Public health graduates future heroes

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“Never doubt that a single individual can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has—Margaret Mead,” said Dr. Kay Perrin, interim associate dean for the Office of Academic and Student Affairs in USF College of Public Health.

This is one of many graduation-related ‘charges’ issued to the Class of 2016.

On May 6, the COPH hosted two celebrations for graduates and their families. More than 150 undergraduates participated in a morning pinning ceremony, followed by an afternoon event that recognized the academic contributions of 109 graduate students.

USF COPH pinning ceremony

“To the parents and friends in attendance today who are still trying to figure out what public health is, don’t fret,” said Dr. Donna Petersen, COPH dean. “My mom still asks me and I’ve been working in public health for more than 30 years!”

Petersen went on to share that the “World Health Organization defines public health as what we do collectively to improve the health of the population. And, public health is everywhere!”

From the day’s newspaper, Petersen shared excerpts of several articles that exemplify public health …

“The rise in ER toothache visits are contributing to higher health care costs.” [Oral health is public health]

“Wildfires in Alberta, Canada continue to grow. More than 80K residents were evacuated.” [Disaster management and humanitarian relief is public health]

“In South Carolina, a teen died from injuries suffered on a high ropes course. Apparently, ropes courses aren’t covered by the same laws and standards as theme parks and other attractions.” [Safety and injury prevention is public health]

“And finally, Janet Jackson is pregnant—at 50!” [Maternal and child health is public health]

 

Abner Devallon strikes a bullish pose with his daughter Brittney, who graduated with a BS in public heath on May 6.

Abner Devallon strikes a bullish pose with his daughter Brittney, who graduated with a BS in public heath on May 6. (Photo courtesy of Brittney Devallon)

 

In April, COPH students joined forces to select an outstanding professor. A record number of nominations were received and Dr. Jaime Corvin was presented with the 2016 Excellence in Teaching Award.

As the recipient, Corvin is invited to give a ‘last lecture’ to the graduating class.

When reflecting on what to share with the Class of 2016, Corvin drew inspiration from a Mother’s Day video that is currently circulating on social media.

The message? Slow down.

“The premise of the video is how fast it all goes—time. With a blink it is gone and you are left looking back,” Corvin said. “And when I think of that video, I think of you—the graduates.”

“How just a few short years ago, you entered our program excited, wide-eyed and ready to change the world.  You cut your teeth on research and took your first steps into public health practice. Some of you stumbled, but you all got back up ‘cause that’s what Bulls do. And today, you are running through that door as you are coming into your own. You made it and you should be proud. Rest assured we are!”

“This has been an amazing journey with excitement and adventure, and some bumps and bruises. But before you spring into the next phase, just slow down for a minute. Look to your left and right. Look at your friends—these are your people. I am willing to bet they have made a lasting impact on your life.  Cherish these memories and these relationships.

The #USFCOPHRocks for many reasons and one of them is love! Brennan Hodge and Kristina Harand met and fell in love in the COPH. On May 6, Hodge graduated with an MPH in epidemiology and biostatistics and Harand with an MSPH in environmental and occupational health.

The #USFCOPHRocks for many reasons and one of them is love! Brennan Hodge and Kristina Harand met and fell in love in the COPH. On May 6, Hodge graduated with an MPH in epidemiology and biostatistics and Harand with an MSPH in environmental and occupational health. (Photo courtesy of Zack Murray)

 

“Your next steps may include more education, working in our nation’s capital or locally with a community health agency. Wherever you go you will do amazing things, but please slow down and enjoy the journey.”

In her closing remarks, Corvin reminded the Class of 2016 that “someone touched you, believed in you, and left you with inspiration to attempt the impossible.  In turn, I hope you do the same for someone else … and always remember why you were here.”

 

Public health practice alumna Sharon Benson lets loose with Drs. Kay Perrin (left) and Donna Petersen (right).

Public health practice alumna Sharon Benson lets loose with Drs. Kay Perrin (left) and Donna Petersen (right). (Photo courtesy of Ellen Kent)

 

Before the program ended, Perrin shared excerpts from a book she’d recently read.

