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Photo by Luis Sanchez Saturno. Copyright © 2019 The New Mexican, Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Photo by Luis Sanchez Saturno. Copyright © 2019 The New Mexican, Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.



Pass It On


Dr. Ruthy Watson ‘80 has devoted her life to making sure her most powerful lessons are ones she shares.

“Mentorship connects us to the future generation. It allows us to have a positive impact and pass on what we know. In doing that, not only do you show how positive relationships work, but you show how mentorship can be a building block for a positive career outcome.”


Mentorship is the thread that runs through Dr. Ruthy Watson’s (‘80) nearly forty-year career in public health. Since 2018, Ruthy has served as the director for New Mexico Highlands University’s Center for Advocacy, Resources, Education and Support (HU-CARES)—a position that she says everything in her life has led her to. When asked to elaborate, she laughs and says, “How much time do you got?”

A quick Google search of “Dr. Ruthy Watson” leads to the mecca of intellectual mentorship: a TED Talk.  In her TEDx Albuquerque talk on “Girlfriend Capital”, Ruthy explains her theory of girlfriend capital derived from Robert Sapolsky’s book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, where he highlights the difference between stress responses in humans versus non-human animals. Humans use social capital or social connection to alleviate stress. For Ruthy, her friends have been some of her most powerful means of social connection, and some of her best mentors.

One of Ruthy’s closest friends, Dr. Terri Gould, was also her first mentor. The pair met at Action Housing in Pittsburgh—a nonprofit that provides safe, affordable housing to vulnerable populations—where Terri was Ruthy’s supervisor.

“My girlfriends have always been my connection to something outside of myself. Research tells us that when people are not connected to something outside of themselves, that’s a segue for mental health issues.”

After graduating from Chatham College with a degree in sociology, Ruthy spent the beginning of her career in the social service sector, first at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind and then at Action Housing. After spending twelve years in Pittsburgh, she moved to Florida and began working as a supervisor at service agencies that aided nurses and teen mothers. Watson’s early career and education would eventually serve as the building blocks for her public health research.


“I started to understand the importance of health overall, not just exercise. I connected it with my sociology background at Chatham. Sociology and public health really go together. Together, they affect behavior, culture, and growth.” 


Before that path could illuminate itself, a career pivot was in order. She became a self-employed personal trainer, starting a business called Bootcamp for Brides. Word about Ruthy’s holistic training techniques got out and the business expanded rapidly. Soon Ruthy was working with a far larger demographic, running the gamut from college students to senior citizens. She started teaching a wellness course at Broward College, and before long, felt the urge to go back to school herself. Initially planning to pursue exercise physiology, a chance class in health promotion at Florida Atlantic University helped realign her course:

“It was all about getting people to adopt healthy habits and showing them the benefits of health. After that, I decided this is what I want to do.” 

With her mentor’s encouragement, she completed a PhD program in Public Health at Walden University where she specialized in community health education and health promotion.

Before assuming her current mantle, Ruthy worked at NMHU as a faculty member and coordinator for health promotion. Her faculty mentor at NMHU gave her a crucial piece of advice before retiring: “Pass it on. Do this for somebody else.” Now in her work at HU CARES, Ruthy and her team work to ‘pass it on’ through educational workshops on topics ranging from consent to recognizing abusive relationships.

Working closely with student health and campus police, the HU CARES team provides students with a holistic support system, approaching issues from every angle. They assist students with legal advocacy in cases of sexual assault or domestic violence while also working to educate students from a preventive standpoint. They exist as both a safe space for students on campus and a think tank for making the campus itself a safer space.

Ruthy’s ultimate lesson is the same, regardless of the mentee: “[I want to empower] that sense of hope, hope that you can go far, hope that you can do whatever it is you want to do, to know that yes, you’re going to have obstacles, but you can overcome them.”