Elizabeth Williams

Nick Coombs

Where is your hometown?

This is always the hardest question for me. I’ve lived in 12 different cities, across 4 countries and 3 continents. Right now Missoula is home, and I hope it can stay that way.

What’s your education background? Degrees, Universities attended:

In 2009 I got a B.A. in Music (minor in Statistics) from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. From there I moved to New York City and received a M.S. in Mathematics Education from City College of the City University of New York in 2011. I’m also a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) through the Center for Breastfeeding, which I completed in 2015.

What program are you enrolled in at UM?

Master of Public Health with a Community Health and Prevention Sciences Concentration

How long have you been attending the University of Montana?

Since 2017

What brought you to Missoula?

A medical condition, believe it or not. My daughter was found to have an aneurysm in her umbilical vein while I was pregnant with her in 2016. We wanted to live closer to the specialized medical care we needed. I spent a month connected to monitors in Community Medical Center while my husband quit his job, packed up our house in Polson, and moved us down to Missoula, all with our then two-year-old in tow.  

As a SPCHS student, what is your role within the SPCHS Department? (groups, roles, research, student groups).

I’m graduate assistant to Erin Semmens, so in the Fall I am her teaching assistant for the Fundamentals of Biostatistics course and in the Spring I am her research assistant. I’m also vice president of Pub Club (health.umt.edu/publichealth/public-health-club/default.php).

Have you been involved with any research projects associated with UM or surrounding communities? What were/are they and what faculty were you assisting?

Most recently, Dr. Annie Sondag connected me and several other students with the Missoula Invest Health project. We have been interviewing residents of the Westside neighborhood about how their neighborhood programs and infrastructure could better support their health and well-being. We will present our findings to the Missoula Invest Health steering committee in December.

What has your previous educational background done to prepare you for your current program?

I think everything we do prepares us for what is to come in life, even when we don’t realize. I had no idea that my teaching experience or undergraduate minor in statistics would help prepare me for this graduate degree, but here I am now as a TA in a statistics course.

Did you always know you wanted to pursue this degree?

No. I thought I would teach math forever, or maybe become a principal one day.

If you could give your 18-year-old self one piece of advice about pursuing a college degree, what would it be?

I absolutely loved my undergraduate experience, so I don’t know that I would go back in time and give myself advice. Sometimes I wonder if I should have pursued a double major in music and statistics, but I would have had to give up studying abroad in Brazil for an entire year to complete the statistics major. I don’t think I could bear the thought of that. During undergrad, I immersed myself in subjects that I deeply loved. I sang in jazz bands at historic places like Blues Alley and the Kennedy Center, I became fluent in Portuguese, and I wrote and directed a musical. I have no regrets.

What’s your favorite aspect of your involvement as a student at University of Montana?

My teaching assistantship. It’s so fun and rewarding to get to use skills from my previous career and degrees as I work toward building a whole new skillset.


Since starting this degree program at UM, what has surprised you the most?

The amount of solitary work. My two previous degrees were in music and teaching. Of course I completed plenty of work on my own, but by the very nature of those disciplines, I was regularly working with other people to develop my skills. It’s different here. I’ve had some group projects in my coursework at UM, but I spend an awful lot of my study time alone – more than I ever have before.

Outside of the University and your degree, what’s your favorite activity/hobby?

Brunch with my mom, friends and all our kids on Sundays.