Leading a community during crisis | Susan Wheelan ’97

Susan Wheelan is the director of El Paso County Public Health, a position she was appointed to in 2019. She was at the helm of Public Health during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping our community navigate the complexities of the crisis, particularly as they relate to balancing the health of our residents and the resilience of our businesses, schools, and other critical community organizations.  

“I work in the field of public health, which is really about improving community health,” explained Wheelan. “We focus on the community and how we can help those in it be healthier and we are very passionate about what we do. There’s so much we do that is a value to the community and I would really encourage people to learn more about public health, especially students, because it is a fun field and it has a direct measurable impact to improving lives.”

Susan’s adept leadership and communication skills, cultivated during her time at UCCS as an undergraduate communication student, were put to the test as she led local public health and emergency response to tackle the unprecedented public health crisis. Though Susan had the confidence and leadership abilities for the daunting tasks required of her role, there was a time she wasn’t even sure she’d be attending college, let alone taking on a crisis.

“My path to college and earning a college degree was a little bit bumpy. I’m a first-generation college graduate. I did not have a lot of hopes and dreams related to what I could be,” said Susan.

“I needed some people that believed in me and to lift me up, and that’s what UCCS did for me.”

A member of the Class of 1997, Susan holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, and a master’s degree in Business Administration and Homeland Security Certificate from Colorado Technical University.

Since graduating from UCCS, Susan has forged multiple strategic partnerships with the UCCS community, among them a collaboration with Lyda Hill Institute for Human Resilience to develop a community approach to address anxiety and fear in the wake of the pandemic and to help build up our strength and ability to cope and create a more resilient community.

Susan Wheelan is a distinguished alumnus who delivered the fall 2022 commencement keynote speech. View a list of other notable alumni here.