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

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. ASU alum Jason Gillette Download Full Image

“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.

Rebecca Howe

Communications Specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


High school students explore health care during ASU summer program

July 30, 2014

Allison Sorgeloos gently moves the Wii remote in her hand, but the marble on the screen she’s controlling rolls off the platform. The object of the game she’s playing is to make very precise movements to roll a marble through a maze and collect gems. While Sorgeloos and her friends, students at the Summer Health Institute @ ASU, are having fun competing, they are also honing skills they could someday use to save lives.

“The reason they’re playing this game is because it has a direct correlation to the hand movements of laparoscopic surgeons,” explained Joaquin Santa Cruz, simulation program coordinator for the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix. “Our medical students actually use this game to practice.” high school students practicing intubation on a dummy Download Full Image

Twenty four rising high school seniors attended the weeklong camp led by Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions. They stayed with counselors at Taylor Place, ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus residential hall. The camp was fully funded by the Maricopa County Industrial Development Authority and Banner Health.

When choosing students for this program, the selection committee considered not only those who had high GPAs (the campers’ average GPA was over 4.0), but also those who showed a genuine curiosity and passion for health and health care. This was the first Summer Health Institute @ ASU with more than 230 applicants. Students traveled to ASU from four counties in Arizona, as well as California, Michigan, Illinois and Colorado. Alison Essary, director of student affairs for the College of Health Solutions, said the program’s goal was to select students that reflected the population of Arizona.

“We want to prepare the health care workforce of the future, as well as a health care workforce that reflects the population it will serve,” she said.

Learning skills to save lives

Students participated in a variety of interprofessional health-related activities. Their mornings were spent with Northern Arizona University and University of Arizona faculty and staff for three hours of simulation at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, learning in the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix Sim Center. They practiced skills such as suturing, intubation, ultrasounds, dissections and IV placement. Students also received certification in continuous chest compressions and toured Arizona State University’s cadaver lab.

“It’s been an incredible learning experience,” said Sorgeloos. “I’ve learned more about what it really means to be in health care than I ever did volunteering in a hospital. I’ve met people who have inspired me to become greater, smarter and work harder.”

In the afternoons, students participated in "Mini Health Institutes," where they learned about topics like leadership, traditions in medicine, the U.S. health care system, interprofessionalism and careers in health. Students’ evenings were spent in professional development sessions where they learned how to work with librarians and how to apply for colleges, along with presentations by students in the health professions. For students like Mariam Gutierrez, the institute was a great way to learn about medical professions that they had not considered before.

“It’s been helpful because we get to learn about different health careers instead of just a doctor or a nurse,” she said. “The camp got me looking into becoming a physician assistant.”

The culmination of the program came on Friday when four groups each presented on an assigned disease: cystic fibrosis, Prader-Willi syndrome, Rett syndrome or sickle cell disease. Students first had to diagnose their patients, and then make a PowerPoint presentation on the diagnosed disease. The presentations had to include disease symptoms, research and promising treatments. Presentation slides could only consist of images, figures, video and digital media. Each group presented for 15 minutes in front of a panel that included a physician assistant, health science librarian and the director of the camp. After they presented, the groups had five minutes to answer the panel’s questions. A winner was picked based on which group was able to effectively present their disease and answer the panel’s questions.

“The people in my group have been really helpful,” said Sorgeloos. “It’s really cool how we all came together to look at the symptoms, break down the information that we had, diagnose a patient and provide some care for her, even if she is fictional.”

Working together toward success

Just as the students worked together, many organizations came together to create the Summer Health Institute experience. The Northern Arizona University Physician Assistant program and the University of Arizona medical school provided space, faculty and students to help educate the campers. Fortis College dental hygiene program provided lectures on oral health as a public health initiative, as well as fluoride varnish training. Mayo Clinic staff and faculty provided additional support.

Based on the success of this camp, ASU is already looking into holding another next year. They are collecting data from the campers and from camps around the country in order to better inform future programs. Essary says the camp was such a success and the campers were so great that they have to, at the very least, replicate the program next year.

“The campers are terrific,” she said. “They are incredibly motivated, enthusiastic and generous in their time and spirit. We’re fortunate to have them as our inaugural class.”

Gutierrez says the whole experience just reinforced her goals.

“I learned to keep going because it’s worth it,” she said. “It’s all new and it’s all a learning experience.”

Written by: Kaly Nasiff