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Undergraduates claim public health as their own

| Academic & Student Affairs, COPH Home Page Feed, Monday Letter, Take Note!, Undergraduate

There’s a strong undercurrent moving through the University of South Florida College of Public Health. It’s unpredictable, unwavering, and carries a powerful 1, 2 punch!

Interactive courses like Intro to Public Health, Public Health Live on Tour, and Workforce Development put students face-to-face with real-world applications of health problems. From scouring local communities for examples of public health and branding them with “This is Public Health” stickers to meeting with practitioners to observe public health in the field, USF students are fully engaged.

For most students, spring break is a time for fun in the sun and a break from schoolwork.  Not so for 12 lucky undergraduates. Their spring break is an opportunity to complete a three-credit hour seminar, Public Health Live on Tour!

Over five days, students trek in and out of the Tampa Bay area to see public health in action.  By riding HARTline buses to most of the tour sites, students access public health resources much like Tampa residents.

“If you have never been on HART and you are a public health student, you need to ride the bus,” said Candice Deschaine.  “This is the population you will be working with on a daily basis … and it is significant to your career to understand where people are coming from.”

Tour sites include a local jail, children’s and veteran’s hospitals, community farm, and a county waste-to-energy facility to name a few. These sites expose students to potential job opportunities, internship and volunteer placements, as well as the myriad of ways public health affects the community.

“The overall experience blew any expectations away!,” said Michelle Casten, a mother of six from Land O’Lakes, Florida. “I feel more empowered after going on this tour and I want my children to learn as much as they can about their environment and how they can positively contribute.”

Mandy Chan, Diana Caicedo and Cesar Marin weed an organic garden

Mandy Chan, Diana Caicedo and Cesar Marin weed an organic garden

As a result of the seminar course, Alton Declaire learned “that maintaining good public health is a responsibility that goes beyond the occupation itself. It’s a way of life for those involved in the process.”

This spring marked the third run for the Bus Tour. Based on the perpetual wait list, it’s a hot ticket for undergraduates and the College of Public Health!

When Rosanna Humphreys enrolled in the college’s Workforce Development course, she expected to learn about public health employers, career options, and developing personal marketing materials.

She never imagined the class would lead to a job offer, but that’s exactly what happened.

Offered twice a year, the course is taught in a seminar format and provides undergraduates with knowledge and resources to conduct a successful job search.

“The class allowed me to network with other professionals and gain insight into what companies are looking for in potential job candidates,” said Humphreys. “Through networking I was able to speak with representatives from H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute … Within a few days of applying for a job, I interviewed for a nursing position, and was offered employment the next day!”

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As the first accredited college to offer a Bachelor of Public Health degree in Florida, USF continues to set the pace for the field. With selfless dedication, undergraduates use transformational research and an interdisciplinary approach to passionately solve problems and create conditions that allow every person the universal right to health and well-being.

In the fall of 2012, seven faculty members earned awards for the CREATTE (Creating Research Experiences and Activities Through Teaching Enhancement) Scholars Program—the most awarded to any other college at the university.  The USF program provides faculty funding to support and enhance undergraduate research activities in structured courses.

A total of 73 undergraduates were selected to participate with public health researchers. The topics explored range from the use of personal listening devices and hearing loss to a healthy campus and student well-being to K-12 outreach in public health.

“We are very pleased that the Office of Undergraduate Studies at the College of Public Health is playing such a vital role in creating meaningful research experiences for undergraduate students, which serve to promote these and future activities within the USF community,” said Kay Perrin, PhD, MPH, associate professor and director of Undergraduate Studies.

Fast forward to April.

The university invited 24 College of Public Health students to share their practice, their passion at the Undergraduate Research and Arts Colloquium.  The event featured 216 presentations from 290 students

Overall, this is a 35% increase in participation from 2012,” said Richard S. Pollenz, PhD, professor and director of USF’s Office for Undergraduate Research.  “Many of the student presenters collaborated with public health faculty via the CREATTE Scholars Program.”

Some public health undergrads opt to pursue research endeavors on their own. For Milora Morely and Azeb Abera, this proved to be a wise career move.

Milora Morely is the recipient of the university’s Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award.

