Victoria Veltri

Executive Director, State of Connecticut Office of Health Strategy

BS 1986

Working with, not against people, to solve problems, including chemistry problems or the world’s problems, is how we move forward.

Additional degrees & licenses received

JD, Western New England University, 1995

LLM, New York University, 1996

Licensed Attorney, CT and NY

What is your current (or most recent) job, what does a typical day look like, and how did UConn prepare you for this role?

I run a state agency with a mission to implement comprehensive, data driven strategies that promote equal access to high quality health care, control costs and ensure better health for the people of Connecticut. In this role, I lead systemic efforts to improve healthcare delivery across multiple payers and health systems. A typical day involves multiple meetings with the governor’s staff, multiple state agencies and stakeholders outside of government to ensure regulatory operations and policy matters are addressed. I chair multiple cross sector meetings and interface regularly with leadership of employers, insurers, and hospital and health systems to advance efforts to ensure equitable healthcare access and delivery, lower the rate of healthcare spending, improve quality of care, and better resource primary care. In the midst of COVID, I participate in cross-agency efforts to address issues within our regulatory oversight

This role and my previous role are both highly analytical and highly mathematical, and my chemistry background comes into play daily in planning activities and in policy work. As health becomes a primary consideration in other areas–occupational health and safety and climate change, my experience in chemistry is advantageous in tying climate/environmental health and occupational safety to healthcare delivery.

As a student at UConn, I was able to develop leadership skills, communication skills, and key analytical and reasoning skills that I apply every day in my work. A concrete example is that I give lectures on health policy frequently at universities and colleges and present at conferences.  My experience as a teaching assistant, connecting with students, is what sparked my interest in teaching. Though I am most directly in healthcare today, I retain my passion for chemistry, and it often surprises people when I let people know how relevant my chemistry background is and tell chemistry jokes!

Tell us about your experience as a Chemistry student at UConn.

I loved my time at UConn, beginning right away in my freshman year when I took chemistry with Bertrand Chamberland and his Ph.D. student at the time, Terrell Hewston, with whom I became friends. Back then, we were in the Waring Building.  Believe it or not, people smoked in the building and signs were put in the hallways warning people not to smoke in areas where either was in use. I also loved organic chemistry with Professor Gary Epling and creating our own molecule in the second organic lab with Professor James Bobbitt. Our dorm-mates used to complain that we came back to our rooms smelling like the lab!!

Over the summer I interned doing some laboratory work in the Materials Science Building. The chemistry department had a summer softball team that we called the Degenerate States. I was also a teaching assistant for freshman chem and helped in the analytics chem lab with Jane Knox.

Chemistry always made things real to me. Being able to see the outcome of something that was only an equation on paper was fascinating. Back then there were two or three women majoring in chemistry – 1986. My most memorable experience was having a roommate who was also a chemistry major. We studied together and bonded because there were only a few women who were chemistry majors back in the mid-1980s. What a long way we’ve come since then, though we need to come even farther!

Can you tell us about your experience post-graduation?

I worked in two laboratories after graduation – one at Pratt & Whitney and then for Cigna. Back then, Cigna had a property and casualty division and it (like the other property and casualty insurers) also had laboratories that tested air samples and liquid/solid samples collected at workplaces or environmental sites for levels of chemicals above acceptable OSHA or EPA standards. This was a period when the Superfund law was active. This triggered my interest in the link between chemistry and occupational health and safety and environmental impact, so when offered an opportunity by Cigna to work in a regional office investigating claims made for coverage when there was associated environmental damage or occupational exposure, I took it. I also entered law school that time to better link the science to the law. My chemistry experience was helpful to the team in identifying chemical behaviors, potential chemicals to look for at certain environmental sites, and chemicals associated with certain occupations. As a result, I developed with a colleague, a curriculum for investigators to use during an investigation into a claim for insurance coverage.

At that time, I became interested in the public interest side of the work and the impact on low-income populations and people of color. I went back to get a graduate law degree at NYU because of my interest. After graduating, I used my interest to advocate for low-income people for their healthcare and that set me on the path to being the state’s Healthcare Advocate, the Chief Health Policy Advisor for former Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, and now the Executive Director of the Office of Health Strategy.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to current students?

Your experience in school will serve you for years to come. If you don’t know exactly what you want to do with your life today, that’s fine. You can be whomever you want to be or do whatever you want to do. While you might feel you are competing with your fellow students, and working hard to excel is important, ultimately, collaboration is what solves problems. Working with, not against people, to solve problems, including chemistry problems or the world’s problems, is how we move forward.

How would you rate the importance of participation in activities or an outside work experience?

Both of these are important. Doing well in classes, even those that are not in your major is important, but nowadays, we look for potential employees with well-rounded experiences. Those experiences do not have to include your major, so go participate in intramural sports, or a choir, or volunteer for a community activity. At the same time, showing the ability to be able to translate your knowledge into real world employment or experience is an important skill.

Victoria Veltri
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