biology Lead to Global Healthcare for Katie Schlangen ’14Just three years after graduation, Gustavus alumna Katie Schlangen is traveling the world... and helping people along the way.
Posted on May 9th, 2017 by

A photo from Katie Schlangen's time in Togo.

On any given day, Gustavus Adolphus College alumna Katie Schlangen ’14 may be coordinating shipping logistics to Somalia, Senegal, and Honduras or running an event in which 80 volunteers are sorting medical supplies. The main reason why she loves her new job so much? She’s never doing the same thing.

One thing that stays consistent from day-to-day are the conversations she gets to have. As the Hospital and Clinical Program Coordinator for MATTER, Schlangen has the opportunity to work with people from all over the world. At just 25 years old, Schlangen is meeting with individuals from Somalia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Liberia on a regular basis. They may all come from different backgrounds, but there is one thing they certainly have in common: they want to make healthcare more accessible in third world countries.

Schlangen has been working at MATTER, a small, international non-governmental organization (NGO) with a goal of expanding healthcare access to 10 million people over three years, for the past six months. As the organization enter its second year of operations, it is 34 percent of the way there. A number of programs exist to ensure the goal is achieved, including a volunteer and “farm in a box” program. As part of a four-person international team, Schlangen does most of her work for the hospital and clinic program, which consults for and outfits hospitals and clinics in developing countries throughout the world. Her team recently returned from a trip to Africa, where they visited Mali and Togo.

Schlangen (right) and a colleague celebrate the opening of a new clinic in Mali.

And while Schlangen travels the world as an alumna, she knows that her studies within the history and biology departments at Gustavus help her navigate barriers she encounters along the way.

“I loved the culture and atmosphere that Gustavus fostered,” she said. As a first-generation college student from a small town in central Minnesota, Schlangen sought out a school that would fit her needs both academically and personally. “It was obvious from my first visit to Gustavus when I was a senior in high school that I would feel comfortable and also be able to thrive in my classes,” Schlangen added.

She ended up declaring a double major in biology and history, where balancing a hectic schedule and learning valuable lessons came hand-in-hand. Knowing she wanted to help others on a global scale, she took classes that focused on developing countries and their current struggles. Today, Schlangen says that she’s thankful to have chosen the path she did. “I feel well-rounded and confident in my ability to handle all the curve balls that are thrown my way,” she explained.

After graduating in 2014, Schlangen moved to South Korea to teach English for two years. After returning to the United States, she was eager to dive into a career in global health. She connected with a friend that worked at MATTER and applied on a whim. By the end of her first interview, Schlangen knew that MATTER was the next place she wanted to call home.

Today, Schlangen has helped deliver over 10 containers loaded with the medical supplies needed to fill tiny clinics and huge government hospitals. She continues to work with partner organizations based in Somalia, hoping to provide hunger and medical relief. From her time as a Gustie to teaching English in South Korea and now serving in Northern Africa, Schlangen has taken away a number of life lessons and strengthened her ability to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds.

“Nothing beats meeting people in person, having a discussion and gaining that new perspective,” she explained. “Gustavus and history taught me the importance of those perspectives and my biases within them. Breaking stereotypes and opening yourself to understanding narratives is vital to getting at the root causes of problems that will eventually lead you to successful solutions.”


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad



  1. Greg Kaster says:

    Bravo, Katie! We are so proud of you. You embody the Gustavus and History Department missions.

    Greg & Kate

  2. Ann Morris says:

    Pleased to see that another Biology/History double major is out there making a difference. Keep up the good work!

    Ann Morris, ’04