Campus News

Dillard alumna returns as new director of the Minority Health and Health Equity Research Center

Dr. Michelle R. Smith ’98

September 6, 2022
Contact: Danielle Miller, dmiller@dillard.edu

NEW ORLEANS — Dillard University has announced that Michelle R. Smith ‘98, Ph.D., M.P.H. has been named director of the University’s Minority Health and Health Equity Research Center (MHHERC), effective September 6. 

Smith is leading the charge to expand research across disciplinary areas to enhance and promote coordination and collaboration throughout the scientific community and to improve the overall quality of health for racial and ethnic minorities.

The Little Rock, Arkansas native returns to her alma mater with an impressive resume, bringing over 20 years of public health experience to her new role. 

“Dillard gave me a strong background and it helped me realize that you need more than book knowledge to succeed. It was the connections and the family atmosphere that steered me clear of harm, and helped me to excel in academics,” said the former biology major. 

President Rochelle L. Ford notes Smith’s appointment as a win for Dillard and the state of Louisiana. “I am proud that we are bringing this daughter of Dillard back home to lead this very important center,” said the president. “Dr. Smith’s experience, qualifications, vision and enthusiasm for this work will provide the leadership we need to activate our commitment to act courageously to make the world better through reducing health disparities and creating greater equity. I look forward to the work that she will do.”

Smith’s compassion and servant leadership led her to explore a career in public health to provide access to healthcare and education in minority communities. As the former director of the Office of Health Equity at the Arkansas Department of Health, she has been a trailblazer in innovative approaches to reduce health disparities.

Prior to working at the Arkansas Department of Health, Smith was the HIV/AIDS coordinator for the Ryan White Part D program at Jefferson Comprehensive Care System. While there, she organized the first tri-state HIV conferences for Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Smith has led efforts to organize Sisters and Brothers United, a community-based program to address the state’s high infant mortality rate with Black fraternities and sororities. Her work was recognized in 2014 when Sisters United received the Vision Award for a creative and innovative approach to addressing public health challenges from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Smith also developed the Arkansas Minority Barber & Beauty Shop Health Initiative that provided screenings and education about heart disease and stroke in non-traditional health care settings. 

In 2018, Smith was commissioned into the United States Air Force as a captain and currently serves as the public health officer for the 189th medical group with the Arkansas Air National Guard. In 2021, she received a commendation medal for outstanding achievement while serving as Medical Liaison during Operation Allies Welcome, where she aided in the resettlement efforts for Afghan refugees.   

Also in 2021, Smith directed the effort to secure a $41 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address health disparities in the state related to COVID-19. During the height of the pandemic, Smith created health equity strike teams to increase COVID testing and vaccinations. Vaccination sites included HBCUs, churches, barbershops, schools and other locations in minority communities. She also created the monoclonal antibody squad (MAB Squad) to increase access to COVID treatment for minorities. Her work has been nationally recognized, and she recently spoke on a panel at the Summit on the Future of COVID-19 Vaccines at the White House.  

Smith is the recipient of multiple awards for her leadership and outreach. Most recently she received the President’s Award from the Arkansas Democratic Black Caucus, the Friends of APA Award from the Arkansas Pharmacist Association, and the Dr. Joycelyn Elders’ Minority Health Pioneer Award from the Arkansas Minority Health Commission. To add to her growing list of accomplishments, today, Just Communities of Arkansas announced that Smith was selected as one of their 2022 humanitarians of the year. 

Smith received a M.P.H. from Tulane University and a Ph.D. in public policy from the University of Arkansas. She is also a certified lactation counselor through the Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice. Additionally, she is a member of Wesley United Methodist Church, and she is a lifetime member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.

Dillard University is a historically Black institution that cultivates leaders who live ethically, think and communicate precisely, and act courageously to make the world a better place. Located in New Orleans, Dillard is a private faith-based liberal arts university that offers 22 majors and two certificate programs. Founded in 1869, Dillard is Louisiana’s oldest HBCU, born from the union of Straight College and New Orleans University. Find out more by visiting www.dillard.edu.