COPH holds (virtual!) National Public Health Week Annual Awards Ceremony

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Twenty-five years ago, the American Public Health Association sponsored its first National Public Health Week 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).

“When we’re preventing disease and disability and other health challenges, people forget we’re here,” said Petersen. “But with COVID-19, we are now on top of everyone’s mind, we are on top of every newscast and we are on top of the response. We really don’t need an event this year to highlight public health.”

Petersen began her address with the heart and soul of the college: its students and their many accomplishments.

Students from every corner of the college were recognized with awards and scholarships from groups as diverse as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Bahamian government. Sixteen undergraduate and 20 graduate students as well as three alumni (including two faculty members, Jennifer Marshall and Dinorah Martinez Tyson) were given awards by the Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health, an international society that promotes excellence and recognizes accomplishments in public health. Three COPH students received Delta Omega poster presentation awards.

Doctoral student Dr. Marlene Joannie Bewa received two prestigious university awards: a USF Outstanding Young Alumni Award and a USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy scholarship, while a number of COPH students received coveted awards at the recent USF Health Research Day. Doctoral students Caitlin Wolfe received the Dean’s Interdisciplinary Research Award and Kristi Miley won the Outstanding Oral Presentation Award.

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.” All in all, 15 students received nine named scholarships.

Petersen also introduced two new awards focusing on the endeavors of the college’s staff. Paige Hunt was honored with the inaugural USF COPH Staff Award for Excellence while Samantha Haylock received the USF COPH Staff Award for Leadership.

Elizabeth Dunn was given an Excellence in Teaching Award (you can read her story  here). “There’s really no greater honor than to be selected by students as an outstanding teacher,” said Petersen.

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 Drs. Tracey Pérez Koehlmoos, Sayeef Mirza and Kelly Sullivan.

Lastly, Petersen introduced the Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health Award.

“It’s extraordinary to see the nominations we receive,” said Petersen. “They come from all over the state, from different agencies and different disciplines. It’s always a difficult choice. This year three extraordinary women were nominated. And since none of us could agree and they are all deserving of the honor, we decided there was no reason not to recognize all three of them.” The recipients were Sarah Combs, CEO of the University Area Community Development Corporation, Melanie Hall, executive director of the Family Health Care Foundation and Dr. Deanna Wathington, executive dean at the Petrock College of Health Sciences and dean of the School of Graduate Studies at Bethune-Cookman College.

“I congratulate all of you on your accomplishments,” Petersen said in closing, “those that we recognize today and those that we try to recognize all year long. We are so proud of all of our students, the faculty that guide them, the staff that support them and the alumni that pave the way. Thank you for all you do for the college and the community. I look forward to seeing you all next year—in person!”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health