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Public Health in the Rockies award winners

Celebrating ColoradoSPH Awardees at Public Health in the Rockies

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Each year, Colorado Public Health Association and ColoradoSPH honors exceptional individuals in the field of public health at the Public Health in the Rockies (PHiR) conference. The purpose of PHiR is to provide an opportunity for education, networking, and skill development of professionals in Colorado, Wyoming, and neighboring regions. As in past years, many ColoradoSPH students, faculty, and alumni received awards from CPHA and ColoradoSPH at the conference awards luncheon. We celebrate all who received these awards for their hard work in public health.  


Community Preceptor Award for Excellence in Public Health Practice Award 

This award recognizes a public health practitioner in the Rocky Mountain region who has provided exceptional mentorship for one or more students from the Colorado School of Public Health during the last academic year, especially as a preceptor for practice-based learning.  

This year’s award recipient is Dr. Christopher Czaja, DrPH ‘20, a medical epidemiologist and program manager for the Healthcare-Associated Infections and Antimicrobial Resistance Program at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and a ColoradoSPH alumnus. Not only does Chris offer much of his time to student mentorship while leading a team full-time at CDPHE, but he also has led and facilitated a new cross-collaboration between the Colorado School of Public Health and CDPHE which offers opportunities for master’s and doctoral-level students to complete practicum and capstone projects in a practice-based learning environment. More than one Colorado School of Public Health student who had Chris as their preceptor and a mentor for their practicum and capstone experiences nominated him for this award. 

Community Partner Award for Excellence in Public Health Practice Award 

This award recognizes an individual or organization as a community partner for their collaboration with the school and for their excellence and commitment to public health practice in the Rocky Mountain region. 

This year’s award went to the Centennial Area Health Education Center (CAHEC), a small but mighty program whose efforts align to the school’s mission to promote all aspects of health of the people and communities across Colorado. This award was accepted by their Programs Director, Samantha Vernon, MPH’ 23, a recent graduate of ColoradoSPH at the University of Northern Colorado. CAHEC had a variety of projects that earned them this award, but to cite xome of the work that they’ve done for Weld County and in partnership with the school: 

  • Melissa Jensen, their Executive Director, provided connections for our school’s students enrolled in the Health Communications and Media course to develop brochures and podcasts that promote the organizations who are part of Thriving Weld—a collective impact coalition of local organizations in Weld County that are building a healthier and more prosperous community.  

  • Erika Greenberg, CAHEC’s Health Education and Regional Health Connector, served as a lead instructor for ColoradoSPH students to become certified instructors in NARCAN/NOLOXONE training last year. Not only did she provide assistance to ColoradoSPH, but she also served as a consultant for UNC’s Health Promotion Program in an effort to combat fentanyl overdose through prevention and education. Thanks to Erika and CAHEC, some of our MPH students are now the leaders in NARCAN/NOLOXONE trainings on the UNC campus and will continue to serve the greater community.  

  • Kori Walsh, CAHEC’s Regional Health Connector, has assisted ColoradoSPH efforts to develop a Youth Public Health Summit pilot program, serving on the Rural Public Health and Education Initiative Committee. Kori consistently provides ideas and suggestions and is always willing to connect ColoradoSPH at UNC with potential students who could one day be future public health professionals.  

  • And finally, Samantha Vernon, Programs Director and recent ColoradoSPH graduate, co-led a qualitative photovoice project, which explored the mental health components among underrepresented communities in the Northern Colorado area. Thanks to Samantha, ColoradoSPH students gained valuable real-world experience in research methods and have given numerous community members the opportunity to have a bigger and more impactful voice. 


Award for Excellence in the Promotion of Health Equity 

Presented by the Colorado Public Health Association (CPHA), and the Colorado Society of Public Health Education (COSOPHE). 

This year’s award recipient is ColoradoSPH alum, Cynthia Hazel, DrPH ‘19. Cynthia is a valuable partner and great contributor to the Champions for Vaccine Equity program at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. She joined the Champions program in November 2021 during the COVID pandemic and has since put her expertise and knowledge towards vaccine equity and serving disproportionately impacted communities of color. Cynthia is instrumental in helping to reduce health inequities by presenting factual information with COVID-19 education, building vaccine confidence, and dispelling misinformation around COVID-19 vaccination.  

Emerging Leader in Public Health 

This award is given to an individual early in their career serving in a public health capacity who has demonstrated outstanding initiative on behalf of the Colorado public health community. 

This year's winner is Yesenia Wilson, a current student pursuing an MPH and MPA dual degree with ColoradoSPH and the CU School of PUblic Administration. This year, Yesenia led efforts in planning and executing the first-ever Policy and Advocacy Summit put on by ColoradoSPH and CPHA. Yesenia’s collaborative efforts led to more than 75 attendees, and glowing feedback about the content of the event. Yesenia also demonstrated her immense leadership skills as a delegate of CPHA’s Emerging Leaders Committee. Her positivity and inquisitiveness are infectious, and she is not afraid to meet any challenge that faces her. 

General Recognition Award 

This CPHA award is given to someone who is deserving of recognition for contributions and accomplishments in public health, but doesn’t quite fit into any of the other award categories. 

This year’s recipient is Sara Miller, MPA, clinical teaching instructor of health systems, management and policy for ColoradoSPH, and founder and owner of Otowi Group, working with government, private and non-profit organizations in the areas of strategic planning, facilitation, program development, program evaluation and resource development. Prior to this work, she served 10 years as the CEO of Trailhead Institute, a leading public health institute in Colorado. Sara has been in the field of public health for over 30 years, and she still has a passion for public health that is unwavering. Sara worked for CDPHE for 9 years, was the Director of the Colorado Cancer Coalition, and founded Otowi Group in 2017 to work with public health clients to improve structures, systems, and programs by building effective partnerships and generating solutions. 

Roy Cleere Distinguished Service Award  

CPHA’s Distinguished Service Award was renamed in 1974 in honor of Dr. Roy Cleere who was the director of the Colorado Department of Health for 38 years. The award goes to someone who is a member of CPHA and has made an exceptional contribution to the field of public health in Colorado. 

This year’s recipient is Kelsey Robinson, MPH ‘19, a graduate of ColoradoSPH and public health planner at the CDPHE. Kelsey’s creation of the peer learning network echoes Dr. Cleere’s commitment to collaboration, weaving together public health planners across the state and fostering collective growth and progress. Following in Dr. Cleere’s footsteps as a catalyst for positive change, Kelsey leads the development of the state health assessment and state health improvement plan.  

Congratulations to all 2023 Public Health in the Rockies awardees, and thank you for the amazing work you all do.