In Their Own Words:
An Interview with Jaedyn Nishiya on Serving as a Public Health AmeriCorps Member with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
In fall 2023, Trailhead Institute’s Program & Brand Narrative Manager Hannah Groves sat down with Jaedyn Nishiya to learn more about her experience as a Public Health AmeriCorps Member with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) Office of Public Health Practice, Planning, and Local Partnerships (OPHP).
Jaedyn was called to her public health service because she was motivated by the mission of AmeriCorps: “To improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.” This mission deeply resonated with Jaedyn’s personal values, and her service and contributions reflect this alignment. An engineer by education, Jaedyn gained experience in the public health field during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she found fulfilling, and fueled her eagerness to return to public health as a field. During her exploration of various options, she came across AmeriCorps positions with Colorado Public Health Works. Following discussions with Trailhead staff, it became evident that the OPHP position aligned with her professional aspirations and skill set.
Within public health and her AmeriCorps service, Jaedyn found the unique fusion of science and humanities truly engaging and hopes to continue exploring this intersection throughout her career. Read on to learn more through Hannah’s discussion with Jaedyn about her experiences and what the fusion of engineering and public health looks like for a young professional.
Hannah: Jaedyn, in what ways has your AmeriCorps experience helped you develop skills that are valuable in the field of public health? Are there any unexpected skills you’ve gained?
Jaedyn: Sure, I’ve been heavily involved in the assessment and planning aspect of OPHP’s work, which, to be honest, I’ve grown to really appreciate. It’s fascinating how this core public health service, mandated by the 2008 Colorado Public Health Act, involves a lot of technical thinking. Coming from an engineering background, I didn’t expect this level of methodical approach. Unlike my previous experiences, where it was either purely technical or entirely focused on social aspects, here I found a unique blend of both. This unexpected combination has become a significant skill I’ve developed over time. Initially, I didn’t anticipate this balance, but I’ve come to value how it integrates a technical mindset with social sciences. It’s been an ongoing learning process, and I genuinely enjoy the comprehensive approach it offers.
Hannah: Public health certainly has a lot of technical approaches that many may not think about.
During your time with OPHP so far, what specific projects or initiatives have you been involved in during your time with AmeriCorps? Can you share a specific achievement or success story from your time in AmeriCorps that you are particularly proud of?
Jaedyn: Absolutely, the work I’ve been doing has revolved around a series of projects, mainly focusing on the annual survey conducted by OPHP. This survey is a crucial component for local public health agencies (LPHAs) and helps with securing funding. Its purpose is to assess the overall state of public health in Colorado, examining various aspects like governance, agency structure, turnover rates, and core public health services. When I joined, the survey was already in progress, and my role was to dive deeper into the responses.
After the initial survey, my colleagues and I conducted key informant interviews with executive directors of LPHAs. Although we had a 100% response rate for the survey, not all respondents required follow-up interviews. These interviews were valuable, allowing us to understand the challenges faced by LPHAs, how governance influenced their operations, and the trends affecting their service implementation.
My supervisor, Kelsey, and I spent significant time compiling all this data into a comprehensive white paper, a substantial report spanning around 20 to 40 pages. It was a collaborative effort that required meticulous analysis and consolidation of the information gathered. Through this process, we gained valuable insights into the intricacies of public health in Colorado, helping us understand the larger picture and make informed decisions for our projects.
Hannah: Wow, that sounds like a lot of work!
Jaedyn: It was, yeah. I am proud of the work I’ve done so far in this position, particularly in compiling the data from the annual surveys into a comprehensive report. This report is not just a stack of papers; it’s a tangible tool that’s being used to advocate for continued funding for LPHAs. Being part of this process and knowing that my efforts contributed to something so impactful has been incredibly satisfying.
One of my proudest moments was being listed as a speaker at the Public Health and Rockies event, where our team presented information derived from our white paper. Although I couldn’t attend in person, the recognition was a testament to the significance of our work. Alongside the white paper, I’ve been involved in creating a capacity assessment for Core Public Health Services, drawing from both the white paper and key informant interviews. This assessment will play a crucial role in the statewide health improvement plan, a project I’m currently collaborating on with my supervisor, Kelsey.
