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.
COVID-19 has highlighted something Dr. Gwen Fisher has always known to be true;
worker health and well-being is important.
Throughout childhood, Gwen wanted to be a medical doctor, but during high school became interested in psychology as another avenue for helping people. “In college I discovered industrial-organizational psychology. As someone who worked part-time jobs, I identified with the subjects (work motivation, leadership, personnel selection, performance appraisal/performance management, etc.),” says Gwen. “I enjoyed how these topics applied psychology to solve practical problems to improve the workplace and individuals.”
As a result of her growing passion for supporting the worker, Gwen opted to specialize in occupational health psychology during the last two years of graduate school and earned her doctorate in industrial/organizational psychology (psychology applied to work settings). The average adult that works full-time spends half of their waking lives at work. In light of this staggering amount of time spent, Gwen believes that “it behooves us to design work and the work environment in a way that is beneficial for worker health and well-being.”
Gwen has been the program director for the Occupational Health Psychology program at the Mountain & Plains Education and Research Center (MAP ERC), housed at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO, for over six years. Her commitment to the program is grounded in appreciation for the people she works with and “the opportunity to make a real difference for workers in our region. I am thrilled and fortunate to work with such outstanding colleagues and students.”
Gwen’s courses and research primarily focus on the health and well-being among older workers and the work/non-work interface, including work/non-work conflict, enhancement, and work/life balance.
The MAP ERC’s interdisciplinary nature is unique among graduate programs and is one of the reasons Gwen finds it so impactful for students. “I am always struck by the strength of the research collaborations across our various fields of study and the opportunities to collaborate on projects serving organizations in our region,” she says.
While continuing to conduct research on multiple topics under the umbrella of occupational health psychology, Gwen and her students have also conducted webinars for local organizations to address the impact of COVID-19 on employee mental health and well-being – a top concern of businesses across the country. The stressors of at-home online learning for many working parents have disrupted the way they function in all areas of life, most certainly in work. “COVID-19 has brought higher levels of work-related stress for multiple reasons,” says Gwen. “It has changed the nature of work itself (e.g. increased workload), and has brought economic insecurity / job insecurity, and far too much work/non-work and work/family conflict.”
Gwen hopes that the pandemic will lead business leaders, organizations, and workers to prioritize worker safety, health, and well-being. “I hope that we have learned the importance of taking care of their employees—workers are the most important asset a company has, but are too often treated as expendable,” says Gwen. “By investing in and taking care of their employees, businesses can be more successful in the long run and benefit society as a whole.”
For the future of the MAP ERC OHP program, and considering the current climate, Gwen remains hopeful. “I look forward to working collaboratively across disciplines to solve occupational health issues for organizations and workers and identifying new areas of overlap across fields that really facilitate occupational health research and practice.
Written by Laura Veith, marketing & communications coordinator at the Center for Health, Work & Environment based at the Colorado School of Public Health.