Students ready to unleash their public health passion, practice on the world

What’s great about public health is that many questions remain to be answered and there is much work to do,” said Donna J. Petersen, ScD, dean of the University of South Florida College of Public Health.

“All of this equates to job security for you!”

Every semester, the college recognizes the academic achievements of soon-to-be graduates with a reception in their honor. And, every semester, friends, family, faculty, and staff gather in mass to join in the celebration.

On Friday, May 3, more than 100 Bulls descended on the College of Public Health to receive their final charge.

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Public health undergraduate Cha-kara Parkman-Wimberly (center) strikes a Bullish pose with Dr. Kay Perrin (left) and Dr. Donna Petersen, dean of the USF College of Public Health.

 “Take interest in others and find a common ground,” said Kay Perrin, PhD, director of undergraduate studies in the COPH. Quoting from a Dale Carnegie book, Perrin emphasized the need to “Listen more, talk less, and smile.”

 “In public health, it is likely that you will encounter someone who has seen a dozen people frown, scowl, or turn their faces. Just remember that your smile is like the sun breaking through the clouds.”

Professor Adewale Troutman, MD, MPH, NA, CPH, addressed the grads as president of the American Public Health Association. He reminded the Class of 2013 that, “Those of us in the twilight of our careers expect you to carry the torch!”

“Believe in the power of one to make a difference and know that the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.”

The 148 students who earned a bachelor of science degree in public health took a risk. The major didn’t exist when they enrolled at USF, yet they took a few courses and decided to give it a try.

On Saturday, May 4, the undergrads along with 79 masters and 13 doctoral graduates committed to using transformational research and an interdisciplinary approach to practice public health.

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Members of the Class of 2013 are traveling near and far to share their practice, their passion. Here are some of their stories …

Natalie D. Hernandez, MPH, PhD, is the recipient of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute’s Health Policy Leadership Fellowship. Named after former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, the fellowship provides postdoctoral professionals with knowledge, experiences, and skills needed to prepare them for leadership roles in promoting and implementing policies and practices to reduce and ultimately eliminate disparities in health. The institute and fellowship are housed at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Before arriving at USF, Hernandez earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Stony Brook University and a master’s of public health degree from Emory University in behavioral science and health education.

“I love that public health is diverse and collaborative,” said Hernandez. “Public health has a role in helping to empower communities and reshape institutions to address conditions that impact our health.”

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Dr. Natalie D. Hernandez with husband Gerald

As a doctoral student in the USF College of Public Health, Hernandez vowed to passionately solve problems and create conditions that allow every person the universal right to health and well-being. She accomplished this feat by becoming fully engaged at every level of the profession.

In the Department of Community and Family Health, Hernandez served on the research and community engagement committees, and was a member of the Collaborative for Research Understanding Sexual Health. She also shared her time and talents with groups like the Maternal and Child Health Student Organization, Graduate Assistants United, and Public Health Student Association. Recognizing the value of connecting with like-minded practitioners, Hernandez joined and often presented at meetings associated with the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, American Public Health Association, and the Association of Teachers of Maternal and Child Health.

“My experience at USF was a truly incredible one,” said Hernandez. “I worked with wonderful faculty, was granted amazing opportunities including the USF Maternal and Child Health Leadership Traineeship, MCH Epidemiology Traineeship, and the Greg Alexander Award, and met friends and colleagues for life!”

For some students, the road to a PhD can be a grueling and humbling experience.

“There were many challenges I had to overcome during my time at USF,” said Hernandez. “These included financial, personal, and relational challenges. Some were more difficult than others to overcome, but it was these challenges that defined me as a leader and pushed me more to earn my PhD.”

When the journey became arduous, Hernandez allowed herself to become distracted. On some days cooking and reading provided a needed refuge, while other days called for the physical exertion that could only be satisfied by running and kickboxing.

In hindsight, her challenges evolved into opportunities that enhanced her character and made Dr. Hernandez stronger. The end result was a successful dissertation defense titled, “An Exploration of the Meaning and Consequences of Unintended Pregnancy among Latina Cultural Subgroups: Social, Cultural, Structural, Historical and Political Influences.”

“Challenges are invitations to rise to another level, to test yourself and improve in the process, to show that you can accomplish something that may seem difficult, or even impossible.”

Mission accomplished, Dr. Hernandez.

