While all of the commencement ceremonies celebrated thousands of students’ success last week, the Doctoral Program in Public Affairs of the College of Health and Public Affairs celebrated a milestone – its 100th student, Rebekah Hazlett-Knudsen, graduated from the program.
This milestone is marked by several unexpected coincidences between Hazlett-Knudsen and the very first graduate of the Public Affairs doctoral program, Carole Zugazaga, who received her doctorate in 2002. Both women earned their master’s degrees in social work from UCF and both were pregnant with their first child when they went on to receive their doctorates. Both completed the doctorate while pursuing the social work track, a striking coincidence as only seven people, including Hazlett-Knudsen and Zugazaga themselves, have also gone down that track.
With Hazlett-Knudsen now graduating, she is receiving her doctorate ten years after Zugazaga, who has since gone on to Auburn University in Alabama to become a member of the school’s social work faculty. She has focused her studies on homelessness and her expertise in this area has resulted in her being sought out by many organizations from all across the state of Alabama.
Meanwhile at UCF, our own public affairs program has greatly evolved over the past ten years since Zugazaga completed the doctoral program. The changes, such as offering more tracks to choose from, have allowed more students to find their niche in the College of Health and Public Affairs as they pursue their education and career. Likewise, the number of faculty members in the public affairs program has grown, which allows for students to have a greater number of people to work with and help them develop as they go through their academic career.
“[In the early phases], there was very little specialization,” Dr. Thomas Wan, Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Public Affairs at UCF’s COHPA, said.
But now there are more than five tracks in the public affairs program, with social work as one of them.
Faculty who had worked with Hazlett-Knudsen in her time as a student knew she would be successful and have no doubts in their minds that she will continue on her path to accomplishment.
“She’s a hard worker, she’s dedicated to the profession,” Office Manager of the School of Social Work Ada Heller said.
Those who were around when Zugazaga was a student here felt that they saw in Hazlett-Knudsen the same qualities they saw in her ten years earlier. Heller described Zugazaga to be eager like Hazlett-Knudsen, as both have gone on to teach upon receiving their doctorates.
According to Heller, “social work was their passion.”
Dr. Wan also noted that Hazlett-Knudsen is well-rounded in interdisciplinary training and has the ability to link social work with things like criminal justice and public policy.
Hazlett-Knudsen has been teaching, and will continue to teach, undergraduate and graduate-level social work courses at UCF. She also developed and teaches a forensic social work class, which will be offered this summer. In addition, she is also involved in social work research.
“She’s a pitch hitter,” Heller said.
Zaida Valentin, Senior Secretary for the School of Social Work, also recognizes how important social work is and how it is affected by hardworking and passionate individuals like Hazlett-Knudsen, her success as a student, and her impact as an instructor.
“[Social Work is] something important that helps a lot of individuals and helps people in the community. She is [a] part of teaching our students that, and she does a very good job at it,” Valentin said.