Public Health’s Class of 2012 makes history

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“This is the last day of your orientation,” is what Donna J. Petersen, ScD, dean of the University of South Florida College of Public Health, told members of the Class of 2012 on Friday, December 14.

“We oriented, trained, and supported you for the past few years and now we welcome you into a profession committed to increasing the quality of health and well-being for everyone.”

Every semester, the college recognizes the academic achievements of soon-to-be graduates with a reception in their honor. And, every semester, friends, family, faculty, and staff gather in mass to join in the celebration.

However, the Fall Class of 2012 is extra special. The undergraduates represent the first group of students who came to USF and didn’t choose public health as a major.

Why not?

“Well, public health didn’t exist as a major when they enrolled as freshmen,” said Kay Perrin, PhD, director of undergraduate studies in the COPH. “They arrived on campus with other interests, tried a few public health courses, liked them, and gave us a try.”

Stephanie Lugo is one of these students. The New York City native began as a business administration major, but soon discovered that health is her bottom line.

Another milestone for the Class of 2012 was partaking in a pinning ceremony welcoming them into the profession.

One-by-one the graduates proudly strutted onto the stage of the Samuel Bell Auditorium. Dr. Perrin congratulated each of them and gingerly placed a purple ribbon adorned with a gold pin around their neck.

“In public health, there’s plenty of opportunity for you to make a difference,” said Dean Petersen.  “You will find the work is never done.”

Christopher Hutchinson found this to be true. A 100% disabled combat veteran, he served eight years with the U.S. Army before finding his way to the College of Public Health.

Soon after enrolling, Hutchinson discovered the health benefits to having a guide dog. Diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a brain injury, he researched breeds and settled on a boxer.  Hutchinson trained Kevin and the two became quite a pair. Kevin attended classes with Hutchinson, helping him to maintain balance and alleviate stress. Naturally, Kevin was present for the graduation festivities. He helped Hutchison achieve a personal milestone and is worthy of recognition, too.

Stephanie Lugo is making a difference with the HIV/AIDS community.  In her last semester, Lugo enrolled in a public health seminar on workforce development. Laura Rusnak, MPH, CHES, taught the course and instructed students to conduct a job search—develop a professional resume, research public health organizations, and apply for an opening that interested them. This exercise led Lugo to the Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office known as DACCO in Tampa.

On Saturday, December 15, Lugo was one of more than 70 students graduating with a bachelor of science in public health. Two days later she started at DACCO as an HIV outreach specialist.

(l,r) Laura Rusnak, Stephanie Lugo, and mom Rosa Romero

Without question, the undergraduate program is one of the College of Public Health’s fastest growing academic divisions. Since 2005, more than 1,700 students minored in public health, including 438 minors awarded during the 2011-12 academic year.

Created in the spring of 2011, the bachelor of science degree in public health is equally as popular. Currently, 724 students are majoring in public health and there are 132 alumni from the program.

More than 800 students are enrolled in a public health masters or doctoral degree program.

Photos from the undergraduate and graduate receptions are posted in Picasa.

Written by Natalie D. Preston. Photos by Natalie D. Preston and Ellen Kent, USF College of Public Health