“For our graduates, thank you for joining the USF College of Public Health, thank you for being a part of our community, and thank you for taking the time to learn about this important and noble profession and to work hard to develop skills that you can take everywhere,” said Dean Donna Petersen.
On Thursday, May 3, the COPH hosted two celebratory events in honor of its newest graduates. Family, friends, students, faculty and staff gathered for a ceremony and reception to recognize the talents and achievements of the spring 2018 graduating class.
“There will be doors that open for you and you will decide whether to go through them or not. You’ll make good and wise decisions that will set you up to be exemplars of the profession,” said Dr. René Salazar, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health. “We thank you for your hard work and appreciate having you with us.”
This semester, 143 undergraduates, 92 masters and 8 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 alumnus Dr. Zachary Pruitt, assistant professor of health policy and management.
“The COPH instills us with the value to stay humble. Some of the college’s core values are social responsibility, social justice, a global perspective, altruism, diversity and inclusiveness,” Pruitt said. “They are the values of humility, so as you go out to the world keep these values with you.”
During the undergraduate pinning ceremony, guest speaker Melissa Dickson, adjunct instructor at the COPH and community health educator for Humana, gave the graduates five steps to get them ready for their futures.
- Recognize your strengths
- Experience the world of public health
- Accept new challenges
- Do your research
- You are enough
“So while I’m here to tell you to believe in yourself, I want you to know that there is only one you and you have so much to offer. You have a passion and a fight like no one else, so go after what you want and get to work,” Dickson said. “In case you haven’t caught on these steps spell ready. The world is waiting for you and your bright ideas.”
Here are some of the stories from the Class of 2018:
Originally an engineering major, BSPH graduate Jay Rajyaguru switched his major to public health after minoring in homeland security and emergency management.
“I’ve met many people who genuinely care about their students and their community at the COPH and I have learned a lot while being here,” Rajyaguru said. “The emergency management and homeland security courses that I have taken really boosted my knowledge of the field and provided opportunities for me to grow. I’ve learned so much from those specialized classes from some very knowledgeable faculty members. I have learned how to be a leader, teacher and friend to those whom I work with.”
As a student, Rajyaguru was heavily involved with the volunteer student program USF Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) as the deputy program director.
“CERT plans, trains, exercises and responds to emergencies. We also conduct community outreach to groups within and outside of the USF community,” he said. “This organization is part of a larger Disaster and Humanitarian Relief Student Collaborative, which does amazing work with the local refugee community. I sincerely hope that the COPH will continue to work with and increase their support for these organizations and their amazing work.”
Rajyaguru said he was inspired by all the volunteers he has worked with over his time at the COPH and thankful for their time and efforts.
“There are hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and community members that have given their time to helping the CERT team through sharing, training and responding to our communities’ needs both during emergencies and everyday activities,” he said. “Additionally, those in the emergency management programs, both educational and for the USF system, have made me realize that this is what I want to.”
One of Rajyaguru’s favorite memories was volunteering with response and relief during Hurricane Irma.
“As strange as it may sound, Hurricane Irma was the highlight of my time here. My role involved bringing the USF community together to work toward the safety and security of Hillsborough County,” he said. “We had 198 volunteers from the COPH and multiple other programs that stepped up to help. Having a part in this role was an experience I will never forget.”
Rajyaguru’s future plans are to continue what he is currently doing: managing volunteers, training citizens and teaching the community about emergency preparedness.
“My end goal is to be able to share the knowledge that I have learned in the field to students as an instructor in a program similar to the COPH emergency management and homeland security program,” he said.
Graduate Virginia Liddell attended Florida State University for her dual undergraduate degrees in psychology and international affairs with a certificate in leadership studies.
“After undergrad, I worked for a few years and found that I enjoyed planning programs, and working in community settings, she said. “A lot of research and chance lead me to social marketing and public health.”
“I chose to attend the COPH because they have one of the most robust programs for social marketing out of all of the other public health schools,” she said. “It definitely made sense to come here and have the opportunity to really get involved in social marketing!”
During her time at the COPH, Liddell was a graduate assistant with the Florida Prevention Research Center.
Liddell’s favorite memory of her time at the COPH was during Give Life Day during the 2018 National Public Health Week. The FPRC had set up a large walk-through colon the team that highlighted the types of polyps colonoscopies identify and remove in the prevention of colorectal cancer.
