Public Health Instructor and Undergraduate Public Health Internship Coordinator Karen Elliott is a true Beaver believer – she’s not only worked in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences for a decade, but she’s also a CPHHS alum – receiving her doctoral degree in 2006. Since 2000, Karen has held positions such as community outreach assistant at the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Family Outreach Specialist at Women’s Opportunity Resource Development and a graduate student teaching assistant at the University of Montana, all in Missoula, Mont. She came to Corvallis as a graduate research assistant in the CPHHS in 2003, and also served as a graduate student teaching assistant. In addition, she’s worked as an assistant professor in the Department of Health, Human Performance and Nutrition at Central Washington University and currently serves part-time as a contributing faculty member in the undergraduate program in Health Studies in the College of Health Sciences at Walden University in Minnesota.
What made you decide to get into this field? Is there one specific moment that inspired your career path?
“I have always been interested in health behaviors. What has truly interested me is how there are many different influences and underlying factors that relate to health behaviors including environmental factors and how we affect each other. This made the field of public health really stand out for me when I was deciding on graduate school programs.”
Why did you choose to work at Oregon State?
“I completed my graduate work in public health at Oregon State University. I remember moving to Oregon from Montana and getting used to the graduate program at first, and I was really struck by how the faculty was so committed to students succeeding. I had such a positive experience that I did not have to think twice when a position opened up. I feel really grateful to work in such a collaborative environment.”
What do you like most about your position as undergraduate internship coordinator?
“I really enjoy working with students to help them identify their true interests and relate that to an internship that will provide them with an enriching experience. It is really rewarding to see where students go and to see them excel, not just with the internship, but beyond with employment and graduate school.”
What do you believe is your greatest accomplishment in the field of public health?
“This is a really difficult question to answer! I think it is too early for me to state my greatest accomplishment. What I hope will be an accomplishment down the road is to impact people in a positive way. I am not quite sure if that means through the internships or if it is with raising awareness with specific public health issues.”
How are you going to change people’s lives with your work?
“I hope to continue to serve as a positive influence with helping students identify their strengths and their interests in public health to be successful. It is truly rewarding to be involved in this process that can be life changing for students. I love to hear from students who have graduated and email me to tell me how their internship really made all of the difference regarding job searching or applying to graduate schools.”
What is the best advice you ever received, and who gave it?
“The best advice I have ever received came from my supervisor when I did AmeriCorps in Missoula, Mont. During that position, I served as a volunteer coordinator for a literacy program called America Reads, which involved coordinating volunteers from the University of Montana to go to local elementary schools and tutor elementary-age children in reading. It was incredibly rewarding and I was very humbled that my supervisor who was the executive director of curriculum for the Missoula County School District, Dr. Robert McKean, took time to mentor me, especially since I was just out of school and had finished my bachelor’s degree. He served as such a positive role model for me, and I really learned a tremendous amount from him with his leadership style and his belief in empowering others and instilling an environment that was very collaborative and focused on others’ strengths. I remember as I was leaving the position that I was so grateful for all of his wisdom. I met with him to thank him, and he shared with me the importance of paying it forward and focusing on positive leadership and empowerment. I have never forgotten that, and it has played a significant factor in my interactions with others.”
What advice would you like to give to students and young alums?
“The advice I would like to give to students is to follow their passion and really take the time to understand their true interests and values by volunteering, joining a professional organization or getting involved in activities in other ways.”
What is one surprising thing about you that not many people know?
“I used to be a water aerobics instructor when I was in college. It was a lot of fun!”
What are your favorite activities to do outside of work?
“I love to be outdoors, gardening, walking or hiking.”