Classroom innovator: JaNelle Ricks

JaNelle Ricks, DrPH, MPA, is going back to square one to re-imagine classroom learning.


  • Erinn Aulfinger, Steve Barrish
April 17, 2019
JaNelle Ricks, DrPH, MPA
JaNelle Ricks, DrPH, MPA

The assistant professor of health behavior and health promotion employs innovative teaching techniques to inspire future public health leaders both inside and outside the classroom. In her course focused on health promotion interventions (PUBHHBP 7542, Settings and Special Populations), Ricks helps students better comprehend health disparities and equity using a board game.

Through a modified adaptation of “Game of Life,” Ricks breaks her students into teams with predetermined social determinants of health, such as education, environment and economic stability, to determine their future in order to understand the long-term effects of socio-economic status on public health.

 “I really try to focus on skill-building in the classroom,” Ricks says. “The game helps students think about interacting with diverse populations when they are planning programs and making sure that appropriate voices are at the table and are making things more equitable for people that have been traditionally marginalized.”

To give the lesson a pop-culture twist, character profiles for the game are based on the popular television drama, “Game of Thrones.” This medieval, fantasy show features nine “houses” of families that Ricks uses to bring to life textbook concepts of privilege.

“Thinking about their placement in the world of the ‘Game of Thrones’ and how that translates to advantage and privilege is a learning opportunity,” Ricks says. “I love the show, and it’s popular enough that the students are engaged.” 

For Ricks, the fun classroom activity not only builds community and understanding, but helps to engage students in material that could feel hollow within the confines of a textbook.

“They aren’t playing on phones and looking at their laptops; they are really invested in how things are going.”


Classroom Innovator is a new standing column that features College of Public Health faculty pushing the boundaries of teaching.



About The Ohio State University College of Public Health

The Ohio State University College of Public Health is a leader in educating students, creating new knowledge through research, and improving the livelihoods and well-being of people in Ohio and beyond.  The College’s divisions include biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health behavior and health promotion, and health services management and policy.   It is ranked 23rd among all colleges of public health in the U.S. by U.S. News and World Report, and also includes the top 7-ranked MHA degree program.  The College provides leadership and expertise for Ohio and the world through its Center for Health Outcomes, Policy and Evaluation Studies (HOPES), Center for Public Health Practice (CPHP), and Center for the Advancement of Tobacco Science (CATS).