Get to know: Incoming alumni chapter chair Katelynn Theal (MPH ‘10)

Incoming School of Public Health Alumni Chapter chair, Katelynn Theal (MPH ‘10) answered some questions about her journey into public health and her hopes for the School's alumni community.

Why did you decide to get a master’s in public health?

As I pursued an undergraduate degree in kinesiology and was certified as an exercise physiologist, I was working as a personal trainer. I discovered within my first year that I was really only helping people who could afford it. It helped me realize that I wanted to help communities and work on a population level. 

Following a conversation with a friend who was studying public health, I found that my passion for working at a population level aligned really well with public health. I ended up working on a project with her in Halifax, as I wrapped up my undergrad on increasing activity through play. Working with and getting to know someone in the public health field paved the path for me to pursue a public health education. 

What was that educational experience like?

At the time, it was overwhelming. I feel like I was too young and green. I remember feeling like I was discovering and learning a new language. With a science-focused undergraduate background, I felt a little out of my depth amongst my politically savvy, social justice-oriented peers. But looking back, it was great. I had an amazing cohort.

I still reflect on the lessons learned in my classes on the complexity and interplay of the power dynamics when it comes to community development. As someone who works in community development today, I know firsthand that you have to be very attentive to the needs of your community members. 

What’s your favorite memory of being a student at SPH?

We had a really small cohort for health promotion. So, I have a lot of great memories with them - going out for lunch, studying together. I worked at a gym right above Sugar Bowl the year before my degree, so I knew my way around campus before our orientation week. I got to be everyone’s tour guide and made lots of friends that way. 

Speak about your current job a little bit. What do you do? What’s your favorite part about it?

Currently, I am the assistant director,  comprehensive school health at Ever Active Schools. I actually did my master’s practicum with them in 2010, and challenged them to hire more public health graduates. When I started working full time in 2012, we were a small team of seven or eight staff. Today, we’ve hit well over 20. I love the culture our team has built together as we worked to grow the organization’s capabilities to help school communities be healthy, happy places.  

Under the leadership of Brian Torrance, the director of Ever Active Schools, we’ve blossomed into a connecting point within the province for supporting healthy children and youth. Today, we operate with physical and health education experts, health promotion professionals and public health practitioners. This blend has allowed us to grow beyond health and physical education to comprehensive school health. 

You recently stepped into the role of chairing the SPHAC committee. What drove you to volunteer with SPHAC in the first place?

I graduated from the School of Public Health almost 11 years ago. I wasn’t born and raised in Edmonton, and since graduation, much of my cohort isn’t here anymore; I don’t have a huge community in that sense. So, I would always keep my eye open when events came up from the School and was always grateful for the opportunity to connect back with the University of Alberta and network with people with similar passions. 

When the opportunity to volunteer with SPHAC first came up, I knew I had to put my name in the running. I had the necessary event planning experience and I wanted to learn more about how alumni like myself could remain connected with the School. It has been a great experience to learn more about the relationship between the School and public health alumni. It helped me stay connected with an amazing community of like-minded alumni.

What do you envision for the future of SPHAC?

I want to continue the great work started by the previous chair, Kayla Atkey. We have a strong relationship with the School of Public Health Students’ Association. My goal for the future is to nurture this relationship, and grow  opportunities for graduates like myself who have been out for 10 plus years, people who are having children and growing their families, people navigating the work-life balance as public health professionals. 

How can other alumni get involved and volunteer with the School?

If there’s an appetite to participate, I would encourage alumni to tune in to the events organized and promoted by the Office of Alumni Relations, the School of Public Health, and the Alumni Chapter. Considering the current online world we’re operating in, there’s very little risk for alumni because you can just participate from behind your screen. Even when we’re beyond online worlds, I would encourage people to just take the chance and come reconnect with their fellow alumni.

I remember going to an alumni paint night by myself and meeting Ali, a former SPHAC president. He was so welcoming and kind; I felt immediately accepted into the group. And if you know someone in your area from your cohort, bring them along to events because they might be thinking the same thing! 


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