Thistle I Elias

  • Director of Community Engagement, Associate Professor
  • Faculty in Behavioral and Community Health Sciences

My research interests are largely in the areas of community-engaged evaluation and research, especially using qualitative and mixed methods, and health equity for populations by income, gender, race/ethnicity, sexuality, rurality and dis/ability. The public health core value of social justice drew me to community and behavioral health in the first place and I firmly believe that we have great opportunities within public health to make positive change. I am passionate about teaching and believe that building connections between students, faculty and our communities should benefit all.

I conduct evaluative research with the Evaluation Institute at Public Health, direct the Certificate for Health Program Evaluation and advise students through evaluation and other practica, in an effort to ensure quality learning in organizational settings. I sit on the Committee for the Certificate in Health Equity and am a faculty affiliate of the Center for Health Equity. I have over a decade of evaluation experience with both community-based organizations and state-wide initiatives, in particular those focusing on vulnerable populations. I am a proponent of using mixed methods in order to get more complex and complete understanding and especially enjoy using qualitative methods in community-engaged work in order to capture the perspectives of people which might otherwise be missed.

I have co-directed Bridging the Gaps-Pittsburgh for two decades. This multi-disciplinary, community health internship program is in collaboration with the School of Medicine and aims to train health professional students while providing critical support to organizations that work with vulnerable populations.


2019 | University of Pittsburgh | Chancellor's Distinguished Public Service Award
2017, 2015 | University of Pittsburgh | Craig Teaching Award Nominee
2012 | University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA | Doctor of Public Health
1993 | University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA | Master of Public Administration

1993 | University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA | Certificate in Non Profit Management


I enjoy advising students from many disciplines and mentoring students through independent study, field placements and practica, in addition to partnering with organizations to help meet their evaluative needs and build their capacity.

I am privileged to teach Overview of Health Equity, the fall school core class Social and Behavioral Sciences in Public Health, and often Introduction to Program Evaluation. I serve on the Pitt Public Health MPH Curriculum Committee.

Promoting community partnership and engagement is key to my practice and teaching, and I was honored to receive the 2019 Chancellors Award for Distinguished Service based on two decades of building strong and diverse community partnerships.

Selected Publications

Elias, T., Thompson, J., Boak, B., Cannon, J. Developing Community-based Mentorship; Supporting Health Science Training in Historically Marginalized Communities. Health Promotion Practice. (April, 2021)

Thompson, J., Boak, B.,Elias, T. Health Professional Student Awareness and Attitudes toward Poverty. Pedagogy in Health Promotion.(July, 2020)

Devaraj, S., Stewart, A., Baumann, S.,Elias, T., Hershey, T., Barinas-Mitchell, B., Gary-Webb, T. Changes Over Time in Disparities in Health Behaviors and Outcomes by Race in Allegheny County: 2009 to 2015.Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. (Accepted February 1, 2020)

Thompson, J., Goldberger, R.,Elias, T.. Poverty Simulations with Health Professional Students – Evidence of Impact. Pedagogy in Health Promotion. (July 11, 2019)


Wint K.,Elias, T., Mendez, G., Mendez,D., Gary-Webb, T. Experiences of Community Doulas Working with Low Income, African American Mothers.Health Equity. April 2019.

Elias, T., Blais, N., Williams, K., Burke, J. Shifting the Paradigm from Child Neglect to Meeting the Needs of Children: A Qualitative Exploration of Parents' Perspectives.Social Work in Public Health. Epub 2018 Nov 30. Volume 33(7-8): 407-418. doi 10.1080/19371918.2018.1543625.

Elias, T., Williams, K.R., Hershey, T.B., Documet, P.I., Barinas-Mitchell, E., Gary-Webb, T.. The health equity certificate program: a targeted approach to reducing health disparities and increasing the competence of health professional students. Pedagogy in Health Promotion, 24 August 2016. 10.1177/2373379916665637

Elias, T., Blais, N., Williams, K., Burke, J. Shifting the Paradigm from Child Neglect to Meeting the Needs of Children: A Qualitative Exploration of Parents' Perspectives.Social Work in Public Health. Epub 2018 Nov 30. Volume 33(7-8): 407-418. doi 10.1080/19371918.2018.1543625

S. Sarnaik, T. Thomas,T. Elias. Parental Mental Health: A qualitative exploration with Early Head
Start parents.
Annual Evaluation Report to Family Foundations EHS. June 2018.