COPH celebrates Summer 2020 graduates virtually

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“This group of students have persevered under unprecedented circumstances. Their spring semester was flipped upside down and they have remained in remote mode since the beginning of March. Many of these graduates were working and continue to do so on the frontlines of COVID-19 response or behind the scenes ensuring that every other aspect of public health can continue to function,” said USF College of Public Health’s Dean Donna Petersen

Dean Donna Petersen presenting at the COPH’s Summer 2020 Virtual Graduation Celebration. 

“This group of students have also had to confront two pandemics colliding. The coronavirus pandemic and the pandemic of social upheaval in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. These two pandemics together have exposed many of the failings of our systems. The structural racism that allows black people to die at far greater rates from over-policing as well as from COVID-19. And the cost of not investing in preparedness which left us shorthanded and undersupplied in our response,” Petersen continued. “Because of these events, this particular group of graduates may be the best prepared of any we’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s graduation ceremony was presented virtually to family, friends, students, faculty and staff. Petersen delivered her address and congratulated the Summer 2020 graduating class in front of a camera instead of an audience. (To watch the ceremony, click here

This semester, 78 undergraduates, 62 masters and 4 doctoral students graduated and entered the public health profession. 

Every year the COPH Excellence in Teaching awardee offers words of inspiration to the graduating class. This year’s speaker was COPH alumna and instructor I Elizabeth Dunn.

“This disruption in our society may feel unprecedented as uncertainty looms, but I want to share with you this anonymous quote that may help you navigate through the challenges ahead and what I live by in my own life,” Dunn said. “Not all storms come to disrupt your life, some come to clear your path.”

COPH alumna and instructor I Elizabeth Dunn during the graduation ceremony.

“As you start your journey in the height of a pandemic, many plans and the vision you had as you began your transition into the workforce may have changed drastically,” Dunn continued. “Just remember this is what great stories are made of, stories that you may someday tell your younger colleagues eager to get into the field of public health, stories that you will share with your children and grandchildren. You will be able to share with conviction–we made history.”

Dr. Claudia Cooperman, assistant dean of undergraduate studies, also presented her “very different” end to the year address to the graduating class.

“The future is more vibrant for you than it has ever been and you are ready for it. We need people educated in all areas of health more than ever. We need leaders to make sure that the public is educated, that communities are taken care of, and the right information is presented in the right way,” Cooperman said. “I know that you are those leaders.”

Dr. Claudia Cooperman, assistant dean of undergraduate studies, presenting during the graduation ceremony.

“USF has prepared you, you are ready for what is going on in the world right now and we need you. We all need you,” Cooperman said. “You will be the health leaders of tomorrow and we at the COPH will be your cheerleaders all the way.”

Here are some of the stories from the Class of 2020:

Rochelle T. Logan, DrPH, MPH, CHES

Dr. Rochelle Logan (Photo courtesy of Logan)

Dr. Rochelle Logan graduated this summer with her DrPH in advance leadership in public health practice from the USF COPH. She has worked in the field of public health practice for more than 14 years after earning her BS in community health education and her MPH in social and behavioral health science from Morgan State University in Baltimore.

She selected the USF COPH after being intrigued by the robust curriculum of the DrPH program, which encourages students to hone in on the skills they are presented in their coursework and immediately apply them in their current professional roles.  

During her time as a student at the COPH, Logan has been honored with the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs Go Beyond Emerging Graduate Student Scholarship Award and inducted into the Tau Chapter of Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health.

Read her full story here.

Nicole Sutton, MPH

Nicole Sutton, MPH (Photo courtesy of Sutton)

Graduating with her MPH in health education and a graduate certificate in social marketing and social change, Nicole Sutton began her public health journey 20 years ago after earning her BA with a major in sociology and minor in women’s studies from the University of Tampa (UT) in 1999.

“My direct link to public health came while studying sociology in my undergrad. I was working as a field researcher for a community development project with UT’s Institute for Community Research, and quickly began to make the connections between social determinants, living environments, and health,” she said. “One of my professors at the time had earned an MPH from USF and suggested I look into it because of my observations. Around that same time, I also had the opportunity to meet Dr. Ruth Westheimer and talk about my interest in reproductive justice. She also directed me to public health as a career path.”

In 2000, Sutton took a job at University of Hawaii Cancer Research Center under Dr. Karen Glanz working in tobacco control, a role that she held for almost 14 years.

Read her full story here.

Public health heroes from the Class of 2020 on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic:

Daniel Hutchinson, BSPH

Daniel Hutchinson, BSPH (Photo courtesy of Hutchinson)

Daniel Hutchinson began helping with the COVID-19 response by answering to the call for volunteers at the Hillsborough County Office of Emergency Management around late March/ early April. 

“I helped by doing whatever tasks needed to be completed to help support the local COVID-19 response in the community,” Hutchinson said. 

Many of the skills and training that Hutchinson received are from his homeland security and emergency management minor and tips from Elizabeth Dunn, instructor I at the COPH, helped him immensely as a volunteer.

“I was able to keep up with the terminology and rapidly changing health statistics. I also had a pretty good understanding what was happening in the fast-paced environment,” he said. “I was happy to be a volunteer! I strongly believed that it was my responsibility as a public health major to get involved in the fight against this dreadful illness. It’s another proud moment of my time at the COPH.”

Read his full story here.

Whitney Van Arsdale, MPH, CPH

Whitney Van Arsdale, MPH, CPH (Photo courtesy of Van Arsdale)

Graduate Whitney Van Arsdale earned her MPH in epidemiology this semester after being deployed by the Florida Department of Health Palm Beach County to help with the COVID-19 response from March 19 through June 25. 

On July 26, she was hired as a permanent employee as the lead investigator into COVID-related expirations for Palm Beach County.

She originally started contact tracing but was quickly promoted to more responsibility managing outbreaks in long-term care facilities, including gathering statistics, as well as conducting site visits to assess areas for infection control improvements.

Van Arsdale said that she was able to use every bit of her public health education in this position.

Read her full story here.

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health