DES MOINES – Ten fellows have been accepted to join the 2019 Iowa Walking College, a program facilitated by the Healthiest State Initiative and the Iowa Department of Public Health, including Abigail Chihak of West Des Moines.


Chihak is the Community Health Administrator at Dallas County Health Department, where she works to implement the county health improvement plan, support local health initiatives, provide health education to the public, strengthen relationships between community partners and serve residents through the Health Navigation program. She earned her Master’s of Public Health and Master’s of Social Work degrees from Washington University in St. Louis in May of 2018.


The fellows represent nine different counties across the state, including urban and rural areas. The Iowa Walking College is a six-month program where fellows will explore ways to improve walkability in their communities.


“I am eager to learn about the resources and tools available so that all residents of Dallas County, regardless of age and ability, have a safe space where they can be active,” said Chihak.


Iowa Walking College fellows will learn how to evaluate built environments, conduct walk audits and secure funding for walkability projects. They’ll also learn how to act as community change agents and build relationships with diverse stakeholders.


“We are excited to continue expanding our network of local walkability advocates,” said Jami Haberl, executive director of the Healthiest State Initiative. “The Class of 2019 is a diverse group, representing a variety of previous walkability and professional experiences. The fellows will have a lot to learn from one another.”


The 2019 Iowa Walking College fellows are:Abigail Chihak, Dallas County Health DepartmentAmber Farnan, Glenwood City ClerkBeth Olsen, Director of Cass County Public HealthChris Burch, Des Moines Marathon Race DirectorJessica Bruns, business professional in GliddenJulie Winter, community planner in MarshalltownKesha Billings, trails coordinator in MarionRebeckah Allgood, community advocate in WiltonShannon Zoffka, Tama County Public HealthClaire Shefchik, Tama County Public Health


The 2019 Iowa Walking College will convene for the first time on May 15 in Ames, where they will participate in a walk audit and begin action planning for their own community. The coursework will continue through the summer and fall with additional in-person meetings and online assignments.


The Iowa Walking College was launched in 2016 as a pilot before welcoming 15 fellows in 2017 and 12 in 2018. The six-module curriculum is modeled on the America Walks National Walking College and includes in-person meetings as well as online coursework.