New semester brings new changes for students

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A new herd of Bulls is entering the USF College of Public Health on Monday, Aug. 24. After the spring 2020 semester went fully online due to COVID-19, USF is now reopening to students, faculty and staff, with safety precautions and measures in place, of course.

Stair way in the USF COPH building asking students faculty and staff to stay socially distant and six feet apart. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)
Stair way in the USF COPH building asking students faculty and staff to stay socially distant and six feet apart. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

To prepare for the fall semester with the community health and well-being at their highest priority, the University of South Florida is using a multiphase approach to gradually resume in-person activities on campuses with measures in place to promote a safe environment. 

Each phase limits the number of individuals on campus and includes precautions to reduce community transmission of coronavirus and mitigate the possible exposure of returning students, faculty and staff.

As the doors are opening, USF is currently in Phase II, which includes the following:

  • Courses will be delivered through a combination of face-to-face, hybrid and online courses.
  • All employees who can work remotely should continue to do so.
  • No more than 50% of employees should be on campus at any one time.
  • Some points of service may open, such as libraries, student centers and campus recreation facilities on all three campuses, with limited hours or activities. Additional health and safety precautions will be in place, including plans to maintain physical distancing, wear face coverings and follow cleaning protocols.  Requests to open facilities for more in-person operations will continue to be reviewed by the USF COVID-19 Task Force. Please visit our Returning to Campus website for a list of services and opening dates, which will continue to be updated.
  • Residence halls will open with new health and safety policies in place.
  • All meetings and events should continue to be held virtually. Limited exceptions may be considered and must be reviewed in advance by the COVID-19 Task Force.
  • Some common areas or gathering spaces may open with health and safety precautions.
  • Travel restrictions remain in place.
  • Beginning with the fall semester, everyone coming to campus must complete a daily symptom check through an easy-to-use digital platform. More information will be shared soon.

Throughout the COPH, classrooms, office spaces and student study spaces have all been modified to reflect USF’s guidelines and allow students, faculty and staff to remain socially distant. 

A COPH water fountain taped up and only for use to fill up a water bottle. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)
A COPH water fountain taped up and only for use to fill up a water bottle. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)
The COPH seating area in the lobby around the staircase are taped and blocked off. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)
The COPH seating area in the lobby around the staircase are taped and blocked off. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)
The COPH student lounge is open. Tables in the COPH are modified to allow one person per table. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)
Overall view of the student lounge. Seats are marked off to promote social distancing between tables. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)
Overall view of the student lounge. Seats are marked off to promote social distancing between tables. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)
Please pay attention to the signs throughout the COPH promoting wearing a face mask, practicing social distancing, washing hands often and cleaning/disinfecting your space. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)
Please pay attention to the signs throughout the COPH promoting wearing a face mask, practicing social distancing, washing hands often and cleaning/disinfecting your space. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

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The semester the COPH is also welcoming six new Peace Corps Coverdell fellows, the largest cohort that the COPH has had thus far! 

The Peace Corps Coverdell Fellowship program is a graduate fellowship program awarding financial assistance to selected returned Peace Corps volunteers who are pursuing an MPH or MSPH degree. All Coverdell fellows complete internships in underserved communities in the Tampa Bay Area, while working under the supervision of faculty. Concurrently, fellows have the opportunity to fulfill the Peace Corps’ Third Goal: To promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Here are their stories:

Connor McCarley (Middle, front of screen) presenting in Guyana. (Photo courtesy of McCarley)
Connor McCarley (Middle, front of screen) presenting in Guyana. (Photo courtesy of McCarley)

Connor McCarley graduated from USF with a BS in health science with a focus on public health. After graduating, he served as an adolescent health promoter in Guyana through the Peace Corps. 

There he partnered with the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education working in a secondary school and a health center helping to tackle the issues of high suicide and teen pregnancy rates in Guyana through education and practical experiences. 

