New COPH grads welcomed into “a noble profession”

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The USF College of Public Health (COPH) celebrated 156 graduates on Dec. 7 in the Samuel P. Bell III Auditorium in the COPH. Seventy-seven students were awarded bachelor degrees while 71 earned their master’s degrees, including the first cohort in the online MPH Nutrition and Dietetics program. Eight students also received their doctoral degrees.

The first graduates of the COPH’s MPH Nutrition and Dietetics program. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Theresa Crocker)

The students and their families and friends were welcomed by COPH Dean Donna Petersen, who called the pursuit of public health “a noble profession.”

At the undergraduate “pinning” ceremony (named as such because students are presented with a keepsake USF pin), Petersen noted that public health is one of the fastest-growing undergraduate majors in the nation.

Graduates proudly wear their USF pins during the undergraduate pinning ceremony, held Friday, Dec. 7, at the COPH. (Photo by Ellen Kent)

“The world is open to you, and we encourage you to take every path to fulfill your career desires and goals as people who want to give back,” Petersen encouraged. Guest speaker at the undergraduate ceremony was Florence Ackey, a refugee case coordinator for the Florida Department of Health who helps newly arriving families navigate the healthcare system in Hillsborough County and throughout the Tampa Bay area.

Florence Ackey, MSW, a refugee case coordinator for the Florida Department of Health, was guest speaker at the undergraduate pinning ceremony. “Go make your name matter,” she urged graduates. (Photo by Ellen Kent)

Ackey, an alum of the USF School of Social Work, passed on the words of wisdom she received from her father when she graduated with her MSW degree. “I called to tell him of my graduation, and he calmly said to me: ‘Good, now go and make your name matter.’ He didn’t say, ‘Go make a name for yourself’ or ‘Go make your name known.’ He said, ‘Go make your name matter.’ You may not have chosen your name, but you have a choice in how people will remember it.”

Sister and brother Shari and Shawn Zamani received their bachelor’s in public health as well as two of the university’s highest honors. Shari received a King O’Neal Scholar Award for her perfect 4.0 GPA. Shawn earned the Outstanding Graduate Award. (Photo by Ellen Kent)

At the graduate ceremony, attendees listened to Dr.Zachary Pruitt, an assistant professor of health policy and management and recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award, talk about education and its relation to humility.

“When you learn so much, you come to realize that there is so much more out there that you don’t know,” Pruitt said. “Can you acknowledge that there are limits to the things you know? Can you accurately evaluate yourself? Will you embrace what you don’t know outside of public health? The COPH instills in us the values of humility. When you go out there with your fancy degrees, stay humble.” Dr. Janice Zgibor, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics who announced those receiving doctoral degrees, ended the event by quoting former President Barack Obama: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we see.”

“With selfless dedication, we promise …” Those receiving doctoral degrees lead other graduates in their pledge to public health. (Photo by Ellen Kent)

After students were pinned, applauded and congratulated, they were feted with a celebration in the COPH lobby. In between bites of cake and hugs from family, the students paused to reflect on their accomplishments.

Sabrina Rice celebrates earning her MHA/MPH degree with her family. (Photo by Anna Mayor)

“To get my degree from a school of this caliber feels amazing,”said Shanna Bookal, who received her MPH in global disease management and humanitarian relief and will enter the Navy as an officer, possibly working in environmental health. “I can’t wait to go out in the world and make a difference.”

Krystal Edwards hopes to make her difference with UNICEF. The public health major specialized in nutrition and minored in international studies; she has plans to follow up her bachelor’s degree with a master’s in public health.

“I’m excited and relieved,” she commented. “I am so grateful to all the instructors for their help. There was never an attitude of, ‘Oh,this is just too hard, I can’t complete it.’ They were inspiring and made me feel like I mattered.”

Paul Wagner, right, receives congratulations on his MHA degree from Zachary Pruitt, PhD, MHA, left. (Photo by Anna Mayor)

Paul Wagner became a two-time Bull when he received his master’s in health administration after completing his undergraduate work at USF. “I feel very well prepared for a career in administration,” noted Wagner, who says he’s received a few offers and hopes to continue on at Manatee Memorial Hospital, where he’s been an intern. “The professors are easy to connect with and very helpful. They provide lots of research opportunities and give you the tools you need to be successful.”

Here are three more in-depth stories highlighting the impressive accomplishments of grads Shawn and Shari Zamani, Angela Makris and Menkeoma Laura Okoli.

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Undergraduate photo gallery

Graduate photo gallery

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Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health