They are graduating from William Paterson University on Tuesday, and, together, they are beginning their professional careers on Wednesday.
Class of 2020 graduates Carolina Oliveros, Imge Uludogan, Bonnie Smith and Sue Yavuz, who all majored in public health, have been hired by the Morris County Office of Health Management to help respond to the COVID-19 crisis. As field representatives for health education, the graduates’ duties will entail contact tracing, work at the county’s COVID-19 test sites, and educating residents about the virus.
“This is a true testament to the strength of our program in public health, which has clearly prepared graduates to work in the field at a time when public health could not be needed more,” says WP public health professor and department chair Corey Basch.
Yet another testament: The William Paterson quartet was hired by University alum Stephanie Gorman ’07, assistant health officer for Morris County.
Starting in 2015, Gorman arranged for her office to take one intern from William Paterson University every year. She knew the program had grown exponentially since she graduated, and that more and more internship opportunities for William Paterson University students were necessary.
“I owed it to William Paterson because if it weren’t for the school, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Gorman adds.
What she didn’t see coming, however, is that she would hire every single WP intern she has had.
“Their performance has been exceptional,” Gorman says, using Smith, her most recent WP intern, as an example. “This year, we took on Bonnie and her performance was amazing. Right time; right place, too, because when the pandemic hit, she was able to provide us a great deal of assistance with very little direction.”
Smith was subsequently slotted for hiring.
“Jumping into a COVID-related job right after the pandemic cut senior year short was not how I expected my final semester to go,” Smith explains. “I was fortunate enough to do my internship with the Morris County Office of Health Management and was able to learn so much by seeing so many different aspects of public health come together to fight COVID. I am extremely lucky to be able to do such important work so early in my career and feel prepared by the education I received at William Paterson.”
Due to the growing needs for public health professionals to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders approved the hiring of not one, but four health education field representatives this year.
With that, three of Bonnie’s classmates applied for the positions and were eventually hired to join her.
Oliveros plans to pursue certification as a Registered Environmental Health Specialist, making her a front-line investigator for many of the state’s public health and environmental regulations. She hopes to someday become a health officer, and subsequently jumped at the chance to apply for one of the Morris County openings.
As a public health student, Uludogan says she has been eager to get to “make a difference” during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I definitely want to thank William Paterson for introducing me to public health and the great professors who have constantly guided me in the right direction and supported me.”
When asked if she’s nervous to start working in public health during a pandemic, Yavuz—who got a jumpstart on her new job by starting with the county office as an intern last week—says she feels the opposite. The pandemic, she explains, gives her a chance to really put all of the skills she acquired at WP to good use, and right away.
“I’m not nervous at all,” Yavuz adds. “We learn everything that we’ll be doing in this job in class, so I already know what the expectations are.”
Her professor is not surprised by that response.
“Students in our program not only have an enriching learning experiences with faculty, but also learn through carefully selected, action-oriented internships in the community,” Basch says. “There is no greater reflection of how prepared our graduates are than to be immediately offered jobs after completing their internships and graduating.”
Not only are they prepared, but also they are happy and thankful.
“I absolutely loved being at William Paterson,” Oliveros shares. “As a public health major, I met many people with the same interests as mine and made new friends along the way as well. The professors were all kind and wanted to see each and every one of their students succeed.”
The soon-to-be graduates say they will be bringing their caps and gowns to their first day on the job, so that they can celebrate both graduating and entering the workforce with a commemorative group photo.
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Wayne, New Jersey 07470