Commencement 2017: Q&A with Jafra Thomas, MPH, Health Promotion and Health Behavior

Jafra Thomas

Jafra will graduate on June 17 with his master’s degree in Health Promotion and Health Behavior

Jafra Thomas will receive his master’s degree in Public Health on June 17 and is currently a doctoral degree candidate pursuing his PhD in Kinesiology. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Sports Sciences and his first master’s degree in Health and Exercise Science from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif.

Synergies caught up with Jafra to ask him about his time at OSU and his future plans.

SynergiesHow did you choose this path?

Jafra: “I volunteered and worked professionally with several community organizations in the greater Stockton community. Through these roles, I had the opportunity to participate in program development and evaluation and other outreach services. These experiences lit an interest in me to better understand how we can improve the quality, reach and effectiveness of organizations focused on community health and wellness. This interest crystallized into a career aspiration as I completed coursework and my thesis project for my first master’s degree.

“The summer prior to my first term at OSU, I shared my career aspiration with Professor Brad Cardinal, my faculty advisor in the Kinesiology doctorate program. Professor Cardinal encouraged me to consider completing the MPH program in conjunction with my doctorate degree. Prior to our deliberate conversations, the thought of obtaining a second master’s degree wasn’t on my radar. After learning more about the program and the ways professionals with MPH degrees work to address public health issues, I quickly saw how training as a public health practitioner would complement my doctoral training in kinesiology.

“So, during my first term at OSU, I applied for admission to the MPH program, Health Behavior and Health Promotion track. In winter 2016, I received the wonderful news that Professor Peggy Dolcini had taken me on as her student.”

Synergies: Tell me about your current research.

Jafra: “My current research has focused on topics related to health communication, such as the suitability of physical activity promotion resources – such as handouts or web articles – for health promotion. Things I’ve looked at include the readability of materials freely disseminated through the internet and the type of message frame used in the text of mass media poster advertisements containing messages that encourage a physically active lifestyle.

“Written resources are the No. 1 form of health communication and are often used to supplement services intended to improve the health of communities, families and individuals. These resources can be effective when based on theories and evidence-based principles of health behavior and health promotion. One principle is to develop written resources with language that doesn’t exceed the eighth grade reading grade level, the level most U.S. adults read comfortably. My research has shown that many resources are not designed with health behavior and health promotion principles in mind, which nullifies their utility to support healthful behaviors at community and population levels.”

Synergies: What are you most proud of from your time so far in the CPHHS?

Jafra: “I am proud of myself for stepping outside my comfort zone and taking advantage of opportunities provided within and outside the CPHHS, which includes completing the Graduate School’s graduate certificate in College and University Teaching and becoming increasingly involved in OSU’s Black Graduate Student Association. These experiences have been immensely gratifying because they served as sources of affirmation to my personal and professional aspirations, deepened my own learning and connected me to many wonderful individuals.”

Synergies: Have you received any scholarships or assistance during your time here?

Jafra: “Yes, I’ve been fortunate to receive a graduate teaching assistantship, supplemented by several fellowships from the CPPHS: The Fred W. and Helen E. Durbin Fellowship during 2015-16 and the Ruth Gill-Hammond Graduate Fellowship during 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17.

“I received the Diversity Advancement Pipeline Graduate Fellowship during 2014-15 from OSU’s Office of the Provost. I also received assistance to attend two national conferences with the help of the CPHHS’ Koski Travel Award in 2015 and the Graduate School’s Travel Award in 2016, which included a matching contribution from the CPHHS.”

Synergies: What are the most memorable lessons you’ve learned to this point as a student?

Jafra: “It was during my first term of graduate school at OSU while taking Health Psychology. The course was taught by Professor Aurora M. Sherman in the School of Psychological Sciences and the lesson was the ‘good enough for now principle.’ This principle reminds me to ask if what I am working on satisfies all requirement and is good enough for now. This lesson has been helpful in moving forward with projects when I begin to get stuck trying make things perfect. I am still working to integrate this principle into my life.”

Synergies: What will you miss the most about the CPHHS, OSU or Corvallis?

Jafra: “This question is tough. There are so many things that I will miss about the CPHHS, OSU and the Corvallis community. Luckily, I do not have to cross that bridge just yet as I will be here for a little while longer to complete my doctoral degree.

“One thing that does come to mind is the people I’ve met and befriended. The positive connections I’ve formed with mentors, faculty, colleagues and undergraduates have helped me grow in so many ways, and my experiences here would not be the same without those connections. I will also miss the relative quietness of Corvallis and the cool weather and walkability.”

Synergies: What’s next for you?

Jafra: “My next step is proposing my dissertation research project for my doctoral degree. At the moment, I’m laying the groundwork for my proposal and starting to become fully immersed in this endeavor, which has been exciting and a bit scary!”

Synergies: Do you have any advice for current or incoming graduate students?

Jafra: “Apply regularly to opportunities that fit your professional interests, such as fellowships and training programs. You will often be asked for some type of personal statement, which makes the application experience worth it. It has been my experience that writing a carefully crafted personal statement expressing how a specific opportunity will support your career aspirations forces reflection on experiences and promotes feeling grounded.

“In a graduate student’s daily life, it’s easy to lose track of the bigger picture as you are keeping up with demands. Completing personal statements helps negate this tendency by promoting perspective of how your experiences align to support your personal aspirations and how far you have come in your personal journey. The self-knowledge that has fostered through completion of personal statements has been a powerful source of internal motivation to take on challenges that help me grow personally and professionally.”