Our Story/Rhoda Moise

Rhoda Moise wants to change how the world talks about diabetes.

Moise graduated with honors in Biobehavioral Health in Spring 2015, with minors in Health Policy and Administration and Biology.

The Elkins Park, Pennsylvania native ended up in the Department of Biobehavioral Health after Joyce Hopson-King, director of diversity enhancement in the College of Health and Human Development, told her about the Health Educational Research Opportunities program at Virginia Commonwealth University. Moise participated in the program in Summer 2012.

Through the program, Moise learned about and fell in love with public health and the preventive approach to medicine.

More than 4,500 Penn State students are enrolled in the College of Health and Human Development (HHD) studying a wide-array of fields, each committed to the concept of improving the quality of life for others. Moise, who found a home in the Department of Biobehavioral Health (BBH), is one of those HHD students, and this is her story.

Diabetes dialogue

Moise’s research interests include health disparities affecting the underrepresented populations and determinants of chronic diseases among minority and low-income populations.

Her research focuses on culturally sensitive ways to implement community and family interventions for exercise, diet quality, and behavior improvement. She has a special interest in diabetes knowledge, prevention and management among special populations. Her thesis, for the Schreyer Honors College, was to culturally frame insight into diabetes comprehension, management and prevention among Haitian immigrants. She examined the role of assimilation in diabetes outcomes in a sample of Haitian adults in Philadelphia.

Part of what drove Moise to study diabetes is the high prevalence of diabetes in her family.

Seeing her grandmother suffer and struggle with lifestyle restrictions pushed her to explore other ways to address issues of those living with diabetes. Another drive, she said, is the worldwide increase of diabetes.

“The need for the work is there,” she said.

Moise spent last summer in Senegal with Rhonda BeLue, associate professor of health policy and administration. She guided culturally mindful narratives on diabetes management and prevention to diabetic patients in the city of M’Bour.

There’s much work to be done to change the diabetes dialogue, Moise said. However, she has a few ideas of where to start.

“I want to increase the management and knowledge of diabetes,” she said, “and propose culturally-sensitive suggestions on how to manage and prevent diabetes.”

For example, in Haitian culture, white rice is a diet staple. Those with diabetes frequently are told to avoid rice or rice products. These suggestions, Moise said, are not feasible.

It could be beneficial to these patients to propose a more culturally sensitive suggestion, such as switching to brown rice instead of eliminating all rice completely. A lifestyle change such as this one could be easier to adapt to, and stick to, she said.

To aid this, Moise wants to propose using community health workers to bridge the gap between doctors, nurses and families.

Moise’s research on diabetes in Haitian immigrants found family support to be paramount for diabetes management. So another important step in changing the diabetes dialogue is to encourage family education and support.

“If the family is equipped with the tools and knowledge, it can help patients obtain optimal health,” she said.

The future is bright

This summer Moise will travel to Chiang Mai University in Thailand for a 10-week research training program funded by the National Institutes of Health and led by researchers at California State University at Fullerton. Three other students from various universities will join her.

During the program she will work with Chiang Mai faculty in different areas of medicine.

Following her trip, Moise plans to attend graduate school at the University of Miami to earn a Ph.D. in prevention science and community health.

While at Penn State, Moise received much recognition for her work, including the The Ralph Dorn Hetzel Memorial Award. She was honored at a ceremony on March 22 at Eisenhower Auditorium at University Park.

“The purpose of this award is to recognize the achievements and potential of outstanding undergraduate students who have demonstrated the qualities of responsible leadership during their college careers and give promise of public spirited achievement in the future,” Moise said.

“Rhoda has always stood out as a bright star in the college for her countless activities and contributions,” said Hopson-King. “I'm very happy to see her recognized at the university level.”

Moise was also a Ronald E. McNair Scholar, which allowed her to explore the relationship of participation and connectedness in afterschool programs to problem behavior. Specifically, she investigated whether participation in afterschool activities/programs server as beneficial public health strategies against delinquency, alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use.

Additionally, Moise was a home visit assistant for the Family and Child Project, in which she aided in the preparation of food for research under the supervision of Lori Francis, associate professor of biobehavioral health, in the Family Health and Well-Being laboratory.

Moise said she was fortunate to work with Hopson-King, Francis and BeLue, as well as Emilie P. Smith, previous Human Development and Family Studies professor, to not only connect with racially diverse women at Penn State, but to see strong women in leading research roles.

“It was inspiring to see women of color at the forefront of pressing issues and as leaders of their field,” Moise said.

Moise cited involvement in other university groups as critical to her success at Penn State and beyond, such as the National Council of Negro Women, Club Kreyol, the HealthWork Peer Education Outreach Program, intramural soccer, dance shows and cultural shows.

Additionally, Moise owes her success to the faculty members, advisers and staff members at HHD, who have invested in her throughout her college career and encouraged her growth.

“There are a lot of pieces that have played a role in where I am now,” she said.

In addition to BBH, there are a variety of areas for students to study within HHD through the Departments of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Health Policy and Administration, Human Development and Family Studies, Kinesiology, Nutritional Sciences, Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management, and the School of Hospitality Management.