COPH celebrates the NPHW awards ceremony virtually

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More than twenty-five years ago, the American Public Health Association (APHA) sponsored its first National Public Health Week (NPHW) to honor those working tirelessly (and often behind the scenes) to improve the public’s health. The USF College of Public Health followed suit, recognizing their own hardworking students, faculty, alumni, staff and other professionals in the field with awards and accolades during the weeklong public health celebration.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s awards ceremony was delivered virtually. Dr. Donna Petersen, dean of the COPH, delivered her address and congratulated award winners in front of a camera instead of an audience. (To watch the ceremony, click here).

USF President Steven Currall recognizing Dean Donna Petersen during the annual NPHW awards ceremony.
Dean Donna Petersen presenting at the virtual NPHW awards ceremony.

“Every year APHA identifies a theme for NPHW and this year the theme is “Building Bridges to Better Health” and each day has a different topic. Today’s topic is “strengthening communities,” Petersen said. “And I thought, “Wow, this is so appropriate for what will do today as we are recognizing many people who have contributed to our community here at USF to communities all around the world.”

Students from every corner of the college were recognized with awards and scholarships from groups as diverse as the American Industrial Hygiene Foundation to the US Marine Corps.

“This is both a recognition of their achievement and a recognition of their promise to public health,” Petersen said. “And we always like to welcome new students into our midst and see how they are going to soar and how they are going to shine.

Some of the COPH’s top students received named scholarships. “These are very special scholarships,” Petersen remarked. “They are either named for people very important to us in the college, very important to the field of public health or who simply cared enough to support the training and education of our students.”

USF COPH Excellence in Teaching Awardee Dr. Joe Bohn (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

Dr. Joe Bohn was given an Excellence in Teaching Award (you can read his story here).

“This is something we are always very excited about and look forward to each year,” Petersen said. “This award is incredibly special because it’s given by the students.”

A great honor, as well, is to be recognized by your college for the work you’ve done post-graduation.

“We look for people who are impacting the community and serving in leadership positions,” said Petersen. “And this year we are fortunate to honor three outstanding alumni.” They are Steven Chew, Thometta Cozart and Dr. Melissa Mercado (click on each name to view more).

USF COPH Outstanding Alumni Award winner Steven Chew, Thometta Cozart and Dr. Melissa Mercado. (Photos courtesy of Chew, Cozart and Mercado)

Lastly, Petersen introduced the 2021 Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health Award, COPH alumna Megan Wessel (read more of her story here).

“This award was created in 1988 by then COPH dean Dr. Charles Mahan, who believed that through his career it was the women around him who actually made things happen, followed through and made sure things got done,” Petersen said. “We received so many nominations and its always heartwarming and inspiring to see how many women are out there working very hard in a variety of areas to support public health an improve the quality of life.”

2021 Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health Awardee Megan Wessel. (Photo courtesy of Wessel)

“I congratulate all of you on your accomplishments,” Petersen said in closing, “Save the date for next year’s ceremony on April 6, 2022 and hopefully look forward to seeing you all next year—in person!

Dean Donna Petersen presenting at the virtual NPHW awards ceremony.
USF President Steven Currall recognizing Dean Donna Petersen during the annual NPHW awards ceremony.

The awards ceremony ended with a surprise for Petersen. She was given a special recognition by USF President Steven Currall.

“When COVID-19 first began to impact our community in early 2020 I formed a task force to help lead the university’s response. The task force includes broad membership from across the university and I appointed the dean of USF College of Public Health, Dr. Donna Petersen, to chair the effort,” Currall said. “Dr. Petersen answered the call for USF and ever since has gone above and beyond to help USF prioritize health and safety. Today during NPHW, I’m so pleased to recognize Dr. Petersen’s extraordinary service to USF during the past year. Like a light leading us through a very dark and long tunnel, Dr. Petersen has helped USF students, faculty and staff increase our understanding of the pandemic so that we could respond in a safe and effective way.”

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health