Hawk’s Eye View: Howard Smith ’19


Howard Smith '19

When he started college, Howard Smith ’19 thought he wanted to become a lawyer. But first-year classes in biology, culture and anthropology nudged him in a different direction. As he searched for a major that could fuse those three disparate interests, he settled on public health. That decision led him to transfer to UNCW before his sophomore year; to Duke University’s master of biomedical sciences program, which he completed in 2020; and to his current role as a medical assistant at Duke Primary Care in Chapel Hill, N.C.

In this Hawk’s Eye View, Smith – who’s in the process of applying to medical school – shared how UNCW’s people and programs guided his personal and professional development.

That’s what I think UNCW is to me – the conversations I had with them about where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do and what the next few years would look like for me.

— Howard Smith '19, medical assistant at Duke Primary Care

Who were the UNCW faculty or staff members who made a big impact on you?

I spent a lot of time in the College of Health and Human Services’ Student Success Center. Sheri Shaw (assistant dean for student success) and I would have biweekly meetings. It was a chance for us to check in and talk about the week ahead, what kinds of things were on my mind and what was going on in my life. It was a time I could speak freely. Those conversations with Sheri and my academic advisor, Adam Nelson, really guided me throughout my three years at UNCW. That’s what I think UNCW is to me – the conversations I had with them about where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do and what the next few years would look like for me.

What was your favorite part of UNCW student life?

Definitely student government (SGA). When I first got to UNCW, I really struggled. My grades suffered, I was isolated and I didn’t know a lot of people. I joined SGA the summer after my sophomore year and that was the catalyst for a lot of other opportunities I had on campus. It helped me find other students like me – transfer students, minority students – and have face time with administrators and faculty that I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. From the beginning, it was my foot in the door to do what I wanted to do on campus.

How did your UNCW experience prepare you for your work after graduation?

Just based on academics, the UNCW chemistry, biology and public health departments prepared me very well for my graduate program. More importantly, my program (at Duke) was oriented as team-based learning. Everything happened in groups of five or so people. My UNCW experience working with small groups to accomplish tasks – from my committees in SGA, serving on the Dean’s Student Leadership Advisory Council with Dean (Charles) Hardy, and working on different initiatives – helped me learn to navigate team dynamics and work effectively with different personalities on a team. That set me up for more success than some of my classmates who didn’t have those kinds of experiences.

How has the COVID pandemic affected what you want to do with your career?

I wouldn’t say COVID has necessarily changed my idea of what I want to do, but I think it’s deepened my interest in the things I already focus on – like researching health equity and health disparities and incorporating more proactive approaches to care. COVID just highlighted those disparities more, and I see an even greater need for me to continue on my path of doing that work.

Why is it important for donors to continue to support future students like you at UNCW through scholarships and applied learning opportunities?

Whatever and however you can give to students, it makes a difference. It allows them to have opportunities that stay with them long-term, that manifest in everything they do. And providing students with opportunities incentivizes those students to give back when they can, so it’s a gift that can keep on giving.

Increasing support for scholarships and applied learning opportunities is a top priority of Like No Other: The Campaign for UNCW. Learn how you can get involved or make a gift today.

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