Our past is our future: College recognizes distinguished alumni

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It was the evening of May 2.  There was a slight chill in the air as fans gathered in Traditions Hall anxiously awaiting the event of the century.

No, not the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight.  The other event ….

The USF College of Public Health’s Inaugural Alumni Awards Ceremony.

More than 180 supporters of the college traveled from as far as Indonesia to celebrate 28 Bulls with significant impact in public health.  From research to practice to policy to teaching, the awardees have done it all and are doing it exceedingly well.


COPH 2015 alumni awardees

The celebration began with a cocktail reception at 6 p.m., followed by dinner and the ceremony.  The dynamic Dr. Joette Giovinco served as mistress of ceremony for the evening.  She’s the first physician to complete the COPH’s occupational medicine residency program, but is probably best known as Dr. Joe, the medical reporter for Fox News in Tampa.


Dr. Joe shared stories and relics from her days as a graduate student in 1988.  She even dusted off some vintage overhead sheets and her carousel replete with slides!

“We were so fortunate 30 years ago that visionary leaders like Sam Bell and Dr. Robert Hamlin believed that Florida deserved to have a school of public health and created the foundation for the first one in the state at the University of South Florida,” said Dr. Donna J. Petersen, COPH dean and senior associate vice president of USF Health.


“It is only fitting on the occasion of our 30th anniversary that we recognize some of those alumni who, through their commitment to their profession, improve the health of communities around the world and reflect back so positively on our College of Public Health.”

Nominations were accepted through January.  A selection committee comprised of retired and current faculty, staff, alumni, students and community partners in public health had the arduous task of reviewing dozens of nomination packets.

Alumni awardees received a stunning silver bull engraved with their name.

Each alumni awardee received a stunning silver bull engraved with his or her name.

After dinner, Peggy Defay shared her experiences as a public health graduate student.

“As a first generation immigrant from Haiti,” she said, “higher education in any capacity is a priority for me.”

“I discovered my passion for public health through my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Namibia.  Through this experience, I gained a better understanding of health issues at the grassroots level.  Being a volunteer in the Peace Corps helped me understand some of my weaknesses and the need to continue training in this field.”


“The past seven years have taken me to various corners of the world where I have been privileged to meet, live and be empowered by many people.  The last two years at the University of South Florida are no exception to that.  And, I can now say that I have once again lived and worked among amazing people!”

Then, it was time for the main event—presentation of the COPH Class of 2015 alumni awardees.  Each alumni award recipient was recognized during the ceremony, and all are listed here.  A few of their stories are included for those who weren’t present to hear them all on May 2.

Tabia Henry Akintobi, PhD, MPH
Director, Prevention Research Center
Director, Evaluation and Institutional Assessment
Associate Professor, Department of Community Health and Preventive Medicine
Associate Dean, Community Health
Morehouse School of Medicine
Atlanta, Ga.

“As a graduate student, I had the opportunity not just to learn how to conduct research, but how to lead it in partnership with experts who cared,” Dr. Tabia Akintobi said.  “They recognized the importance of students as significant contributors to their research as reflected in the number of co-authored papers and abstracts I had under my belt prior to graduation.”


“Among the wonderful colleagues, mentors and leaders I met during my tenure was the love of my life, professional confidante and partner in good Dr. Adebayo Akindele Akintobi [former student and husband].”

Abdel A. Alli, PhD, MPH
Assistant Professor
Department of Physiology
Emory University School of Medicine
Atlanta, Ga.

Philip T. Amuso, PhD, MS
Clinical Laboratory Medicine and Public Health Preparedness

Retired Director
Bureau of Laboratories
Florida Department of Health
Tampa, Fla.

Roy W. Beck, MD, PhD
Executive Director
Jaeb Center for Health Research
Tampa, Fla.

Sherri Berger, MSPH
Chief Operating Officer
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta, Ga.

“My undergraduate degree was in political science, and I didn’t know exactly what to do with it after graduation,” Sherri Berger said.

Sherri Berger and son Jacob.

Sherri Berger and son Jacob.

“Listening to my mother’s advice to ‘get more education,’ I did what other college kids do, and I followed my boyfriend to Tampa, where he had a job offer.  I was hoping to get a master’s degree in hospital administration.  However, in my first semester at the COPH, I fell in love with epidemiology.”

Arlene Calvo, PhD, MPH
Research Assistant Professor
Depts. of Community and Family Health & Global Health
USF College of Public Health
City of Knowledge, Panama

James R. Chastain, Jr., PhD, PE, MPH
Chastain-Skillman, Inc.
Tampa, Fla.