“Some of the projects I completed include hosting a regional teacher workshop focusing on health education, establishing an adolescent health clinic, and the designing and creation of a health-centric classroom,” he said.

This semester, McCarley will begin the next step in his public health journey working towards his MPH in epidemiology and global communicable diseases. 

“I hope to one day be able to work to help eliminate global health disparities and improve access to healthcare around the world,” he said.

Gabriella Cruz working with young students in Peru during her Peace Corps program. (Photo courtesy of Cruz)
Gabriella Cruz working with young students in Peru during her Peace Corps program. (Photo courtesy of Cruz)

Gabby Cruz graduated from USF in 2019 with her BS in health sciences. After graduation, she departed to the rural Andes mountains of Peru in September of 2019 to participate in the Peace Corps Prep program as a community health facilitator. 

The focus of her program was helping the Ministry of Health tackle issues related to anemia, adolescent pregnancy and malnutrition through a capacity-building framework. Due to COVID-19, she was evacuated from her service early, along with the thousands of other volunteers worldwide, and returned to Florida to decide what was next. 

“Pursuing my master’s degree was a clear next step, and there was no other place I wanted to return to than my alma mater,” she said.  

Cruz will begin her MPH this fall and concentrating on global health practice. She is excited to have been selected to be a Coverdell fellow and eager to do more hands-on local to the Tampa Bay area.

Naomi Hayes (right) volunteering in Tanzania. (Photo courtesy of Hayes)
Naomi Hayes (right) volunteering in Tanzania. (Photo courtesy of Hayes)

Naomi Hayes graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2015 with a BS in Biology. Wanting to expand her perspective and strengthen her ties to her Japanese roots, she worked as an English teacher in Japan for three years through the Japanese Exchange and Teaching  Program USA. 

“It was during this time working with students, I realized how the lack of accessibility to resources and opportunities could significantly affect one’s quality of life. The experience steered me towards public health as a career,” she said.

After her experience, Hayes decided to join the Peace Corps and worked as a health extension volunteer in Tanzania to gain practical public health experience while also experiencing a new culture. 

She cooperated with local Tanzanian nationals and used her previous teaching experience to prepare educational lessons on topics such as HIV/AIDS prevention, infectious diseases and nutrition. She also worked with farmers in her village to introduce vitamin A rich sweet potatoes to diversify the carbohydrate-heavy local diet. 

“The highlight of my Peace Corps experience was being able to work alongside talented Tanzanians who are passionate about bringing meaningful change to their communities,” Hayes said. “Throwing ideas back and forth made me realize many challenges, such as poverty and food security, are universal. Though some differences exist between countries, the needs of our global community are the same.”

Hayes plans to use everything she learned towards elevating her experience at USF as a graduate student in order to one-day address health challenges that span the globe.

Tracey Gates (Photo courtesy of Gates)
Tracey Gates (Photo courtesy of Gates)

Tracy Gates is an incoming MPH student who enjoys travel, adventure, the outdoors, playing games, sharing cultures and ideas, as well as working with and empowering others. 

Gates earned her BS in biology from Morningside College in Iowa. After graduating she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania for two years where she developed her passion for empowering others to enhance the quality of their lives through their health. 

Living in a rural village sharing life, culture, knowledge, ideas, and perspectives with Tanzanians was an amazing experience and really opened my mind and heart to the diversity of this world and the people who share it,” she said.

Gates worked on many projects during her service including chicken raising, bee keeping, and orange flesh sweet potato planting, as well as creating youth and student groups to learn about health, HIV/AIDS, and respect while playing soccer and supporting meetings with men in the village about how to best care for their and their family’s well-being. 

“It was challenging at times, trying to learn the language, adapting to new cultural norms, carrying water on my head, and cooking with a charcoal stove, but the experiences and relationships were so incredibly worth it,” Gates said.

Taylor Clark (middle) volunteer in Uganda. (Photo courtesy of Clark)
Taylor Clark (middle) volunteer in Uganda. (Photo courtesy of Clark)

Taylor Clark was born and raised in Florida and had actually never left the country until she joined the Peace Corps. 

