What do students need to maintain a healthy lifestyle while in college? That’s what Spartan in Public Health alumnus John Matkovic’s research focuses on.
“We all know that students enter college with different levels of readiness on how to study, how to be healthy while in college,” said Matkovic, who earned his bachelor’s degree in microbiology (’06) and his master of public health (MPH) (’11) from Michigan State University.
Now a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Toledo, where he is working on his PhD in health education, Matkovic recently helped spearhead a project to inform students how to maintain healthier lifestyles—especially during exam week.
“We hear from many students that their self-worth is often wrapped up in their grades. College is stressful enough, and if they get a bad grade, it can be devastating,” Matkovic said. “We inform students that one bad grade is not the end of the world. Reach out and talk to your instructor within 72 hours. You can take some steps to try to fix it. Instructors can help you.”
Surprisingly, most students were not aware of such an option. They told the researchers: “I didn’t know we were allowed to do that.”
Matkovic assisted in developing a series of yard signs posted near the sidewalks on the most frequently traveled paths on the University of Toledo campus. The signs displayed tips, including: “Start studying as soon as possible; make the material more manageable by dividing it into smaller sections; feeling nervous before an exam is normal; take a deep breath, focus, and believe in yourself.” The researchers intercepted students and surveyed them along the walkways.
“We asked them what they thought about the signs, what they wanted more information about, and whether the signs altered their readiness to change some of their study behaviors,” Matkovic said. “We all know that many students stay up all night to cram before an exam; they may not realize that’s just going to hurt them the next day.”
Some students said they were already aware of the tips they read on the signs, but it was helpful to have a reminder. One student told the researchers: “Sometimes we get so busy being a student that we forget what is healthy or what is helpful.”
“Anytime we can help provide some additional support and resources to students, I think it’s great,” said Matkovic, who is currently part of a Leadership Academy effort at the University of Toledo.
“Over the past two years, there has been an increase in the number of students struggling with mental health issues and dealing with family members sick with COVID,” Matkovic said. “We do the best we can to be supportive and accommodating, to help students succeed and build some skills for themselves. Part of the leadership academy addresses how we can continue to be good leaders.”
In addition to being selected for the leadership academy and winning best-poster awards for his graduate research, Matkovic is especially proud of his most recent accomplishment. At the end of last semester, he received a “Shout Out” from one of the students in his Personal Health course (students are encouraged to submit a form addressed to a specific instructor who they particularly appreciated).
“It made my day that a student found my class rewarding,” Matkovic said.
“Without my MSU education, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he added.
As an undergrad at MSU, he was introduced to public health through an epidemiology course during his final year.
“Sometimes, until you take a course like that, you never really know what encompasses public health and epidemiology. Every class session, we were talking about a different topic. It opened my eyes to the field,” Matkovic said. “Ever since then, I’ve wanted to get back into public health.
“I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go back to school and pursue my Ph.D. if not for going to MSU for my undergraduate degree, having that epidemiology course, and returning to MSU for my MPH degree,” he added. “It’s been exciting. When people learn that you earned your degree from MSU, it opens a lot of doors.”
After completing his PhD, Matkovic intends to secure a faculty position where he can teach and continue his research.
January 31, 2022