State of the College Address focuses on the two pandemics

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On October 5, Dr. Donna Petersen, dean of the USF College of Public Health (COPH), gave her 15th State of the College Address virtually to faculty, staff and administration through Microsoft Teams due to the COVID-19 pandemic that rocked the world at the start of the 2020 spring semester. 

“I am delighted to welcome you virtually to our State of the College Address! It’s been quite a year with the dueling pandemics of systemic racism and COVID, which I will talk about shortly,” Petersen said. “As always we use this opportunity to highlight our college and people and to recognize those who have had particular achievements, welcome new faces and wrap up with a look-ahead given the uncertain times.”

Year in Review

While the year was disrupted and had to change course many times due to COVID-19, the COPH was able to prevail and still celebrate many successes. Petersen closed out the college’s 35th anniversary year announcing that the college and its supporters raised $233,000 throughout the year.

Living with COVID

“I could not be prouder of the college, from everyone in it and everyone who has stepped up to support all the of the efforts that are going on to respond to COVID-19 at the university and across our communities,” Petersen said.

  • Initial calls to action resulted in more than 335 students, faculty, staff and alumni responding to help with the COVID-19 crises.
  • The Florida Department of Health hired more than 90 COPH students across the state to serve as contact tracers. Drs. Jennifer Bleck, Marie Bourgeois, Ismael Hoare, Makut Makut, Stephanie Marhefka, Allison Oberne and Patrick Rodriguez served as contact tracers and in other FL DOH assignments as well.
  • Through the Pandemic Response Research Network, the college submitted 28 proposals in three rounds of funding with two being awarded.
USF College of Public Health students Daniel Hutchinson, Will Steck, and Mimi Cao are helping to address the COVID19 pandemic by volunteering at the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
USF College of Public Health students Daniel Hutchinson, Will Steck, and Mimi Cao are helping to address the COVID-19 pandemic by volunteering at the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

Systemic Racism

  • The COPH’s History and Systems summer reading assignment was changed to address systemic racism. Over 280 student essays indicated that something new was learned and that they were “stunned, shocked, embarrassed, dismayed, disgusted” and “motivated, inspired, humbled.”
  • Faculty led by Dr. Abraham Salinas-Miranda are putting together a statement on “Racism as a Public Health Issue,” along with several helpful tools. 
  • Launched COPH Comprehensive Strategy to Address Systemic by integrating it into the Academic Master Plan process.

Our People

Emphasizing that people are at the center of public health, Petersen led her presentation with the introduction of new faculty and staff. She also recognized those who have received awards or been acknowledged for achievements. 

  • Welcomed ten new faculty members and promoted four faculty and tenured two faculty members and saw 14 new staff members join team #USFCOPHRocks!
  • Had two COPH staffers recognized with the USF COPH Outstanding staff award and seven with the USF Outstanding Staff Award.
  • Applauded 10 faculty members who received awards and recognitions, both within the college and outside of it.
  • Drs. Donna Haiduven, associate professor, and Dinorah Martinez Tyson, associate professor, were awarded the Cliff Blair Award for Excellence in Teaching.
  • Elizabeth Dunn, Instructor I, received the 2020 Excellence in Teaching Award.
Elizabeth Dunn also helped to address the COVID-19 pandemic by volunteering at the Hillsborough County Medical Supply Procurement Warehouse working with a team to inventory PPE for distribution to health care providers.

Students and Alumni

Students are the heart and soul of the college as well as the future of public health, and Petersen proudly shared their accomplishments.

Going Forward

Going forward Petersen stated that COVID-19 and systemic racism have collided in ways that put persistent health disparities into stark relief – people of color get infected at higher rates, are hospitalized at higher rates and die at higher rates than white people.

“It is also becoming evident to everyone that the racist policies that exist in this country – policies that deny people access to health insurance or to a regular health care provider, or to affordable housing, to public transportation or to a living wage, have contributed to the problems we see in people having difficulty getting tested for COVID-19 and then getting care. We are only now starting to appreciate how many people have died of COVID or of other diseases at home because they were unable or afraid to seek care,” Petersen continued. “We are working on all of these issues, helping our students gain critical knowledge and develop valuable skills that will enable them to emerge as a new generation of public health professionals, prepared to address the root causes of both global infectious diseases, and of racism.”

Click here to view the full USF College of Public Health State of the College Address.

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health