COPH around-the-globe-graduate honored with prestigious research and teaching award

| Academic & Student Affairs, Featured News, Global Health, Monday Letter, Our Accolades, Our Alumni, Public Health Practice, Students

While many activities and aspects of the curriculum at the USF College of Public Health (COPH) focus on serving the local community, the school encourages its students to think beyond where they live. Many students study global health and go on to share their expertise with those in different corners of the world.

Dr. Humberto Lopez Castillo, who graduated from the COPH with his PhD in behavioral sciences and community and family health in the fall of 2016, is one alum who is contributing on a global scale. Lopez Castillo, a native of Panama, reflects on how his time in his home country gave him a well-rounded cultural experience early on in life.

“I was born and raised in the countryside of Panama and later moved to Panama City to start school. But I still would visit my grandparents in the countryside every summer,” said Lopez Castillo. “This gave me an early view of urban vs. rural reality and a sense of cultural awareness.”

Lopez Castillo now works as an assistant professor in the College of Health Professions and Sciences and the College of Medicine at the University of Central Florida, where he is involved in teaching, research and service activities. He says his time at the COPH directed him toward his current path and believes that the college prepared him well for the challenges he currently faces as a professor.

“The [COPH] curriculum not only gave me content-specific tools to be an independent researcher, but it also helped me practice and improve my teaching skills by allowing me to teach classes while in school,” said Lopez Castillo.

Humberto Lopez Castillo, PhD, MD, hangs this “house divided” pennant in his office to represent his love for USF, where he got his PhD, and UCF, where he currently works as an assistant professor. (Photo courtesy of Lopez Castillo)

Even though Florida has become his primary home, Lopez Castillo has still found a way to maintain a connection with Panama by participating in several research projects in the country and planning study abroad experiences for his current undergraduate students. One particular volunteer experience that had an impact on Lopez Castillo came during his fourth year of medical school in Panama, and it still influences him to this day.

“I volunteered for an adolescent clinic and was asked to develop and implement a curriculum for 9th grade students that would cover the basics of sexual and reproductive health,” said Lopez Castillo. “That experience was not only a great skill-building activity, but it also helped me discover my passion for sexual and reproductive health, research and community engagement.”

In light of his contributions and experiences, Lopez Castillo was recently inducted into the Order of Paula Solís de Huerta, the highest distinction granted by the University of Panama’s Azuero Campus, where he earned his medical degree. He was selected for the award because of his contributions to the university through his research with the COPH’s Dr. Arlene Calvo and his teaching efforts to the university through study abroad trips. The recognition, which was instituted in 2015, is the highest one that an academic can receive from the University of Panama.

Dr. Humberto Lopez Castillo (center) accepts a 2019 award for induction into the Order of Paula Solís de Huerta from Campus Director Leonardo Collado (left) and Professor Linette Palacios (right) at the University of Panama. (Photo courtesy of Lopez Castillo)

Lopez Castillo, who hopes to continue to pursue his research interests while his teaching career flourishes, says his future goals are greatly impacted by the time he spent at the COPH

“My professors and advisors at the COPH defined public health as ‘your health’ and always gave clear examples of public health being all about helping people,” said Lopez Castillo. “Thus, my future plans incorporate transforming the findings of my current research projects, which are focused on the reproductive and cardiovascular health of sexual minority men, into evidence-based interventions,” said Lopez Castillo. “I also usually include a Spanish/English bilingual twist in the interventions, so that I can have a positive impact on as many people as possible.”

No matter where the future takes him, Lopez Castillo insists that his time at USF will always be an important part of his life.

“Being at the COPH was fantastic,” said Lopez Castillo. “I had stellar professors who I still reach out to for input and collaborations, and I made friendships that have lasted past graduation.”

Alumni Fast Five:

What did you dream of becoming when you were young?

A physician or a civil engineer

Where might we find you on the weekends?

Quilting in my home sewing studio—I am a self-taught quilting enthusiast!

What was the last book you read?

“For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health,” by Al Vernacchio. This is great “back-to-basics” reading for us in the sexual and reproductive health field.

What superpower would you like to have?

Time bending would definitely come handy in my current position, where I need to split my time between teaching, research, service and having a personal life.

What is your all-time favorite movie?

If I want a good laugh, my go-to is “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” If I want a glimpse of my all-time favorite artist (Barbra Streisand), I watch “Funny Girl” or “Hello Dolly!”

Story by Cody Brown, USF College of Public Health