Alumna Jamilla Cooper makes COPH dual degree history

| Academic & Student Affairs, Epidemiology, Global Health, Monday Letter, Our Alumni, Students, Undergraduate Programs

It was her freshman year and USF College of Public Health alumna Jamilla Cooper was still not quite sure what she wanted to major in.

However, she reached an epiphany after enrolling in her first public health course: Sex, Health, and Decision Making.

“It awakened my interest for public health because the topics covered presented an open, honest and exciting view of public health,” Cooper said.

It was so intriguing that she decided to declare public health as her major twice and enrolled in the 3+2 dual bachelor’s and master’s degree program.

The Honor’s College student made history when she graduated in Dec. 2015 as the first ever student in the COPH to graduate with a bachelor of science in public health and master of public health in the epidemiology and global communicable disease concentration simultaneously.

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(From left) Chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Dr. Kathleen O’Rourke, Assistant Professor, Dr. Jamie Corvin, Jamilla Cooper, and Dean Donna Petersen. (Photo by Ellen Kent)

“The journey to becoming the first dual BS, MPH in epidemiology and global communicable diseases took a lot of hard work over several years to achieve,” Cooper said. “Many of my peers were unaware of what I was doing and it felt so amazing to have Dr. Perrin acknowledge my hard work at the fall graduation celebration. I’m still on a high from it all.”

The 3+2 program is intended for honor’s college students who are nearing 90 credit hours.

Once accepted, the student’s upper elective courses become part of their graduate work, according to Dr. Kay Perrin, assistant dean of undergraduate students.

Cooper began her graduate coursework while a junior in the undergraduate program, after being admitted with a nearly perfect GRE score, Perrin said.

“Every time she came in she always had all of her questions written down. She always had any form that needed to be signed all filled out and ready and she knew exactly where to take it; she was never late for an appointment and she just was perfect,” Perrin said. “Everything was always organized and she had already investigated what she thought the answer was instead of coming in asking, ‘What do I do?’”

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Jamilla Cooper at the December 2015 commencement ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Jamilla Cooper)

“The graduate program at USF was challenging but extremely rewarding,” Cooper said. “I had the help of three advisors to guide me along the way: Dr. Kay Perrin, Dr. Aurora Sanchez-Anguiano and Dr. Kate Wolfe-Quintero.”

As a dual degree seeking student, Cooper stayed involved with both extracurricular and academic activities to strengthen her public health experiences.

She became one the first officers in the Undergraduate Public Health Student Association, participated in three study abroad programs and joined the business and professional sorority, Gamma Phi Delta.

“The biggest challenge I faced in attaining my degree was finding a good balance between work, school and my own personal life,” she said. “I have had many proud moments at USF but one of my proudest achievements as a student was being selected as one of ten students nationwide to participate in the Hurricane REU, which was funded by the National Science Foundation. It was a great opportunity for me to learn research methods in the field and I learned information during that time that I still use this day.”

During her time as a student, Cooper also worked at the Florida Center for Community Design and Research, a research center that aims to create more sustainable communities, and participated in the National Science Foundation’s Hurricane Research Experience for undergraduates, where she examined hurricane preparedness among those who use meal services in Hillsborough County.

“It might sound cliché but juggling several things at once is physically draining and a jack-of-all-trades can quickly become a master of none,” Cooper said. “I had to learn early on to be gentle to myself.”

But her efforts endured and Cooper was also awarded the Claudia McCorkle Scholarship through the Honors College in 2013 and made the COPH Dean’s List in both the fall and spring semesters in 2011.

Reflecting back on her time as a student, Cooper said she was encouraged greatly by many COPH faculty and staff.

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Dr. Kay Perrin shares some words about Jamilla Cooper (second from left) during the COPH graduate student graduation celebration. (Photo by Ellen Kent)

“Dr. Perrin is the first person that comes to mind. I am so grateful to her because I truly believe I would not have graduated if not for her ever present help and support. She is a great resource and never stopped believing in my abilities even when I doubted myself. She is truly remarkable,” Cooper said. “Ms. Mary at the front desk and Ms. Erica Parris in the undergraduate studies department are two amazing members of staff who always had a warm smile and an encouraging word for me.”

Cooper will continue her employment as a disease intervention specialist at the Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office in Tampa, where she has been for the last two years conducting educational classes on infectious diseases, hepatitis C and HIV testing and counseling.

“I chose to become an epidemiologist because I have a passion for investigating the factors that contribute to outbreaks of infectious diseases. I like examining the factors that contribute to infectious disease outbreaks, particularly the ones that are often the last to be considered,” Cooper said.

Cooper said she hopes to continue her public health journey as an infectious disease epidemiologist working abroad.


Fast Five for COPH Alumni:

What did you dream of becoming when you were young?

I dreamed of becoming a doctor! I was always pretending to treat my dolls when they were sick. Around the time I turned 16 I decided that I wanted to work for the WHO in HIV. Not sure how I came to decide on WHO, but I had begun to learn a lot about HIV in the Caribbean and it really intrigued me. That goal has stuck with me ever since.

Where would we find you on the weekend?

My church, catching up with my friends and trying out new restaurants.

What is the last book you read?

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

What superpower would you like to have?

I would like to have the power to read minds. It would give me an insight to what the people around me were thinking and would clear up misunderstandings before they even happen. Plus, I’d get to learn the formula used to calculate the lottery numbers!

What’s your all-time favorite movie? 

Shawshank Redemption


 Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health.