243 graduates of the COPH are urged to innovate, get out of comfort zone

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On May 2, the USF College of Public Health (COPH) graduated 220 students. One hundred twenty-one of them received a bachelor of science in public health. The other 99 were graduate students. Eight received doctorate degrees; 91 received master’s degrees.

Undergraduate Send-Off

The day’s festivities began in the morning. Undergraduates receiving their BSPH degrees flooded the Samuel P. Bell Auditorium, along with their families, friends, COPH faculty and staff.

Dr. Donna Petersen, dean of the COPH, delivered the welcome address. Acknowledging that public health is often hard for outsiders to understand, Petersen asked the audience, “Who in this room would choose not to be healthy?” (No show of hands.) “Exactly,” went on Petersen, “that’s what public health is. Health is in the best interests of individuals, communities and society. You now have a set of skills that helps us all be healthy.”

“I can tell you with absolute certainty,” said Dean Donna Petersen, ScD, MHS, CPH, in her address to the undergraduates, “that every day, I read articles about health. The day people no longer care about health is the day it’s all over.” (Photo by Ellen Kent)

Petersen then introduced Dr. Kay Perrin, an associate professor whom she heralded as “the mother, the soul, the champion” of the undergraduate BSPH program. “You are now part of the public health family,” Perrin told the graduates. “Whether it’s six months or five years from now, you can still come back. We are here to help you.”

The sign says it all. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

Next was keynote speaker Kala Jamison, a 2018 COPH graduate who is now a research assistant at Moffitt Cancer Center in the division of population science and department of cancer epidemiology.

Jamison told the audience about her first foray into the workforce. She attended a Moffitt hiring event only to learn that after waiting her turn in a long line, all the interview slots were taken. Instead of being deterred, she turned the sheet over, wrote her name on the blank page, gave her business card to the supervisor with whom she wanted to interview—and then went home to send the supervisor an email, asking about current openings.

That was June. In July, she received an email from Moffitt describing available opportunities. In August, she interviewed. In September, she started her new job. Not long after, she was promoted.

Kala Jamison, BSPH, was guest speaker at the undergraduate celebration. “The moment you press your own limits and step outside your comfort zone,” she told the graduates, “the magic will begin to happen.” (Photo by Ellen Kent)

“I could have given up at the sign-up sheet,” Jamison said. “And the email was a bold step. But I didn’t allow any barriers to stop me from advancing to the place I wanted to be. You are all sitting in this room today, and that shows you are victorious. You are overcomers. The fight will always be worth it. But you have to push yourselves out of your comfort zones. Once you master that, the world is yours.”

Go Bulls and the 2019 COPH BSPH graduates! (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

Undergraduate Profile

Akhil Tumpudi knows a thing or two about pushing forward.

Born in India and raised in Dubai, Tumpudi is a two-major Bull. He received concurrent degrees from USF, one in integrative animal biology (human track) and the other a BSPH degree from the COPH, a degree he first became passionate about pursuing after a mission trip to the Dominican Republic in 2017.

“The BSPH is a great degree,” Tumpudi said. “It’s very extensive and covers all major areas of public health. It’s an incredible program for people who want to get their foot in the door of public health.”

What got Tumpudi interested in public health in the first place was its ability to help a large population. “Practicing public health enables us to help a wide range of people through promotion, prevention and protection,” Tumpudi explained.

Tumpudi’s post-graduation plans include conducting research at Tampa General Hospital and applying to medical school. (Photo courtesy of Tumpudi)

Tumpudi, who just finished up a legislative internship at the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s Office, has secured a research position at Tampa General Hospital.

“I was very involved in research at the COPH,” he commented. “I have been involved in three different research projects with Dr. Marie Bourgeois. Every doctor and teacher I’ve worked with at USF has inspired me. Their drive for research and health outcomes has instilled discipline in me, and has motivated me to pursue a career as a clinical physician.”

Tumpudi will spend some time this summer applying to medical school. He’d like to specialize in surgery and then, possibly, move on to the Peace Corps.

“Public health and medicine are intertwined,” said Tumpudi. “Public health is as important to improving health outcomes as medicine. Having studied public health, I will be able to care for individuals and communities as a whole.”

To read a story about three COPH graduates earning a perfect 4.0 GPA, click here.

Undergraduate After-Celebration

After the ceremony, Rocky and refreshments welcomed the graduates and their families into the COPH lobby and atrium.