Milora Morley

Milora Morley

Under the mentorship of Meredeth A. Rowe, PhD, RN, FGSA, FAAN, professor and endowed chair in the USF College of Nursing, Ms. Morely presented “Missing Incidents in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Antecedents, Descriptions, and Consequences” at the 2013 Undergraduate Research and Arts Colloquium.

In 2012, Azeb Abera won a competitive NIH-funded, INSPIRE Summer Internship.  For ten weeks, she explored the types and effects of social support in cancer survivorship in collaboration with investigators from USF and H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute’s Center for Equal Health.


Azeb Abera

Azeb Abera

Under the mentorship of Dawood H. Sultan, PhD, co-principal investigator and assistant professor in the College of Public Health, Ms. Abera presented her findings at Moffitt’s Research Day and at the Mid-South Sociological Association Conference in Mobile, Alabama.

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Although a formal internship is not a requirement for public health undergraduates, many of them embrace opportunities to gain experience and network in the field.

The college’s Learning Experience through Academic Partnerships (LEAP) Program is an academic collaboration that pairs students with professional mentors in the work place. Field sites include Florida Hospital Tampa, Hillsborough County Public Schools, and the Hillsborough County Health Department, where Fulbright Scholar Illa Jones honed her skills in the Office of Immunizations and Refugee Health.


Ila Jones

Ila Jones

The Sarasota native’s internship spanned one semester, but that was sufficient time to realize that she’d rather be a part of the solution than the problem.

“My overarching goal is to reduce the amount of overweight and obese children in our nation, and provide them with the necessary resources and education to achieve a healthy lifestyle,” said Jones, an aspiring pediatric health educator.

When Andrea Anger set her sights on securing an internship, she initially applied to local organizations.  Then, the senior majoring in public health had a revelation.

“I may as well go big or go home!”  That attitude adjustment led her to approaching several well-known organizations referenced in her textbooks and paid off—big time!


Andrea Anger pictured with other SAMHSA interns who choose prevention

Andrea Anger pictured with other SAMHSA interns who choose prevention

In January, Anger relocated from Tampa to Gaithersburg, Maryland for a coveted internship with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Assigned to the Office of Communications, she monitored social and media outlets for SAMHSA references, participated in conference calls with press at the NIH, CDC, US FDA, and other government agencies; scheduled press interviews; and, compiled SAMHSA media hits for distribution.

Thanks to introductions made in two public health courses, Evena Miscarlen earned placements with the University Area Community Development Corporation (UAC) and USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute in Tampa.

As an executive aid to the CEO, the Nassau, Bahamas native is intimately involved with programming that transforms the region just west of USF from “suitcase city” to simply the University Area Community.  Additionally, she assists the Bryd Institute’s marketing director with initiatives that increase awareness of Alzheimer’s Disease and available services.


Evena Miscarlen

Evena Miscarlen

“I’m just happy to be here,” said Miscarlen. “The experiences I’ve had thus far in my public health classes and these two opportunities are huge stepping stones!  I am truly thankful that USF is part of my support system.”

Without question, the undergraduate program is one of the College of Public Health’s fastest growing academic divisions. Since 2005, more than 1,700 students minored in public health, including 438 minors awarded during the 2011-12 academic year.

Created in the spring of 2011, the bachelor of science degree in public health is equally as popular. Currently, 724 students are majoring in public health and there are 278 extra special alumni from the program.

Why extra special?

“Well, public health didn’t exist as a major when they enrolled as freshmen,” said Dr. Kay Perrin, PhD. “They arrived on campus with other interests, tried a few public health courses, liked them, and gave us a try.”

Stephanie Lugo is one of these students. The New York City native began as a business administration major, but soon discovered that health is her bottom line. Two days after graduating with a bachelor of science in public health, Ms. Lugo joined the Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office as an HIV outreach specialist.

(l,r) Instructor Laura Rusnak, Stephanie Lugo, and mom Rosa Romero

(l,r) Instructor Laura Rusnak, Stephanie Lugo, and mom Rosa Romero


Our practice is our passion at the University of South Florida College of Public Health. To learn more about undergraduate endeavors and give us a try, visit

Story and some photos by Natalie D. Preston, USF College of Public Health