Co-founder of New Mexico Suicide Prevention Coalition and past president of the American Association of Suicidology, Michelle (Linn-Gust) Rusk ('96 MS, '08 PhD) is a recognized expert in the field. For two decades her work has touched the lives of people from all walks of life, helping them recover a sense of hope and meaning after tragic loss.
In decades to come, her professional commitment will have a profound effect on students at the UNM College of Education. Rusk intends to endow a chair in the College of Education with a planned gift.
Rusk's childhood passions included running and writing, and she decorated the bedroom she shared with her younger sister in their Illinois home with inspiring words and images. Her destiny was instantly transformed after her sister's death by suicide at the age of 17.
Completing her BA at Ball State University, and just beginning to cope with the loss of her closest sibling, Rusk decided to seek a master's degree in Health Education. The UNM College of Education (COE) was one of only two schools offering that opportunity.
Adopting New Mexico as her home, she coached running and taught classes at Del Norte High School, receiving her MS degree in 1996. Rusk returned to the COE in 2008 to earn a PhD in Family Studies, having already published her first book, Do They Have Bad Days in Heaven?
"My work was so heavily involved in suicide and grief," she remarked. "Being in Family Studies taught me a lot about doing a better job in relationships, and my third book, which addresses the family unit, was a result."
According to JayParkes, chair of Individual, Family and Community Education at the COE, Rusk's eventual gift will send a powerful message. "It will bring visibility, resources and leadership to the area of Family Studies, making UNM an important center for research on issues affecting families," he stated.
This also reflects Rusk's appreciation for advanced education. "Getting my PhD opened doors for me," she said. "The time I spent on campus and my interactions with faculty members were invaluable. I've been given so many opportunities - others deserve those opportunities too."
Much of Rusk's work focused on serving Native American populations, who suffer high rates of suicide among young tribal members.