As a newly awarded distinguished alumna from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Donna Petersen, dean of the USF College of Public Health, is an example of why ambition pays off.
Ann DeBaldo, associate dean of the College of Public Health, said, “I think it’s absolutely wonderful she got this award. She has brought all the faculty, staff and students together and pushes everyone to reach their goals.”
Petersen was one of the three recipients to receive the honor this summer for exemplifying excellence in personal and professional achievements. For Petersen, the award was just another step in a life filled with hard work and perseverance to better the field of public health.
“When I went into public health education, it was completely different than it is today. It’s actually kind of remarkable,” said Petersen. “I think I was put up for the award because I was the first student in a brand new program at Johns Hopkins. It was kind of a new experiment.”
Expecting absolute rejection, Petersen applied for a master’s degree at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. In 1982, the only applicants accepted were physicians, nurses or other clinical based degrees.
Instead, Petersen wasn’t denied right away, her application was forwarded to the Johns Hopkins Maternal and Child Health Department, a program with an even greater clinical focus than what she originally applied for.
“I got a call from the chair of the department saying they had been talking about creating a master’s of health science degree because they need people to run programs who aren’t clinicians,” said Petersen. “They told me I looked like a good candidate and asked if I wanted to take the offer. And of course I said yes.”
After graduating from the program, Petersen was contacted by Johns Hopkins and offered a grant to continue her education to obtain her doctorate degree. They admitted her to the program before she even officially applied.
Upon receiving her doctorate, 29-year-old Petersen got an extraordinary job with the Minnesota Department of Health as head of the state’s program for children with special needs. Petersen’s accomplishments and success in a new program at Johns Hopkins contributed widely to change in the field of public health, which she developed an incredible career from.
Petersen’s colleagues appreciate everything she has done for her community and the university. They strongly believe she deserved this award.
Peggy Smith, assistant to Donna Petersen, said, “I think she should have gotten this award a long time ago. She has done a lot so far in her career to bring public health to the forefront and let people know how important it is. She has definitely grown this college since I have been working here.”