(AUSTIN, TX) — Joseph Tiago, a soon-to-be graduate of the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, left Cameroon seven years ago, became a U.S. citizen and is now on his way to being among the first Austin graduates with a Master of Public Health degree this Saturday.

In early 2000, Mr. Tiago and his wife and children left Cameroon, located in Western Africa. They sold everything they owned and left behind friends and family in setting out for the United States after winning an immigration lottery.

Mr. Tiago described his motivation for taking such a risk while delivering a moving speech during his citizenship ceremony Aug. 25, 2005, in San Antonio.

“The greatest motivation behind our decision to come to the United States was the exploration of the American freedom and the fulfillment of my dream, being able to continue my education and to give to my children the opportunity to have a better education,” Mr. Tiago said. “It is critical to remember that the vast majority of immigrants to this country come here legally for the same reasons as our ancestors – family, work and freedom.”

Through many trials and hardships, as well as hard work and perseverance, Mr. Tiago and his family have made some remarkable achievements. Along with his upcoming M.P.H. degree with a concentration in epidemiology and biostatistics, his wife, Beatrice, graduated in atop her class in 2006 with a Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.) from St. Edward’s University in Austin. She now owns her own tax and accounting business.

For Mr. Tiago, a career in public health wasn’t in his initial plans.

“Prior to the School of Rural Public Health offering a master’s program in Austin three years ago, I actually never thought about studying public health, although I was interested in doing something to improve the living conditions of underprivileged populations,” Mr. Tiago said.

“When HSC-SRPH, through Drs. Sharon Cooper and Kirby Donnelly, gave me the opportunity to study public health, I was highly motivated by a combination of prior social background and professional experience to know that I would be able to get the tools and learn the skills needed to investigate and advocate public health issues, and, more importantly, educate the populations on determinants of health.”

Currently, Mr. Tiago and his family live in Austin, where he is an organic chemist and division safety coordinator for the Monitoring Operations Division of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, will deliver the commencement address for the HSC-School of Rural Public Health in exercises at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Thomas R. Frymire Auditorium in the Leonore and Walter Annenberg Presidential Conference Center in the George Bush Library Complex. Eighty-seven students – among them the school’s first Ph.D. graduates – will be honored, including 66 M.P.H., 14 M.H.A., 4 M.S.P.H. and 3 Ph.D. recipients.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell