Biobehavioral Health Alumni Profile: J. DeWitt Webster, Ph.D.


B.A, 1983 Community Health, University of Minnesota
MPH 1986 Health Education, University of Minnesota School of Public Health
Ph.D., 2003 Biobehavioral Health, The Pennsylvania State University

On the Ph.D. program, in his words:

“Throughout my education and public health career I have been interested in interdisciplinary approaches to addressing health and social disparities. BB H met and exceeded this interest by exposing me to professors and students whose diverse research training focuses on health from “cellular to the community” perspectives. The coursework challenges students to frame papers and class discussion in ways that help those from other disciplines grasp disparate theories and concepts and even unfamiliar laboratory procedures. The BB H department also provides its graduate students with opportunities to teach undergraduate courses, a necessary skill and experience for future faculty.”

“Since graduation from the program, I used my BB H experience to conduct community based research as a Kellogg Community Health Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and to provide technical assistance to government and community-based organizations as a Managing Associate in a research and evaluation firm in Gaithersburg, MD. In my current role as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Global and Community Health at George Mason University, I collaborate with faculty with backgrounds in Anthropology, Nutrition, Nursing, Gerontology, Exercise Physiology, Psychiatry, Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Students in our department also benefit from the teaching, research and community service opportunities I had as a BBH graduate student. I continue to encourage undergraduate and Master’s level students with relevant interests to consider Penn State’s Department of Biobehavioral Health for their doctoral work.”

Current areas of professional interest are:

Culture in the context of health behaviors, evaluation of community partnerships addressing health outcomes, community-based participatory research, and qualitative research methods


Assistant Professor
Department of Global and Community Health
College of Health and Human Services
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA

Ph.D. Thesis Title

Cultural Model to Assess Female Condom Use in Mpumalanga, South Africa

Brief description: This qualitative study used the PEN-3 model, a framework developed to centralize culture in health promotion interventions, to conduct a modified content analysis of phrases, words and issues from focus groups, open-ended questions, and key informant interviews. The goal was to identify the relationship between culture and female condom acceptance and use in a peer education-focused community-wide STI/HIV/AIDS prevention effort. The PEN-3 Model helped describe the Mpumalanga peer educator, community member and MFCP staff knowledge, attitudes, and practices related to the female condom prevention effort. The analysis indicated that culture in the context of gender relations (the status of women in relation to men in society and community and the influence on sexual negotiation and decision-making) and communication are key factors in female condom acceptance and use in this community. Finally the Mpumalanga Female Condom Project, the initiative that administered the prevention effort, helped to positively shape attitudes and norms that guide prevention behaviors related to STI/HIV/AIDS in the community. These findings support theory that critical analysis through a cultural framework is a key factor in promoting behavior change at the individual, family and community level..

Ph.D. advisor

Collins O. Airhihenbuwa, Ph.D.