“Having an undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering, I found public health a perfect complement to that training,” Dr. James Chastain said.  “While engineering is much more design and nuts-and-bolts execution-oriented, public health was more about the personal impacts and generally a systems-oriented and advocacy approach.  There certainly was a great overlap, but even the way that I had to study was different.  Public health provided fresh perspectives to design problems, and I enjoyed expanding my horizons with my studies.  In a word, public health tended to address the “why” questions, and engineering focused on the “how” questions.  I’ve found that very helpful in my practice.”

The Chastain Family celebrated James' accomplishments. James is pictured far left.

The Chastain Family celebrated James accomplishments. James is pictured far left.

“The COPH also was quite progressive at the time in terms of scheduling courses that allowed working professionals to take the courses while working at the same time.”

Chastain managed a company and family with three children while earning his degree.

“The time pressures were intense,” he said, “and would not have been possible without a very understanding and supportive wife.”

Stephen R. Cole, PhD, MPH
Professor of Epidemiology
Gillings School of Global Public Health
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, N.C.

Martha L. Daviglus, MD, PhD
Associate Vice Chancellor for Research
Professor of Medicine
Director of the Institute for Minority Health Research
University of Illinois at Chicago
Chicago, Ill.

Hanifa M. Denny, PhD, MPH, BSPH
College of Public Health
Diponegoro University
Semarang, Indonesia

“One day, we were brought to new [medical] student orientation session.  After touring a hospital ward, I was not able to eat or sleep for some days due to seeing a diabetic patient with a severe wound,” Dr. Hanifa Denny recalled.


“I asked one professor if there is a program within the college of medicine without a requirement to visit patients in a hospital ward.  I also said that I wanted to help people to live in a healthy lifestyle without necessarily suffering from sickness.  I wanted to make people healthy and able to work without a fear of being sick.  The professor explained public health and how the science would meet my expectation.  After my second year of college, I fell in love with occupational and environmental health.”

Scott Dotson, PhD, MSC, CIH
Lead Health Scientist – Senior Team Coordinator
Education and Information Division
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Cincinnati, Ohio

Anthony Escobio, MPH, FHFMA, CHAM
Vice President
Patient Financial Services
Tampa General Hospital
Tampa, Fla.

“I wanted to be an MD.  I took a few of the pre-med “weed out” courses as an undergraduate and did not do very well,” Anthony Escobio recalled. “I had an entry-level job at St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1990, and this is where I learned that there were many more opportunities in health care that did not involve practicing medicine.”

The Escobios couldn't be more proud of Anthony.

The Escobios couldn’t be more proud of Anthony (back row, second from right).

One of the more “interesting” events from Escobio’s COPH days involves a class with Dr. Alan Sear.

“I left a management position at University Community Hospital to be a senior analyst at Tampa General Hospital,” Escobio said.  “TGH was having a host of financial challenges at the time, and the leadership was being ridiculed in the press on a weekly basis.  One of my professors, Alan Sear, spent an entire lecture discussing the poor decisions that leadership at TGH was making.  I sat slouched in my chair knowing that I had just taken a job to be an analyst for these very leaders.  All I could think to myself was ‘what have I done?’  Little did I know that I would be at the center of one of the biggest hospital turnarounds in the country for this period of time.”

Ligia María Cruz Espinoza, MD, PhD, MPH
Associate Research Scientist
International Vaccine Institute
Leon, Nicaragua

Kathryn J. Gillette, MHA, FACHE
Market President and Chief Operating Officer
Bayfront Health-St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg, Fla.

Jan J. Gorrie, JD, MPH
Managing Partner
Ballard Partners
Tampa, Fla.

Richard T. Hartman, PhD, MS, CSP, CIH
Chief Health Strategist
PSI Inc.
Alexandria, Va.

Xiomara Zulay Hewitt, MPH
Infection Prevention and Control
Adventist Health System
Altamonte Springs, Fla.

Winifred M. Holland, MPH, MA, LMHC
Administrator-Health Officer
Florida Department of Health in Clay County
Green Cove Springs, Fla.

Carol Ann Jenkins, MPH, FACHE
Director, Accreditation and Survey Readiness
All Children’s Hospital Inc.
St. Petersburg, Fla.

Claudia X. Aguado Loi, PhD, MPH, CHES
Research Assistant Professor
Department of Community and Family Health
USF College of Public Health
Tampa, Fla.

Christine McGuire-Wolfe, PhD, MPH, CPH
Firefighter/Paramedic and Infection Control Officer
Pasco County Fire Rescue

Adjunct Faculty
Department of Global Health
USF College of Public Health
Tampa, Fla.