“It’s a short book, but it’s packed with a lot of good advice—especially for new, eager graduates embarking on a public health career,” Perrin said. “I recommend that you read the book this summer to guide your career.”

The book was 10 Lessons in Public Health: Inspiration for Tomorrow’s Leaders, by Dr. Alfred Sommer, dean emeritus at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.

Here are his ten lessons, which are also chapter titles.

  1. Go where the problems are
  2. Get into the field
  3. Forget the job description
  4. Don’t count on things staying the same
  5. Follow most, but not all, of the rules
  6. Collect good data–even if you don’t yet know what important questions they may answer
  7. Remember your humanity
  8. Use data to set policy
  9. If you think you are right, keep pushing
  10. Take the long view

By 3 p.m, the COPH festivities were winding down in advance of the evening commencement where 267 public health Bulls would officially become USF alumni.

Here are some of their individual stories.

Hentz pictured (middle) while working with New Mexico Dept. of Health and Indian Health Service of Navajo. (Photo courtesy of Julie Hentz)

Hentz pictured (middle) while working with New Mexico Dept. of Health and Indian Health Service of Navajo. (Photo courtesy of Julie Hentz)

“I found I loved public health policy almost as much as social marketing,” said MPH graduate, Julie Hentz.

Hentz graduated May 6 with a master of public health degree from the USF College of Public Health.

She made the jump from advertising to public health after working for years in advertising with companies, such as J. Walter Thomas, Mayo Clinic and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hentz said her interest in public health stems from its potential for prevention of human suffering and mortality from disease.

“I owned my own small advertising company,” said Hentz. “I was offered a position at CDC, which sounded very interesting and attractive. There I was able to move my knowledge and experience in corporate marketing theory, and my practice to health prevention awareness and behavior change.”

Her journey as a student definitely would not be characterized as easy—between family responsibilities, death, working and life in general, Hentz seemed to have curveballs thrown at her left and right.

“I lost both of my parents during this time, I sold the house that I raised my children in, and moved to D.C. with two dogs and three birds,” she said.

When selecting a university for her public health education, she said it was a clear choice for her—USF was not only rated within the top 20 public health universities in the U.S., but boasted many benefits she could utilize.

“CDC had an agreement with USF that provided CDC staff with in-state tuition to pursue their MPH,” said Hentz. “I also knew they were the leader in social marketing in this country.”

Currently, Hentz works with IQ Solutions, a Washington-based public health organization, as the director of social issue marketing. There, she applies her education from COPH to real time projects, directs all corporate and social marketing activities, and utilizes her education about epidemiology, infectious disease and policies.  Read more of Julie’s story.

 

Graduate student Ryan Ortega (far left) and fellow COPH student researchers presenting one of several posters in January 2015.  Second from right is Ortega’s advisor, Dr. Robert Novak. (Photo courtesy of Marissa Williams)

Graduate student Ryan Ortega (far left) and fellow COPH student researchers presenting one of several posters in January 2015. Second from right is Ortega’s advisor, Dr. Robert Novak. (Photo courtesy of Marissa Williams)

 

“My practice is global communicable disease research and epidemiology, my passion is doing whatever I can to improve the health of marginalized populations and make the world a more fair and equitable place,” said Ryan Ortega, who graduated with a master of science in public health degree on May 6.

Before pursuing his MSPH degree, Ortega earned his bachelor’s degree in social work at USF and did field work for a few years before realizing that he wanted to do more with his career.

“I was feeling like I wasn’t being challenged enough and wanted more of an intellectual challenge, especially when I started thinking about my career in the long run.  I knew it was time for a change and the idea of research really started to intrigue me,” Ortega said. “The idea of exploring the unknown and being on the intellectual frontier of a field, that’s what I wanted for my career.”

While researching what programs would be able to help him bridge the gap from social work to science, Ortega discovered epidemiology and enrolled at the College of Public Health. A year later he transferred over to the Department of Global Health.

As a graduate student, Ortega worked on a grant studying tuberculosis with one of his professors Dr. Ben Jacob. This experience led Ortega to make TB the basis of his thesis. He wanted to answer the question about if there was an association between active TB incidence among migrant farm workers and their population size.

