Among Alyssa Thomas’ goals in her public health career is to work with childhood obesity. It’s not something she knows in abstract or from a distance, but something he understands first-hand: “I sometimes wonder if,

Alyssa Thomas and Alix Wertheimer

given the chance to elect a different childhood, I would choose to live as a child unaffected by obesity and free from the health issues, social exclusion, and emotional turmoil that plagued my adolescence. I do not think I would.”

She shared this motivation for pursuing a public health career when applying for the Hoffman Master’s Scholarship. She and Alix Wertheimer, both of whom began their MPH studies this semester, are the two ColoradoSPH at CSU recipients of the award. The goal of the scholarship is to support master’s students who contribute to the diversity of the ColoradoSPH, who will contribute to the diversity of the public health workforce and will have a professional focus on addressing health disparities. Recipients receive $6,000 to $10,000 per year for one or two academic years.

For Alix, studying in the Animals, People and the Environment concentration, a focus on addressing health disparities means working “with various communities to implement hands-on food production, from Earth to mouth and body. On a larger scale, I want to study the quality of air, water, and life that is in close proximity to agribusinesses, which are known to cause detrimental environmental and human health effects, and how the impacts extend beyond immediate communities.”

Alyssa, who is studying in the Public Health Nutrition – Dietetics concentration, says her goal for her public health career includes working “in a school-, family-, and/or community-level setting to address issues of nutrition and wellness. There is so much about eating well and being healthy that goes beyond individual choices, and I want to help people and communities make healthy choices given their environment.”

Affecting change in populations

Both women were drawn to public health by an interest in aiding individuals by affecting change in populations. As a cognitive science undergraduate student at the University of Georgia, Alix says her interests began to shift from psychology to a field in which she could translate her passions for the earth, animals, people, community and conscious living into tangible action.

A particular turning point came, she says, while taking a four-month yoga teacher training course with Dr. Cal Clements during her last semester of undergraduate studies: “That course and the energy around it woke me up. I became enlightened with a global perspective that I never knew I possessed. This was a turning point in my life, after which the way my mind worked shifted from an individualistic perspective to a community-oriented one.”

Studying psychology at Stanford University, Alyssa says she took a class on critical issues in child health in which she learned about health disparities that exist between populations and how they affect vulnerable populations. The course emphasized the importance of primary prevention and societal-level approaches to reducing those disparities, “and this approach made more sense to me than only focusing efforts on individuals already living with illness, injury, and disease,” she says.

Already two months into their studies, Alix and Alyssa both say they’ve already learned valuable theories, practices and insights that will guide them in their public health careers

 “I believe wholeheartedly in the potential of public health,” Alyssa says, “and want to join the field with the strongest preparation possible to make a difference in my community.”