2023 Annual Public Health Awards


Community Preceptor Award for Excellence in Public Health Practice

This award recognizes a public health practitioner in the Rocky Mountain region who has provided exceptional mentorship for one or more students from the Colorado School of Public Health during the last academic year, especially as a preceptor for practice-based learning. 

This year’s award recipient is Dr. Christopher Czaja, a medical epidemiologist and program manager for the Healthcare-Associated Infections and Antimicrobial Resistance Program at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Dr. Czaja is also an alumnus of the Doctor of Public Health program at the Colorado School of Public Health. 

  • Not only does Chris offer much of his time to student mentorship while leading a team full-time at CDPHE, but he also has led and facilitated a new cross-collaboration between the Colorado School of Public Health and CDPHE which offers opportunities for master’s and doctoral-level students to complete practicum and capstone projects in a practice-based learning environment. 
  • More than one Colorado School of Public Health student who had Chris as their preceptor and a mentor for their practicum and capstone experiences nominated him for this award. 
  • To quote one student: “As a mentor, Chris was incredibly gracious with his time during a period in public health where his attentions were often needed elsewhere. Upon entry into my public health internship, Chris and his team made me feel welcomed and supported throughout the duration of my project. I was encouraged to attend the larger branch meetings to gain exposure to other branches of infectious disease within CDPHE for my professional development. During my practicum, we spoke about publishing my work to enhance dissemination of my results. He encouraged me to submit an abstract and brief report to a major scientific journal and premier public health society and helped to secure funding for me to attend a conference where I presented my practicum results. He has objectively provided so many ancillary opportunities for me outside of the confines of the practicum timeline and I am so grateful that I had him as my mentor. He goes above and beyond in his mentorship of students.”
  • Chris, thank you so much for the invaluable work that you do with our students, and the experience you are providing for future public health leaders. 
  • Please join me in a round of applause in recognizing Dr. Chris Czaja as the ColoradoSPH preceptor of the year!

Community Partner Award for Excellence in Public Health Practice

This award recognizes an individual or organization as a community partner for their collaboration with the school and for their excellence and commitment to public health practice in the Rocky Mountain region. 

This year’s award goes to the Centennial Area Health Education Center, and here to accept the award today is their Programs Director and 2023 MPH alumna from the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Northern Colorado, Samantha Vernon. 

  • CAHEC is a small but mighty program whose efforts align to the school’s mission to promote all aspects of the health of the people and communities across Colorado. 
  • To cite some of the work that they’ve done for Weld County and in partnership with the school: 
  • Melissa Jensen, their Executive Director, provided connections for our school’s students enrolled in the Health Communications and Media course to develop brochures and podcasts that promote the organizations that are part of Thriving Weld—a collective impact coalition of local organizations in Weld County that are building a healthier and more prosperous community. 
  • Erika Greenberg, CAHEC’s Health Education and Regional Health Connector, served as a lead instructor for ColoradoSPH students to become certified instructors in NARCAN/NOLOXONE training last year. Not only did she provide assistance to ColoradoSPH, but she also served as a consultant for UNC’s Health Promotion Program in an effort to combat fentanyl overdose through prevention and education. Thanks to Erika and CAHEC, some of our MPH students are now the leaders in NARCAN/NOLOXONE trainings on the UNC campus and will continue to serve the greater community. 
  • Kori Walsh, CAHEC’s Regional Health Connector, has assisted ColoradoSPH efforts to develop a Youth Public Health Summit pilot program, serving on the Rural Public Health and Education Initiative Committee. Kori consistently provides ideas and suggestions and is always willing to connect ColoradoSPH at UNC with potential students who could one day be future public health professionals. 
  • And finally, Samantha Vernon, Programs Director and recent ColoradoSPH graduate co-led a qualitative photovoice project, which explored the mental health components among underrepresented communities in the Northern Colorado area. Thanks to Samantha, ColoradoSPH students gained valuable real-world experience in research methods and have given numerous community members the opportunity to have a bigger and more impactful voice. 


Award for Excellence in Policy

Established in 1988 by CPHA, this award is presented annually to a person or an organization for highly visible past or present efforts within local, state, or national efforts in support of public health issues.

THE WINNER IS – Chris deGruy Kennedy: 

  • Representative Kennedy and his team were instrumental in advocating for and passing HB23-1244 which supported the Regional Health Connector (RHC) program with a sustainable funding solution. 
  • He made time to connect with RHCs, program staff, and partners in order to ensure the RHC workforce was supported in their needs. 
  • Representative Kennedy understands that conveners and connectors like the RHCs are an integral and necessary part of healthcare and public health systems.

Award for Excellence in the Promotion of Health Equity

Presented by the Colorado Public Health Association, the Colorado Society of Public Health Education, and the Public Health.

