Strengthening Future Workplace Leaders Through Interdisciplinary EducationJun 2, 2023
"It felt like we were truly consulting with our clients
as opposed to working on an assignment for a class,
and it is those kinds of experiences that truly
prepare you for real world applications of our skills.”
No job is just one thing. In our work landscape, are moving farther away from ultra-specialized roles. As we look toward the future of work, we need individuals that are interdisciplined.
Even in specialized roles in occupational safety and health (OSH), workplace leaders dedicated to protecting and promoting employee health need to understand how their decisions, roles, and responsibilities interact and impact the different disciplines within their organization and other aspects of the worker experience. These OSH professionals need to have a basic understanding of other specialties to be true masters of their own. They need interdisciplinary education.
The Mountain & Plains Education and Research Center (MAP ERC) is one of 18 centers funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The MAP ERC trains graduate students in six specialties of OSH, each of which requires that trainees participate in the Interdisciplinary Course. Now in its tenth year, this course follows a field consultation format, which allows students to develop specific occupational health and safety assessment, leadership, and communication skills.
Over the course of a semester, multi-disciplinary student teams, led by faculty mentors, meet with a community partner and conduct worksite field visits to evaluate safety and health protection and promotion programs and/or other occupational safety and health issues raised by the community partner. Students work together to assess the worksites, review relevant health and safety standards and policies, share discipline specific perspectives and theories, and provide recommendations that address methods to improve occupational safety and health.
Over the last 10 years, our trainees have partnered with more than 20 companies or organizations including:
- Odell Brewing
- Xcel Energy
- Anheuser Busch
- YMCA Metro Denver
- Lightning eMotors
- United States Geological Survey
- United States Department of Agriculture
“For many of our students, this might be their first opportunity to test their skills in the real-world with all the messiness that comes along with coordinating schedules, communicating with busy professionals, relying on limited resources, and dealing with complex problems requiring input from not only multiple OSH disciplines, but also workers and management. This course gives students a structured safe space to develop their leadership, communication, and teamwork skills that are essential to their future success,” said Mike Van Dyke, PhD, CIH, associate professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, director of interdisciplinary education at the Center for Health, Work & Environment, and interim department chair for the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health.
Out of this course, we hope our trainees will be able to function effectively on a multidisciplinary OSH team. From their projects they learn to communicate effectively with management, labor, and other allied OSH disciplines; identify health and safety hazards of worksite processes and their relationship to health outcomes; as well as demonstrate awareness of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.
We asked our current trainees about the impact this course has had on their educational journey. They are the ones who will be entering workplaces across the state and country, helping to improve the health, safety and well-being of workers. What will they be taking with them?
How has this class equipped you to better serve workers and/or their communities?
“Both times I've taken the class, we came up with interventions and solutions that actively made someone's job easier, safer, and more efficient. It felt like we were truly consulting with our clients as opposed to working on an assignment for a class, and it is those kinds of experiences that truly prepare you for real world applications of our skills.” – George P.
“This course challenged me as a project lead for my team. I was responsible for maintaining communication with our point of contact and to ensure all expectations were clear from both sides. My previous educational experiences have prepared me for this, but once again, I have never had the chance to really apply it. Now I feel even more prepared to serve workers and their communities since my safety and research abilities are further supported by strong communication and leadership skills.” – Tony Z.
“This class has equipped me to better serve workers and communities because it has given me the tools to look at situations from a holistic perspective. Instead of looking at issues as a toxicologist, this course has taught me to also consider populations effected, the influence of the job, and the risk to benefit ratio.” – Madelyn G.
Can you describe a unique experience from taking this course?
“We worked with a client that had such a strong safety culture. As I have entered this field, many people have thrown the words “that isn’t what it’s like in the real world” at me, yet, this whole semester I got to work on a project for people that were enthusiastic about safety which made it a really fun and enriching adventure.” – Tony Z.
“I think completing this project cemented the idea that making real efforts toward improving health and safety for all workers is crucial and has the benefit of making workers feel valued and cared about regardless of whether all their requests are honored.” – Rachel P.
“Working with Odell was a unique experience because we were treated as guests while working with the staff. Not only was everyone extremely kind, but we also got to see the in-depth brewing experience, learn about the industry as a whole, and meet the staff who get the product from an idea to being sold on the market. That experience was super unique and cool to me.” – Madelyn G.
Written by Laura Veith, marketing and media program manager at the Center for Health, Work & Environment.