PHHP Spring 2023 Recognition Ceremony Program

University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions

Recognition Ceremony Spring 2023

Monday, May 8, 2023, 9 a.m. at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, 250 Gale Lemerand Drive, Gainesville

University of Florida's iconic Century Tower surrounded by spring foliage.


  • Processional
  • National Anthem
  • Welcoming Remarks
  • Dean’s Scholar Awards
  • Distinguished Speaker Address
  • Recognition of Graduates
  • Closing Remarks
  • Alma Mater
  • Recessional


Beth Virnig

college of public health and health professions Dean

Beth A. Virnig, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Dr. Beth Virnig joined the University of Florida as the dean and Robert G. Frank Endowed Professor at the College of Public Health and Health Professions. She is the sixth dean in the college’s 65-year history.

She most recently served as a professor in the division of health policy and management at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and as director and lead of the school’s Strategic Global Public Health Programming. Prior to that, she served as the school’s senior associate dean for academic affairs and research.

Dr. Virnig’s research examines how patient factors and system factors combine to influence care and outcomes. Her research focuses on cancer care, women’s health, end-of-life care, and the measurement of racial and ethnic disparities in care and health outcomes among Medicare beneficiaries. Her work has been funded by the National Cancer Institute, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. She serves on the American Cancer Society’s Council for Extramural Research. She is the author or co-author of more than 200 peer-reviewed articles, including an article on breast cancer surgery that was named one of the 10 best papers of the decade (1999-2009) by the American Society of Breast Surgeons.

David Nelson headshot

senior vice president for health affairs and president, UF Health

David R. Nelson, M.D.

Dr. David Nelson was appointed senior vice president for health affairs at the University of Florida and president of UF Health in April 2019. He oversees operations for all components of UF Health, the university’s academic health center, with campuses in Gainesville, Jacksonville and Central Florida. This includes six health science colleges, 10 interdisciplinary research centers and institutes, three hospital systems and more than 100 physician practices.

Plans are underway to create two new hospitals with Jupiter Medical Center in South Florida, which will boost health care access in the region by bringing top doctors and the latest advances in facilities and technology to residents of Palm Beach and Martin counties and the surrounding region. Dr. Nelson is committed to strategically positioning UF Health for smart growth, with a focus on engaging in high-value partnerships that further shared cultures and goals; enhancing operations; supporting faculty, staff and students; and fostering a diverse, inclusive and equitable community.

A key UF Health mission is exploring ways to optimize the speed of translation of research, bringing science to the bedside and to the community to improve patient care for individuals and populations — with a vision of transforming lives in the pursuit of world-class patient outcomes while strengthening integration, energizing collaboration and enhancing impact. Under Dr. Nelson’s leadership, UF Scripps Biomedical Research joined the UF and UF Health family in April 2022.

A professor of medicine and an expert in liver disease, Dr. Nelson’s record of academic achievement includes more than $100 million in research funding, more than 200 publications and multiple leadership roles in his area of expertise.


instructional assistant professor and PHHP Teacher of the year

Zulma "Yary" Santiago, M.A.

Ms. Zulma “Yary” Santiago teaches American Sign Language and Deaf Culture in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences and is the faculty advisor for UF Signing Gator. She also serves as the DEI Coordinator for the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions. She holds a master’s degree in Deaf Studies with an emphasis on Cultural studies from Gallaudet University. Before joining UF in August 2019, she taught ASL and Deaf Culture at St. Petersburg College, Hillsborough Community College and the University of South Florida.

She is a member of the American Sign Language Teachers Association, Florida American Sign Language Teacher Association and Florida Deaf Art Show Board. She is an active volunteer at the Deaf Literacy Center where she assists in developing and presenting programs and events to create awareness and educate the community. Ms. Santiago is multilingual (fluent in English, Spanish and American Sign Language) and loves history and cultures. As a multilingual person, she understands the importance of second or third-language acquisition.

Dean’s Scholar Awards


Rahi Patel, Bachelor of Health Science, major in Health Science, completed an honors thesis on “The Role of TMEM135 in the Endoplasmic Reticulum-Mitochondria Contact Sites.” The findings have implications for understanding metabolic processes involved in hearing loss. Her mentor is Dr. Shinichi Someya.

Stuart Case, Bachelor of Public Health, completed an honors thesis on “Global Health-based Virtual Exchange to Improve Intercultural Competency: Long-Lasting Impact and Areas for Improvement” under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Wood. The findings have implications for improving competency in intercultural communication.

Samantha Meador, Bachelor of Health Science, major in Communication Sciences and Disorders, completed an honors thesis on “Understanding Language Use and Background of Spanish Heritage Speakers.” The findings from her thesis have implications for improving communication between health care providers and bilingual clients. Her mentors are Drs. Sterling Sheffield and Sharon DiFino.


Valeria Gonzalez, Master of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders, has been involved in multiple research projects, including helping to investigate the effectiveness of telehealth for treatment of language and cognitive disorders. Her mentor is Dr. Charles Ellis.

