Balancing Act | Vanessa Obetz

Being a mom isn’t easy. Being a single mom isn’t easy. But what about being a single mom of three, pursuing a master’s degree, implementing a campus-wide carpooling program, and tutoring college-level statistics several times a week? Yeah, it still isn’t easy. But that’s exactly what graduate student Vanessa Obetz does here at UCCS.

­­Obetz transferred to UCCS in the fall of 2014 from a small college in St. George, Utah, an experience she describes as “going from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond.” She knew she wanted to attend grad school here, so she finished up her undergraduate studies in the honors program for psychology, eventually moving on to start her master’s in psychological sciences in the fall of 2016.

When asked about her career goals at the time, Obetz said she didn’t have much direction, only knowing that she wanted to be able to apply data research and best practices to policy and program evaluation on a public level. Then she stumbled upon a job posting for sustainability coordinator in the Office of Parking and Transportation on campus.

“It’s like the job was written for someone that wants to do exactly what I had planned,” said Obetz. She quickly applied, was hired and the rest is history. Over the past two years, Obetz has worked in this role to promote sustainable alternatives to transportation to and from campus, as well as around campus. The actual work runs a bit deeper than just promoting alternatives, as Obetz applies much of what she learns about psychology in the classroom directly to her job.

“Climate change is a problem that we need large-scale behavioral change to solve,” says Obetz of her work. She continues to explain, “the thought was that once humans have information that they’ll make behavioral changes themselves, which hasn’t turned out to be true; instead we have to focus our efforts to changing social norms.”

Obetz continues to elaborate, explaining that normalizing an action makes someone more likely to consider performing that action themselves. In the case of the Parking and Transportation website at UCCS, presenting more sustainable alternatives (like biking, taking the bus or carpooling) right next to options for parking passes “equalizes” the options visually, making people consider options that they might not normally.

“It’s been fun to take theory and apply it, take research and apply it, and to play with data that I’ve been able to collect from running a campus-wide transportation survey both years that I’ve worked in this job,” says Obetz.

Her work with the office to normalize sustainable transportation options is already impressive. Couple that with raising three children, and you wonder where she finds the time.

“I don’t have a good answer, except for that I just do,” says Obetz of how she’s able to find time for herself while balancing her obligations. She continues, “Being a single parent is hard not just because of the work, but also from the cognitive load, so I reach out a lot and vent to my friends and that helps.” Obetz also pulled out a color-coded calendar, where she deliberately schedules time to take care of herself by going to gym, or being with friends and family.

All the work she does is with her end goal in sight. Obetz says, “I’ve never wanted to go into academia with my degree, so I think it’s so fun to apply what I’ve learned over the past few years to do something positive and help people from a system’s policy perspective.”

Through her time working with both the Office of Parking and Transportation and the Office of Sustainability, Obetz has been able to make an impact on campus, while simultaneously gaining the experience she needs to be able to excel in her chosen field to provide for her family.