Public Health is everywhere including right here in Colorado! Earlier this semester, two major public health events—American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting and Expo and Public Health in the Rockies (PHiR)— were held in Colorado and invited students, teachers, practitioners, and many more to attend their meetings and share their knowledge.

Dr. Christine Chard, who is an associate professor at the ColoradoSPH at CSU, attended the APHA Annual Meeting. This was both an in-person and virtual meeting. The in-person meeting was held in Denver and along with this event there were a multitude of information sessions.

When asked which information session she attended, Dr. Chard responded,

“One of the sessions I really got a lot out of was a themed session called ‘Teaching for Solidarity with Social Movements for Health Justice.’ Presenters talked about the work they are doing to build solidarity and strengthen networks that are promoting health justice. I got some great ideas for other things we can be doing in our program and in my classroom.”

Dr. Chard was inspired by these information sessions to implement some of the learnings into her own teaching. Dr. Chard not only sees value for herself but also for any student attending these events,

Left to Right: Hannah Groves, Raeven Clockston, Dr. Christine Chard, Dr. Molly Gutilla, Alicia Zelaya.

“Exposure to so much other cool work happening in the world of public health that they [students] may not be exposed to in their limited classes and in the local community. They [students] can also connect with the people doing this work and strengthen their network of public health professionals.”

These information sessions proved to be insightful and relevant. Dr. Chard speaks on her own personal learnings from the sessions while highlighting an important piece,

“Heather McGhee’s keynote on ‘Strengthening Social Connectedness Across the Racial Divide’ was a highlight! Her book, The Sum of Us, is our next campus read, so I am looking forward to delving into that with students and colleagues.”

Moving forward, Dr. Chard shares her suggestions and advice for students that may considering any public health event in the future,

“Get a plan! APHA is HUGE, and at any given moment there are dozens of options of sessions to choose from. And you’ll just have to let go of FOMO (I still haven’t figure this out completely).”

Anna Kingman was provided funding from ColoradoSPH to attend the APHA Annual Meeting. Kingman expresses her enthusiasm for her in-person attendance and participation at APHA.

“After over a year of doing so many things virtually, it felt good to be at an in-person conference. The human connection piece of being in a room full of past, current and future public health practitioners was refreshing and motivating. I believe it is so important to continue sending CSPH students to conferences of this nature. The networking that can occur and the incredible amount of information and topics addressed make it so there is something for everyone, no matter their passions or area of study.”

Left to Right: Hannah Groves, Alicia Zelaya, Tyler Ward.

Not only was the in-person involvement a major factor for Kingman, but so was the content of the information sessions. Kingman found herself learning much about the metrics of public health and bridging the gap between differences in views. She considers all of her learnings to be highlights over the span of the conference.

“The presenter spoke about how some people may look at that number and be disappointed when compared to the total population of the reservation, but it is a number to be celebrated as it represents 100 Native Americans that have received the vaccine and can go back and advocate for it in their local communities.”

Here Kingman highlights bridging the gap:

“One of the most memorable sessions included a panel that held a Democrat, Republican, Independent and Libertarian public health professional and had them discuss current public health issues… it was encouraging to watch these individuals that didn’t agree on everything have respectful and productive discussions…listening to them engage in these difficult conversations is something that I hope to take with me in my future role as public health professional.”

Through ColoradoSPH, Kingman was awarded the opportunity to attend APHA Annual Meeting. She was able to participate in conversations that were relevant to her public health interests and have a memorable in-person experience.

“My experience at APHA 2021 made me feel incredibly grateful to have found a field of work that I am so passionate about. The sessions highlighted individual after individual that in un-precented times continued to show up and do the work. Thank you again, CSPH, for providing me with this opportunity.”

Dr. Molly Gutilla, who is an assistant professor at the ColoradoSPH at CSU, attended both APHA Annual Meeting and PHiR. Similar to the APHA Annual Meeting, PHiR was an in-person event with many different information sessions addressing public health, and other similar professions, with the intent to “build a more competent public health workforce.”

Dr. Gutilla shares which information sessions she attended and the purpose they provided:

“At APHA I really enjoyed sessions focused on public health ethics. These conversations explored variation in policies, beliefs, and politics during the pandemic. The viewpoints shared stretched my mind and provided me some new ways of looking at our world.”

When asked about the value these events have for public health students, Dr. Gutilla responded,

“Attending conferences is a great way to get out of the classroom and [become] emerged in a broad group of people practicing public health. Students can be inspired by the people and places doing excellent public health work. The experience also provides an opportunity for students to consider where (and with whom) they would like to work following school.”

Dr. Gutilla talks about the practicality for students and education she has learned from the information sessions. She also highlights her own personal experiences,

“At PHiR one of my favorite sessions was presented by two data analysts that built CDPHE’s COVID databases early in the pandemic. I loved their presentation because it integrated the technical aspects of the design along with their human experience and emotions while responding to the global pandemic. There was (and is) a massive amount to learn about surveillance systems that support public health decision making. Their honest account of what their work was like the past year and half and their ability to persevere through so many challenges was very inspiring.”

Left to Right: Alicia Zelaya, Dr. Christine Chard, Hannah Groves, Dr. Molly Gutilla, Raeven Clockston.

In terms of future advice for public health students attending any public health conference, Dr. Gutilla shares her own reflection.

“Make the most of the opportunity to see presentations and meet people that you’ve read about in school. PHiR brings together professionals from all over the state and APHA from all over the country. If there is an author that you’ve been reading or someone whose work you’ve been gravitating toward, it’s possible they are at the conference. Take the time to look at the attendee list and use the conference as a great way to watch the person present or even meet them personally. Nearly everyone attending is happy to build connections, relationships, and have conversations about mutual interests during the conference.”

As part of its practice-based learning initiative, the ColoradoSPH at CSU offers the opportunity for each student to apply for funding to attend a conference, training, workshop or other educational or skill building activity. Whether faculty or student, there is incredible value and opportunity in investing time into attending professional public health events and expanding our public health networks and our own perspectives on local and global public health issues.


Written by: Erica J Carter