Class of 2017 charge: Never stop learning

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“When you arrived the first day you all had big smiles on your faces, but they were smiles of abject terror. Today you are still a little bit nervous about the future but your smiles are of a lot of pride,” USF College of Public Health Dean Donna Petersen said to soon-to-be alumni and parents. “You should be proud. A public health foundation is an excellent foundation for all sorts of different paths that you all may choose to pursue in your lives.”

(Left to right)Doctoral graduates Pamela Birriel, Shana Green, Giorvanni Merilis, Jean Paul Tanner, Korede Adegoke, and Michelle Nash leading the Class of 2017 in the declaration of their commitment to public health (Photo by Ellen Kent).

(Left to right) Doctoral graduates Pamela Birriel, Shana Green, Giorvanni Merilis, Jean Paul Tanner, Korede Adegoke, and Michelle Nash lead the Class of 2017 in the declaration of their commitment to public health (Photo by Ellen Kent).

On Friday, August 4, 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 summer 2017 graduating class.

This semester, 79 undergraduates, 69 masters and 6 doctoral students graduated and entered the public health profession.

“So as you go forth in whatever aspect of public health that you align with, go out and do well, do good and prosper,” said Dr. René Salazar, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “And don’t lose contact with us. We certainly want to enjoy and applaud you for your successes.”

Alumna and guest speaker Lucia Freire and Dr. René Salazar at the Undergraduate Pinning Ceremony (Photo by Ellen Kent).

Alumna and guest speaker Lucia Freire and Dr. René Salazar at the Undergraduate Pinning Ceremony (Photo by Ellen Kent).

Alumna Lucia Freire, outreach/victims services practitioner at the Spring of Tampa Bay, Inc., was the keynote speaker for the Undergraduate Pinning Ceremony. Based on her own experiences, she gave the new graduates some encouraging words and guidance.

“No matter if you are going to work after graduation or will continue your education, always work the hardest that you can because it does pay off,” Freire said. “If you try, there’s nothing to lose. Every time you have an opportunity, always say “yes” because it makes you look like you are one to grow and that you are willing to work hard to get where you need to be.”

Graduates celebrating their accomplishments at the COPH’s graduation reception for masters and doctoral students (Photo by Natalie Preston).

Graduates celebrating their accomplishments at the COPH’s graduation reception for masters and doctoral students (Photo by Natalie Preston).

Dr. William Sappenfield, professor and chair of the Department of Community and Family Health gave masters and doctoral students three pieces of final advice.

“Always remember your passion. It gets you up in the morning and will get you through your more challenging times. Second, you can’t get much done without others. Right now you may be ‘over’ group projects, but in your career you will find that collaboration is how work gets done,” he said. “Finally, don’t stop learning. Period.”

Take a look at some stories from the Class of 2017:

“What I love the most about public health is how interdisciplinary it is. Public health really encourages and promotes partnerships between so many different professions and organizations,” Maria Huynh said. “It’s really inspiring to know that people with different backgrounds and ideals can come together to work on an issue for the overall good.”

Born in Vietnam, COPH graduate student Maria Huynh moved to Atlantic City, N.J with her family when she was one years old.

Maria Huynh, MPH, at the COPH Graduate Ceremony with Dean Donna Petersen, Dr. Kathleen O’Rourke, and Dr. William Sappenfield (Photo by Ellen Kent).

Maria Huynh, MPH, at the COPH Graduate Ceremony with Dean Donna Petersen, Dr. Kathleen O’Rourke, and Dr. William Sappenfield (Photo by Ellen Kent).

Huynh became introduced to public health as an undergraduate student at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

“I took an introductory course on different health professions and there was a guest lecturer from the school of public health,” Huynh said. “She spoke so passionately about public health and the ability to make a difference, not only from an individual level but from community and societal level, that I knew I had to be a part of public health.”

After receiving her undergraduate degrees in both public health and biomedical sciences in 2011, Huynh began working towards her MPH at the COPH in the dual concentration program for epidemiology and maternal & child health.

“I actually knew I wanted to go to USF before I even knew I was accepted! My family and I actually visited Florida while I was applying to MPH programs and I convinced them to stop by the COPH so I could take a picture with the COPH sign in front of the school,” she said. “I loved how the COPH had so many options for concentrations and I wanted to be part of a community with a lot of school spirit so going to USF just made sense.”

Read more of her story here.

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“Because there is a lot of unnecessary suffering and premature death, the opportunity to find real solutions to major public health problems draws me to public health,” Senée Mobley said.

Senée Mobley, BSPH (Photo courtesy of Mobley).

Senée Mobley, BSPH (Photo courtesy of Mobley).

Originally on a pre-med track, COPH graduate Senée Mobley realized that public health’s preventative and population approaches to solving health problems was a better fit for her.

“Before I even knew about the public health program, I had a public health mind-set and was deeply engaged in activities that promote community health,” Mobley said. “So when I learned about the public health degree, it and I just made perfect sense. It’s kind of like love; when it’s right, you just know!”

Mobley said she chose the COPH because of its accredited program with a national reputation for excellence and began to pursue her BSPH in 2014.

During her time as a student Mobley was involved in several associations: Phi Theta Kappa, USF Global Citizens Association, Peace Corps Ambassadors, and the Florida Public Health Association.

She also dedicated more than 500 hours of volunteer service with Volunteers in Medicine, United Nations, and Second Harvest Food Bank in Jacksonville, Fla.

Mobley is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana.

Read more of her story here.

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Related media:
Undergraduate photo galleries on Facebook and Google Photos
Graduate photo galleries on Facebook and Google Photos

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health

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