New PHHP scholarship supports students who have overcome significant challenges

HPNP with sculpture

By Jill Pease

When Laura J. Artale was born in 1976 with cystic fibrosis, the average lifespan of someone with the disease was just 16 years.

With encouragement from her parents to follow her medical regimen and dream big, Laura Artale went on to receive three degrees from the University of Florida: a bachelor’s in health science and a master’s in rehabilitation counseling from the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, and a doctorate in education from the UF College of Education.

As she finished up her doctoral dissertation in higher ed leadership, Laura Artale’s health worsened and she received a double lung transplant. The organ transplant allowed Laura Artale, who is described by loved ones as “small but mighty,” to live a full life for nearly 20 years, including work, travel, marriage and even competitive tennis before her health deteriorated. She passed away in 2021 at age 45.

“After Laura died, I decided to set up a foundation and do things that would have put a smile on her face.”

— Joe Artale

To honor her life and the obstacles she overcame to follow her passions, her father Joe Artale has created the Dr. Laura Joe Artale ’97, ’99, ’03 Memorial Scholarship. The fund awards scholarships to College of Public Health and Health Professions students who have overcome challenges in pursuing their degree and have persevered. Recipients may have faced unexpected and/or significant adversity, such as health, personal or financial challenges.  

Dr. Laura J. Artale

“After Laura died, I decided to set up a foundation and do things that would have put a smile on her face,” Joe Artale said. “We were both big believers in higher education, health related professions and supporting people who have challenges. She had scholarships when she was a student and I know that every little bit helped.”

The college has awarded the first scholarships to 11 students who are pursuing bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

“With this scholarship, I’m hoping to play one little part in the students’ lives that will help them in this stage of their journey,” Joe Artale said. “I hope that knowing this scholarship was established in memory of a person who overcame significant challenges in her life has a lot of meaning for them.”

Joel Bialosky, Ph.D., a clinical professor in the department of physical therapy and chair of the college’s scholarship committee, said committee members were struck by the level of adversity experienced by one student after another as they reviewed the compelling stories of scholarship applicants. These included students who experienced debilitating health issues, both physical and mental. Among the applicants were international students who, not long after arriving in the U.S., needed to deal with unexpected health or financial issues in a new country and without the benefit of a strong support system. Other students had taken on the burden of debt associated with grad school to pursue a degree they are passionate about, only to have a significant financial problem arise that appeared to place that dream out of reach.

“Pursuing a degree should be an amazing time in a student’s life,” Bialosky said. “A very hard-working time, but also enjoyable and fulfilling. As we’ve learned, sometimes life gets in the way and the fact that students were not only able to overcome these challenges, but to excel, is amazing.”

For Katharine McNamara, M.H.S., a Ph.D. student in One Health in the PHHP department of environmental and global health, receiving the Dr. Laura Joe Artale ’97, ’99, ’03 Memorial Scholarship, felt like a validation of the difficulties she has undergone over the past few years and a recognition that students may have complex life issues going on behind the scenes, just like everyone else.

Katharine McNamara pictured in Podocarpus National Park during her fieldwork in Loja, Ecuador, said the difficult experiences getting to this point have made her a more compassionate researcher.

“These experiences have been really, really hard, but they have also given me different insight into my work.”

— Katharine McNamara

McNamara, whose research focuses on the intersection of human, plant and environmental health, had just received a Fulbright Hayes Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Award to fund her study of medicinal plant use in Ecuador when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. After a more than year-and-a-half pandemic delay, McNamara was in Ecuador just five days when she learned her father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. McNamara went home to Tampa to care for her father, who passed away a year later. Without a safety net of funding during this time, McNamara wondered if she may be able to eventually complete her degree. Fortunately, she was able to continue her studies and she recently returned to the U.S. after 15 months conducting research in Ecuador.

“These experiences have been really, really hard, but they have also given me different insight into my work,” said McNamara, who plans to graduate in December. “I am definitely a more compassionate researcher. My dad was really the one who taught me about plants; I grew up in his garden. So the work itself has taken on a much deeper meaning to me and I think also helps me connect with people.”

Scholarship recipient Cary Carr, M.P.H., lived through significant mental health and financial challenges in the first year of her Ph.D. in social and behavioral sciences, which helped fuel her research interest in ending violence against people who are marginalized. Carr’s dissertation is focused on improving the response to and prevention of violence against sex workers in the U.S.

“It was validating to hear that my experiences resonated with others, as I often felt stigmatized and alone because of what I went through.”

— Cary Carr
Cary Carr’s research interests are focused on ending violence against people who are marginalized. The scholarship has reduced her financial stress and allowed her to focus more on her dissertation work.

“The scholarship has allowed me to reduce the levels of stress I have been experiencing by focusing less on finances and more on the passion I have for my research,” she said. “It also was validating to hear that my experiences resonated with others, as I often felt stigmatized and alone because of what I went through.” 

Carr is currently working on a research project along with representatives of sex worker organizations to better understand how they use social media to discuss violence and resistance. She plans to defend her dissertation this summer and pursue a career that combines her research skills with her community-based work.

“Beyond that, I’m excited to spend more time with my daughter, who has been a shining light for me throughout the program,” she said.

The stories of this year’s Dr. Laura Joe Artale ’97, ’99, ’03 Memorial Scholarship recipients demonstrate the importance of scholarship programs like these, Bialosky said.

“When you look at the scholarship applicants, these students are superstars,” he said. “These are people who are excelling academically, who are doing great research, who are on track to change the world. It is awful to think that people with this kind of potential would not be able to fulfill it because of something like financial limitations, or lack of mental health care or so many other issues.”

To contribute to the Dr. Laura Joe Artale ’97, ’99, ’03 Memorial Scholarship or discuss other ways you can impact the lives of PHHP students, please contact M. Blake Harrison, PHHP director of advancement, at or 352-294-5731. Gifts may also be made directly to the Artale Scholarship through online giving.