USF COPH graduates 122 “catalysts of change” in summer 2018 graduation

| Academic & Student Affairs, CFH, COPH Home Page Feed, Departments, EOH, EPI-BIO, Featured News, Global Health, HPM, Monday Letter, Our Alumni, Students, Take Note!, Undergraduate

The USF College of Public Health graduated 122 future public health professionals on Saturday, Aug. 4. Fifty-eight students received a bachelor’s degree, 60 a master’s degree and four were awarded doctorates.

From the pinning ceremony for the undergraduates held Friday morning, Aug. 3, to the graduation celebration held for the graduate students later that afternoon, the themes of the day were passion, practice and perseverance.

Tricia Penniecook, MD, MPH, filling in for the traveling Dean Donna Petersen, addresses the graduate students in the Samuel P. Bell Auditorium. (Photo by Ellen Kent)

“If you were anything like me, public health was not something you thought existed until you started thinking not about what you wanted to be, but what you wanted to do,” said Dr. Tricia Penniecook, vice dean for education in the COPH, in her welcome remarks to the graduate students and their families. “Help people, cure disease, change the world—that’s where public health comes into the picture. I encourage you to keep this passion and enthusiasm for changing the world wherever you are.”

Guest speaker at the undergraduate ceremony was Dr. Ayesha Johnson, senior health researcher at the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County and a Fulbright scholar who received her doctorate from the USF COPH in 2016.


Ayesha Johnson, PhD, imparts words of wisdom to the undergraduates at their pinning ceremony. (Photo by Ellen Kent)

“As a public health graduate, you are well aware of barriers,” Johnson told the dozens of students and their families and friends in attendance. “Your choice to pursue this field screams that you are firmly committed to removing barriers to populations that are vulnerable. This is a great thing. But realize that things will change, and you may have to change yourself in order to overcome barriers to reach your goal.”

Siera Belcher is shown here receiving her undergraduate pin from Kay Perrin, PhD, MPH, CPH, who welcomed students on behalf of Dean Petersen. Belcher says she knows all about barriers. “I had four of them,” laughed the quality auditor at Wellcare who got her degree online while working full time. “And they are 7 months, 5, 11 and 13. But perseverance does pay off!” (Photo by Ellen Kent)

Johnson reminded the students that while they have done great work, more needs to be accomplished. “You have done well,” she said. “And your reward for that is to do what has not yet been done.”

Dr. Zachary Pruitt, an assistant professor of health policy and management, accepted his Excellence in Teaching Award at the graduate ceremony with a call for humility. “With each degree I got, the more I felt like I didn’t know. Humility is the unexpected gift of education. As you go out into the world, stay humble.”

Other graduation speakers had these words of inspiration to share:
• “Do not give up hope. Hour by hour, day by day, you will not see any change. You won’t see it in six weeks, or maybe even in 20 years. But you will eventually see it. It will happen, and not when you are expecting it.”—Dr. Kay Perrin, COPH associate dean of academic and student affairs
• “Keep your passion. This is what will get you up in the morning, what will help you work through your problems and drive you forward.”—Dr. William Sappenfield, a professor of community and family health and director of the Chiles Center
• “Keep expanding your toolbox and follow your dreams.” —Dr. Kevin Kip, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics
• “Leave the door open. Some day you will have a project land on your desk and you will ask yourself, ‘How can I do this? Where’s the manpower? Where’s the time?’ We hope you’ll come back to us, your brand new community partner.”—Dr. Jill Roberts, an assistant professor of global health

After each ceremony, students and their families mingled in the COPH lobby for congratulations and refreshments.

Rachael Renn, who just earned her bachelor’s, was joined by her mom, Kathy Renn, a 1999 graduate of the USF College of Nursing who works at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. “My mom really influenced me,” said the St. Pete native. “I knew I wanted to help people and work with children, but I didn’t want to deal with the pee or poop or blood, so … I’m pursuing a doctorate in occupational therapy at Nova Southeastern.”

Rachael Renn with her mom, Kathy, celebrating Rachael’s USF COPH pinning ceremony. “I see the trees,” said the proud mom of her daughter’s public health interest. “But she sees the forest.” (Photo by Anna Mayor)


Newly minted USF COPH summer grads get ready to hit the ground running. You’d hire them, right? (Photo by Ellen Kent)

With the festivities (and finals, papers and dissertations) over, summer graduates are embarking on new educational endeavors while others are looking for employment.

Jason Garcia, who received his doctorate in environmental and occupational health after seven long years of study, hopes to pursue industrial hygiene work with companies like Intel or Boeing. “I’m going to see what sticks.”

Joshua Hazelton, who received his master’s in epidemiology and global health, is “glad to be done with school and start my real-world application.” The dad of two—including a six-month-old, who made the spring semester particularly “crazy”—is applying for jobs in hospitals and departments of health. “It’s an exciting time,” he said.

Here are two more COPH graduation stories, one about this summer’s youngest grad, McKenzie McIntyre, and the other about Fulbright scholar Laura Collins.

In her closing remarks Dr. Penniecook told the graduates, “We hope that what you have experienced in these halls will prepare you to do great things. We are proud of all of you!”

Related media:

Undergraduate photo gallery: Summer2018UndergradPinningCeremonyPhotoGallery

Graduate photo gallery: Summer2018COPHgraduationceremony for grad students

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health