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OU Students, Faculty Members Contribute Illustrations, Public Health Expertise for New Book on the Health of Oklahomans

OU Students, Faculty Members Contribute Illustrations, Public Health Expertise for New Book on the Health of Oklahomans

June 04, 2021

Students and faculty from the University of Oklahoma’s School of Visual Arts and the Hudson College of Public Health have lent their talent and expertise for a new book focusing on the health and well-being of Oklahomans.

Oklahoma Pride: Working Together for the Well-being of All Oklahomans, published by a group of Oklahomans, addresses some of the state’s greatest challenges around health and the important relationships between health, education and the economy.

The project is led by OU alumnus, civic leader and philanthropist Gene Rainbolt, who wanted to create a book that used art to initiate a dialogue about the reality of these challenges and ways to curb the fallout – an idea that inspired an innovative interdisciplinary collaboration between the arts and public health communities at OU.  

Oklahoma Pride is an eye-opening book that highlights the magnitude of the issues threatening the health of our fellow Oklahomans, offering remedies by first acknowledging the crisis and then proposing solutions to create a healthier future,” Rainbolt said. “The involvement of OU visual arts students makes this book unique. As our next generation of leaders, today’s students will bear the consequences of these challenges, and viewing these issues from their perspective was a critical aspect of this project.”

Rainbolt and Gary E. Raskob, dean of the Hudson College of Public Health at the University of Oklahoma, who served as the book’s editor and a public health content adviser, assembled a committee of subject-matter experts to form the discussions that comprise the book:

  • Terry L. Cline, former Oklahoma Commissioner of Health;
  • Jeffrey Dismukes, director of communications at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services;
  • Diane Joy-Sisemore, senior vice president of BancFirst;
  • Karen Hayes-Thumann, professor of art and design, School of Visual Art, Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts at the University of Oklahoma;
  • Kelly Dyer Fry, former editor and publisher of The Oklahoman;
  • James Tolbert, owner of Full Circle Bookstore and Full Circle Press;
  • VaLauna Grissom, special assistant, Hudson College of Public Health

“It was both a privilege and a pleasure to work on this book in partnership with a great community leader, Gene Rainbolt,” Raskob said. “While the book starkly documents the facts regarding Oklahoma’s current state of health, the intent is not to criticize, but to spark conversations and community action around improvements in health that can be achieved by addressing the upstream determinants of health, such as education, income and equal opportunities for individuals to lead a healthier lifestyle, in addition to better access to health care. The insights provided by our students, communicated through their creativity in the visual arts, is truly inspiring, and gives us encouragement that we can achieve a healthier future for all Oklahomans.”   

Cline, who also served as one of the book’s public health content advisers, explained the comprehensive approach to the project.

“The basis for this book emphasizes the interlocking nature of three areas; health, education and poverty,” Cline said. “It was important that the solutions outlined in the book avoided the all-too-common mistake of directing funds away from one area in an attempt to improve the other areas. This book offers a strategic, multi-year vision, informed by data to measure progress.”

The OU visual arts students’ involvement began in early 2019, when Raskob contacted Hayes-Thumann about involving the book project in her students’ capstone project.

“My students were delighted to be included in this unique project, which allowed them to creatively express how these issues not only impact our state, but themselves personally and directly,” Hayes-Thumann said. “Using illustration, they could depict both the tragic consequences of inaction as well as the rewards of working together to achieve progress. We hope this visual storytelling will inspire our state’s leaders and citizens alike to work hand-in-hand to forge a healthier, more prosperous Oklahoma.”

Combining the students’ artwork with public health expertise provided by Raskob and Cline, lead writer and OU alumna Sharon Neuwald took Rainbolt’s vision to create a profound and touching depiction of health outcomes and determinants using real-time statistics. 

As an expression of gratitude for the students’ contributions, Rainbolt and Tolbert established an endowed scholarship for OU visual communication students who express interest in incorporating public health topics in their capstone projects.

“The students’ illustrations are incredibly moving, and will undoubtedly inspire our readers to take action,” Rainbolt said. “Our hope is that through this endowed scholarship, we will continue drawing attention to these critical topics.”

Oklahoma Pride: Working Together for the Well-being of All Oklahomans will be released on June 19 with a launch event at Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City. Full Circle Press is a subsidiary of the bookstore.

About the University of Oklahoma

Founded in 1890, the University of Oklahoma is a public research university located in Norman, Oklahoma. OU serves the educational, cultural, economic and health care needs of the state, region and nation. For more information visit