USF College of Public Health alumna Ms. Ercilia Calcano, grew up going to elementary school with half a notebook and a third of a pencil. She lived in a two-bedroom home with no running water or electricity among her 10 siblings in the Dominican Republic.
Despite that, she said her home was full of care and support.
“I was taught compassion for others, ethical values, hard work and the power of faith and spirituality,” Ms. Calcano said.
At age nine she embarked to the capital city, Santo Domingo, where she served as a maid in a relative’s home for four years. During her teen years, she got involved in church and civic organizations fueling her public health passion of helping to keep her community safe.
In 1990 she came to the U.S. as part of an international scholarship program from the U.S. Agency for International Development that promoted world peace.
As a cultural ambassador, she promoted Dominican culture, while learning English and working toward an associate’s degree in business management at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau, WI, before returning back to the Dominican Republic.
“When I was still living in the Dominican Republic, some COPH faculty members used to go or take students there to do research or health education projects. I started volunteering in things like helping to arrange student housing, engaging local entities and people, translating for researchers, etc. Then, I started enjoying the type of work that the faculty and students did and inquired about it,” she said.
Bringing her passion for a healthy community into the U.S., Ercilia returned to college, this time at USF to obtain a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and master’s degree in public health from the Department of Community and Family Health.
She secured a part-time job as a research assistant in the COPH and continued to volunteer in projects all over the U.S. and Latin America.
“As a COPH student back in the days, my proudest accomplishment was planning and implementing the Youth Risk Behavior Survey among 4,455 students nationwide in the Dominican Republic,” she said.
With the help of Dr. Wayne Westhoff, former associate professor in Global Health, and under the leadership of Dr. Carol Bryant, Calcano’s former advisor and distinguished USF Health professor, she worked with a university in Puerto Rico to obtain the Spanish version of the instrument to be used in the Dominican Republic.
“As a result of the survey, a new education manual was developed and placed in the schools called ‘Educación en Valores’ (educating on life’s values). Later, national partnerships were developed through formal agreements, and the first domestic violence shelter of the Dominican Republic was launched,” Calcano said.
Her work in promoting health expands across her career.
She went on to work with a southern U.S. workgroup panel to discuss strategies to reduce health disparities in the U.S., led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
She’s one of the founding members of the non-profit organization Fundación Familia Sana, an organization that has helped link students and professors from USF with public health needs in several Latin American countries including the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Mexico.
She led efforts to obtain almost $7 million in federal funding that created several of the current nutrition and physical activity programs and educational enhancements seen in Hillsborough County schools and community-based organizations.