Story by Amy Ventura
In May 2016, Erin Prapas graduated from the Colorado School of Public Health at Colorado State University. In July, she and her husband took a one-way flight to India. In September, Erin contracted Dengue fever.
After two days in the hospital and two weeks in bed at home, the newly minted public health professional found a silver lining in the experience: “I learned a lot about hospital care and medical treatment in India through the process!” she said.
Having earned her MPH with a concentration in Global Health and Health Disparities from ColoradoSPH at CSU, Prapas now works in Pune, India, as a public health consultant, producing reports for a think tank that helps connect tribal communities and the government, interviewing farmers for a sustainable agriculture company and writing about her experiences.
A simple goal
Raised in northern Colorado, Prapas didn’t start out in the health care field. Originally, she studied history, earning a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University Corpus Christi and a master’s degree from Colorado State University. Later, her work in the field of environmentally friendly built environments sparked her interest in public health.
“I was very concerned with the disparities that were not always addressed in the arena of green building,” she said.
Once at ColoradoSPH, her interest in disease investigation and social health determinants led her to focus on global health.
Now that she’s working in her chosen field, Prapas’ goal is simple: “I want to do good work in the place where I live, wherever that might be at any given moment. I want to see, in my lifetime, less inequitable distribution of resources and greater social equality, including access to health and healthy behaviors.”
A global reality
To achieve those goals, she’s applying what she learned at ColoradoSPH. Prapas recently traveled back to Denver to attend the American Public Health Association conference and present a case study about the Nepal Gorkha Earthquake, which she completed as a student — research connected to public health’s role in disaster recovery operations emphasizing waste-related health outcomes.
She says that research and interviewing are two skills learned at ColoradoSPH that she uses on a daily basis, but there are also more subtle lessons she gleaned from being a part of diverse classrooms, which have been helpful in her adjustment to life and work in India.
“Listening, setting aside judgment and thinking critically were discussed in my classes and with people I met at ColoradoSPH,” she said. “There are ways of dealing with disagreements that create positive change.”
For example, Prapas does not agree with some Indian laws, but instead of forcing her own beliefs on others, she tries to understand why the laws might exist in the first place.
“It is a global age, and many are well-traveled, but we are not all the same — that is the reality,” she said.
An exciting future
Prapas enjoys the way that her freelance work allows her to travel the world and to seek out the public health projects that interest her most.
“There is such a wealth of diversity in the courses offered at ColoradoSPH, and I made sure to explore quite a number of them so that I could pursue any facet of public health that I wanted upon graduation,” she said.
She credits many of the faculty at the ColoradoSPH with teaching students to be open to all areas that may include the health of the public. She now believes that every company — from engineering and architecture firms to environmental and community nonprofits — could benefit from the perspective of a public health professional.
“I see a future in which workplaces are not so silo-ed, and public health professionals will be ready to fill many broad-thinking positions,” she said.