Maj. (Dr.) James McKnight
Force Health Protection Officer
U.S. Central Command
Serving in Jordan

Maj. James McKnight’s children accepted his award since he’s currently serving in Jordan. Other awardees not in attendance include Angelia Sanders who was on assignment in South Sudan, Dr. Phil Amuso who was traveling out of state, Kathryn Gillette, and Jan Gorrie.

Maj. James McKnight’s children accepted his award since he is serving in Jordan.

Rachel Nuzum, MPH
Vice President
Federal and State Health Policy
The Commonwealth Fund
Washington, D.C.

Claudine M. Samanic, PhD, MSPH
U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps

Environmental Health Scientist
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Research Region 5
Division of Community Health Investigations
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Chicago, Ill.


“Since 1999, when I graduated, I’ve been impressed with the expansion and creation of new institutes and centers, the college’s increasing role in global health, and announcements of various faculty accomplishments and impact,” said Dr. Claudine Samanic.  “It was humbling to be in the room with so many accomplished fellow COPH alumni.”

Angelia Sanders, MPH
Associate Director
Trachoma Control Program
The Carter Center
Atlanta, Ga.

Natalia Vargas, MPH
Public Health Analyst
Health Resources and Services Administration
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Rockville, Md.

Angelica C. Williams, MPH
Disease Intervention Specialist
Florida Department of Health in Broward County
Pembroke Pines, Fla.

Lauren B. Zapata, PhD, MSPH
U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps

Senior Research Scientist
Division of Reproductive Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta, Ga.

(from left) COPH Deans Drs. Peter Levin, Donna Petersen, and Charles Mahan.

COPH Deans, from left: Drs. Peter Levin, Donna Petersen (current) and Charles Mahan.

Without question, the night was all about the alumni awardees, but there were a few other show-stoppers in the room. Namely, COPH Deans Drs. Peter Levin, Donna Petersen, and Charles Mahan (above) and COPH alumnus and USF Board Trustee Scott Hopes (below left).


USF Trustee Scott Hopes (on left) with Lesley and Rick Bateman.  Lesley was the college’s first public affairs and development officer.

Founded in July 1984, the USF College of Public Health is wrapping up a yearlong celebration of educating and training public health professionals.  Some of the 30th anniversary year highlights include

  • regional events in Orlando, New Orleans, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
  • the Dean’s Lecture Series featuring alumni like Drs. Richard Hartman, Charlan Kroelinger and Hana Osman.
  • community building activities like a tailgate and USF football game, fall networking social during homecoming, Super Bowl party and spring BBQ.
  • Team #USFCOPHRocks with more than 50 public health Bulls participating in the Gasparilla Distance Classic.
  • raising almost $70,000 in new commitments to student scholarships in the college.

“We are proud of the work we have done building on a solid foundation and creating an outstanding school of public health—one that just recently jumped in national rankings from 21 to 16,” Petersen said.  “In addition to our great champions and the consistent high performance of our faculty and staff, the reputation we have earned is due in no small measure to the incredible contributions of our alumni.”


The alumni awards ceremony was made possible with support from the COPH, as well as corporate sponsors USF Health and Bayfront Health-St. Petersburg, and individual sponsors Drs. Jay Wolfson and Phillip and Jean Amuso.

It takes a village to raise a family AND host an amazing alumni awards ceremony. Salute!

It takes a village to raise a family AND host an amazing alumni awards ceremony.  Salute!


Alumni Awardee Dr. Abdel A. Alli (second from right) enjoyed the festivities with his family, nominator and faculty mentor Dr. Donna Haiduven and her husband Michael Gronquist.

Alumni awardee Dr. Abdel A. Alli (second from right) enjoyed the festivities with his family, as well as nominator and faculty mentor Dr. Donna Haiduven (center) and her husband, Michael Gronquist (far right).

Alumni Awardee Dr. Arlene Calvo shares a special moment with fellow alumnus Dr. Clement Gwede.

Alumni awardee Dr. Arlene Calvo shares a special moment with fellow alumnus Dr. Clement Gwede.

I applaud the College of Public Health for recognizing alumni who not only have tremendous accomplishments, but who have made a difference in the lives of so many,” said Bill McCausland, executive director of the USF Alumni Association.

Go, Bulls!

“I applaud the College of Public Health for recognizing alumni who not only have tremendous accomplishments, but who have made a difference in the lives of so many,” said Bill McCausland, executive director of the USF Alumni Association.

Story by Natalie D. Preston, College of Public Health.  Photos by Ashley Grant and Humberto Lopez Castillo.

Related media:
Alumni Awards photo gallery on Facebook