University of South Florida


a headshot of a woman

Emanuelle M. Dias, PhD, MPH, CPH. (Photo courtesy of Dias)

From tragedy to triumph: One alum’s path to the U.S. Army

USF College of Public Health (COPH) alumna Emanuelle Dias is a proud native Floridian who grew up in South Florida. When she was 14 years old, her mother passed away from breast cancer which inspired her healing journey through education, research and cancer prevention. 

Dias began her education at the University of Florida as a pre-med student. She was halfway through her first year when she started exploring different paths. “I took an introduction to health disparities class and knew in that moment it was exactly what I wanted to have a career in,” she said.

After graduating, Dias decided to pursue her master of public health at the COPH. “I knew that it was the number one program in the state and I would be able to work with my mentor, former COPH professor Dr. Alicia Best,” Dias said. “We had very similar backgrounds, both losing our mothers to breast cancer, and that was part of our public health journey that connected us. It just felt right to be at USF.”

Dias said one of the most memorable experiences she had was in March of 2019 with the International Health Service Collaborative, a group of USF Health students, faculty and professionals focused on promoting sustainable health in underserved communities abroad.

“We went on a medical mission trip to Jamaica for a week during spring break,” she said. “It was incredible because one of the students was from Jamaica and helped make many connections and contacts there for us. We were able to squeeze in some fun time too.”

a group smiling

Dias, pictured front row and second from the left, conducted a one-week medical mission trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica in March 2019 with the International Health Service Collaboration. (Photo courtesy of Dias)


Dias points to two people who inspired her during her time at the COPH.

Dr. Dinorah "Dina" Martinez Tyson embodies being a community-engaged researcher. Her cancer survivorship camp motivated and inspired me to be the type of researcher that I'm still working on being. The kind of public health professional that I strive to be,” Dias said. “Then, Dr. Mahmooda Pasha believed in me and encouraged me to take on a PhD.” 

Dias also participated in a leadership training that promoted Latino researchers to get their PhD's in public health. “After that, I knew I wanted to do research in the cancer prevention space,” she said.

Dias became involved with the Florida Prevention Research Center with Dr. Pasha and Professor Dr. Claudia Parvanta. “The center allowed me to build strong research experience, work on presentations and publications and allowed me to become a competitive applicant going into a PhD program,” Dias said.

Dias was accepted to the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston for her PhD where she is currently residing.  “Houston is very much a cancer prevention research hub,” Dias said. “It aligned with my journey and so I grew my research skills, solidified myself as a scientist and was able to expand and become a research professional.” 

During her PhD program, Dias said she was funded by a National Cancer Institute predoctoral fellowship, which allowed her to focus on her dissertation.

Dias graduated in December 2023 with a PhD in public health, with a focus in health promotion and behavioral sciences.

“After I graduated, I had to decide what was next,” she said. “I could have gone the typical route and stayed in academia and go through with the postdoctoral fellowship, but I decided to leave to explore some other sectors.”

In January 2024, Dias was offered a position as an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education fellow with the U.S. Department of the Army.

“This was something I honestly never envisioned myself doing. No one in my family has been enlisted and I don’t know a lot of Army folks, but it has been a really rewarding experience. I’ve even visited Washington, D.C., and the Pentagon through my work!”

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Dias, pictured front row on the far left, in the Pentagon Library and Conference Center, March 2024 with the Integrated Prevention Advisory Group, the U.S. Army's new primary prevention workforce. (Photo courtesy of Dias)

“I'm part of an integrated prevention division,” Dias said. “We are working on preventing harmful behaviors including sexual assault, suicide, substance misuse, child mistreatment and domestic partnership violence.”

“I’m working at the strategic level to build this workforce,” Dias said. “This infrastructure is solidifying a research agenda. As this has never existed, we're starting from scratch. I’ve been working on literature review and scanning strategic initiatives at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government organizations to align with our organization.”

For the future, Dias says she will most likely stay in the government sector but she’s also interested in going into the private sector, like a research institution. No matter where she ends up, she says the journey she started after her mom’s passing feels complete.

“There's so much opportunity and public health continues to grow. The U.S. Army is developing a public health infrastructure, and I know we will continue to see these various roles across different sectors.”

a woman showing a poster of research

Dias presented a poster exploring the association between maternal and paternal characteristics and the risk of colorectal cancer in adult offspring at the American Society of Preventive Oncology in March 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo courtesy of Dias)

Fast Five

What did you dream of becoming when you were young?
I wanted to be a medical doctor.

Where would we find you on the weekend?
I am very active, so I love weightlifting and yoga.

What is the last book you read?
“Everything I Know About Love” by Dolly Alderton.

What superpower would you like to have?
Teleportation, so I can get to places quickly.

What is your all-time favorite movie?
“The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock. It’s one of the last movies that I watched with my mom before she passed.

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Welcome to the USF COPH news page. Our marketing and communications team is entrusted with storytelling. Through written stories, photography, video and social media we highlight alumni, faculty, staff and students who are committed to passionately solving problems and creating conditions that allow every person the universal right to health and well-being. These are our stories.