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A Public Affairs Milestone Touched by Serendipity

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By Karen Guin

The Doctoral Program in Public Affairs will reach a milestone tomorrow when the 100th student to complete the program graduates during commencement ceremonies for the College of Health and Public Affairs.

Rebekah Hazlett-Knudsen earned this notable position when she successfully defended her dissertation earlier in the academic year.

In several ways, Hazlett-Knudsen is a symbolic bookend to the first graduate of the doctoral program, Carole Zugazaga.

As it turns out, both Zugazaga, graduate number 1, and Hazlett-Knudsen, soon to be graduate number 100, earned their master's degrees in social work at UCF. Moreover, they both went on to complete the public affairs doctoral program with a specialization in social work (now a "track") - quite a coincidence given that just seven graduates of the program have specialized in this discipline to date.

And as serendipity would have it, Zugazaga was pregnant with her first child while completing her doctorate, and Knudsen is due any day now with her first child.

Zugazaga is now a mother and an accomplished member of the social work faculty at Auburn University, which she joined shortly after earning her doctorate in 2002. In 2006, she received the College of Liberal Arts Early Career Teaching Award at Auburn. Today, statewide and regional organizations across Alabama seek her leadership and expertise in homelessness.

Hazlett-Knudsen is on her way to a successful career too. This past year, she served as an instructor in UCF's School of Social Work, where she developed and taught courses in forensic social work. Her goal is to secure a tenure-track position where she can balance her interests in teaching and research on gender differences among criminal offenders.

Not surprisingly, Associate Professor Eileen Abel, who serves as the social work coordinator for the doctoral program, is very proud of Zugazaga and Hazlett-Knudsen - and all others who have completed or are going through the public affairs-social work program for that matter.

"We have wonderful students who bring a strong sense of intellectual curiosity to their research," Abel shared. "They are hardworking individuals who leave the public affairs program committed to undertaking community-based research. They aspire to make the world a better place."

Joining Hazlett-Knudsen at tomorrow's commencement exercises will be six other students graduating from the Doctoral Program in Public Affairs. All will have bright futures ahead, however, only one will have the distinction of being graduate number 100: Dr. Rebekah Hazlett-Knudsen.

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