Elizabeth Dunn puts refugee health research into action

| Academic & Student Affairs, Featured News, Global Health, Intl Programs, Monday Letter, Our Alumni, Our World

The summer 2017 issue of USF Magazine features a series on members of the USF community who are engaged with the refugee community. What follows is a story highlighting the work of COPH alumna Elizabeth Dunn.

Elizabeth Dunn, ’07, ’08 and MPH ‘11, is assistant to the director of the Global Disaster Management, Humanitarian Relief, and Homeland Security Program in the USF College of Public Health and an adjunct faculty member.  She knows firsthand what the power of connection and community mean for refugees.

Elizabeth A. Dunn, MPH, CPH (Photo courtesy of USF Health)

About 10 years ago, as an undergraduate student majoring in marine biology at USF, Dunn was required to complete an interview with someone with whom she had virtually nothing in common. She chose to interview a Bosnian refugee.

“It made me think about when I was 8. I thought I had problems, but they were nothing compared to what he went through. That interview led me to change my career path,” Dunn said.

Dunn would go on to earn undergraduate degrees in economics and international studies, and later a Master of Public Health from USF. She’s since worked with post-conflict recovery efforts in countries around the world, as well as here in the United States as a volunteer with the American Red Cross.

Through the American Red Cross, Dunn learned of the Tampa Bay Refugee Task Force, an organization headed by USF alumna Janet Blair that unites refugee service providers. Dunn serves on the Task Force’s mental health and youth subcommittees.

Dunn has found numerous ways to bridge her work on campus and in the community, and in doing so has inspired her students to get involved in refugee assistance as well.

COPH students and Dunn participate in a 2016 refugee youth program for newly arrived Syrian and Iraqi refugees during her summer service-learning course for community engagement in public health. (Photo courtesy of Dunn)

In fall 2016, in response to slashed budgets for programs for refugee children, Dunn and her students, as well as students from the USF College of Education, with assistance from the Task Force, initiated an after-school program at the University Area Community Development Center in Tampa and a morning program at Hunter’s Green Elementary School in New Tampa. Dunn’s students have since created a nonprofit organization and a youth soccer program. They’re serving nearly 150 refugee children.

Dunn has observed positive changes both within the refugee children and her students.

In March of 2017, Dunn and Andrea Tristan organized the United We Stand event at USF. The event united refugees, immigrants, students, faculty, refugee service providers, and the community to celebrate diversity and show support for the refugee community. (Photo courtesy of Dunn)

“The refugees have survived. They are resilient. They just need to be empowered to succeed. They want to work and make a difference, and do things to make the world a better place. With the right support, I’ve seen that happen so many times.

“I see my own students develop a world awareness and a selflessness. They’re putting a human face to the population we’re studying. They’re seeing refugee children as kids who just want to play soccer because it’s a beautiful day outside. Many are choosing to go to work in the field, with the State Department or with refugee camps overseas.”

Sameer Jagani is one such student whose career aspirations have changed because of his interactions with refugees. Before entering medical school at USF, he plans to earn a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Global Disaster Management and Humanitarian Relief. He continues to spread awareness of the refugee situation in Syria, receive donations through his website, youcaring.com/soaw, and plans to return to the country to volunteer with relief efforts.

Sameer Jagani has raised more than $100,000 to aid Syrian refugees.


COPH Alumni Fast Five:

What did you dream of becoming when you were young?

A marine biologist.

Where would we find you on the weekend?

I’m either volunteering in the community with our refugees or with the Red Cross, or I am spending time out on the water whether I am kayaking, swimming, fishing, or diving

What is the last book you read?

“And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini

What superpower would you like to have?

I would like to be able to teleport anywhere in the world at any moment

What’s your all-time favorite movie?

I enjoy movies based on true events such as “The Pianist,” “Hotel Rwanda,” or “The Whistleblower” ​


Excerpts from USF Magazine, Summer 2017

Related media:
COPH’s Elizabeth Dunn receives 2015 Human Rights Award [multimedia]