THE WINNER ISCynthia Hazel: 

  • Dr. Cynthia Hazel is a valuable partner and great contributor to the Champions for Vaccine Equity program at (CDPHE) during the COVID pandemic.  Cynthia joined our Champion program in November 2021.  Since then she has provided her Public Health knowledge and expertise in vaccine equity and serving disproportionately impacted communities of color.  
  • Cynthia is very instrumental in helping to reduce health inequities by presenting factual information with COVID-19 education, building vaccine confidence, and dispelling misinformation around COVID-19 vaccination. 
  • I was blown away when during the height of the COVID pandemic, she was able to organize multiple vaccine clinics in a historically black and brown section of town.

Emerging Leader in Public Health

This award is given to an individual early in their career serving in a public health capacity who has demonstrated outstanding initiative on behalf of the Colorado public health community.

THE WINNER IS – Yesenia Wilson: 

  • Yesenia is a rising star and emerging leader in public health who has given so much to the Colorado public health community and the Colorado community at large. This year, Yesenia led efforts in planning and executing the first-ever Policy and Advocacy Summit put on by the Colorado School of Public Health and the CPHA. 
  • Yesenia’s collaborative efforts led to over 75 event attendees and glowing feedback about the content of the event. Yesenia spent months in preparation and the event was successful largely due to her contributions. 
  • Yesenia has also demonstrated her immense leadership skills as a delegate of CPHA’s Emerging Leaders Committee. Her positivity and inquisitiveness are infectious, and she is not afraid to meet any challenge that faces her. 

Exemplary Frontier Public Health Nurse Award

Recognizes a Public Health Nurse who has demonstrated exemplary service in a local public health agency located in a Colorado rural/frontier community.

THE WINNER IS – Marcie Clendenen: 

  • Marcie has been a member of the CPHA PHN Section for two years and quickly became involved in several PHN Section projects. She continually challenges membership in centering the perspectives of rural Coloradans and those working in public health in rural regions of the state. 
  • Marcie has become a trusted and valued PHN leader for CPHN PHN members statewide. Marcie has also taken an active role in working to move the Future of Nursing Recommendations forward, she enthusiastically serves as secretary for the Colorado Action Coalition Strategic Advisory Committee #4 (SAC#4). 
  • Marci’s enthusiasm for improving public health in rural Colorado communities is definitely contagious and we are fortunate to have her as an exemplary public health nurse in Colorado.

General Recognition

Do you know someone who is deserving of recognition for contributions and accomplishments in public health, but the above awards categories do not quite fit? Tell us more!

THE WINNER IS – Sara Miller: 

  • Sara has been in the field of public health for over thirty years and she still has a passion for public health that is unwavering. Her contributions to the field of public health in Colorado are numerous:
  • Sara worked for CDPHE for 9 years, was the Director of the Colorado Cancer Coalition, was the first Executive Director of Trailhead Institute, and teaches Public Administration as adjunct faculty at the Colorado School of Public Health.
  • Sara founded Otowi Group in 2017, a consultancy that works with public health clients to improve structures, systems, and programs by building effective partnerships and generating solutions, her contributions spread all the way to Puerto Rico, beginning work there after Hurricane Maria.   
  • Sara also is a steadfast advocate and has a passion for the Colorado Public Health Association, serving currently on the Board of Directors as the Treasurer.

John Muth Award: 

Named in honor of Dr. John Muth, who served as CPHA President 1983-1984 and El Paso County Department of Health Director, and practiced internal medicine and obstetrics & gynecology in Colorado. This award is given to a member of CPHA who has made an outstanding contribution to the Association.

THE WINNER IS – Jason Vitello: 

  • Jason joined the CPHA board in 2016 as the first at-large board member with a specific focus on health equity. 
  • He has since made tremendous contributions and impacts, including: partnering with COSOPHE to launch a health equity webinar series which highlighted key health equity experts working on various pressing issues across Colorado, creating and leading CPHA’s Health Equity Coalition of 100+ members, serving as the first Health Equity Director and first Health Equity Officer, increasing the racial/ethnic and professional diversity of the board and membership, integrating health equity into all of CPHA’s focus areas, guiding CPHA in making and living a formal commitment to health equity and being an anti-racist organization, and serving as the liaison between CPHA and DU in creating the Health Equity Network Exchange. 
  • Jason led Pulse Checks where our community could share in our grief and be reminded of our resilience, through his, and know that we were not alone. 

Lifetime Achievement Award

This award honors an individual who has retired from full-time employment in public health, in recognition of their significant contributions and leadership in the field of public health.

