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Integrative health grad finds calling through ASU's unique degree offering

December 01, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

With a name that means “light,” it seems fitting that integrative health senior Alina Thomas will be pursuing a career in holistic health when she graduates from Arizona State University's College of Nursing and Health Innovation this December.

The San Francisco Bay Area native said it is her mission to “spread light to others” as a personal development or wellness coach, mentor, motivational speaker and health blogger.

“I aspire to be like a female Mister Rogers for adults,” Thomas said.

She didn’t always know that, though. The path to her vocation had some turns — she started out as a nursing major — and some bumps along the way, including a personal battle with depression.

After developing an independent interest in a more natural, holistic approach to health and wellness, she discovered ASU offered an integrative health degree.

“It seemed like a hand-crafted fit for me,” she said.

“The program educates students on a range of mind-body therapies, and I quickly realized that it’s truly one of the most unique programs in the country. … Studying integrative health honestly changed my life.”

Before Thomas graduates, she took some time to reflect on her experience at ASU.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I was actually originally a nursing major at ASU. During one of my first clinical rotations, I was feeding an elderly veteran patient who could barely speak and was in so much pain but kept thanking God with the words he could put together. I was almost moved to tears even as I was carrying out a basic nursing skill like feeding. That moment is representative of my realization that I could not handle seeing people suffering like that while in a very skills-based position, and I had also been facing depression for years at that point. I then decided to explore another major. During college, I had developed a deeper connection to faith, exercise, healthy eating, organic products, etc. So when I discovered that ASU offered a program like integrative health, it seemed like a hand-crafted fit for me, and then I officially made the switch. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or that changed your perspective?

A: As the College of Nursing and Health Innovation provided me with a genuine community of care, I learned that I'm not a grade-point average but a human being who is perfectly imperfect. My insecurity used to come from feeling different from my peers as a sensitive old soul, but now that's where my confidence comes from. 

Q: What did you love about your degree program?

A: As an integrative health major who personally prefers more natural, holistic routes toward wellness, I have absolutely loved learning how we can introduce complementary and alternative medicine into the mainstream. I am passionate about fitness, spirituality, mindfulness, holistic nutrition, etc. Anyone who knows me knows that health is my life, especially holistic health — which honors both our minds and bodies. The program educates students on a range of mind-body therapies, and I quickly realized that it’s truly one of the most unique programs in the country, because most health-related programs at a four-year university simply focus on physical health. However, I've learned that our body responds to our thoughts and our thoughts are shaped by our bodies. Moreover, I’ve learned about the importance of taking preventive health measures and how amazing lifestyle changes like diet and exercise can be. Studying integrative health honestly changed my life. Some of my first courses were on stress management and public speaking, and through courses like those, I learned real-life skills. I wasn’t just learning scientific facts or formulas. I learned about mindfulness, meditation, how to live in the moment and be present. I learned how to be!

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Always remember that you've survived 100 percent of your bad days and will continue to, with a mind-set of resilience.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I gained more appreciation for my mind and body through the Downtown campus’ Sun Devil Fitness Complex (and it’s perhaps one of the most beautiful gyms in the area). The SDFC is also really where my holistic fitness journey took off.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'd like to gain field experience and eventually pursue graduate school. I envision myself as a personal-development or wellness coach, mentor, motivational speaker and health blogger. I aspire to be like a female Mister Rogers for adults. One of my goals is also to give a TED Talk.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would absolutely apply the funds to making mental-health services available and free for students in elementary, junior high and high schools — from access to licensed professional counselors to meditation teachers. In the same way we provide physical education classes in schools, I would like to see daily meditation sessions in classes across the world. Ultimately, our growth as adults stems from our discoveries as youth.

Top photo: ASU integrative health senior Alina Thomas stands in front of the fountain between the Mercado B and C buildings at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus, where she spent much of her time as an undergrad. Photo by Charle Leight/ASU Now

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