“Every day I use information I gained from my studies at University of South Florida College of Public Health and put my knowledge into action,” said Dr. Michael Pentella, director of the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory, “I get to help others learn about diseases that they are encountering for the first time which I had to opportunity to learn about when I was at USF.”
On April 6, Pentella received the 2016 Outstanding Alumni Award. Presented during the annual National Public Health Week ceremony, this award recognizes COPH graduates who improve the public’s health and do it exceedingly well.
Pentella graduated from USF with his PhD in environmental health in 2000 after earning his BS from The Ohio State University in 1972 and his MS from Thomas Jefferson University in 1980.
He was first introduced to public health after reading in a newspaper that USF was starting a college for public health. He investigated further and decided to take a couple courses.
It was during these courses that he realized his deep interest in the prevention of infectious diseases.
“I chose to attend USF for my public health degree because of my experience in the first couple courses that I took, I became very interested in public health and wanted to work in the field,” said Pentella, “It was very exciting for me because I felt a real connection to the field and could see the good that you can do by working in this area.”
During his time at USF he said that he was given many opportunities to expand his knowledge and abilities and that the professors were outstanding and treated the students well.
One professor who inspired him was Dr. Boo H. Kwa, professor of global health and associate dean for International Programs.
“He has such a passion for disease prevention. His courses had so much information and he is so well traveled that he could tell you not only about the disease but the culture and geography of the region where the disease had originated,” said Pentella, “He made his classes so exciting and memorable that it inspired me to try to do the same in the classes that I have taught.”
Likewise, Kwa thinks highly of Pentella. In his award nomination letter Kwa said, “Mike is one of the most distinguished and outstanding graduates of the College in the nearly 30 years that I have been teaching in the US.”
While working full time and earning his degree had its challenges, he was still able to be involved in the Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health and travel abroad to Thailand and Singapore.
Pentella’s first public health experience after graduating was as an associate professor at USF.
Recalling his time teaching at USF, Dr. Jill Roberts, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, admired his influence on students.
“It has been nearly 17 years since I participated in his course but I still remember Dr. Pentella’s cautionary tale of Streptococcus B in pregnant women,” Roberts said, “He encouraged us to engage in the study of emerging infectious agents and become involved in as many experiences as possible.”
After leaving USF, he served as the associate director of the Iowa State Hygienic Laboratory and an associate professor at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
As director of the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory he leads a 150-person staff and runs over 250,000 tests per year.
He was most attracted to his current position because of the challenge of working in a large laboratory with the opportunity to see new and emerging pathogens.
“I love that every day something is happening with many scientific challenges,” Pentella said, “I get to work with wonderful professionals and speak with legislators on a regular basis.”
As for his plans in the future, he wants to continue what he loves to do in public health for as long as possible.
Fast Five for COPH Alumni:
What did you dream of becoming when you were young?
Where would we find you on the weekend?
I do a lot of volunteer work for the Association of Public Health Laboratories and the American Society for Microbiology.
What is the last book you read?
Almost a Miracle (a history of the revolutionary war).
What superpower would you like to have?
Microscopic vision at the molecular level would be cool.
What’s your all-time favorite movie?
All the President’s Men.
Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health