Making Moves like Michael

The phrase “team player” is often tossed around in the sports world and in the workplace. But what does it really mean to be a team player?


Does it mean recognizing that when the whole department meets its goals, everyone on the team shines? Does it mean that you come together and stand for justice while others say you should just “stick to what you know best”? Or does it mean that you fight hand-in-hand to show the inequities seen on a daily basis and fight for the greater good?


For United Way of Central Indiana’s Research Associate, Michael Etter, the words “team player” mean all of the above.


As an Indiana native, a basketball fan and a member of the Strategic Information department, Michael knows a thing or two about playing on a team.


With his mom from Puerto Rico and his dad from Indiana, Michael grew up in a multicultural household, speaking a decent amount of Spanish.


He describes his Latin American culture as genuine, down-to-earth, warm, and inviting – all descriptors of what some would say makes up the perfect teammate.


Michael graduated from Indiana University in May of 2015 with a degree in human biology. Originally, he wanted to do something in healthcare. But after shadowing and being directly around doctors and other medical professionals, he realized that while it was a neat career, it wasn’t for him.


“To me, it felt like it was more about the quantity of patients, than the quality of care,” Michael said. During a gap year, he gained critical non-profit experience while completing an AmeriCorps term with the American Red Cross of Northeast Indiana. This is when I explored graduate school programs and came across the O’Neill School of Public Environmental Affairs also at Indiana University.”


During his time there, Michael completed a dual master’s program in Public Affairs and Environmental Science. He also worked as a Service Core Fellow at the Hoosier Hills Food Bank. During his time at SPEA, Michael met his eventual fiancée, Heidi, whom he will be marrying in November 2020.


The seed that had been planted with his previous nonprofit experience ultimately grew when he made it to United Way and found exactly what he was looking for – a group of people with a shared passion and the drive to make a change.


“I was able to use a lot of research and analytical skills that I gained while in grad school, but I was also able to work in the nonprofit sector that I found out I have a tremendous passion for and can really make a difference in the community,” Michael said. “In my experience (in nonprofits), you work more with people that have that shared passion and that really goes a long way in making you work harder to serve others in your community.”


michael etter in suit

This notion really rang true when the world was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic brought the inequities in healthcare – specifically for people of color – to the forefront.


As a researcher, Michael not only wants to make an impact in the community by using data as a driving force, but an equitable impact that serves people of color.


“I think it’s the most noticeable with the lack of availability and to some degree the lower quality of care that people of color receive,” Michael said. “As part of Strategic Information and the larger Impact team, we are really making it a point to address a lot of these systemic issues in the research and analysis we do. This better informs decisions and helps measure our true impact in the Central Indiana community”


Whether it’s the stories we hear on the news or the numbers Michael looks at on a daily basis – the need for change is undeniable. But if we continue as an undivided front, and “encourage change and encourage others to be active at their own level” then it’s a step in the right direction.