Dr. Maridelys "Mari" Detres worked in the public health space for many years. Little did she know she would be using her knowledge and experience in this field to later teach in Saint Leo University's College of Health Professions.

Detres, 47, is a native of Puerto Rico. She moved to the United States at age 18 to attend college in Wisconsin on a scholarship. She has an eight-year-old Golden Retriever, Frank.

"Like the whole 'crazy cat lady' stereotype, I am proud to call myself a crazy dog lady," she says with a laugh.

Her family has also been connected to Saint Leo University. Her niece, Stephanie Detres, earned a bachelor's in political science from Saint Leo in 2019.

Educational Career

Detres attained a Bachelor of Arts in physical anthropology from the University of Wisconsin in 1996. She then earned a Master of Arts in applied anthropology with a focus on medical anthropology from the University of South Florida in 2001. She returned to USF for a Ph.D. in public health with an emphasis on maternal and child health, graduating in 2017.

Early Career Considerations

Early in her work life, Detres realized her passion for data and the key indicators that can be gleaned from this information.

"I have always worked in data, both qualitative and quantitative," she says.

She was a full-time graduate assistant at USF doing research on mental health and cancer. She also spent a year at the Juvenile Welfare Board working as a research consultant. She then served for 15 years as a quality improvement manager at Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas.

"The coalition is a nonprofit that helps pregnant women, newborns, and their families to ensure all babies get a healthy start," she explains. "My job was to analyze the program data we collected to find ways to improve our services."

Takeaways from Her Public Health Career

She explains what she learned most from her time working in public health.

"Although the biology of our bodies is similar and functions in the same way, the impact of social determinants of health that influence who you are shape the health of an individual. These factors include culture, politics, economics, and access to resources."

She believes being inclusive of everyone's individual circumstances is essential to good health and wellness for the broader population.

"If you tell someone to lose weight and give them a list of foods they should buy, it may not work for that person. It has to be customized to each population and, even more importantly, to each individual for everyone to be successful. All health professionals and educators have to account for individual situations."

She offers up a unique perspective on how equality applies to health.

"In America, we say that everyone should be treated equally. The problem is that this is not always feasible. Equality is certainly a must in some aspects of our society, but when it comes to health, I say we should treat everyone fairly."

Getting into Teaching

Detres started her teaching career as an adjunct instructor in USF's College of Public Health and School of Social Work and later taught online courses for Southern New Hampshire University. In 2016, she joined Saint Leo University as a course analyst in the Learning Design Department. Shortly after accepting that role, she also began teaching for the university as an adjunct. Her Saint Leo courses have included Cultural Anthropology, Race and Social Justice, Building a Multiracial Society, and Medical Sociology.

In January of 2021, she was named an assistant professor of interprofessional programs in the College of Health Professions, the first full-time faculty member to join this college.

"It's amazing to get to be part of the College of Health Professions," she says. "Throughout my career, I've been the first person to have a certain job or title. So, being the first official professor in this college, I've gotten to participate in how I'd like our courses to be structured. In fact, I get to lead how some courses are built instead of being handed a curriculum which is very exciting."

She is currently building courses for the College of Health Professions, specifically for the Bachelor of Science in health education and health promotion degree program which launched in the fall of 2020. One such class is Health Promotion across the Lifespan.

"This class explores the different social, economic, and political aspects involved in leading a healthy lifestyle. You can tell someone they need to change the choices they are making regarding diet or physical activity, but if they don't have access to certain resources, then they won't change."

She is also designing a Research Methods course and is helping to develop a teaching component to the program to help prepare students for future roles in teaching health and wellness.

Her Approach to the Classroom

Detres has taught classes in both the traditional classroom environment and online. In face-to-face settings, she employs a number of interactive strategies to keep students engaged.

"I like to engage the students in classroom activities that get them up and moving around so that they're interacting with each other. I also think visual stimulation through videos and other multimedia is extremely important. I will bring in news articles and relate them to what we are studying because I know a lot of traditional-age students don't always watch the news. Overall, I think you have to be energetic and entertaining."

The first on-ground course she taught at Saint Leo University was Building a Multiracial Society.

"It was a fascinating class because all of the students were freshmen," she explains. "They were happy, rambunctious, and talkative. We had some very spirited discussions about race. Even though this can be a challenging topic, I thought the students did a great job of being civil and respectful to one another."

As for the online learning environment, she has learned that teaching through this modality is a bit different because of the types of students.

"Online courses mainly consist of adult learners and they think differently compared to younger students," she explains. "In the beginning of a class, you kind of have to hold their hand so that they feel more at ease, especially when it comes to asking questions."

Regardless of the environment, she enjoys using a give-and-take approach with her students.

"I'm not a lecturer at all. I'm very interactive and enjoy having open communication with my students. When I ask questions, I will never try to trick students. If someone doesn't know an answer, all they have to say is that they don't know because I feel like everyone has an off day once in a while."

In terms of communication, she makes it a point to be there for her students as much as possible.

"I try to answer questions within 24 hours because there is nothing worse than waiting for answers from your professor."

While she has the title of professor, she is constantly learning from each student she gets the opportunity to teach.

"Each group of students teaches me something I didn't know," she says with a smile.

A Team Effort

In addition to working closely with her students, she enjoys collaborating with advisors.

"We have an advising platform and I can see who is advising each student. If a student is having problems, I can 'cc' their advisor on emails to keep them in the loop. I like to work with advisors so that we are a team."

She works closely with the library as well and specifically has enjoyed working with Amy Harris, an assistant professor and instruction and assessment librarian.

"We basically get an 'embedded librarian' for each course we teach. This librarian can see the term papers and other assignments we are doing and then tailor a selection of resources to these specific assignments and topics. This makes it so easy for students to identify these additional materials to help them with their research."

At the end of the day, she does all she can to put students in a good position.

"If you fail my class, it's not because we didn't try. I will use every possible tool and resource at my disposal to help you be successful."

Valuable Bonding Time with Her Four-Legged Partner

When not teaching, Detres almost always has her Golden Retriever at her side.

"He comes to the café with me. He gets his water bowl and I get my coffee. We sometimes even go shopping together at stores that are open to pets. He is an amazing companion."