Working with children has long been a high priority for Cathy Runnels, whose bachelor’s degree was in elementary education.
She initially worked with pre-K/kindergarten students in the classroom, as well as in after-school, summer camp, and Head Start programs. Her primary focus with the latter was at-risk youth, and she began to consider how she could have a more significant impact on their lives.
She moved into behavioral health, primarily in alcohol and drug addiction programs. “I worked with youth, adults, and families,” she says. “I could see that these addictions were the root of many community problems.” Her interest in community impacts led her to wonder how she could help people, especially women and children, on an international scale.
Searching for a Flexible Master’s Program
Runnels had studied community health during college, and came to realize that public health might be her passion. “Public health encompassed everything I care about,” she says. “The more I thought about it, the more I realized what I could accomplish going forward with a Master of Public Health.”
While researching programs, it became clear a traditional brick-and-mortar program wouldn’t be a good fit. “I worked full time, I’m a mom and a wife, and trying to balance a rigid schedule and commuting—it would have been impossible to stay sane,” Runnels recalls. “Capella helped me stay sane by giving me the flexibility I needed to juggle all these things. It also gave me a strong education. Capella absolutely positioned me to move forward.”
From Master’s to a Dream Job
Runnels began her MPH program in 2013 and completed it in 2016. She was working for the State of Texas on addiction education, and her master’s allowed her to expand her role into broader advocacy. “My MPH absolutely put me in the position to move toward my long-term goals,” she explains. “I’ve worked with Child Protective Services on sex trafficking and child abuse, which is my passion. I’m really excited about the work I’m doing now and how it’s lining me up for the future work I want to do.”
One of her goals is getting into a leadership position in her current workplace. But she sees even bigger moves than that. “I’d like to train people going out into the field, especially in how to be culturally competent and how to work with diverse populations,” she says. “I also want to master a second language, likely Spanish, because my ultimate goal is to work with an organization like the U.N. or UNICEF, and I’d need to be fluent in a second language to do that.”
The Value of an Advanced Degree
Runnels is confident that the education she earned from Capella will continue to be an asset to her. “This is a competitive field,” she says. “You need that advanced degree, you need that edge. And Capella was not easy. It requires time and effort. You really have to earn it.”
What she gained from the degree was noticeable in her work immediately. “When I started this job, the people training me started saying, ‘I’m learning from you!’ They were really impressed with my knowledge.”
That knowledge and education are what it will take to put her into the world of international relief organizations, allowing her to extend her reach to help at-risk youth and women. “It will really give me so many opportunities,” she says.
Learn more about Capella’s online Master of Public Health program.