Associate Professor Donna Champeau is a supporter, a source of inspiration and an advocate for Oregon State University’s public health graduate programs and their students’ success.
Coming from a working class family, she learned at an early age that success doesn’t grow on a tree; you have to work for what you want.
“My parents both worked very, very hard and were great role models,” she says. “My dad worked in a factory for 42 years, and I never remember him having less than two jobs at a time.”
However, being the only girl in her family had its disadvantages. Although she received above-average grades and was involved in sports during high school, she was held to a different standard within her family – one that didn’t include expectations for college.
“I was never encouraged to go to college,” she says. “My parents didn’t know what college was. They had no experience with this level of education.”
Even her high school counselor suggested she study at a technical school instead of a university. But that didn’t stop her from setting her own goal of becoming a teacher, and with the help of supportive high school teachers, she applied to college.
“They said I had good teaching skills,” she says. “They kept working with me on that by giving me assignments to help them with in class. I really enjoyed it and gained a lot of confidence.”
The inspiration didn’t stop there, and after earning her degree at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and working 11 years as a health and physical education teacher, she was encouraged to return to school to get a master’s degree.
It was with the help of even more dedicated professors who supported and pushed Champeau that she later earned her Ph.D. at Oregon State.
“They helped me with my application process, wrote recommendation letters for me and were very instrumental in getting me the teaching assistantship I needed to continue on in my college career,” she says. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”
She hasn’t forgotten the inspiration and encouragement she received throughout her schooling, and is now passing that support and optimism along to her students.
“I think it’s so important for professors to make every student feel important like the professors I had did for me,” she says. “I know what kind of attributes they had to do that, and I’m using that knowledge to help my students succeed as well.”
Champeau currently teaches Health Promotion and Health Behavior classes in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and constantly works to help students achieve their goals of being accepted into the Master of Public Health program.
“I think the discipline speaks for itself in terms of the kind of students we get here,” she says. “They’re all like-minded. They all want to help, they all want to serve, they all want to make a difference, and I want to help them do that.”
She points out it’s not just the students who make the Master of Public Health program stand out, but also the environment and instructors as well.
“Students come in wanting to help communities be healthy, and so what better place to model that than the built, healthy community that we have,” she says.
Like Champeau, the college’s other professors bring a unique set of expertise and background experiences to the classroom.
“Our professors are all great at what they do,” she says. “They want to be good and they want to get better at the delivery of their content because that helps the students in the end. We’re here, we’re working, but we want to help change the lives of those students who are going to change the lives of others in our communities.”
Champeau also connects students to their communities outside of the classroom. She currently sits on the board of CARDV, the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence, and helps students gain real-life experience by obtaining internships there.
“I have a huge passion for any population that is discriminated against or oppressed,” she says. “My interest is fighting for equality in any shape, form and fashion, in any population. This great resource here is not only a passion of mine, but it also serves our students well in their future.”
Champeau describes public health as being about prevention and equality, giving everybody the right to good health by changing communities and providing them with the skills they need to have a supportive environment for the health of their populations.
“How do we do that?” she asks. “By convincing and changing behaviors and attitudes and initiating new policies and programs that are affective in getting people to support good health for individuals and the larger population.”
The constantly changing field of public health keeps Champeau on her toes. Because public health is integrated in all CPHHS degree programs, and with the six public health disciplines interconnected, faculty and students alike are pushed to think outside the box.
“The disciplines are all very specific in terms of their focus, but the lense they come out with is all the same,” she says. “The health person or the behavior person can’t do their job without the biostatician being able to take the data and make sense of it, and vice versa.”
For those wanting to make a difference in communities, Champeau says this is an exciting time to be in the MPH or Ph.D. program at Oregon State.
She points out that public health not only is becoming more of a commonly used term world wide, but also that the College of Public Health and Human Sciences is continually growing and is on track to become a CEPH accredited college by 2014.
“It’s a great time to see us,” she says. “We’re adding more new, young researchers with new, innovative ideas. Our students can be a part of a new era in Oregon, which I think is very exciting.”
~ Heather Turner