James Madison University

Stephen Kodish: Anything but Boring

By: Vilina Phan
Posted April 25, 2011

PHOTO: Kodish and wrestling team

In a whirlwind of travelling and life-long learning, 2003 JMU graduate, Stephen Kodish never waited for opportunities to approach him; instead he actively sought them out.  Since graduating, he has lived in Japan, travelled to Kenya for work, and is currently working on his doctoral degree at Johns Hopkins University.  After graduating from JMU in 2003 with a Kinesiology degree, Kodish attended graduate school at Arizona State University, receiving his Masters of Science in Kinesiology. But his adventure really began after graduate school.

“My arrival to Tokyo was actually serendipitous. I finished my graduate program in Arizona and had a certain worldview that was, but all accounts, quite narrow,” said Kodish. With a desire to see the world and a need for clarity, Kodish took a break from the books and decided to explore what was around him. Wanting to expand his horizon and beliefs he travelled across the Pacific Ocean and after having passed through Australia and South Asia within one year, Kodish arrived in Japan. In the small country he found something inspiring and stayed for nearly four years. 

 “Having worked for The Princeton Review in Arizona, I parlayed that experience into a full-time position in Tokyo.” School never too far from his mind, Kodish also worked at various universities in Japan, including the University of Tokyo. “I stayed…in Japan for a number of reasons, not least because it was a convenient home base from which I was able to travel extensively throughout Asia and the Pacific.” Kodish lived in Japan up until 2009 when he found his next calling: public health - which purposefully overlapped with his degree and initial interest in kinesiology.

Following his adventures in Japan, Kodish was accepted into the International Health Ph.D. program at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Since his switch to public health, Kodish has worked for the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

In the span of six months, Kodish was one of a six-member team working for WHO, conducting research on HIV, specifically the strength of evidence concerning the effectiveness of HIV behavioral interventions through the process of systematic reviews and meta-analysis.

PHOTO: research team in kenya

In 2010 on his doctoral advisor‘s recommendation Kodish began working for the United Nations World Food Programme. He led a 10 person research team to investigate micronutrient powder uptake at Kakuma Refugee Camp located in Kenya. The refugees rely heavily on the food provided by the UN World Food Programme. Problems occur when there is a lack of dietary variety causing micronutrient deficiencies. The team led by Kodish worked to tackle the deficiencies within the population.

“From a personal perspective, I enjoyed leading a project on which I could work with data collectors from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is always very humbling to meet individuals who have had to flee political and civil strife their entire life, yet maintain such positive outlooks on life. Life is certainly inequitable,” said Kodish.

This experience allowed Kodish to put academic theory into practice. In the real world rather than dealing with books and papers and research he is getting his hands dirty and applying his knowledge to really benefit those that need it. “One reason that I do enjoy international health so much is that it is less theoretical than other areas of academia and allows for projects with a clear, measurable outcome—the improvement of a person’s health status,” said Kodish. The global health arena is gathering awareness and people are starting to recognize the extreme inequity present, “…some people …are born into a refugee camp while others eat from a silver spoon,” said Kodish. In fact it was this very concept of inequity that inspired Kodish to pursue the global health field.

As Kodish returns to Kenya this March, he reflects on his years at JMU and how he has changed since. “During college, I lived in a vacuum and didn’t see the world at 30,000 feet. I still struggle to have a bird’s eye view of life’s issues and situations, but I try to be more cognizant of the multiple realities shaping everyday situations. Being able to look at life through a different lens is something I wish I could have done while in college,” said Kodish.