COPH alum combines her love of data and science with serving the homeless

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Natalie Joseph says she “stumbled” into public health while an undergraduate at the University of Central Florida (UCF), where she studied biomedical sciences with her sights set on becoming a doctor.

“I switched my major to biology so I could pick up a medical anthropology minor and global health certificate,” said Joseph, who graduated the USF College of Public Health (COPH) with her MPH in 2019, concentrating in epidemiology and maternal and child health. “It was through my classes for my minor and certificate at UCF that I became fascinated by the concept that a person’s culture and beliefs can have an impact on his/her health decisions, and that health issues can be addressed from a population level rather than an individual one.”

Natalie Joseph, MPH, at her December 2019 COPH graduation. (Photo courtesy of Joseph)

Joseph didn’t waste any time delving into public health once she graduated from UCF. With the ink barely dry on her diploma, she got a job as the Help Me Grow Outreach Coordinator at the Heart of Florida United Way in Orlando, helping to connect families concerned about their child’s development with community services for assessments and treatment.

“The job really sparked my interest in maternal and child health, but as much as I enjoyed that part of public health, I realized I missed the data component that allowed me to think about factors that could influence progress and success,” she said.

Joseph wanted to expand her knowledge with an MPH degree, but she wanted one that would allow her to combine her interest in maternal and child health with data collection.

That’s what led her to the COPH.

“I chose to attend USF for my public health degree because it was the only school in the state of Florida that would allow me to do a dual concentration in maternal and child health and epidemiology,” explained Joseph. “I’m interested in community/family health, but I also like the data piece that epidemiology incorporates. Dual concentration provided me with the best of both worlds.”

Acquiring the degree wasn’t easy, said Joseph, who had to commute to Tampa from Orlando two-to-three times a week at one point, all while still holding down a full-time job. By her second year, she left Orlando and the craziness that is I-4 and moved to Tampa to finish her degree.

Today, Joseph is the coordinated entry system data and reporting specialist at Homeless Services Network (HSN) of Central Florida.

HSN is the lead agency in Central Florida’s Continuum of Care, addressing the homelessness crisis in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties through funding permanent housing programs and supportive services/ongoing case management for the homeless in the regions being served. In her role, Joseph uses data-driven methods to ensure homeless individuals and families are being served. She runs reports to get a snapshot of the progress permanent housing programs are making and does “process monitoring” of HSN’s programs to ensure that they are on track for meeting long-term goals. She also goes out into the community doing assessments of homeless individuals and getting them into the system to receive services.

Joseph, far left, with HSN coworkers, volunteering at a holiday event of one of their housing partners. (Photo courtesy of Joseph)

“I believe that housing is a universal right,” said Joseph. “The issue of homelessness has always been a passion of mine. What I love about my current position is that it’s a unique blend of epidemiology and community health. I’m not 100 percent out in the community doing outreach and health education, but I’m also not 100 percent entrenched in the data. By being able to go out to the access points and do assessments, I’m able to better understand the data I’m working with and develop a narrative about the community we’re serving.”

Joseph hopes to eventually become a program evaluator or consultant.

“When working with the data, I’m constantly thinking about trends and the potential studies that I could undertake to get a better understanding of things,” said Joseph. “That’s a thought process I learned at the COPH and now use in my job on a regular basis.”

Alumni Fast Five

What did you dream of becoming when you were young?

A forensic anthropologist

Where would we find you on the weekend?

Walking around farmers’ markets

What is the last book you read?

“I will teach you to be rich,” by Ramit Sethi

What superpower would you like to have?

The ability to control an element, like water

What’s your all-time favorite movie?

“Spirited Away”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health