We study the impact of our surroundings, both natural and built, on health.
The field of environmental and occupational health covers everything from the air we breathe and the water we drink to the injuries and mental health challenges we may face at work. We strive to improve health by promoting practices and policies that reduce harmful exposures and protect vulnerable populations. From improving worker health and safety, to promoting healthy housing, to creating new tools to monitor air and water quality, we work to make our homes, our workplaces, and our communities healthier places for all.
A graduate degree in environmental & occupational health prepares you to think critically about complex challenges and to design solutions that improve public health. When you leave one of our programs, you’ll be ready to address emerging environmental and workplace issues in a way that builds on science while prioritizing real people. Our graduates work in environmental health and safety, emergency management, environmental epidemiology, and workplace safety and health in private, nonprofit, and government organizations.
If you are in academia, you already understand the value of a person like Carol Brown. Research and educational programs are only as good as their design. You may have an intriguing hypothesis, quality instructors, strong syllabi, proper funding, and high enrollment, but without proper design and evaluation, your initiatives will not be successful.
Brown, deputy director for the Center for Health, Work & Environment, holds a PhD in psychology from the University of Southern California (USC). While earning her degree, Brown worked with USC’s graduate school to understand the factors that lead to student success. She examined the relationships between admissions data, student academic success, and graduation rates. After completing the program, instead of following the typical career path for psychology PhDs, Brown searched for program evaluation jobs.
“I didn’t want a tenure track as a psychology professor,” says Brown. “Program evaluation offered similar opportunities to conducting research and drew upon a lot of the skills that I had developed while working on my degree.”
Brown conducted her job search under one agreed upon condition with her husband: stay west of Mississippi. She accepted a program evaluation position at the Colorado School of Public Health. Brown was a stranger to the field of occupational safety and health at the time. “I knew very little about public health, though looking back, a lot of the work I did in graduate school was very public health-related. It was just called psychology.”
“On my very first day in the job, Lee Newman came bounding into my office because he needed a program evaluator for the Mountain & Plains Education and Research Center,” says Brown. What started as 20% of her time with the Mountain & Plains Education and Research Center (MAP ERC) eventually became a full-time job.
With six different training programs in occupational safety and health (OSH), the MAP ERC offers Brown a variety of opportunities for evaluation, which she likes. “My work requires a skill set not entirely different than the one I developed by designing research in a psychology program,” says Brown. “I designed surveys, created focus groups, analyzed data. My expertise is fairly practical which appeals to me.”
With multiple research projects as well as six programs in OSH, there is much for Brown to evaluate. The MAP ERC is required to adequately prepare its graduate students for their specific specialties (ergonomics and safety, health physics, industrial and organizational psychology, industrial hygiene, occupational medicine, and Total Worker Health®) while also meeting its goals to provide an interdisciplinary education.
Through alumni surveys, course evaluations, and examination of other program metrics, Brown ensures the MAP ERC is, in essence, doing what it says it’s doing. She makes sure the programs are high-quality, efficient, and equitable, and that they prepare students as each field of study continues to evolve.
“I look forward to expanding the way we think about occupational safety, health and well-being,” says Brown. “I think there's a lot of opportunity to examine things that maybe aren't traditionally thought of as safety and health issues but that play into them.”
As a NIOSH Education and Research Center and Center of Excellence in Total Worker Health®, Brown’s role as program evaluator is essential to the sustained funding of the center. She plays an essential part in continuously reporting and submitting for grant renewals. She has her finger on the pulse of all the activities of this institution.
Brown’s current project is using data collected from the Smart+Safe+Well (SSWell) study at CHWE and applying a Dissemination and Implementation (D&I) Science framework to it. The SSWell study, which concluded in early 2020, was a multi-year research project designed to understand how small organizations support the health, safety, and well-being of their workforce and how employees perceive their workplace culture. The project aimed to uncover how those efforts and perceptions affect health outcomes.
“I’m looking at not just the effectiveness of the intervention, but also evaluating who we really reached in the study,” says Brown. “How many organizations adopted TWH once they signed up, how well was the program implemented, if there are certain things participants didn't implement, why didn't they implement them.”
This project, while it may seem like a one-off, ties into exactly the work that Brown loves and is so skilled at. Using research, data and evaluation to make actionable, practical changes in programs and OSH. This is what keeps Brown’s wheels spinning, programs running smooth, and the Center's doors open.
Written by Laura Veith, marketing & communications coordinator at the Center for Health, Work & Environment based at the Colorado School of Public Health.