We’re delving deep into qualitative data gathered from organizations across the state, examining local public health improvement plans and community health assessments. This research will help shape the state health assessment, allowing us to address the most pressing issues in Colorado. Looking ahead, I’m excited about the new challenges, including refining the annual survey questions to enhance their effectiveness. It’s a continuous process of improvement, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.
Hannah: You have a lot to be proud of, and it seems like a great fit for you with your appreciation of technical and social approaches.
Can you share an impact that you made within your host organization? How did your strengths support their work?
Jaedyn: Certainly, I’ve been deeply involved in various assessment and planning activities since March, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see the impact of my work. One significant area where I’ve made a difference is in qualitative data gathering, especially through the annual survey. I’ve played a role in validating this data and shaping the next set of survey questions. Additionally, conducting key informant interviews has been instrumental in gathering valuable insights.
Another aspect that I hadn’t mentioned before is the work I’ve done to ensure digital accessibility for our public-facing documents on the website. It’s become increasingly vital due to new state requirements, and I’ve dedicated substantial effort to make our documents accessible to everyone.
I believe my strength lies in my technical background, which is somewhat unique in this field. Having a purely technical perspective has allowed me to approach our projects with a careful, analytical mindset. I can step back and think about the organization of our work and anticipate potential challenges down the road. This kind of foresight is essential, especially considering my engineering background, where thinking ahead is crucial to preventing harm. I’m proud that this strength has proven helpful to our team and has contributed significantly to our impact.
Hannah: I’m sure your team is so appreciative of your strengths at OPHP! How has this program shaped your long-term career goals, aspirations or interests within the field?
Jaedyn: Going into this role, I had some reservations because I wasn’t entirely sure where I, as an engineer, fit into the realm of public health. While I had a background in public health and even earned a certificate alongside my engineering degree, I still questioned if my skills could find a meaningful place in this field. I knew there were engineers at organizations like CDPHE, but I wasn’t sure if there was a niche for me in a purely “public health” position.
However, as I delved into this experience, my perspective changed. I realized that the intersection of technical skills and public health was more significant than I had initially thought. This journey has shown me that there’s room in this field for professionals from diverse backgrounds. It’s not about fitting into a predefined mold but about leveraging my unique skill set to contribute in meaningful ways.
This realization has given me a newfound appreciation for public health. Regardless of where my career takes me, I now see the potential to stay involved in this field long-term. Whether it’s continuing with assessment and planning or exploring areas like policy and advocacy, I am eager to explore further and contribute my skills to the important work of public health.
Hannah: What I love too is that if you go into more of an engineering field, you’re going to bring that public health perspective there, too.
Final question for you, Jaedyn – looking ahead, what advice would you offer to future AmeriCorps members considering a career in public health or community service?
Jaedyn: My advice, especially coming from a different background that isn’t traditionally associated with public health, would be to embrace the field even if your education or work experience doesn’t align directly. Diversity, not just in social sciences but also in various backgrounds and education, adds immense value to public health. Your unique skills bring a fresh perspective, enriching the field in ways you might not realize.
Don’t underestimate the fulfillment that comes from this work. Even if you never thought of it as something you’d find satisfying, the experience can be incredibly rewarding. So, if you get the chance, I would strongly encourage you to give it a try. Your skills, no matter where they come from, are genuinely appreciated, and you might discover a level of fulfillment you hadn’t expected.
Hannah: Put that on a billboard, right?! That’s great advice.
In reflecting on her own experience, Jaedyn Nishiya offers invaluable advice to aspiring public health professionals. Jaedyn’s unexpected transition from an engineering background to public health planning showcases the importance of encouraging diverse backgrounds in the public health field, even those not conventionally linked with public health. There is a place for all within the public health workforce in Colorado.
We would like to extend our gratitude to our partners at the Office of Public Health Practice, Planning, and Local Partnerships who’s partnership has been integral as a host site for Colorado Public Health Works. Learn more about innovative efforts to energize Colorado’s the new and evolving public health workforce at www.trailhead.institute/workforce-programs-initiatives.