Jonathan Garcia is an assistant professor in public health. Before he assumed his role with the college in 2015, he worked as an associate research scientist at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Jonathan worked for New York City’s Department of Education doing research and evaluation for its Middle School Quality Initiative (MSQI). He lived in Brazil for several years working as a field manager with the Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association and in South Africa as a health literacy curator. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Yale University and his master’s and his Ph.D. in Sociomedical Sciences from Columbia University. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Yale School of Public Health.
What made you decide to get into this field? Is there one specific moment that inspired your career path?
“I became interested in public health during my junior year of college. I was a political science major at Yale and began reading about how the Brazilian government was standing up to ‘big pharma’ to offer generic and affordable HIV treatment. This coincided with a moment during my undergraduate studies when I was seeking a career based on social justice.
“I applied for a small research grant and spent my summers in Brazil collecting data for my senior thesis. In Rio de Janeiro, I interviewed the professor who became my future mentor during my doctoral studies. Interviewing key stakeholders in the AIDS social movement in Brazil shaped my life.”
Why did you choose to work at Oregon State/PHHS?
“I had never been to Oregon, but quickly fell in love with the natural beauty. I was convinced by the passion people had for building a college of public health, especially by efforts made to improve student success through a lens of equity and inclusion. I moved here from New York City, so the hum of police sirens and honking was replaced by a symphony of frogs and crickets at night.”
What is your favorite part about working as an assistant professor?
“The best parts are the opportunities and support from senior faculty. I’ve had a chance to learn a lot from my colleagues about leadership and professional development. I’ve also had the opportunity to shape our program in Global Health, which is exciting.”
What is your favorite part about working in the global health field?
“You mean apart from traveling to interesting places, right?
“Adjusting to new cultures and sharing my own culture with the people I meet is great. Also, learning about transnational processes that shape access to health in marginalized communities in so-called ‘developed and developing countries’ with deep inequalities – such as the U.S.”
What do you believe is the greatest accomplishment you’ve had in your career so far?
“I would have to say building and maintaining collaborations with partners in Brazil, Peru and India. I think it’s a real accomplishment to form lasting relationships with people who have played a key role in my research and career. I’m currently editing a large volume on the politics of global health, which includes almost 50 chapters, so these collaborations become fruitful.”
How do you strive to affect people’s lives with your work?
“A lot of my work involves witnessing human suffering and vulnerability. Most of what I’ve written is supported by direct narratives from people I’ve interviewed. I strive to affect people’s lives by transmitting their voices to others and informing transformative interventions that alleviate suffering and promote health. I also strive to be a good teacher and mentor for my students – which many times simply involves active and empathic listening.”
What is the best advice you ever received, and who gave it?
“The best advice I’ve received was from my long-standing mentor, Richard Parker, who taught me the importance of perseverance and resilience. He was the professor I met in Brazil as a student. Whether it’s submitting grant proposals or manuscripts, I put in the hard work and hope for the best.
“There’s a great quote by the author Jorge Luis Borges – ‘Nothing is built on stone; all is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone.’ Having a good sense of humor and dedication are important.”
What is one surprising thing about you that not many people know?
“I didn’t learn to drive until I moved to Oregon in 2015!”
What are your favorite activities outside of work?
“I love hanging out with my dogs. This includes walking with them in Oregon’s wonderful parks and coastline.”