Opportunities abound to enhance classroom learning during the MPH program at the Colorado School of School of Public Health. One avenue for practical experience is through graduate research assistantships (GRAs).  Students who secure GRA positions during their time in the program are able to develop practical public health skills with a faculty member on campus, and are paid for their work.  Emily Lindly, a second year in the Global Health & Health Disparities concentration, works as a GRA for Smart Fit Girls, an after school program that teaches self-love and strength in adolescent girls. Smart Fit Girls’ mission and vision aligned with Emily’s public health passions, stemming her initial interest to apply. “I see so much potential in Smart Fit Girls. We love wreaking havoc through radical self-love and kindness!”

In her GRA role, Emily has had a wide range of experiences as a coach, community liaison, promoter, recruiter, and researcher. MPH coursework had a large role in her ability to leverage these varied responsibilities. “The theory and intervention planning courses I took were entirely helpful and made a lot more sense once put into practice. I have had such diverse coursework from health communication to women’s health, to studying disasters and humanitarianism. Sustainable solutions, in my opinion, must consider a holistic and multi-sector approach.” As Emily quickly approaches graduation, she identifies skills and experiences that will translate into her future as a public health professional. “Getting to know the interworking of a non-profit program and intervention planning, turning theory-based research into practice, and getting to be hands-on with the population of interest, are a few of the many beneficial aspects of a GRA. The experience that I will always take with me is how it has shaped me as an individual; to be a trusted member of a team, with a lot of responsibility, where I feel as though my ideas matter. It has given me so much room to flourish!” said Emily of her experience.

Frequently, MPH students bring a unique perspective to research projects. Dr. Chrissy Chard, co-creator of Smart Fit Girls and Emily’s faculty supervisor, says that “having a GRA has been an invaluable experience. Emily’s support reaches far beyond the help she has provided related to data collection and program implementation. She brings big-picture perspective that encourages us to consider our program much more broadly. Emily brings a passion and purpose that is unparalleled and we are beyond grateful for all she does.”

Some advice for future students considering whether to apply to a GRA position, Emily says, “Do it! This was the highlight of my MPH experience, by a large margin. You get to diversify your skillset, work closely with a mentor, and get to play a part in real public health impact.” Seeing the growth of the girls she worked with is one of Emily’s favorite aspects of her GRA work. “Getting to see the girls grow over the weeks is so special. It is the ‘why’ behind all we do, which makes it easy to talk about when trying to spread our message.”