Careers in public health are both critically important and noble. They address systemic inequities, educate the public, increase access to information and care, and develop ways to improve the lives of entire populations.
Yet public health graduates aren’t often met with job opportunities that allow them to pay off the burden of student-loan debt quickly and without hardship. Because of the cost of education and other barriers, the public health workforce doesn’t always reflect the many populations it aims to serve.
Philanthropy as a conduit for change
Keenly aware of this disparity, leaders at the Colorado School of Public Health have been drawn to increase the diversity and enhance inclusive excellence in the school’s student body and have used philanthropy as a conduit for change. Over the past several years there has been remarkable momentum to establish scholarships that ensure diversity and inclusive excellence within the school.
The Colorado School of Public Health is home to five scholarships focused on advancing equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), which support around 14 students per year. Quite notable about these scholarships is the increase in giving by the philanthropic community and also by faculty, staff and alumni affiliated with the school itself.
In 2021, ColoradoSPH faculty and staff donated over $100,000 to scholarship funds that focus on equity, diversity and inclusion. And on CU Anschutz’s first Giving Day in April 2022, ColoradoSPH donors were the largest group of donors that day, unlocking matching challenges and raising $26,555 for the school’s Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Scholarship Fund in one day.
This surge in collective action was spurred by many things: the widespread recognition of the impact of structural racism in the summer of 2020, increased demands on the public health workforce throughout the pandemic and the disparities in COVID’s impact, and a passion to make a difference in the lives of those affected by ongoing systemic injustice.
Change often begins on a small scale and gathers momentum when communities come together. Institutional change thrives when it is not only a community priority but is recognized as the barometer of success for leaders.
Support from within the ColoradoSPH
“I have been an academic administrator for decades and always strive to enhance diversity,” Dean Jonathan Samet, MD, MS, said. “These scholarship funds are a signal to our students and our community that we are serious about achieving racial and ethnic diversity in our students and faculty, and in our curriculum so that students leave with an understanding of the deep roots of the social determinants of health.” Samet and his wife, Connie Brines, recently established their own endowed EDI scholarship fund, the first of its kind for the ColoradoSPH.
Adjunct Professor Dawn Comstock, PhD, who also helped establish an EDI scholarship fund in the ColoradoSPH and has pledged to make annual gifts to the fund, shared that her giving is a way to directly communicate her commitment to students. Because annual contributions will be distributed that same year, scholars have an immediate benefit. “Annual donations to the fund are my ongoing declaration to our student body that I am fully committed to improving diversity and inclusive excellence right here in my home, and more broadly. The students that are helped with these awards will be the future leaders of public health,” Comstock said.
While the work will never be done, it is vital to invest in future generations of diverse public health leaders. When we bring underrepresented perspectives to roles of influence, we support a more equitable health system as individuals interact with their communities, healthcare providers, educators and neighbors. The students quoted below have benefited from EDI-specific funds at the ColoradoSPH and are already paving the way to a brighter tomorrow.
Scholarship impacts on students
Tara Sou: “I am so thankful for your generosity. Your support means so much because it gives me confidence and financial support to continue on my journey as a graduate student in global health and health disparities with the Colorado School of Public Health. I’m committed to advancing equity, diversity and inclusion to promote growth within the public health sector by addressing inequity and injustice and the root causes of issues within the community. I hope to someday serve people living in underserved areas as a medical professional with a background in public health to improve the quality of life and well-being of those often overlooked. ”
Gilbert Fru: “Any strategy that doesn’t see people of color as essential to the fight also guarantees that even when there is a win – people of color continue to lose.”
Scholarships directly impact real lives in real time, shaping future generations of health experts, public servants and educators. Philanthropy shapes the lives not only of scholarship recipients themselves, but the lives of those they interact with – professionally and personally. In this way, philanthropy continues to be a way to accelerate change.
With faculty, staff, students and alumni giving in pursuit of a more equitable, diverse ColoradoSPH, we are given hope that we will see long overdue results sooner.
Cerise Hunt, associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion at the school, describes this pursuit as an ongoing investment for the public health community: “At the Colorado School of Public Health, our mission is to promote equity, diversity, inclusion and social justice. At the heart of our work, we are committed to dismantling structural racism.”
Guest contributor: Carolyn Wilson, director of communications, design and strategic initiatives, Office of Advancement