Passionate about providing ‘accessible and easy to understand’ health information

Catherine Garber

Catherine Garber

Health Behavior and Health Education

Attending graduate school wasn’t always something that Catherine Garber thought would be obtainable. The cost of attending a top school for a two-year master’s degree can be considerable, and for many years Garber wondered how she could make it work.

“Luckily, the University of Michigan School of Public Health has great funding opportunities that helped make my dream of getting a Master of Public Health possible,” said Garber, who is a member of the graduating Class of 2023 after earning a master’s degree in Health Behavior and Health Education.

“If cost is prohibitive for you, I’d recommend applying anyways. There are so many opportunities that you can take advantage of including departmental tuition scholarships, research assistantships, teaching positions and one-time scholarships that can help.”

Garber, who works as a communications and marketing specialist in Michigan Public Health’s Department of Marketing and Communications, received assistance from the Elaine E. Fineran Scholarship, Michigan Public Health Internship Transition Fund, Scott K. Simonds Scholarship Fund and Sunway Trust Internship.   

While pursuing her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, Garber switched majors a few times. Within the span of a year and a half, she switched her major from Chemistry to Kinesiology and, finally, to “what felt like a 180-degree change to Communications.”

The school has a really strong reputation, and I knew I would be prepared academically for a successful career in public health.”

“What I liked about Communications was that I could make the degree my own and it allowed me to use creative skills in a way I wouldn’t be able to do in a lot of other degrees,” said Garber, who grew up in Livonia, Michigan, about 25 minutes northeast of Ann Arbor. “I added two minors, graphic design and public relations, as well as a degree concentration in Health Promotion. At that time, I had no idea what the field of public health was, but, looking back, I can see exactly how all these interests map into public health and the future career I hope to have in health communication.

“Allowing myself the freedom to meander a bit the first year of undergrad and choose a path that combined my talents in the communication space with what I was passionate about— health—led me directly to public health years later.”

That experience led her to choose Michigan Public Health because it was the perfect blend of what she wanted from a graduate school.

“The school has a really strong reputation, and I knew I would be prepared academically for a successful career in public health,” Garber said of Michigan Public Health, ranked No. 5 by the U.S. News and World Report in its annual list of Best Public Health Schools. “The school and the University of Michigan as a whole also present so many opportunities, like a wide variety of classes—both within the school and across the wider university campus—along with research, networking, case competitions, conferences, student organizations and resources that you can take advantage of while you’re a student to enrich your experience.”

Within the Michigan Public Health culture, she felt connected to the mission of “pursuing a healthier world for all” and was instantly welcomed by the other students, faculty and staff.

“Plus, I just love the city of Ann Arbor,” Garber said. “For me, it’s just the right size. It has a small town feel and lots of community events, but also has so much to do in downtown and within driving distance. Every season in Ann Arbor brings something special—football games and cider mills, beautiful snowy winters, outdoor adventuring, and festivals like Top of the Park and Kindlefest are my favorites. I couldn’t have imagined a better place to pursue my graduate studies.”

In her free time, she was able to pursue her personal interests such as cooking, reading and spending time outdoors. Garber also has been a competitive figure skater for much of her life. During her second year of graduate school, she joined an adult synchronized figure skating team based in Ann Arbor.

“We competed several times throughout the year, ending with the National Synchronized Skating Championships,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to meet new people, be physically active and have a creative outlet. My classmates were supportive of this endeavor and the program workload certainly allows time for students to pursue other passions.”

I just love the city of Ann Arbor. For me, it’s just the right size. It has a small town feel and lots of community events, but also has so much to do in downtown and within driving distance."

There are several reasons Garber chose the Health Behavior and Health Education Program.

“I love the diverse range of career paths you can follow with a Master of Public Health degree in Health Behavior and Health Education,” she said.

The program brings together students and faculty who are passionate about a huge range of public health issues: mental health, reproductive health, maternal health, firearm safety, child and adolescent health, global public health and so much more. Learning from instructors, alongside peers, with so many different interest areas enriches the experience and allows students to find what they are passionate about while pursuing their degree.

Another aspect of the program that appealed to Garber is how much space it allows for students to take elective public health courses, or courses offered across campus. That way, students can really customize their degree to topic areas that they are interested in and skills they would like to develop. In her second year, she took a data visualization class offered through the School of Social Work, where she learned hard skills such as Tableau, as well as design principles related to effectively communicating data to the general public.

“Health Behavior and Health Education is the perfect program for students who are interested in multiple different aspects of the public health field and would like flexibility in their degree,” Garber said.  

The Michigan Public Health community was another strong selling point for her.

“When I first met my Health Behavior and Health Education classmates during orientation, I felt like I had found my people,” she said. “Everyone is so kind and welcoming, and making friends was easy. Knowing that we are all aligned in our pursuit for greater health and increased health equity gives me such hope for the future.”

Garber hopes to combine her background in communications, marketing and graphic design with public health to pursue a career in health communication.

“I’m really passionate about providing the public with information that is accessible and easy to understand,” she said. “Within Health Behavior and Health Education, there are several health communication courses that I’ve been able to take, and each one has helped develop my skill set in this area. I particularly loved Risk Communication and Sticky Communication with Brian Zikmund-Fisher. In these classes, we discussed the pitfalls that are common in public health communication and how you can overcome them with simple and memorable messages.”

After graduation, Garber is looking forward to a “full-circle moment” when she can combine her previous education and work experience in marketing and communications with her new public health degree.

“I’m planning to apply to health communication positions in hospital systems, local health departments or even at one of the many research centers at the University of Michigan,” she said. “Whatever I do, I hope to find value in disseminating valuable health information to the public and helping to make that information as clear and accessible as possible.”