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“The most interesting part of public health is the ability to develop intervention programs that focus on preventing disease and using the results from these programs to inform the public and influence policy,” said Cedric Harville, II.

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Cedric Harville celebrated his master’s degree with his parents and grandparents.

Thanks to a placement with the Tampa Bay Community Cancer Network , Harville was able to do just that on behalf of H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute. During his last year of studies, Harville partnered with investigators and honed his professional skills as an outreach core intern and research assistant in health outcomes.

In addition to his practice experience with Moffitt, Harville served as president of the Delta Kappa Chapter for Eta Sigma Gamma, a National Health Education Honorary; helped create and led the ALLY Mentor Program, a group that pairs first with second-year graduate students to alleviate  fears and welcome newcomers to the college; and, served as a graduate assistant in the college.

With commencement in the rear view mirror, the road ahead looks bright.

This fall, Harville begins a doctoral program with a concentration in health behavior at the University of Florida. His research focus is health literacy as it relates to reducing health disparities among African-American men.

There’s been little down time between earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a master’s degree in health education from USF. However, Harville plans to make the most of the 90-plus days that remain as a non-student.

He’ll spend some time traveling back home to Birmingham, catching up on movies from the past two years, and perfecting his form in the swimming pool. But, what he’d most like to: “Play one game as a major league baseball player. Baseball has been my favorite sport since I was seven and something I would have enjoyed playing professionally, if given the opportunity.”

Batter up!

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Ms. Ketnie Aristide recently received the biggest assignment of her life — in August she reports to Botswana for a two-year placement with the Peace Corps.

As a member of the Clinic and Health Team, Aristide will work directly with the HIV/AIDS Capacity Building Project. According to her official assignment notification, she’ll work in partnership with local health professionals to “address needs in community health and HIV/AIDS, especially through clinic health education outreach, district-level research, data analysis, and coordination.”

“I look forward to my hands-on experience abroad, applying what I learned here [College of Public Health], interacting with different people, and learning new cultures,” said Aristide.

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New public health graduate Ketnie Aristide will begin a two-year assignment with the Peace Corps in August.

A native of Haiti, Aristide’s family immigrated to the United States in 2004. The family of four settled in Ft. Pierce, Florida — a locale that is vastly different from her homeland.

If she could relive her adolescence over again, she’d definitely pump the breaks. “I sometimes wish that I didn’t graduate high school with my associate’s degree so that I could spend all four years at USF,” said Aristide. “I wanted to be more involved on campus, but still managed to enjoy my time here at USF. It’s a great school!”

Evidently, Aristide’s definition of  “more”  is all encompassing. As an undergraduate in public health, she served as social co-chair for Club Creole; performed with dance teams at USF and her church; and, holds membership in USF’s African Student Association and the National Council for Negro Women.

How much more could she squeeze into three years? How about running for Miss Haiti in 2012!

It was Aristides’s first time in a pageant, and she placed second. Her talent featured a skit and cultural dance to empower women. “I wanted to dispel negative stereotypes and remind women that we have a say in matters beyond our household.”

“We can be involved in politics. We can get an education.”

At the conclusion of her first semester at USF, the biomedical science major realized, “This is not for me!” The program included math and science courses, which greatly interested her, but lacked the human element.

“I love the fact that public health is such a broad field and there are countless opportunities — one can explore the global, administrative, or even data side of health.”

Aristide’s dream job is working with an NGO as a liaison between Haiti and the United States. Until then, she’ll focus her efforts on The Corps and contributing to HIV/AIDS education and research in Botswana.

“My mom is supportive, but my grandparents don’t understand the concept of going abroad and not getting paid.”

Ms. Aristide sees the benefit and is going anyway.

When asked what she’ll miss the most, Aristide shares, “Family, friends, Wi-Fi, and access to electricity 24/7.” Then in her next breath, she recalls her transition to the United States.

“I easily adapt to other cultures. When I first arrived here, I didn’t like American food, but that changed and now I like it and cook it. Plus, we didn’t have electricity in Haiti and I survived.”

Aristides’s one wish in life is success. “I have a huge fear of failure and that is why I strive to do everything in my power to succeed in everything that I do.”

Photos from the undergraduate and graduate receptions are posted in Picasa.

Written by Natalie D. Preston. Photos by Natalie D. Preston and Ellen Kent, USF College of Public Health