Creating a career in community mental health, health equity

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Rachel Culp

Creating a career in community mental health, health equity

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Meet Health Hero Rachel Culp, MPH ’23

Rachel Culp, MPH ’23, interned with the Disability Equity Center, worked part-time for the Coast to Forest program, served as an MPH ambassador and was an active member of the Disabled Students Union while earning their MPH at Oregon State.  

Now an independent contractor for Coast to Forest, they support the development and maintenance of a comprehensive web-based library of tools and resources related to behavioral health in Oregon.

What inspired you to pursue a career in public health?

When I started my undergraduate degree, I was interested in pursuing a career in health care but discovered that while I excelled in my coursework, my passion was for community-based work rather than treating individual patients.  

As a result, I became interested in public health, with a particular emphasis in health promotion and health behavior so I could learn how to create, implement and evaluate community-level programming.  

My coursework and career have focused on mental health promotion and disability equity because of my own experiences with the mental health system and embedded ableism.

It is my goal to provide accessible, community-based research and programming to promote mental health.

Tell us about your time at Oregon State and in the college. Is there someone or something who/that helped you be successful?

I really enjoyed my time in the MPH program. I loved the interdisciplinary emphasis that allowed me to tailor my coursework toward my career goals and take classes in psychology, anthropology and public health.  

Additionally, I had two amazing mentors during my time at OSU: My advisor, Veronica Irvin, and the PI for my research project, Sandi Phibbs. Both have been incredibly supportive of my growth as a public health professional and researcher. I am continually inspired by them and their work.

What challenges did you overcome along your academic journey?

One of the biggest challenges was coordinating and effectively managing my time for my last two quarters between my internship with the Disability Equity Center, part-time job at Coast to Forest, and full course load. I ended up keeping a detailed written planner and phone calendar so that I could stay on top of all my commitments and deadlines. 

Were you involved in any organizations or clubs when on campus?

Yes, I was an MPH Ambassador and got to help answer prospective students’ questions and organize events for current students. These events ranged from social events to more educational events. For example, I got to help host events like a Gingerbread Decorating Night, MPH Paint Night, and the JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) Disability Lunch and Learn!

Additionally, I was an active member of the Disabled Students Union (DSU). The DSU is a student-led group by and for disabled OSU community members and allies that provides advocacy, education and community-building activities. As a DSU member, I participated in a variety of advocacy and education events such as the annual Disability Justice Rally, which focused on highlighting accessibility and equity issues experienced by disabled students and staff.  

I was also part of the Steering Committee for the Disabled Students Lounge (DSL), which finally opened in spring 2023 and is located in Snell Hall 150. Having the DSL is so important because it provides a physical space for students with disabilities to have community and access resources.

What is your current position? What was your career progression? What do you enjoy most about your career?

I work as an independent contractor for the Coast to Forest project, which is a mental health promotion and substance use prevention project led by the Oregon State University Center for Health Innovation (OCHI) and OSU Extension Family and Community Health.  

In my role, I have supported the development, launch and maintenance of a comprehensive web-based library of tools and resources related to behavioral health in Oregon. I also serve as the lead author of a comprehensive report on evidence-based suicide postvention practices and the role of the OSU Extension Service within postvention responses that has been submitted for publication.  

I started my work with Coast to Forest as a student outreach assistant at the start of 2022 and transitioned to my current position after graduation.  

During spring 2023, I also completed an internship with the Disability Equity Center in Corvallis, where I adapted, conducted and analyzed community listening sessions with disabled adults in the Mid-Willamette Valley. The goal of the sessions was to identify areas of need, inform future programming decisions, and improve current program offerings.  

As cheesy as it is to say, what I enjoy most about my career is how I get to consistently learn new skills while working in a field that I am passionate about. 

If you could deliver a message to future students, what would you say?

Don’t be afraid to join clubs or on-campus organizations because they are a great way to make friends and get involved in things you are passionate about. If there’s something you would like to see on campus that doesn’t exist, there are ways to make your ideas a reality.  

Similarly, there are lots of amazing lectures and seminars during the year, and I would recommend going if you can.  

Finally, while it can be a bit scary, don’t be afraid to ask questions or reach out to professors. In my experience, they truly care and want to support you.