“Everyone – the students, faculty and staff are so dedicated to their work and to the school,” she said. “I am proud of the time and dedication I have put in to getting my degree. I was very hesitant about first but it was definitely worth it!”
After graduation, Liddell will continue her work with the FPRC full-time.
“The COPH’s public health administration program was a perfect fit for my needs. I had two goals for this degree: study public health and enhance my knowledge of administration topics. Because I work full-time as a clinical social worker for the U.S. Navy and am stationed on Guam, I needed a CEPH-accredited distance education program.” Neil Rampy said. “This concentration was the perfect topic. It is 100% online, has asynchronous courses, CEPH accredited and has an excellent reputation.”
Neil Rampy graduated this May with his MPH with a concentration in public health administration.
Rampy earned his BS from Harding University in 2006 and a MSW from the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St Louis in 2012. He is also a Florida licensed clinical social worker and a board certified diplomate in clinical social work from the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work.
After working in direct practice since 2007, Rampy saw the value of interventions with populations.
“I enjoy working one-on-one with my clients, but I realized my sphere of influence was small. I perceived myself to be constantly reacting and doing little by way of prevention. I learned that public health had a focus on populations, health promotion and disease prevention,” Rampy said. “During my MSW program the MPH was co-located within our school. I came to see public health as complementary to my work in social services and clinical social work and wanted to expand my knowledge of this field.”
During his time as a student as well as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, Rampy faced a few challenges.
“Working full-time in this demanding job, studying and raising a family was challenging. I was awake at 4:40 a.m. every morning for study sessions and several hours each weekend were devoted to reading, lectures, and assignments,” he said. “However, the reward was worth the sacrifice. I will use this degree for the rest of my career.”
Rampy currently has orders in hand to remain in Guam for another three years as the embedded psychological health provider for all Navy Expeditionary Combat Command units in the 7th Fleet area of operations (Indo-Asia-Pacific region).
In this role, Rampy is responsible for behavioral health promotion, treatment of behavioral health disorders and advising unit commanders on psychological health issues.
“I’ve had the opportunity to apply health administration topics learned from USF to a clinic setting at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam,” Rampy said. “With Task Force 75 I will have the opportunity to apply my knowledge of population health to keep our sailors psychologically ready.”
“I’m living my dream job! I am privileged to work with service members, retirees and their families. This is a great population. I’m sent all over the world to ply my trade and every location offers new challenges,” he said. “I’m never bored, and I have great colleagues. The corpsmen who support the providers are also amazing. They are patient-centered, committed to their work, and eager to learn.”
Undergraduate Daniel Ruiz earned dual degrees in public health and biomedical science.
Ruiz started his public health journey as a freshman at USF by shadowing a physician. During this time, his childhood observations deepened with the realization that the low socioeconomic communities in the United States are also plagued by diabetes and lack the same level of prevention and resources.
“The fact that these consequences are preventable renders them more terrible, and my motivation to help with the education and prevention of chronic illness became increasingly pressing,” he said. “I decided to take a public health course to see if I can gain knowledge on health disparities and prevention knowledge. I ended up taking intro to public health with Dr. Makut Matawal, and his real world examples; especially those in Nigeria, made my interest grow and add public health as a major.”
Ruiz is most proud of growing as a person and learning during his time at the COPH.
“I am proud of my ability to grow as a student and thinking less about myself and more of how I can serve others. I realized that I do not need many tools to accomplish this besides my knowledge,” he said. “That allowed me to start a diabetes education class with the USF health clinic in Nicaragua.”
Ruiz said he doesn’t have a specific favorite memory, but that he has generally been excited for every public health lecture he attended.
“Learning from people who have experiences to back up their learning concepts is inspirational,” he said. “I have also enjoyed meeting classmates with altruistic values.”
After graduation, Ruiz will be attending Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine at Auburn University.
“I hope to one day get involved in politics and become a U.S. congressman,” he said. “I believe as a physician I will be able to guide policy making to take prevention more into account and advocate for citizens with chronic conditions who might not be able to advocate for themselves.”
Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health
Tags: Daniel Ruiz, Disaster and Humanitarian Relief Student Collaborative, doctoral, Donna Petersen, Elizabeth Dunn, Environmental and Occupational Health, Florida Prevention Research Center, Global Health, graduation, Health Policy and Management, homeland security and emergency management, Jay Rajyaguru, Makut Matawal, masters, Melissa Dickson, Neil Rampy, Rene Salazar, undergraduate, USF Community Emergency Response Team, Virginia Liddell, Zachary Pruitt