Her top food choice is spaghetti and meatballs, she lives in Temple Terrace, and wishes that no parent experiences the death of a child …
She’s Kathleen O’Rourke, PhD, a professor of epidemiology and the new chair of the USF College of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.
“I love the diversity of public health, and addressing health problems in communities,” O’Rourke said. “I feel like we have the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of people.”
In 2004, Dr. O’Rourke joined the college as an associate professor and research director at the Lawton and Rhea Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies. As a perinatal epidemiologist, her research interests include maternal and child health, as well as reproductive outcomes of PTSD, community-based health, and immigrant issues in reproductive health.
Her role in leading a landmark NIH Children’s Health Study for USF is an early example of O’Rourke’s practice and passion—the translation of MCH research into communities. More recently, she submitted a grant to evaluate an iPhone app on asthma control by adolescents to the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), a group dedicated to helping people with their health-care decisions and improving health care delivery and outcomes by producing evidence-based information from research.
When asked about her hopes for the department, she identified three overarching goals:
“First, the department has so many incredibly talented people, and EPI/BIO can serve as an important resource in this time of tight funding as the faculty here can provide expertise in study design and analysis that increase the likelihood of funding across COPH and USF as a whole.
Second, I want to increase our role in cross-disciplinary research, as well as continue with current research in the department.
Third, we know our teaching role will increase with growing enrollments and the newly created online MPH in epidemiology. Ideally, I would like to be able to increase the size of the department to meet the growing needs I see for epidemiology and biostatistics faculty at the COPH.”
A native of Malden, Massachusetts, located just outside of Boston, Dr. O’Rourke completed her masters and doctoral programs at the University of Massachusetts.
Although not formally trained as a techie, she confesses that tinkering around on the computer keeps her up at night. From chairing the college’s committee charged with transforming the MPH to transforming presentations using Prezi, “I’m very busy, but find that I am so engaged by the work I do that the hours just fly by,” O’Rourke said.
Just one example of a Prezi Dr. O’Rourke created to introduce epidemiology and biostatistics to incoming students.
When she is not in the classroom teaching, you can find O’Rourke gardening or embroidering with vibrant hues. When possible, she likes to incorporate her interpretation of nature and events into her work.
“Color drives my hobbies,” she admits. “I have made quilts with lights integrated into the design, better for wall hangings that beds perhaps!”
In an e-mail to the college community, Donna J. Petersen, ScD, MHS, interim senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the College of Public Health, thanked “ … Dr. O’Rourke for providing leadership for the department and, as part of the executive committee, for the College going forward.”
“I am optimistic about our future and know that working together, anything is possible,” Petersen said.
Speaking of anything being possible, O’Rourke’s dream job is “designing miniature golf-courses for Disney.”
She looks forward to working for the Big Mouse one day, but is quite happy designing online courses and mapping out opportunities for the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the meantime.
Dr. O’Rourke replaces Heather G. Stockwell, ScD who recently retired after a long and successful career with USF and the College of Public Health. Since 2002, she served as chair of the department and professor of epidemiology.
Story by Infiniti Mincey and Natalie D. Preston, USF College of Public Health