The California Community Colleges is on the cusp of a new era. Across the state, community colleges are contributing to developing the new, proposed “Vision 2030: A Roadmap for California… Read More – Advancing CTE Student Success with Faculty Engagement
Coastline College Health Science Professor Laurie Runk Empowers Healthy Careers Feature Story
Laurie Runk was born with a rare growth disorder but with the help of knowledgeable doctors and supportive mentors, Laurie learned how to navigate her condition and live a healthy life. Along the way, Laurie learned that the best medicine didn’t just treat illness, it kept people from getting sick. As a professor and department chair of health sciences at Coastline College, this is a lesson she enjoys teaching every day.
“On my journey, I feel empowered when I feel in control of my health,” explains Laurie, whose favorite course to teach is kinesiology because it allows her to show students how each body’s system is interconnected and unique. “I want to teach my students how to make proactive decisions about their own health, too.”
After initially enrolling as a pre-med student at Ashland University, Runk eventually switched to exercise science so she could learn more about kinesiology, food, nutrition, and health. Along the way, she got some important advice—seeing that Laurie genuinely loved teaching people how to live healthier lives, a mentor suggested she consider becoming a professor. Inspired by their support, she gave it a try.
“My professors framed the nutrition material as though it was about my health journey,” recalls Runk, who enjoys encouraging students to consider an interdisciplinary approach to health in order to live healthier and more fulfilling lives.”Learning from them inspired and taught me how to share that information with my family and friends.”
As a professor, Laurie encourages students to process the information they find on the internet, on television, and through their peers as critical consumers. This shift in thinking teaches students how to analyze data and evaluate sources so they can become health professionals their communities can trust.
“The most rewarding part of teaching is the shift students make from starting class to completing it,” explains Laurie. “Students are not overwhelmed customers; they are qualified professionals.”
Runk recalls one example of a student whose health education helped her take control of her life. Raised in foster care, the student was unaware of her family’s health history which became an issue as she began struggling with her own health issues. Runk’s family is actively involved in raising foster children, so she understood the challenges her student was facing.
With Runk’s support, the student eventually chose to pursue a degree in exercise science at Coastline. Today, Runk and the student still keep in touch. Soon, the student will begin a Physical Assistant program, where she hopes to encourage others to start proactive journeys into health.
Today, healthcare is the largest industry in the U.S. with eleven million jobs in a wide range of career opportunities within hospitals, government offices, laboratories, private research centers, dental offices, public agencies, and more. Professionals can choose careers that are hands-on with patients or concentrate on research.
To meet this growing need, Coastline offers Health Sciences degrees and certificates in four growing fields: gerontology, health, nutrition and dietetics, and kinesiology.
What makes Coastline’s programs especially unique is that they are all offered entirely online. While students often worry that this will mean reduced support, Runk is proud to report that students receive the same level of attention as in in-person classes. Students build camaraderie and take a holistic approach to health by exploring anatomy, biology, chemistry, and physiology to understand how these different fields are connected.
Despite being fully online, clinical experiences remain a critical part of any health sciences education. To meet these needs, Coastline’s health sciences program offers virtual reality experiences where students can complete clinical work hours and simulate patient interactions.
“We have many practitioner roles to fill in the healthcare industry,” Laurie says. “Virtual reality has been a well-received resource to help us move forward.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create challenges, Coastline has adapted quickly by creating new content to help students address issues related to infectious diseases, global pandemics, and the public health sector. Going forward, Coastline’s Department of Health Sciences plans to continue expanding health education resources for students.
“Our students are the practitioners I want to send my grandmother to,” Laurie explains. “We need practitioners we can trust who give trustworthy advice backed by science.”
Runk wants everyone to know health science is more than a degree—it’s an interdisciplinary approach to healthy living.
For more information about Coastline College’s Department of Health Sciences and programs of study, please visit https://www.coastline.edu/academics/degree-and-certificate-programs/health-sciences/index.html.