Niccole Smith, a second-year Master of Public Health student at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions, has received this year’s M.P.H. Exemplary Student Award and the Dr. John J. Benton Endowed Scholarship.
The Dr. John J. Benton Endowed Scholarship is awarded to M.P.H. students who demonstrate integrity, humility, compassion, good scholarship and a good sense of humor as determined by a faculty committee. The scholarship was established by the children of John J. Benton, M.D. A Gainesville native, Benton graduated from UF in 1942. He went on to join the U.S. Navy, earn a medical degree from Johns Hopkins University and complete a pediatrics residency at Indiana University. He maintained a private practice in Panama City for many years before pursuing a public health career and leading public health departments in Florida’s Washington, Gulf, Franklin and Bay counties.
Smith will graduate in May with an M.P.H. in the social and behavioral sciences concentration. She is a Florida AHEC Scholar through the Suwannee River AHEC and a This is Public Health Ambassador through the Association of Schools and Programs in Public Health. She has served as a program assistant for Healthy Start of North Central Florida and Central Florida Healthy Start Coalitions. Smith is completing a final program internship in the community initiatives department at WellFlorida Council.
She shares her thoughts on receiving the scholarship, her time in the M.P.H. program and what’s next.
What was your reaction to winning the Dr. John J. Benton Endowed Scholarship?
When I saw that I was named the recipient of the Dr. John J. Benton Endowed Scholarship, I was overjoyed. I am so grateful to be recognized for my academic and community involvement. With this being my final semester in the M.P.H. program, I can’t help but feel a little sentimental about my time at UF, the opportunities provided to me, and my academic and professional successes.
Please describe a highlight of your UF M.P.H. experience.
The UF M.P.H. program has provided me with so many ways to be involved in the college. My time in this program has been exciting and rewarding; it is difficult to choose one experience. A major highlight has been representing the college as a student ambassador with This is Public Health, where I completed an “ambassador takeover” on the This is Public Health social media pages, sharing information about maternal health topics. Another experience with UF M.P.H. that I think fondly of are the Dixie and Levy County Health Fests I volunteered in during April 2022. Myself and other M.P.H. students volunteered with the Dixie, Levy and Gilchrist Department of Health in promoting health education through quizzes and connecting with community members about various health topics.
Tell us about your career goals.
In February 2022, I started working at WellFlorida Council as the Healthy Start program assistant for the Central and North Central Florida Healthy Start Coalitions. Here I had the opportunity to get started working in maternal and child health. After graduation, I hope to continue working in a family and child health career, focusing on improving health outcomes, health promotion and education, and applying skills I learned in my academic and professional involvement. In January 2023, I joined the Florida Public Health Association (FPHA) Student Engagement Group, meeting with students across the state to discuss health topics and ways students can support and be involved with FPHA. I intend to remain in FPHA after graduation, promoting public health and reducing health disparities in the state of Florida.