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Elizabeth Watts headshot on Colorado background

Student Spotlight: Elizabeth Watts

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Our center stands on three pillars: Research, Education, and Practice. One of the many ways we work to protect workers is through educating and training future leaders in occupational safety and health (OSH). We support trainees in OSH disciplines across six programs through the Mountain & Plains Education and Research Center (MAP ERC).

As part of our Student Spotlight series highlighting our trainees, we interviewed Elizabeth Watts, a Total Worker Health® Certificate Program student earning an Master's in Public Health in Community and Behavioral Health (CBH) from the Colorado School of Public Health.

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What piqued your interest in studying Total Worker Health?

I have been interested in health and wellness for a long time. I was a public educator for many years and saw the impact of poor health on children, their families, as well as those who work in schools. When the children I worked with and their families did not have access to things like healthy food or healthcare, it significantly impacted their education. I became involved in supporting student learning with wellness initiatives and decided to work full-time in public health after seeing the impact this work can have on students.

What attracted you to the Total Worker Health® Certificate Program?

I applied to the program because I recognize the significant impact work has on people’s overall health. I see how work-related factors such as pay, stress, and access to healthcare impact the health of the individual worker as well as their family, and ultimately their community. I wanted to learn how to support organizations in improving the health and safety of their workers and thereby their community.

How do you think this certificate interacts with your focus on CBH?

Work contributes to many of the health issues our communities are experiencing such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, sleep disorders and poor mental health, so by targeting interventions at work, we can improve the health of our communities.

Tell us about an impactful project you’ve worked on as a part of the program.

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Last semester, in Dr. Schwatka’s Occupational Safety and Ergonomics course, I got the opportunity to study safety and ergonomic hazards in the construction industry. As part of this, I toured a Pinkard Construction site and interviewed Dave Ruddy, the field safety manager. I also had the opportunity to talk to a few of the workers about safety. This experience taught me how important it is for organizations to build a culture of health and safety and I learned about what organizations can do to promote a culture of health and safety. I also learned firsthand the positive impact a safety culture has on the workers’ overall well-being. I saw how going beyond eliminating hazards to supporting worker well-being can increase worker productivity and benefit the company’s bottom line.

How will your training/experience impact the field of public health or CBH?

As an educator, I saw how important the school culture was in making a difference for students and their families. In my public health experiences, I have also experienced the impact organizational culture has on workers. I hope my experiences and training positively contribute to the collective understanding of how important a culture that puts people and their well-being first is for the people in the organization as well as for the organization as a whole.

How will your training/experience impact the larger body of workers, families, and communities?

As a result of my experiences and training both as an educator and a public health student, I highly value collaboration with other professionals to make a sustainable difference. I hope to continue to collaborate and encourage professionals from fields outside of public health to be involved in finding solutions to health issues our communities face.

What is the next step for you after exiting the program?

Once I exit the program and graduate with my MPH, I hope to work more with workplaces—schools and educational institutions in particular—to better the health outcomes of employees and the greater community.