Richard Bennett has a multifaceted role in the School of Public Health’s Office of the Dean. He coordinates student events, oversees the Public Health Student Association, recruits students into the graduate program, leads community outreach endeavors and coordinates the development of public health education program at a local inner city high school.
And Bennett will do whatever it takes to heighten interest in public health endeavors — even if it means dressing up in a pig suit.
“Swine flu,” he explains. “It was for public health week earlier this year. I’ve kind of gotten razzed about that. One of my other colleagues, Ada Hudson, dressed up as a cow for mad cow disease. We were the diseases that nobody wants.”
Swine attire notwithstanding, Bennett is an employee everyone appreciates and respects. His commitment to public health, UAB students, promoting unity between faculty, staff and students and community outreach endeavors has earned him the respect of his colleagues and made him the recipient of August’s Employee of the Month honor.
Cherie Hunt, a 20-year School of Public Health (SOPH) employee, has known and worked with Bennett for the past 14 years in his roles as coordinator of student activities and recruiter coordinator in the dean’s office. Hunt says Bennett has excelled in both roles.
“He is excellent with students and has mentored many future professional students,” Hunt says. “His office is open to students at any time, and they often seek him out for mentoring. And his love of the SOPH is shown in his recruiting efforts. He seeks out opportunities to showcase the school here and statewide.
“Richard is an inspiring leader and is always helpful to faculty, staff and students.”
Bennett says the two jobs — working with the Public Health Student Association (PHSA) and recruiting potential students — are demanding. He’s often on the road during the fall to visit graduate school fairs and admits he sometimes feels guilty that he’s not here with his PHSA students. But he says both jobs are so rewarding, he doesn’t want to give one of them up.
“I love working with our students, and I enjoy selling UAB and our master’s program to potential students,” Bennett says. “I try to match students’ interests with this program. A lot of students don’t know what they want to do. Many have the dream of going to medical school, but students need to have other options. I try to sell them on public health and show them that they can still use the skill sets they’ve learned as an undergraduate and apply it in a different way. And in the end, they can still help people who are sick and work in a health field.”
Making time, showing respect
PHSA students say Bennett is an outstanding advisor and that he always makes time for them and their ever-changing needs.
“We appreciate the respect and support that Richard shows each of us on a daily basis,” says Emily Capilouto, PHSA president.
“He brings candor, honesty and above all professionalism to this position and our organization,” says Matthew Loop, biostatistics senator with the PHSA. “He treats everyone with respect and sincerely listens to others’ opinions. From his example, these qualities are imprinted upon PHSA members.”
Bennett coordinates the group’s outreach efforts, which have included aiding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf oil spill, the Japan earthquakes and April’s devastating tornadoes.
“It’s not just me involved in those endeavors,” Bennett says. “I pull the students right along with me. I think of the tornadoes, which hit us all hard. We had students going to Tuscaloosa the first four weeks helping in clean up or sorting clothing. We had a couple of truckloads of supplies that left from the SOPH to Tuscaloosa with water, food, canned goods, clothing and other items they needed. The SOPH stepped up — faculty, staff and students. It was humbling to see how giving they were.”
Bennett also works in the Birmingham community in other endeavors, including community education of public health. He does that every spring at Carver High School as part of UAB’s Community Outreach and Development (CORD) program.
Bennett talks to the students about public health issues and careers in public health. Jason Avery, program manager in Epidemiology, has worked with Bennett each of the past three years on the project.
“The level of professionalism and organization displayed by Richard is unsurpassed by none,” Avery says. “He has become sort of a public hero to many of the kids and faculty at the high school for this outreach effort.”
Bennett makes a point to say his accolades are a reflection of those that he works with — students, faculty and staff. He says their enthusiasm inspires him to do more.
“I’m very fortunate to work with a group of dedicated professionals that really care about what they’re doing,” Bennett says. “And our students are that way as well. They prove it each semester at graduation. I’m fortunate that I work at a great institution and I love what I do.”