Clark went to USF for her undergraduate degree and graduated with a BS in criminology and psychology. 

“After graduation, I accidently found myself in the public health field and my passion was ignited. I was working as an HIV tester for a local non-profit and realized that I wanted to explore this field more, so I applied to the Peace Corps,” she said. 

Her time as a volunteer was spent in Uganda. As a health volunteer with a passion for the HIV field, she was able to see firsthand all of the difficulties the country faces because of this virus. 

“Stigma was one of the biggest challenges, so my most rewarding moment was when I was able to attend the World AIDS day celebration with my organization and meet the vice president of the country,” Hayes said. “It was incredible to see a community that faces so much continuous stigmatization from within come together as a unit in order to call out for change. Joining the Peace Corps and going to Uganda was probably the most challenging, yet most rewarding, things I’ve ever done and I wouldn’t change that experience for anything.”

Lucas Hick during a hike in Benin, West Africa. (Photo courtesy of Hicks)
Lucas Hick during a hike in Benin, West Africa. (Photo courtesy of Hicks)

A Michigan native, Lucas Hicks received his BS in neuroscience from Michigan State University in 2017. Shortly afterwards he began his two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, West Africa. 

Hicks worked in the sector of rural community health with students and community members to combat malaria, fight malnutrition, and promote good sexual health habits in a small town, while learning about a small country he had never heard of growing up. 

“My only time out of the United States was a weeklong civic engagement project in Jamaica my senior year but I knew that to truly understand the public health field, I couldn’t look at it only from an America-centric lens, so I jumped in headfirst,” he said.

Hicks said that his time in Benin cemented his passion for promoting equity in health outcomes across all communities. 

“I know that to be a credible public health official, you need to foster trust and respect with the communities in which you’re working. I have my family to thank for teaching me how to go about that, and I look forward to honing these and other skills at USF in a time where public health officials must have the complete trust of communities more at risk than ever before, during a global pandemic that is deepening income inequality and infrastructure failings putting minority communities disproportionately in harm’s way,” Hicks said. 

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Along with the Coverdell fellows, the incoming Fall 2020 enrollment breakdowns to 2,543 undergraduates, 588 masters and 155 doctoral students!

Two new incoming students, Robert Smalley and Preeyapat Mangkalard shared what they are most excited for in the upcoming semester.

Robert Smalley (Photo courtesy of Smalley)
Robert Smalley (Photo courtesy of Smalley)

Smalley became interested in pursuing public health after he interned at the CDC from January to June 2019.  He is also an emergency medical technician and is also currently working at the CDC as an emergency management specialist.

This semester he is pursuing his MPH with a concentration in global disaster, humanitarian relief and homeland security.

“I am looking forward to continuing my education and growth as we have experienced a wide variety of different things in the year 2020,” Smalley said. “I also hope to further understand the world of public health and how it plays when disasters strike, whether it is one at a time or multiple ongoing disasters.”

MPH student Preeyapat Mangkalard. (Photo courtesy of Mangkalard)
MPH student Preeyapat Mangkalard. (Photo courtesy of Mangkalard)

Mangkalard earned her undergraduate degree in public health and has been working for the Ministry of Public Health in Thailand after graduating. 

“Public health connects us all and is a key for achieving well-being,” she said. “So, I wish to provide appropriate health knowledge to the people in the future.”

This year she’ll begin her MPH with a concentration in public health education.

“This year is an unpredictable situation with the global pandemic, thankfully I have my fall semester 100 percent online in while living in Thailand and can hopefully attend in-person classes during the spring semester!” she said. “This year, I hope I can gain more understanding about public health education and get ready for the CPH exam and projects in my second year.”

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Please visit www.usf.edu/coronavirus for more information and review our extensive list of FAQs. If you have further questions, contact COVIDquestions@usf.edu.

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health