Alumna Deidre Orriola breaks down classroom walls

| Academic & Student Affairs, Intl Programs, Monday Letter, Our Alumni, Our World, Students, Undergraduate

As a faculty instructor II at the USF College of Public Health, COPH alumna Deidre Orriola is helping undergraduate students live outside the box and gain a global perspective in public health issues abroad.

Deidre Orriola, MPH, CPH, CLC. (Photo by Natalie Preston)

“I really love seeing students make new connections and discover their passions within the public health discipline,” Orriola said.

Originally from Marzán, located in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, Orriola moved to Johnson City, NY when she was eight.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from SUNY Binghamton in 2002, she set her sights on the USF COPH, where she earned her MPH in 2006 in health education.

Before joining the COPH as an instructor, she worked as a health educator at USF Student Health Services. She’s also a certified lactation counselor, earning that credential in 2015 along with her certification in public health.

She said she saw public health as the way to merge her interests in anthropology, culture and human health.

Now, she takes those interests and is helping to expand the global walls of her classroom.

Orriola and students heading back from a day at the Seven Sisters Cliffs in England during a summer study abroad experience. (Photo courtesy of Deidre Orriola)

She oversees study abroad programs for students including experiences in Cuba, Panama and England, where students get hands-on exposure to public health issues in other countries.

“I do not know a single student who has studied abroad who has not undergone a huge transformation, not just academically and professionally, but personally,” she said. “You can really see their global citizenship forming right in front of your eyes.”

Her passion for helping students expand their public health experiences has not gone unnoticed.

In November 2017, she received the Outstanding Global Achievement Award in the faculty category for Outstanding Global Student Success at the USF World 3rd Annual Global Awards, an award given by USF World and the president’s office to highlight the achievements made by faculty and staff in growing USF’s international presence and research.

Serving on several committees, spearheading novel study abroad programs in three countries for the bachelor of science in public health (BSPH) program, and collaborating with international colleagues at the University of Exeter in England and the University College of London, Orriola said her efforts to help create global citizens are rewarded most when students tell her about how their passion for public health is ignited during study abroad.

For Orriola, working with international partners has been a welcome challenge with immense rewards.

“Our Cuba study abroad program is a great example of a solid partnership between the College of Nursing, the College of Public Health and the University of Exeter Medical School,” she said. “First year medical and nursing students and public health undergraduates get to experience health systems in Cuba first hand. At the same time, they get to triangulate their experiences in Cuba with those of their fellow classmates from England and Florida.”

Undergraduate University of Exeter and USF students at a maternal home for women with high risk pregnancies in Cuba. (Photo courtesy of Deidre Orriola)

Undergraduate students learned about emergency flood management and planning in London, while also exploring the architecture of the Thames Barrier to examine engineering initiatives in public health. (Photo courtesy of Deidre Orriola)

Bachelor of science in public health (BSPH) students at the London LGBT Friend in summer of 2017. (Photo courtesy of Deidre Orriola)

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Orriola worked to help create an interdisciplinary team of health professionals from USF, Moffitt Cancer Center, and the private sector to set up mobile clinics in two rural communities in Puerto Rico.

“In the immediate aftermath of the storm, I had this feeling that I had to do more because I had the ability to do more,” she said. “Knowing there were millions without power, water, food, and medical care, I could not just stand by and watch. I feel grateful that I could give back, even if it was just something small for me, I think it meant a lot to the patients we saw in our pop-up clinics.”

Orriola and other volunteers stopped by the community in Puerto Rico called Ojo De Agua where they saw roughly 60 patients in the pop-up clinic, as well as two home-bound patients. The community did not have running water and residents were obtaining water from a natural spring whose safety is unknown. (Photo courtesy of Deidre Orriola)

Orriola with other pop-up clinic staff in Puerto Rico and the Mayor of Vega Baja Marcos Cruz Molina. (From left): Wilmarie Lopez, coordinator and teacher at Puerto Rico Head Start; Mary Unangst, IBCLC lactation consultant and team member; Deidre Orriola; Marcos Cruz Molina, mayor of Vega Baja; Dr. Jessica Gordon, coordinator and nurse practitioner; and Dr. Diana Negron, coordinator and director of Silo Treatment Center. Not pictured, clinical scientist Federico Gordon, ASCP. (Photo courtesy of Deidre Orriola)

She said she believes USF students will enter the health care workforce with ideas and tools to improve the delivery, cost, and access to care after they’ve experienced study abroad.

She credits the global commitment and collaborative efforts of USF Health, USF World and the USF System for expanding global opportunities for students.

“The more we get them out of their comfort zone and seeing the world through a new lens, the more motivated and equipped they will be to tackle both global and local problems,” Orriola said.


Alumni Fast Five:

What did you dream of becoming when you were young? 

I wanted to be a flight attendant.

Where would we find you on the weekend? 

My family and I love to explore, garden, go to markets, and try new restaurants.

What is the last book you read? 

“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race,” by Beverly Daniel Tatum about the development of racial identity in the U.S. I read it in undergrad and am revisiting once again at a very different place in my life and in the development of my own identity. I am hoping to incorporate the text into our Introduction to Health Disparities course.

What superpower would you like to have? 

Flying or time travel.

What’s your all-time favorite movie? 

“What about Bob?”

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health, and Deidre Orriola