New grad Stephanie Black poses with a proud Rocky, while her dad captures the moment.  (Photo by Natalie Preston)
“This feels amazing,” said Zachary Allard, center, speaking of his graduation. “I don’t have a post-graduation plan yet, but I do know I will never give up on my childhood dream of being a superhero. And being a public health worker is like being a superhero.” (Photo by Caitlin Keough)
Kelechi Uzoegwu (center) is pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology at Miami University in Ohio. “I think my public health background will serve me well,” she said. “I look forward to preventing incidents instead of just treating them.” (Photo courtesy of Caitlin Keough)

Graduate Ceremony

The afternoon ceremony celebrated 114 graduate students. As is tradition, the principal address at the graduate celebration is delivered by the recipient of the COPH Excellence in Teaching Award. The award is presented annually to one faculty member who has made a major contribution to student development and to the quality of education within their department and the college as a whole. Nominations are accepted from all undergraduate and graduate students in the college.

Anna Torrens Armstrong, PhD, MPH, CPH, MCHES, (first row, far right), sits with fellow COPH faculty members before delivering her address to graduate students. (Photo by Ellen Kent)

This year’s recipient is COPH alumna and assistant professor Dr. Anna Torrens Armstrong, who opened her speech with a quote from renowned biologist and chemist Louis Pasteur. “Chance,” said Pasteur, “favors only the prepared mind.”

Armstrong told students that their graduation was not the end of their education journey, but the beginning. She urged the graduates to:

  1. Know your history. “Because history will repeat itself,” Armstrong warned, pointing to the resurgence of measles and vaccine hesitancy.
  2. Innovate. “Think like there is no box,” she advised. “Innovate, because problems are not simple but increasingly complex.”
  3. Collaborate. “Innovation doesn’t take place in a vacuum,” she noted. “Find your people. Build your team. Work in and with the community.”
  4. Share, advocate and educate. “Use your voice. Explore how you can be effective—whether it’s in writing, practice or policy,” Armstrong emphasized.

After Armstrong’s speech, the graduates—and their impressively diverse thesis/dissertation topics—were announced to the audience.

Graduate Profile

One of those graduates was Reem Yousif, who received her MHA and would like to specialize in health care administration.

Yousif is an American who grew up in Saudi Arabia to Ethiopian and Saudi Arabian parents.

Reem Yousif stands with Dean Donna Petersen during graduation festivities held at the COPH on May 2. “My classmates have been my biggest inspiration and motivators,” said Yousif. “They are all so remarkably talented and have been such a big part of my growth. I’ve learned from them every day.” (Photo by Ellen Kent)

She did her undergraduate work at the University of Tampa, receiving a degree in finance, and came to the COPH as a non-career student. She wanted to explore some interests while toying with a career change. “I quickly realized I wanted a career in health administration, but I knew there would be a big learning curve. I had no health care experience. This was a drastic change for me. But I kept with it.”

Two years later, Yousif feels like she has come out the other side a different person.

“I am so grateful to all my professors and peers for the opportunities that helped shape me,” she said.

Yousif has graduated with her MHA and will be moving to Virginia to work for Sentara Healthcare as an administrative fellow. The fellowship is a one-year, rotation-based program that will allow Yousif to work on a variety of projects throughout the health system.

The new graduate says she doesn’t know where this position will take her, but she’s confident she’ll end up in the right place, wherever that may be.

“I want to be in a position where I can do what I love and make a difference in people’s lives,” Yousif said. “I’m not sure what that will be, but I will figure it out.”

The graduate celebration traditionally ends with new graduates pledging their commitment to public health. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

Graduate After-Party

Before heading off to the Yuengling Center for the USF Health commencement, graduates stopped for some cake and congratulations.

Deborah Formelio, who received her DrPH, relaxes with her family in the COPH lobby. (Photo by Ellen Kent)
COPH professor Miguel Reina, PhD, poses with one of the college’s newest doctoral graduates, Malinee Neelamegam, PhD. (Photo by Ellen Kent)


One commencement, two cupcakes and five bright smiles. (Photo by Ellen Kent)

The Main Event: Graduation!

COPH faculty and some of the new grads pose together one last time. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Joe Bohn)
USF Health graduates fill the Yuengling Center. (Photo courtesy of USF Health)

To view more photos from the undergraduate celebration, click here. For photos from the graduate celebration, click here.

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health

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