Natalie Koskela-Staples, Ph.D. student in Clinical Psychology, is investigating parent-child communication patterns and their effect on asthma related decision making and outcomes under the mentorship of Dr. David Fedele. She is expected to graduate with her Ph.D. next summer.

Alma mater

Florida, our Alma Mater,

thy glorious name we praise.

All thy loyal sons and daughters,

a joyous song shall raise.

Where palm and pine are blowing,

where southern seas are flowing,

Shine forth thy noble gothic walls,

thy lovely vine clad halls.

Neath the orange and blue victorious,

our love shall never fail.

There’s no other name so glorious,

all hail, Florida, hail!


The College of Public Health and Health Professions

The UF College of Public Health and Health Professions is part of a land grant #5 ranked public university. With strong collaborations across the university, local community, state and globally, our mission is to shape tomorrow’s public health and health professionals through dynamic and responsive educational programs, transformational research, groundbreaking discoveries and equitable health-related service.

HPNP Complex with sculpture

Student awards


PhD Preliminary Exam
Shoumi Sarkar

Online MS Outstanding Student
Zhang Li

Outstanding Master’s Graduate
Heng Ge

MPH Exemplary Student in Biostatistics
Enrique Gutierrez

Clinical and Health Psychology

Molly Harrower Memorial Award for Excellence in Psychodiagnostic Assessment
Hannah Hausman

Eileen B. Fennell Graduate Student Teaching Award
Grace Ann Hanvey

Clinical and Health Psychology Student Award for Excellence in Research Activities
Priscilla Amofa-Ho and Adrianna Ratajska

Florence Shafer Memorial Award for Excellence in Psychotherapeutic Counseling
Kelsey Bacharz

Stephen Boggs Dissertation Award for Excellence in Child Psychology Research
Rachel Gonzalez-Louis

Health Psychology Research Award for Excellence in Clinical Health/Medical Psychology Research
Nicholas Bush

Jenny Sivinski Memorial Award for Excellence in Community Service
Nicole Evangelista

Geoffrey Clark-Ryan Memorial Award for Excellence in Pediatric Psychology Research
Natalie Koskela-Staples

Nathan W. Perry Scientist Practitioner Memorial Scholarship for Excellence in Integrating Science and Practice
Erin Corcoran

Robert and Phyllis Levitt Neuropsychology Award for Excellence in Clinical Neuropsychology Research
Priscilla Amofa-Ho

Environmental and Global Health

Outstanding Master in Health Science Student
Karlene Mohan

Outstanding Student Research Award
Kayan Clarke

Outstanding Master in Public Health Student
Salvatore Milletich

Outstanding Student Public Health Service Award
Andres Manrique


Best All-around MPH Epidemiology Student
Juan Martin Arnoletti

Outstanding MPH Epidemiology Student
Samuel Calabrese

Epidemiology Ambassador Award
Jackson Blay

Health Services Research, Management and Policy

MHA Student Service Award
Marissa Blair

MHA Outstanding Student
Shirley Dohuu and Erica Elwood

MHA Distinguished Graduate
Makenna Slack

MPH Academic Excellence
Sean Sauer

MPH Outstanding Graduate of the Year
Benjamin Churba

PhD Outstanding Student        
Ruixuan Wang

Master of Public Health

MPH Exemplary Student in Public Health Practice
Maria Aslam

Exemplary MPH Student in Social & Behavioral Sciences
Niccole Smith

Exemplary MPH Student
Niccole Smith

Occupational Therapy

Alice C. Jantzen Award for Excellence
Samone Cowart

Ann Sirmyer Ballard Memorial Award for Outstanding Graduate
Sabrina Glover

Jane Slaymaker Memorial Award
Kaitlin Abbott

Rehabilitation Science

Frederick Family Scholarship
Priyanka Rana

Outstanding Manuscript Award
Ethan Benevides and Justine Dallal-York

Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences

Edna L. Povey Scholarship
Grant Oberle

Thomas B. Abbott Scholarship in Communication Sciences and Disorders
Aimee Miller and Kayla Reidenbach

F. Joseph Kemker Fellowship in Audiology Endowment
Victoria Torres

Lowell C. Hammer Founders Fellowship Fund
Hannah Walsh

Neal Pitts Foundation Fellowship in Speech-Language Pathology
Alyssa Terry

Dean’s Office/College Level

Michelle Brooks Yates Scholarship
Lathan Dixon

Judson A. Clements, Jr. Memorial Scholarship
Mistry Chandni

Anna F. Gutekunst Scholarship
Kelly Folsom

Sam and Connie Holloway Endowed Scholarship
Alaina Carpenter and Madisen Domayer

Horace and Vivian Sawyer Endowed Scholarship
Theodore Hendrixson

Bruce Thomason Family Memorial Scholarship
Alexandra Rodriguez

Ronald J. Spitznagel Service Fellowship in Health Sciences
Lauren Cox