THE WINNER IS – Elise Lubell

  • In the 80s, Elise worked at the Hall of Life Health Education Center and a medical publishing company on a toxicology database.  Elise was hired by Jefferson County Health Department, now known as Jeffco Public Health, as their first public health educator in 1987. 
  • In 1991, she took over the helm of the newly organized Health Promotion and Lifestyle Management Division, where she remained for over 30 years. The Division was the home of many innovative and award-winning initiatives that addressed the major root causes of morbidity and mortality including tobacco and substance use prevention and intervention; nutrition, healthy eating, and physical activity, food insecurity and food systems;  health education and promotion tactics embedded within a policy, systems and environmental change framework, and elevated health communication to prominence.
  • After retiring she is still very committed to advancing our field. She is the active president for COSOPHE, the Colorado Chapter for the Society for Public Health Education, and very much involved with CPHA. 

Lillian Wald Award

Lillian D. Wald (1867–1940) was a nurse, social worker, public health official, teacher, author, editor, publisher, women’s rights activist, and the founder of American community nursing. Her unselfish devotion to humanity is recognized around the world and her visionary programs have been widely copied everywhere.

The Lillian Wald Award was given to a public health nurse who demonstrates leadership skills among peers and community; has practiced a minimum of 5 years; and is creative, resourceful and innovative in addressing public health concerns in the community. This person is caring in relationships with colleagues and clients, and initiates, implements and evaluates public health interventions that focus on health promotion and disease prevention, and shares public health knowledge with colleagues and the community.

THE WINNER IS – Cynthia Horn:

  • Cynthia Horn, NP, is our Chief Nursing Officer. She is an outstanding public health nursing superstar.  She has worked with WCDPHE for over 20 years. She is always patient and empathetic with her patients and staff.  Her knowledge of our clinical programs is nothing short of amazing. 
  • Cynthia is an expert in Family Planning, STI, Immunization, TB, CPED/WWC, and WISEWOMAN.   Cynthia also understands the administrative side of these grant programs.  
  • She has been a wonderful teacher for me personally and has helped so many nurses throughout her career. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cynthia was a steadfast leader in directing testing services so that people in her community could be protected. She did this while also ensuring that our clinic ran normal operations“ never closing for our patients that needed care. 
  • Coming out of the pandemic, she has played an invaluable role as we have achieved 100 community-based clinics offering STI screening/testing and immunizations over the past year.

Public Health Champ Award

The Public Health Champ Award was created in 1982 and goes to a full-time public health employee who is not in a high-level management position. The recipient must be a member of CPHA and have made an outstanding contribution to public health.

THE WINNER IS – Sammi Jo Lawson: 

  • As a colleague and witness to her outstanding dedication, unwavering passion, and transformative impact in the field of public health, I am convinced that Samantha is the embodiment of a leader in this critical domain.  
  • Samantha has consistently demonstrated exceptional leadership skills, taking on complex challenges and spearheading initiatives that have improved the health outcomes of vulnerable populations. Her ability to collaborate effectively with diverse stakeholders, including community organizations, government agencies, and healthcare providers, has been instrumental in driving positive change.
  • She actively seeks to address health disparities and implement interventions that promote health equity for underserved communities. 

Roy Cleere Distinguished Service Award

The Colorado Public Health Association’s Distinguished Service Award was renamed in 1974 in honor of Dr. Cleere who was the director of the Colorado Department of Health for 38 years. The award goes to someone who is a member of CPHA and has made an exceptional contribution to the field of public health in Colorado.

THE WINNER IS – Kelsey Robinson: 

  • Kelsey’s unwavering dedication and exceptional accomplishments align perfectly with the spirit of this esteemed award. Like Dr. Cleere, Kelsey has devoted herself to improving public health in Colorado. 
  • Through her remarkable guidance, she has established a solid foundation of knowledge and best practices for LPHAs in developing community health assessments and improvement plans.
  • Kelsey’s creation of the peer learning network echoes Dr. Cleere’s commitment to collaboration, weaving together public health planners across the state and fostering a vibrant tapestry of collective growth and progress.
  • Following in Dr. Cleere’s footsteps as a catalyst for positive change, Kelsey leads the development of the state health assessment and state health improvement plan. 

Sabin Award

The Florence Sabin Award was established in 1947 by CPHA. The award is made for achievement in the public health field, in recognition of the outstanding leadership of Dr. Florence Sabin in the promotion of better public health in Colorado. This award is made to a person whose primary career is not in the public health field.

THE WINNER IS – Allison Rosenthal: 

  • Allison Rosenthal has actively been involved in the Colorado Public Health Association, most recently serving as the Director of the Culture of Data Committee. She has continuously contributed to not only her committee but the organization as a whole. 
  • Allison currently works as a Statistical Analyst at the Colorado Department of Public Safety’s Office of Research and Statistics, where she consistently goes above and beyond to incorporate public health theories and practices. 
  • She advocates strongly for our broader community’s health and safety on and off the job.