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ASU alum uses global health degree to serve Arizona's kids

ASU alum Jason Gillette
July 29, 2014

Keeping kids healthy is Jason Gillette’s business. As the director of School Health for the Arizona Department of Education, he is dedicated to creating and improving healthy school environments. That’s a big order, but Gillette is up to the task, partly because of the solid foundation he built through Arizona State University’s global health program.

The 2012 alumnus puts his education to work every day. Part of a diverse team of professionals, Gillette serves in a role that bridges physical education, health services and nursing, nutrition education and professional development.

“Our objective is to aid schools and communities to create environments that meet our state agency goal of creating children who academically achieve and meet our state standards,” he explains. “This entails a lot of collaboration with organizations that work with schools, and schools themselves.”

Gillette and his team use evidence-based approaches, like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Coordinated School Health Model. This holistic concept is aimed at advancing children’s physical, social, emotional and educational wellness.

“Youth have so much to contend with, health-wise,” he says. “It is my professional opinion that poor infrastructure is the single largest challenge for pediatric health. Better infrastructure and protocol can allow for healthier interventions and processes to work, whereas bad infrastructure can allow unhealthful factors to thrive.”

Increasingly, Gillette sees matters of image and socialization as major players in a crowded youth health arena. Among the myriad of issues facing kids today, many are complex and influenced by a host of uncontrollable variables, from socioeconomic status to biology. Situational factors – like living in food deserts, or far from safe, green, outdoor play areas – also create or exacerbate vulnerabilities.

Gillette points out that a wider net is being cast to address problem areas.

“With our new added focus on community, we are now looking at interventions that impact both schools and the communities where our children reside,” he states.

Going global

After serving in the Marines and holding a number of diverse jobs – like selling women’s shoes at Nordstrom – Gillette decided to pursue higher education. He chose to attend ASU so that he could be near his now nine-year-old son, his pride and joy.

Gillette was drawn to the transdisciplinary global health program in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “I like and value systems approaches; however, I love looking at concepts, ideas and systems from a much larger vantage point. It allows my creativity and passion to roam free across ideas and challenges,” he offers.

He especially appreciated the public health and macro viewpoint, and says that the courses equipped him with the confidence to not only learn, but also to lead.

Part of his program involved studying abroad, exploring health, culture and the environment in London.

Though he has travelled the world – from South America to Africa, Saudi Arabia to Australia – he calls London his favorite city. He values it for its history and unique learning environment, as well as his study abroad memories.

“What I gained from that experience was discovering that there are many ways to solve the same problem, and that learning from others and other cultures can only improve our critical thinking abilities,” he shares.

Gillette recommends that students take advantage of their study abroad options. He also has advice for those considering global health as a major. He says, “Use the program as a conduit to build your passion, as you are not pinned down to a specific section of health, and can work within multiple facets of health to really find your way in what’s most important to you.”

A healthy outlook

Gillette is a good example of walking the walk when it comes to wellness. An avid life-long learner, he keeps up with the latest issues affecting youth health, yet takes the time to hang out with his son – his best friend – and to enjoy the good things in life.

His interests run the gamut, from cooking to sports: “I’m a huge Yankees fan and secretly love the Los Angeles Clippers!” he enthuses. He also relishes a good conversation, exercise, fashion and dining, and adds, “I appreciate a really good steak!”

Reading is another of Gillette’s hobbies. His book of the moment is "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes; fitting fare for a person tasked with promoting kids’ health.