Promoting health through shared experiences

Jafra Thomas

Oregon State graduate student Jafra Thomas has a lot on his plate, but he approaches his work with a sense of purpose and excitement. Simultaneously, he is pursuing a Graduate Certificate in College and University Teaching, a Master of Public Health and a Ph.D. in Kinesiology.

Thomas has focused on health promotion via health education throughout his academic career, teaching classes and leading numerous community outreach projects. His teaching plan follows a pragmatic approach that encourages students to ask questions that promote peer-to-peer interaction and helps them discover how the topics relate to their lives.

Since Thomas was young, “community involvement and betterment has been a primary interest,” he says. At Oregon State, one aspect of his research examines how social roles and social constructs either detract from or promote healthy behaviors. His community outreach centers on the shared experiences of everyone in a community and finding innovative ways to encourage healthy lifestyles.

For example, at a California nonprofit, Thomas promoted rowing to youth who would not normally consider the sport. The program gave them an opportunity to experience their communities in new ways on the water while learning valuable lessons about working together to overcome challenges.

Thomas’ outlook on his heavy academic workload reflects his beliefs about promoting healthy behaviors: When the opportunity presents itself, focus on the broad goal of bettering yourself and your community, and be willing to communicate with others to make change happen.