Missouri State University

Monica Horton

  • Executive Director, Music Therapy of the Ozarks
  • Springfield, Missouri
  • MPA, Missouri State University

Musician to therapist to community leader

"One of the most important things to do as a Missouri State student is to volunteer." 

Like her hero Booker T. Washington, Monica Horton prizes education, personal responsibility and a strong work ethic. She also recognizes that Washington’s success sprang partly from his creative ingenuity and deft handling of political systems and that his legacy is rooted in his commitment to public affairs.

An early career path and a reality check

When she was a teenaged musician, Monica resolved to connect her musical ability to her own passion for public service.  “I knew that I wanted to work with people, and I wanted to combine it with music in some way,” she says.

After graduating from Tuskegee University, Monica earned her Master of Music in Music Therapy at Florida State. She then began working with adolescents as a music therapist.

She excelled, but when she applied for a director-level position in her organization, “I got a reality check from the human resources director. She just told me, ‘You’re not on the right career path to become an executive director.’”

Instead of feeling stung or discouraged by this feedback, Monica resolved to broaden her skill set and resume. “I figured I needed a degree related to management,” she says.

A new city and new goals  

While researching her options, Monica and her family moved to Springfield, where she was drawn to the Master of Public Administration program at Missouri State. “I was already in the nonprofit sector… so I felt as though going the public administration route was… a perfect fit.”

Monica, a dedicated volunteer and self-described “data freak,” sought out opportunities to apply her talent. “I love to make numbers useful,” she says. One such opportunity arose when she attended the Community Partnership of the Ozarks’ Hope Connection event, which supports Springfield’s homeless population.

“I was just going to be a chaperone,” Monica says. “But I noticed they were surveying the homeless and collecting data on what kinds of services they were engaging in.” She and a fellow student tracked down the organizer and offered to analyze the data for free. This led to a 30-page report, complete with complex analysis and recommendations for future events. Monica and her research partner not only presented their findings to the leadership of Community Partnership of the Ozarks, they also earned recognition for their presentation on the topic at the Graduate Interdisciplinary Forum.  

Monica’s thesis focused on another element of the Springfield community: the public school system. With a faculty mentor, Monica says, “We wanted to look at whether there was a relationship between a student’s race, gender and income level and… their academic success. We recognized that there were some educational disparities in terms of male students, minority students, as well as students who come from lower socio-economic levels, compared to their counterparts.”

Monica made specific recommendations for addressing this achievement gap, and she was invited to present her findings to the Springfield Public Schools leadership.

Leadership + public affairs 

Remarkably, despite all the projects she took on as an MPA student, Monica continued her professional work as a music therapist. Julie Cassity, president of Music Therapy of the Ozarks hired Monica to work with geriatric populations, including Alzheimer’s patients. Missouri State’s scheduling options helped Monica balance her studies with her patient load and family obligations. “A good thing about Missouri State is that you’re able to take classes in the evening,” she says, “so all my classes were in the evening.”

And all the hard work paid off. When she graduated, Monica transitioned into a new position with Music Therapy of the Ozarks: executive director – the very role she’d first tried for back in Florida. 

She says, “They needed someone for... fundraising, community awareness, raising awareness of the services.” To achieve these goals, Monica has leveraged a combination of creativity, relationship building and pure grit worthy of her hero Booker T. Washington. Through varied efforts like special events, grant writing and partnerships with other organizations, she’s already built significant awareness and resources for her organization and looks forward to helping it grow even more.