It started with just one class

profile shot of Kayleigh DayUWL Alumna Kayleigh Day, ’11 & ’16, earned a Master of Public Health and a bachelor’s degree in Community Health Education and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. After starting her career, theories she learned about in classes related to social inequalities were evident in the communities she was serving with the Monroe County Health Department.

Alumna uses women’s studies, health degrees to improve lives in Monroe County

When UWL Alumna Kayleigh Day registered for her first classes at UW-La Crosse, she chose a 100 level Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies course. “It sounded interesting,” she recalls.

After just one class, Day was hooked.

“Things I had always questioned growing up, but maybe didn’t take seriously, I learned those are actual things,” she explains.

Day learned about how gender inequality and other social inequalities affect people’s lives — including their health.

She ended up double majoring in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies and community health education, followed by a master’s degree in public health. Today her career combines all of her degrees as she works to address social inequalities she studied as a student as they relate to public health.

Day is one of many UWL alumni sharing how they use their women’s, gender and sexuality studies degrees in their lives and careers in this video.

As a community health educator with Monroe County Health Department in Sparta, Day is leading efforts to address some of the county’s biggest health issues in areas such as mental health, alcohol and other drug abuse and nutrition. She can be found leading suicide prevention trainings at local clubs and community organizations, discussing ways to get low income people access healthy foods, and taking part in local coalition efforts to improve public health.

While it may be obvious how Day uses her health degrees, she says her women’s, gender, and sexuality studies degree gives her wider view of public health issues.

“Social justice is a core principal of public health — the idea that everyone deserves to live in a healthy environment,” says Day. “Where I pull a lot from my Women’s Studies background is when we are looking at social inequalities, and you can see those reflected in health outcomes.”

Day points to the recent news of higher death rates among black babies in Dane County as just one example.

As a reproductive health advocate for Essential Health Clinic, her first job after earning her undergraduate degree, Day saw social inequalities affected the health decisions of young women.

“How can someone make a choice about their healthcare if they don’t have insurance, access to transportation to get to the clinic, or are living in poverty?” she asks.

Lower income populations also have higher tobacco use and food insecurity rates, she notes.

“Being in this field, you see how things people have no control over such as race, gender and socioeconomic status do have an impact on their health,” Day says.

Because of her multi-disciplinary education, Day says she is conditioned to think critically about public health, always asking what’s at the root of a particular health issue and what role she can play for change.

“My educational background is invaluable,” she says. “It gives me the ability to be constantly thinking about how social inequalities are impacting people’s lives and their health.”

And its helped her land a career where she knows she is making a difference.

“I love that my job is helping improve the environment in which people live,” she says.

Day earns Rosandich Graduate Thesis Award

Kayleigh Day received UWL’s Rosandich Graduate Thesis Award, which recognizes the best graduate thesis, based on originality, impact and written quality. Day was a graduate assistant in the Health Education/Health Promotion Department. Her thesis research was “An Exploratory Study Assessing the perceived health and workplace health promotion needs of Monroe County employees.”

The award is funded through Thomas P. Rosandich, ’54, president of the U.S. Sports Academy in Daphne, Alabama. The recipient receives $1,000.

Day’s professional goal is to pursue a doctorate and conduct public health research and teaching.