The UF College of Public Health and Health Professions recognized outstanding students and graduates at the college’s annual convocation ceremony on May 5.
Students and their families gathered to celebrate the completion of their degrees and the next step in their academic and professional careers.
“My time at UF has been full of a lot of opportunities, education and a place to make friends. I grew a lot during my time here,” said Carolina Palacio, who majored in communication sciences and disorders and plans to enter the speech pathology master’s program at Florida International University.
Joanna Ma, a bachelor’s in health science student with a minor in public health, reflected on her experience in the program.
“I like how close knit the community is and that I get to know my professors on a personal level,” said Ma, who will begin graduate studies at the UF College of Pharmacy.
David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., UF senior vice president for health affairs and UF Health president, gave the welcome. In his remarks, he praised students’ choice of a career in health.
“You will have intellectual challenge, personal satisfaction, a sense of contributing to the greater good, and — since almost 1 in 5 dollars in our economy is spent on health care — you will have steady employment,” he said. “This is something that I’m sure both you and your parents will appreciate. Truly, every morning for the past 35 years since I received my health profession degree, I wake up raring to go, looking forward to the day ahead. I trust the same will be true for you.”
The college announced awards for doctoral mentoring to Russell Bauer, Ph.D., a professor in the department of clinical and health psychology, and Robert Cook, M.D., M.P.H., a professor in the department of epidemiology.
During his 38 years at UF, Bauer has chaired 38 dissertation committees, co-chaired seven committees and served as a committee member on an additional 97 dissertation committees. His mentees have gone on to postdoctoral and academic positions at prestigious institutions, including Brown, Dartmouth, Emory, Harvard and the Mayo Clinic. Bauer is also a two-time winner of UF’s Doctoral Dissertation Advisor/Mentoring Award, presented by the Graduate School.
Cook has served on dissertation committees for more than 36 UF Ph.D. students since he joined the university in 2006. Of these, he has been primary research mentor and/or dissertation committee chair for eight students. Those graduates have accepted postdoctoral research training positions at Harvard, Vanderbilt, UCLA and UF. One graduate is on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin, another works at a large pharmaceutical company, and a third will be working with the Department of Defense.
The college’s departments and programs presented students with awards and scholarships. Students graduating magna cum laude and summa cum laude — high and highest honors, respectively — received their honors cords at the ceremony.
Sherrilene Classen, Ph.D., M.P.H., OTR/L, FAOTA, FGSA, the college’s Outstanding Alumna of the Year, served as the event’s distinguished speaker. She is a professor and chair of the college’s department of occupational therapy, and an extraordinary professor at Stellenbosch University in Cape Town, South Africa. She is an internationally funded prevention-oriented rehabilitation scientist who studies fitness-to-drive issues in at-risk drivers using clinical assessments, driving simulators, on-road assessments, in-vehicle technologies and automated vehicles. Her scholarly work uses both a public health and a rehabilitation science approach to bring depth and breadth in understanding driving from multiple perspectives. Since 2002, she has received competitive external funding totaling approximately $6 million from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Defense and the Department of Transportation, as well as agencies in Canada and abroad. She has authored or co-authored more than 130 peer-reviewed publications, book chapters and special journal issues. Classen received a master’s in public health with a concentration in epidemiology from the college in 2004.
Classen offered the audience four concepts that have helped to enrich her own life, which she calls the four As: awareness, approachability, adaptability and authenticity.
Awareness, or mindfulness, involves moment-by-moment realizations of thoughts, feelings and the surrounding environment, as well as being open to experiences without judgement, Classen said.
“Being aware is a wonderful gift towards the self and a treasure to be shared with others,” she said. “Indeed, awareness helps us to establish a creative and powerful presence while being available to understand the needs of our patients, clients, friends and others.”
Classen said that approachability relies on an “open and honest disposition” and is the core requirement for excellent interpersonal relationships. In describing adaptability, she stressed the need to anticipate change, embrace it and be ready to change again and again. To strive for authenticity, she suggested graduates ask themselves questions about principles, values, beliefs and dreams to arrive at an understanding of their true self.
In closing, Classen advised, “Dear graduates, please know that challenges are what you came for. And at the University of Florida — during the course of your studies — you have been given skillsets and toolsets to manage and overcome the real world challenges. Use your awareness, approachability, adaptability and authenticity to be the grandest version of the greatest vision that you have ever held about who you are.”