From individual to community: Fanice Thomas’s widening lens on health

What motivates you to exercise, eat right, and stay healthy?

Your reasons may seem universal or quite individual and personal. Either way, they are most likely rooted in cultural values. Fanice Thomas could probably help you understand how.

Born and raised in Kenya, Fanice came to the United States for college. After moving, she became intrigued by differences in people’s ideas about health, and alarmed at the lack of research examining immigrants’ experiences.

To bridge that gap, Fanice has dedicated her studies to understanding different expectations and beliefs about health. What motivates Kenyan Americans to exercise and eat well? How does this differ from what motivates members of other groups?

As a PhD student of social psychology at North Carolina State University, Fanice was starting to explore these questions when she became a Health Policy Research Scholar. In addition to enhancing her leadership skills, the program has been a turning point for her as a researcher, broadening her thinking beyond individual beliefs and cultural values.

As a result, the scope of Fanice’s research on health-related behavior has begun expanding to include the range of societal factors at play, including socioeconomic status and access to healthy food and safe spaces. It has become clear that all of these components must be taken into account to craft policies and solutions that are more inclusive of and relevant to the people they seek to help. Combining insights gleaned from her ongoing training and research, she is now designing culturally relevant programs that encourage positive diet and exercise habits, especially in immigrant communities.

Equally valuable, Fanice has built inspiring, supportive relationships with the other three dozen members of her diverse, tight-knit cohort in the Health Policy Research Scholars program. She has also connected with a wider network of peers and mentors, including instructors, program leaders and staff, students from other cohorts, and participants in other Robert Wood Johnson Foundation leadership development programs.

“The most important aspect of the program, for me, has been the people I’ve had the privilege of meeting, connecting with, and learning from,” Fanice said. “They have helped me grow as a person and as a researcher.”

We look forward to seeing the impact of Fanice’s work and appreciate the unique perspective she brings to Health Policy Research Scholars. To learn more about her work and experience in the program, read her bio and check out this recent article from North Carolina State University.

We look forward to introducing you to more of our 117 scholars in the coming months.


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