“We take a moment at the College of Public Health to acknowledge your accomplishments and to thank you again for choosing this very important field,” said the USF College of Public Health Dean Dr. Donna Petersen.
On August 6, the COPH hosted two celebrations for graduates and their families. The morning pinning ceremony consisted of 76 undergraduates, while the afternoon event recognized the academic contributions of 95 graduate students.
Dr. Kay Perrin, interim associate dean for the Office of Academic and Student Affairs and COPH associate professor, echoed Dean Petersen’s sentiments and added that the students should be so proud of their accomplishments, only 26% of the U.S. population have an undergraduate degree and only 3% have a graduate degree.
COPH alumna Priscilla Gittens was the keynote speaker at the undergraduate ceremony.
After graduating from the COPH in 2014, Gittens began practicing her passion as an enrollment specialist for Beacon Health Solutions.
Speaking to directly to the students, she stressed the importance of perseverance and keeping In touch with your colleagues.
“Look to your left and to your right, these are the people who are your competition, but these are also the people who are going to help you, these are the people who are going to assist you in getting to where you want to be,” Gittens said.
Gittens ended her speech stressing the importance of keeping in touch with faculty members. They will always be mentors and can help you even with the smallest of things such as revamping a resume.
As the 2016 Excellence in Teaching Award recipient, Corvin was asked to give a ‘last lecture’ to the graduating class.
Leaving the students with this final advice Corvin said, “Always learn from those you work with and leave a piece of you behind. You never know when you will be the match that will light another’s passion. As you enter this next phase of your journey, take the enthusiasm and the excitement you feel today and bring about change!”
By the end of the day on August 6, 171 public health students officially became USF alumni.
“I look at each of you and think about how far we have come. You make us so proud!” Corvin said.
Here are some of the graduate’s individual stories.
“My practice is sexual and reproductive health, and my passion is empowerment,” said USF College of Public Health graduate Nanah Fofanah.
Born in Sierra Leone and growing up in Virginia, Fofanah’s views of the world have been shaped by her upbringing, faith and experiences. From her experience living in Sierra Leone, as well as Ghana, where she lived for a few years before high school, she’s witnessed the gender stereotypes that are still the norm there today.
“I’ve always liked a challenge and have been a ‘tomboy,’ so if you tell me I can’t do something, especially because I’m a girl, I make sure to get it done and do it well,” she said.
Now, the goal is to share her own education and confidence with those in need.
“I wanted to be able to help women, specifically, and of course, communities as a whole,” she said.
And with her MPH degree, she’s well on her way.
Before her passion was public health, USF College of Public Health graduate Shana Geary was on a pre-med track with dreams of becoming an obstetrician. She graduated from USF with an undergraduate degree in biomedical sciences and minors in biomedical physics and public health.
Her minor in public health was her first introduction to the topic, something she had been advised to pursue to help her stand out from her pre-med peers. After getting acquainted with the field, she realized that public health would give her a much broader reach than a career as a clinician would.
“I really wanted that population perspective,” she said.
Geary took a year off after to consider her options, and after looking into schools all over, Geary ultimately found what she was looking for here in Tampa.
“I kept coming back to public health because I knew that I had a little bit of exposure and it seemed like where I could make the biggest difference,” she said. “That’s kind of always been my motive: to impact lives and to help people.”
“COPH rocks because of the enthusiasm you’ll find here and because of what you can become if you take full advantage of it,” said USF College of Public Health graduate Mindy Spyker.
Spyker was earned her MPH with a concentration in global health practice.
Originally from South Dakota, Spyker’s mother has worked for many years with the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Spyker says seeing her mother’s passion has helped her discover her own.
“She was kind of my sounding board, and has helped me figure out my interests in terms of public health,” she said.
Spyker studied sociology at Emory University as an undergrad, with a career as a clinician in mind. But after a year of hands-on experience in South Africa, she realized that what she really loved was the social side of health care work. She found her passion in talking to patients and interacting, just not in the hospital setting.
After her year abroad, Spyker knew she wanted to pursue her master’s, and USF’s reputation combined with its proximity to her family made it a great choice.
“I was ready to be back near family,” she said. “And it’s the best public health school in the state.”
Story by AnnaMarie Koehler-Sheply and Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health