“It was awesome! I think the thing I loved most about it was the process of constructing, developing, and optimizing models to answer that question,” he said. “We found no relationship, but we did learn that while TB is a problem in these migrant farm worker communities, they are not a reservoir for infection to the boarder populations most likely because they are so isolated.”

Ortega felt lucky to have had such great mentors, advisors, and professors who really invest in their students’ skills, experiences, personal growth and development.

“I have had some pretty amazing and outstanding teachers. I’m really grateful for people such as Drs. Novak, Wu, Boaz, Jacob and many others,” he said. “It’s so obvious that they take a real interest in their students and put a real effort into crafting the curriculum, making it into something that is compelling and interesting. They provoke students to want to learn.”

After graduation, Ortega will intern with the Polk County Mosquito Abatement District and begin his PhD at the USF COPH.  Read more of Ryan’s story.

 

Pamnani (third from left) with his doctoral colleagues in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Shitaldas Pamnani).

Pamnani (third from left) with his doctoral colleagues in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Shitaldas Pamnani).

 

Originally from a small town in Madhya Pradesh, India, Dr. Shitaldas Pamnani completed his bachelor of medicine, bachelor of surgery (MBBS degree) in Surat, India, in 2008, before moving stateside to earn his MPH in 2011.

While pursuing his master’s degree, his advisors motivated him to go for his PhD in epidemiology, which is when he made the decision to apply to USF College of Public Health.

As a student, Pamnani received the Sam Bell Endowed Scholarship in 2014, USF Health Research Day 2014 Outstanding Poster Presentation Award and an honorary mention for the Provost’s Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Graduate Teaching Assistant. Pamnani was also the founder, and first president, of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Student Association.

When asked to look back on his time with COPH, some of his favorite memories are of when he had the opportunity to defend his dissertation, and receive kind feedback from the faculty and his peers.

“Two of the articles from my dissertation were invited for oral presentation at the International Papillomavirus Conference in Portugal, Lisbon, in September 2015,” said Pamnani.

He also notes drawing inspiration from the work of COPH students and faculty, specifically Drs. Amy Borenstein and James A. Mortimer, both professor emeritus faculty members from the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

“Dr. Borenstein’s and Dr. Mortimer’s publications on Alzheimer’s disease motivated me to apply for PhD at USF,” said Pamnani. “We have many international students at USF, and their sincere efforts to pursue their educational goals, despite the challenges, is really inspirational.”

After graduation this May, Pamnani joins the staff at Brandon Regional Hospital as a resident physician.  Read more of Shitaldas’ story.

 

Alexis Strokoff

Strokoff (second from right) at a Refugee Resettlement Process board presentation. (Photo courtesy of Alexis Strokoff)

 

To Alexis Strokoff, it’s all about the people.

The double-major takes a people-centric approach to environmental health and safety, tying in her anthropology background, to push for the best health outcomes for all.

Strokoff first developed an interest in public health while working toward her anthropology degree, and says that part of public health’s inherent interest is its usefulness.

“In the anthropology program, you learn a myriad of topics, which is fitting for the holistic study of mankind. You learn about our evolutionary origins, the vast amount of different languages and cultures, population genetics, our archaeological record and global health inequities,” said Strokoff. “Anthropology turned me on to wanting to explore people and health deeper, and that’s when I learned about public health and medical anthropology.”

Strokoff can sum up her experience with COPH in just three simple words:

“Time well spent.”

Strokoff balanced education, extracurricular activities and volunteering as a student, serving as a true example for the term “jam-packed schedule.” As a student, she was a part of the USF Disaster and Humanitarian Relief Student Collaborative, USF Fencing, USF Combat Sports and USF Jiu Jitsu.

“This program has been enriching in every sense of the word,” she said. “I feel super privileged to have met the people I have, and have learned the concepts and ideas that I have.”

Strokoff has already secured post-graduate employment with Amazon’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHAS) Sector as a safety specialist.  Read more of Alexis’ story.

 

Story by Shelby Bourgeois, Caitlin Keough and Natalie Preston, USF College of Public Health

Related media:
Undergraduate photo galleries on Facebook and Picasa
Graduate photo galleries on Facebook and Picasa

 

 

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