How Cortney Cuff Creates Community in an Academic CenterAug 11, 2023
It’s not often you meet a person who likes change.
For most of us, change is unsettling, disruptive, unpredictable. Cortney Cuff, MBA, thrives in it. It is her passion for new ideas and bringing people together that make her an essential member of a research to practice public health center.
Cuff works as the senior program manager for training and community at the Center for Health, Work & Environment. She is a bridge in the Center between faculty and staff, academics and the community, students and seasoned researchers. The Center is an ever-evolving group, adapting its projects and focuses to maintain relevance and spearhead the challenges facing a changing workforce and workplace.
It is not a place for those with the love of routine.
There is always a new idea, a new partnership, webinar series, online training, or industry event to be a part of. And Cuff is there to thrive in that change and bring people into it.
“So many people dread change and it just it scares them. But for me, I think of it as an opportunity to do better, to improve things. I just see it as a challenge and it keeps things interesting,” said Cuff.
Part of Cuff’s work is to manage the Center’s many events, ranging from monthly continuing education webinars with human resource professionals from around the country, to 300-person symposium with national partners, and many in-between.
“I like that my job is different every day. It can be really strategic and high level, but it can also be very detail oriented. I like organizing teams and putting people in places where that they can succeed and feel good about what they're doing. And I think events and trainings give you a good opportunity to do that,” said Cuff.
Keeping annual events fresh
Cuff and her team manage the Center’s Annual Research Day Symposium, hosted by the Mountain & Plains Education and Research Center (MAP ERC). The MAP ERC is one of 18 centers that train graduate students in traditional occupational safety and health (OSH). Now into planning her sixth Research Day, Cuff admits this it is one of her favorite events.
She brings together the academic community of current and retired faculty, graduated and present students, and passionate community members to celebrate student excellence in OSH research. The event has grown year over year in participant numbers, even attracting students from outside the MAP ERC to share their research and network.
In her early years in this role, Cuff focused on working backwards on these events, chipping away layers of tradition to understand the initial purpose of why the Center hosted them. Not wanting to simply replicate the previous year’s event, she sought to understand the goals of each educational opportunity the center provided students and the community.
“Some of these events just ended up with my flair,” said Cuff. “Now that I've been here for a little bit longer, it's giving me an opportunity to flex those muscles and ask, ‘what do people really want? Why are we meeting? Why are we gathering?’ It was an interesting transition through COVID and experiencing so many virtual and now hybrid events. There are just so many more ways you can get people together and make it meaningful.”
Creating community for good
Before working in academia, Cuff spent years in the law industry organizing business development and educational events and worked closely with labor and employment attorneys. This exposure to legal claims of workplace misconduct, harassment, etc. was an unknowing introduction to Cuff's future work with CHWE.
After earning her MBA from the University of Colorado Denver, she was looking to branch out into a new industry, one with more community impact as well as a chance incorporate her interest making the workplace a better place.
“I know how important workplace culture is. Where you work matters,” said Cuff. “For me, public health is preventative health. It's supporting people early on so that down the road, fewer problems exist. Fewer illnesses, injuries, things like that. To me, that's doing good.”
This August, Cuff and her team will be hosting the Health Links® Annual Event: Celebrating Healthy Workplaces. The event convenes local Colorado business leaders passionate about creating healthy, safety, sustainable workplaces where employees leave work better than they arrived. The yearly event stays fresh, with new training opportunities, discussions, and themes, thanks to Cuff’s dedicated passion for change and inclusivity.
This fearlessness in the face of change aided Cuff in coordinating one of the largest events the Center has ever hosted. In October 2022, alongside the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), CHWE planned and hosted the 3rd International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health®. The event hosted 456 attendees in-person at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland, and virtually and was a monumental success. Thanks to CHWE’s leadership in the event planning, Cuff and her team have been asked to plan the next symposium to be held in 2025.
Cuff winning the Total Worker Health Star Partner Award at the 3rd International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health
Total Worker Health embodies some of Cuff’s main passions at work. It’s no wonder the global gathering for the concept was so successful under her leadership and team’s hard work.
“I think all the ideas that come forth in Total Worker Health are really interesting. I like change, I like change management, I like leadership. Seeing how all those pieces can come together and help support people in the workplace is exciting for me,” said Cuff. “In these events, I can use my skills in getting people excited, getting people together, getting people to want to learn, and master all the details that people don't always think about to make sure something goes off successfully.”
Written by Laura Veith, marketing and media program manager at the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health.