November 2, 2020
Wheaton College welcomes Allison Ruark, who is serving the College as an Assistant Professor of Applied Health Science.
Name: Allison Ruark
Ph.D., Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2014
M.S., Public Health, Oregon State University, 2004
B.A., Williams College, 2001
1. What was your favorite class in college? Why?
I was pre-med in college but ended up also majoring in history and political science, just because I loved those subjects. My very favorite classes were probably a series of African history courses I took from a brilliant Kenyan historian.
2. Before Wheaton, what were you doing?
My family just returned to the U.S. after seven years in southern Africa. We first moved to Swaziland (now Eswatini) in 2012 for me to do dissertation research, and then moved to South Africa in 2015 for my husband to do a Ph.D. in Biblical Hebrew. During our five years in South Africa, I did a post-doc at Brown University (remotely) and worked as a consultant on health projects in a number of countries in Africa.
3. What big question are you trying to answer through your work?
How can people have abundant life, including the best possible health? I think both public health and the Gospel have a vision of health that is holistic: not just physical, but also mental, social, and spiritual. I see public health as a set of tools that allows us to understand who is experiencing a lack of health and well-being, and why, and then hopefully do something about it.
4. What has kept you busy during the pandemic?
I’ve been moving continents and then states, homeschooling my kids (ages 7 and 8), taking lots of family walks, and spending time with my parents. After leaving South Africa in March, we spent four months living with my parents in Oregon, so time with them was an unexpected blessing. I have also spent a vast amount of time reading about the pandemic, looking at data, and writing a blog (allisonruark.wixsite.com/coronavirus) that is being read by thousands. I wish I could say that I’ve picked up a new hobby during the pandemic, but at this point epidemiology is my hobby! It has been both fascinating and gut-wrenching to watch a once in a century pandemic play out in real time.
5. Do you get butterflies the night before the first day of school?
Ask me that on the first day of school! I haven’t taught in a classroom setting before, so don’t really know how I’ll be feeling the night before, but at this point I’m feeling excited and not nervous.
6. What would you have liked to tell the freshman version of yourself about going to college?
Sleep more, take a real Sabbath from work on Sundays, and invest in a close circle of friends who will hopefully be with you for life. Also, don’t worry so much about your career or future. If you are committing your way to God, he promises to put you on a path that is going somewhere good. The path may not be all that straightforward, and God will be more committed to your growth and actual good than your ease and success, but the path will be good. He won’t let any of your gifts be wasted.
7. When you’re not teaching or researching, what do you like to do?
I love to get outside, explore, and play with my kids; I always say my mom job is my favorite and most important job. Cooking and gardening is where I get to be creative, release stress, and have the satisfaction of producing something immediate and tangible. (A needed antidote to academia, where the timeline is glacial and the products are abstract!) As a family, we love to travel, play games, and read together.