University of South Florida

Public Health’s summer commencement features oldest grad, first DrPH degree

Hot temperatures and fewer graduates tend to make summer commencements a little subdued.

But, not at the USF College of Public Health.

This summer’s class of 164 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students includes the university’s oldest graduate for August commencement and the first person to earn a doctor of public health (DrPH) degree.   Since 1992, nearly 200 students have graduated from the college with PhDs, an academic degree providing indepth training in a focused area of research, like toxicology or epidemiology. The college’s newly developed professional DrPH degree offers indepth training in public health practice and leadership.

Rosalie Van Skyhawk_RSS

Rosalie Van Skyhawk, MPH

For Rosalie Van Skyhawk, 64, the introduction to higher education came later in life. In 2008, she earned a bachelor’s degree in human development from Eckerd College. Determined to press on with her academic endeavors, she turned to the University of South Florida for graduate studies. Earning a MPH degree with a concentration in global health practice, she will be the oldest graduate recognized at USF’s August commencement.

“Public Health is so diversified.  Anyone can find a good fit somewhere and contribute in multiple ways,” said the St. Albans, Vermont native.

Rosalie’s good fit came by way of the Department of Global Heath. As a graduate student, she was able to “learn about our planet, locate the areas of concern which call to us, and to find ways to contribute.”

Fascinated by Latin America, Rosalie spent eight weeks interning in Panama earlier this summer. Placed with the Ciudad del Saber (City of Knowledge) in Panama City, she researched intimate partner violence and identified resources for support and education, studied HPV education and prevention programs for women and men, and explored a personal interest learning different approaches to end-of-life-care in Panama.

In an ideal world, Rosalie works training the trainers and there’s universal education and health care for men and women. Until that happens, she’ll practice her passion in aging studies.

Reflecting back on her tenure at the college, she recalls, “There was a lot of studying.  But, I made sure to carve out time for friends and baseball. Music, reading, and walking were my therapy and got me through more challenges than I can count!”

“I have made real friends here and have found a path,” she said.

Nicole Johnson_Commencement_RSS

                                                                           Nicole Johnson, DrPH

While earning the inaugural DrPH degree at the USF College of Public Health, Nicole Johnson, executive director of the Bringing Science Home program at USF Health, continued to work full time as a highly visible role model and advocate for people living with Type 1 diabetes.  Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 19, Johnson earned her undergraduate degree in English and religion and won Miss America 1999.

“I was incredibly pressed for time and concentration, but it was possible. If I could do this, anyone can,” Johnson said of when asked about the challenges of earning a doctorate degree.  Her doctoral dissertation was titled “Parent Distress in Life with a Child with Type 1 Diabetes.”

“The rich knowledge I gained from the advanced public health education at USF will further empower my work helping families and communities cope better, live better and learn more about life with chronic illness,” she added.

Johnson says she plans to continue leading Bringing Science Home, managing the  multi-million dollar research portfolio of a unique program that helps educate and empower those with chronic disease, such as diabetes. She will also serve on the Executive Committee of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International Board of Directors.  In 2014, she will collaborate with the American Association of Diabetes Educators to create a national transition program and book intended to help educators form positive relationships with young adults with Type 1 diabetes.

-Anne DeLotto Baier, USF Health Communications, contributed to this report.


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