After three years of nursing school and a change of heart, I was introduced to the immense world of interdisciplinary studies. Starting the process of understanding what that meant to me and what I could do with such a custom major, made me overwhelmed. Endless options and opportunities can be difficult to comprehend. I knew

Photo Credit: Dr. Barbara McCahan

what I wanted, but I did not know how to put it into words. After speaking to Dr. Barbara McCahan, a professor at Plymouth State University in the Department of Health and Human Performance, I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  It proved valuable for me to speak with someone that unifies disciplines of bioscience, psychosocial studies, and planning and promotion for the sake of promotion health. She brought to life the opportunities an interdisciplinary degree in Health Advocacy and Promotion would hold for me.

       Dr. McCahan received her education from UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara in cell biology and a PHD in plant biology. She held a research position in human immunopathology in Denver until she made the move to Hawaii for a new teaching and researching opportunity. Dr. McCahan shared her experience in Hawaii with me which is where she discovered her interest for the fitness industry. As she explained how she jumped around from research to teaching to fitness and business, then back to teaching higher education, I started to reflect on my process of coming to interdisciplinary studies. I fell in love with multiple disciplines and so did she.

We spoke about how she came to the place she is today in her career to which she stated;

“What I learned about myself in medical research is that I wasn’t the kind of person that couldn’t just sit at a microscope all day and work with test tubes. I really relished working with people. Had there been something like Health Education in any of the schools I even thought about going to, I might have gone into it long before.”

She started living a double life of wearing a lab coat by day and teaching aerobics by night. To pursue the joy, she became educated in business, marketing, sales, and promotion.

Dr. McCahan: “I had this great product I was selling, which was fitness.”

That quote feels so important as I make my journey to a degree of Health Advocacy and Promotion. As an advocator and a promoter, I will be selling health. I will be selling a healthily lifestyle or a health behavior change. Not only do I require health science knowledge, I will need to further my education into psychosocial studies and business to understand people and how to communicate to promote a change.

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 Dr. McCahan was welcomed to Plymouth State University in the mid 1980’s where she continued to work across many disciplines. Teaching everything from anatomy to dance.

Dr. McCahan: “I have taught no less than 53 different courses at this institution.”

Her eclectic background has given her a strong backbone to be successful in reforming what it means to receive a degree in Health and Human Performance at Plymouth State University. A degree from her department does cross disciplines, but her personal work advising students makes a huge difference in being interdisciplinary.

I asked Dr. McCahan about how to diversify a degree in Health and Human Performance to expand the knowledge of students that will benefit their career.

Dr. McCahan: “In health education and physical activity promotion it is interdisciplinary because it’s sociology, it’s psychology, it’s biology, it’s physics.” She explained that it is important to take professional application courses rather than content courses. In order to gain the skills to promote and advocate for health and healthy behaviors, you must know HOW to do so. “Include courses from bioscience, psychosocial sciences, and planning and promotion.”

       I found great pleasure in having an open and easy conversation with a professor who understands interdisciplinary work so well from experience. Dr. Barbara McCahan expressed a joy in speaking about making a difference in promoting healthily, active living that I hope to speak about one day as well. I learned that my degree in interdisciplinary studies has the ability to guide me in many directions as my studies are grounded in many disciplines. For that, I am extremely grateful to have gotten the opportunity to speak with Dr. McCahan as she is an inspiration in living the life you love and loving the life you live.

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  1. This is a beautiful and inspiring piece of writing, a testament to Dr. McCahon’s mentorship and your own perceptive ability to think about your path in new ways. Some great gems here. I love how you show the parallels between your own beginning path and Dr. McCahon’s trajectory: “As she explained how she jumped around from research to teaching to fitness and business, then back to teaching higher education, I started to reflect on my process of coming to interdisciplinary studies. I fell in love with multiple disciplines and so did she.” Just a pleasure to read this!

  2. Tiffany Richards

    Great Post, Maddog! I think it is absolutely fascinating how Dr. Barb has taught 53 different courses here at Plymouth. I love how you use parts of this interview to address the path you plan on taking your IDS, Health Advocacy degree. Your post flows so well. Madison, you are one of the smartest people I know and I know that no matter what you decide to do you will be the best at it! Love you!

  3. Molly Stone

    Love this blog post. I also love that the professor has such a passion for teaching! It’s amazing she has taught so many courses, she sounds like a very intelligent and inspiring person to know. Great work!

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