Meet the faculty: Dr. Jim Lidstone provides community leadership by example

Meet the faculty: Dr. Jim Lidstone provides community leadership by example

D r. Jim Lidstone, professor in the School of Health and Human Performance and director of the Center for Health and Social issues, has been instrumental in helping Georgia College make its mark on the community. He’s always had the best interests of his students, community and university at heart.

Lidstone joined Georgia College’s faculty in 1996 from South Dakota State University where through the years, he moved up from assistant to associate to full professor. He came to Georgia College to become chair of the Health and Physical Education Department, known today as the School of Health and Human Performance.

“After 12 years in that role, I was ready to move on to other challenges,” Lidstone said. “So, in talking with former Dean Gangstead, the College of Health Sciences had an entity known as the Center for Health and Social Issues that lacked resources. I talked with her about the director role with the Center and said, ‘Let’s see what we can do with it.’” 

Dr. Lidstone's class who built and raised funds for the Harrisburg community greenhouse.
Dr. Lidstone's class who built and raised funds for the Harrisburg community greenhouse.

Initially, he established a Faculty Advisory Committee for the Center for Health and Social Issues, and developed a mission statement and identified five focus areas: obesity, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and healthcare access. Mental health was added several years later.

In 2009, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation issued a call for proposals to join its Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities program—a childhood obesity prevention initiative. Lidstone applied and was awarded funds for his Live Healthy Baldwin program—one of 50 selected for funding out of 540 community applications.

“The fact that obesity was one of the focus areas for the Center for Health and Social Issues made the call for proposals from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation particularly timely,” he said. “One of the prerequisites in applying was we had to have a coalition of community officials to battle childhood obesity and that is how Live Healthy Baldwin got started.” 

Dr. Jim Lidstone, professor of Public Health and director of the Center for Health and Social Issues
Dr. Jim Lidstone, professor of Public Health and director of the Center for Health and Social Issues

He cultivated partnerships within Milledgeville and Baldwin County, including community organizations like the Milledgeville Community Garden Association, the Bicycling Club of Milledgeville, City Council, the Board of Commissioners, Baldwin County Schools, local businesses and faith-based organizations.

“Our first step was to get these people on board to help us address childhood obesity concerns,” he said. “We had to make cold calls to see if they would give us a letter of support to partner with us on childhood obesity. That enabled us to submit the grant proposal, which took about a year to complete the entire process.”

Lidstone told his students about the application process and used this as a teachable moment.

“I kept my Health Promotion Program Planning class informed along the way about our progress,” he said. “It was a good learning experience, because I told them there are no guarantees in obtaining funding. But it was great one day to come in and say, 'Hey, we’ve been selected to receive funding.’ We’re going to start in January.”

Live Healthy Baldwin rolled out in January, 2010. Since then, Lidstone incorporated it into his Program Planning classes. In this class, students break into teams and select a project related to chronic disease prevention and implement it in their communities. They do needs assessments, collaborate with community members to set goals and objectives, select and implement evidence-based intervention strategies and conduct program evaluation. 

“I hope they are successful and find a job they love doing. I especially hope they find a way of making a difference in the world and giving back to their communities. That’s what public health and health promotion are all about.”
– Dr. Jim Lidstone

“I tried to make the learning experience as real as it could possibly be,” said Lidstone. “If you ask most students how they learn best, they’ll answer they like to learn in a hands-on way. They like to apply the knowledge they’ve learned in class, rather than just sitting in a classroom and hearing about it theoretically or doing hypothetical projects.”

“I’ve had students write reflection papers on this class,” said Lidstone, “and was really struck with the depth of learning that had taken place.” 

Live Healthy Baldwin launched successfully, but he was faced with challenges while forming it.

“When the economy crashed in 2008, we had a significant period of time where city and county budgets were reduced as well,” said Lidstone. “We were talking to city and county officials about building bike lanes and bike trails and costly projects like that, so we had to find other sources of funding to bring to the table.”

Over the years, Lidstone was involved in numerous community organizations and attended lots of board meetings. Another challenge to the project was high turnover in local elected and appointed officials.

“We were constantly trying to develop those relationships and sell people on the projects,” Lidstone said. “It made it challenging to keep things going.” 

He is teaching his last class now, before retiring this summer. Lidstone hopes his example and teachings will encourage students to continue their involvement in their communities.

“I hope they are successful and find a job they love doing,” Lidstone said. “I especially hope they find a way of making a difference in the world and giving back to their communities. That’s what Public Health and Health Promotion are all about.”