First Cohort Graduates from DCC’s Public Health Program

May 6, 2021 -- DCC will graduate its inaugural cohort of students enrolled in its public health program during graduation ceremonies slated for May 21.

Alyce Bilello, Anduena Driza, Michaela Tozzi, Ariana Ball and Lori Morris will each receive associate degrees in public health through a program specifically designed to assist students in transferring to an upper-level college or university where they can complete a bachelor’s degree in public health or a related field of study.  A sixth student, Ryan Santangelo, is expected to graduate in August.

“These students are entering the public health field at a crucial time,” said Teresa Burke, biology instructor and public health faculty lead. “Public health plays a critical role in ensuring the health and wellness of communities – and the pandemic has put a spotlight on the need for highly trained public health professionals. We believe our students are well-prepared to meet this need and are ready to create real change in the world.”

Plans to develop the program began in 2016, when DCC joined the Hudson Valley Educational Consortium (HVEC), a collaborative effort among seven regional community colleges that offers access to programs that may not be offered at a student’s “home” campus.

Over the next few years, Burke and Bernadette Cekuta, coordinator of emergency services in the paramedic program, with advice from Sheila Steppe, chair of the public health program at Orange County Community College (OCCC), collaborated in developing a proposal for the public health program. Once approved by DCC’s Curriculum Committee and SUNY, the College began enrolling students into the program in fall 2019. Students take all required courses through DCC and the five program-specific courses with OCCC.

“Being part of the consortium is a great fit for DCC’s public health program,” said Burke. “We were able to broaden our students’ access to programs so that they didn’t have to travel outside their own county. But most importantly, we were able to serve our regional workforce needs in this high-demand field.”

Alyce Ann Bilello, who is heading to SUNY Albany or Old Westbury to continue her studies, knew that she wanted to be in healthcare but wasn’t sure which direction to pursue. “I chose public health because it is so broad and there are so many different opportunities in this field,” she said. “For me, it was a great baseline. This program specifically offers classes online, so you can do your coursework wherever you need to. The professors are extremely helpful and there are class discussions every week to keep everyone connected.”  

For Anduena Driza, being part of the first cohort has great significance – both personal and professional.  “I’m not only the first to graduate from this program but the first in my family to graduate college,” said Driza. “My family immigrated from Albania in 1997 for a better life and for freedom from a then communist country. I feel so proud that I’m the first to accomplish this.”

Driza is headed to the University at Albany this fall to continue her education in public health.

Michaela Tozzi will be going on to a four-year college to finish her bachelor’s. “I will be focusing on pre-med and would like to go to medical school to become an obstetrician-gynecologist,” said Tozzi. “I am also currently taking an EMT certification at Dutchess as well and plan on working in an emergency room for more experience after graduation.”

Burke is very impressed by the efforts of the inaugural class. “This is a rigorous program and even in the midst of a pandemic, these students rose to the challenge,” she said. “They are very well-prepared to pursue a rewarding career in public health. We are so proud of them and the level of achievement they have set for the students who follow in their footsteps.”

DCC continues to work on advancing this program, adding workshops, guest speakers, job shadowing and internship opportunities. For more information, visit DCC’s public health program .

Questions? Contact DCC’s Office of Admissions at (845) 431-8010.