Celebrating innovation: PHHP Days 2024

By Anne Riker Garlington, Katarina Fiorentino Klatzkow and Jill Pease

Students attending PHHP Days.
Members of the department of environmental and global health promoted the department’s programs during the academic expo. Photos by Lindsay Gamble.

At PHHP Days 2024, the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions was buzzing as attendees gathered for more than 200 talks and poster presentations highlighting research and discoveries in the college.

Presentations showcased the breadth and diversity of PHHP faculty and student research with more than 20 topic areas ranging from artificial intelligence to cognitive health to infectious disease and injury and muscular systems.

With research represented from every department and program, PHHP Days celebrates the college’s mission of delivering innovative, sustainable solutions to pressing health-related challenges for the greater good of individuals and communities in Florida, the nation and the world.

“We expanded Research Day and Public Health Day into PHHP Days to be more representative of our college,” said Adam Woods, Ph.D., the college’s associate dean for research. “We’ve had great feedback from alumni, students, faculty and community members who participated this year and said they plan to attend every year. It has been a resounding success, because of all the many people who made it possible.”

Over the course of the two-day event, attendees learned about innovative research at student poster sessions, oral presentations, keynote presentations and an academic expo featuring different PHHP programs.

Keynote speakers included both an alumna in practice and a scientific innovator, who positively impact their communities locally and abroad.

Major Lara Poole, US Air Force.
Major Lara Poole

Major Lara Poole, B.S.C., M.P.H., of the U.S. Air Force, presented “Know your Population: Translating Health Between Cultures.” A double Gator alumna, Poole currently serves as the chief of community health programs at the Air Force medical agency at defense health headquarters in Virginia. She is directly responsible for managing public health policy for more than half a million personnel across 82 Air Force installations.

Poole joined the Air Force in 2016 after graduating from PHHP with her Master of Public Health and has since served in multiple positions focused on safeguarding the health of military and civilian populations. She has worked in military health facilities across the country and volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan in 2020, where she led vital efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. During her presentation, Poole discussed the role of public health practitioners in the military and how a career in this sector can combine global action with big picture impact.

“Successful public health campaigns rely on public policy makers,” Poole said. “It is important for public health officials to keep advocating, fight the good fight and don’t give up!”

Dr. Oladele A. Ogunseitan
Dr. Oladele A. Ogunseitan

Oladele A. Ogunseitan, Ph.D., a distinguished professor of population health and disease prevention at the University of California, Irvine, presented “Global Environmental Determinants of One Health: A Fireside Chat.” He is a renowned expert in the field of global health and one of the field’s preeminent researchers on antimicrobial resistance and stewardship.

Ogunseitan also serves as co-director of the World Institute for Sustainable Development of Materials and co-chair of Apple’s Green Chemistry Advisory Board. He has lent his expertise to various non-profit and governmental organizations, including the state of California’s green ribbon science panel and the community protection and hazardous waste reduction initiative.

During his presentation, Ogunseitan discussed the broad role of social science in One Health.

“Everyone in One Health should understand the connection across species,” Ogunseitan said, adding that “One Health will forever be a part of science.”

Ogunseitan emphasized the importance corporations taking initiative to tackle waste, such as replacing toxic chemicals and batteries in their products, including cell phones, as well as providing locations for safe recycling.

“That proactive solution will help manage the problem of waste where we would all benefit,” Ogunseitan said. “Corporations have the resources to fix the problems. Don’t leave it to the consumer or governments.”

For students, PHHP Days offers the unique opportunity to share their research with members of the PHHP community from across the college.

At Monday’s poster session, graduating Bachelor of Health Science student Aribah Ali presented her literature review on how the implementation of medical interpreters enhanced patient health outcomes for Spanish-speaking immigrants seeking prenatal care, a project conducted in partnership with UF’s Equal Access Clinic. 

“I am an aspiring physician and I really think that doing public health related research has helped me understand the different communities I want to work with,” Ali said. “Understanding a patient’s perspective and the care they want to receive, especially among minority populations, will help me become a better provider and help me improve my patients’ quality of life, experiences and health outcomes.” 

A project by Bachelor of Health Science honor’s student Alissa Serrano examined dysphagia awareness among people with sickle cell disease. Working with mentor Candice Adams-Mitchell, SLP.D., CCC-SLP, Serrano found that the participants in her study were unaware they were at risk for swallowing problems, suggesting a need for patient education programs. 

“At first when I heard about the honors program, I was hesitant to apply because I didn’t know if I could get in, but I’m so glad I did,” said Serrano, who plans to apply to physician assistant school following graduation this spring. “This has been a really great opportunity that I wouldn’t have had otherwise if I wasn’t a part of the program. It would have been difficult to find these opportunities on my own.”  

PHHP Days also featured faculty symposia, including project overviews by recipients of the PHHP Research Innovation Fund and introductory research presentations by new college faculty members.

On Tuesday evening, PHHP Days concluded with a celebratory reception recognizing top scoring abstracts, posters and oral presentations, as well as honoring PHHP faculty awardees.

Faculty at awards ceremony.
Health services research, management and policy faculty members at the awards reception.

Awards were presented to the following individuals:

PHHP faculty awardees

  • PHHP Career Impact Award: Ronald Cohen, Ph.D.,
    in recognition of significant and lasting career impact through exemplary scholarly achievement 
  • PHHP Early Career Innovator Award: Rebecca Pearl, Ph.D., in recognition of exemplary early career distinction and innovation in research 
  • PHHP Mentor of the Year: Ara Jo, Ph.D., in recognition of excellence in mentorship during the 2023-2024 academic year 

PHHP student awardees

Dr. Dean Virnig with capstone presentation award winner, Devin Valdes.
Dean Beth Virnig with capstone presentation third-place award winner, Devin Valdes.
  • Graduate student presentations
  • First place: Michael Aaron Sy, Ph.D. in epidemiology
  • Second place: Scott Cohen, Ph.D. in epidemiology
  • Third place: Delaney Kelemen, Ph.D. in rehabilitation science, communication and swallowing sciences and disorders concentration
  • M.P.H. capstone presentations
  • First place: Kelly Folsom
  • Second place: Chyna Miller
  • Third place: Devin Valdes
  • Undergraduate poster presentations
  • First place: Anika Heuberger
  • Second place: Gabriela Sepulveda
  • Third place: Trish-Ann Parkinson
  • People’s Choice Awards
  • Oral presentation: Sofia Sanchez
  • Poster presentation: Ikenna Ezenwa