Saoulkie Bertin: 2021 Health Equity Hero

Posted Tuesday, June 29, 2021 @ 3:12 PM

On Friday, June 24, the Florida Department of Health in Orange County presented the 2021 Health Equity Hero Award to Saoulkie Bertin, a Biomedical Sciences major at pursuing a certificate in the Anthropology of Global Health at UCF.

“We’re here to pay homage to those individuals who have been nominated because of their commitment and their dedication,” Audrey Alexander, Health Equity Coordinator for the Florida Department of Health announced as she kicked off the award ceremony. She was accompanied by Ellis Perez, Community Health Program Manager for the Florida Department of Health; Dr. Michael Deichen, Associate Vice President of UCF Student Health Services; Maria Pereira Villa, a Health Educator Consultant for the Florida Department of Health; Mary Schmidt-Owens, Associate Director of Healthcare Compliance at UCF Student Health Services; and several representatives from the Health Center.

Saoulkie began her involvement with the Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) as the smoke-free subcommittee chair in August of 2019 and is in her second year serving in this role. “She has done an exemplary job not only for UCF, but also for the Department of Health,” said Ellis Perez as she presented the award. “She has also extended her involvement into the community by representing the UCF student community on the Tobacco Free Partnership Alliance.”

Perez continued:

By way of her involvement with SHAC, she continues to lead the Point-of Sale Taskforce of the Tobacco Free Florida program where she engages in community and student outreach and data collection in Orange County. Additionally, she has been instrumental in recruiting other SHAC members for the tobacco retail licensing training to conduct the surveillance surveying for the Orange County community.

UCF has been a smoke free campus since 2012. The university’s tabling and outreach educational events are coordinated by the Smoke-Free Subcommittee chairperson. She has been instrumental in organizing and orchestrating these regular on-campus events in the academic year of 2019 – 2020, and currently 2020 – 2021.

Due to COVID-19 and university policies, all student outreach events ceased. She was extremely creative in hosting a virtual event for the Great American Smoke Out, which included a panel discussion with Dr. Mary Schmidt-Owens, Associate Director of UCF Student Health Services; Maria Pereira Villa, the Tobacco Prevention Specialist for Orange County; and Candy Knight, a mother whose son spent 150 days in the NICU due to complications from Juul smoking, which he is currently on oxygen and awaiting an organ transplant. The event was highly visible on various media platforms and viewed by many subscribers, both university internal and external affiliates.

The Florida Department of Health’s Health Equity Hero Award recognizes and celebrates individuals who best personify the spirit of Public Health through a commitment to accelerating Health Equity throughout the community. Beyond her exemplary leadership skills, passion for public health, and dedication to volunteering to bolster the community, Saoulkie aspires to improve the health of individuals, communities, and even their nations by pursuing a career as a physician scientist or public health physician.

Bertin emphasized the broader significance of the award and the its impact on her trajectory as a rising professional in the public health sector:

Receiving this award proves that a small team of dedicated student health advocates can make a difference in their own community. Leading the Task Force against Point of Sale has been a fulfilling and transformation journey. We have informed and educated our peers, decision makers, and the Orange County public about the implications of using tobacco products like e-cigarettes. My current impact in the community paired with the receipt of this award, encourages me to continue striving to improve heath equity wherever I am and why I’m passionate about my career path.

Dr. Michael Deichen chimed in following Saoulkie’s acknowledgements, “It’s interesting what you said – that you want to pursue this as a career choice – because you obviously have a talent, but we all have that interest too and we need people who are young, smart, and motivated.”

Maria Pereira Villa added, “We have been working with you for some years and have seen your dedication and responsibility in everything that you have done – and now that you are pursuing this career, you’re going to be putting those values into the next group of public health advocates and physicians.”

For those interested in similar involvement as a public health advocate at UCF or who are looking for ways to get involved on campus, the Student Health Advisory Committee is currently accepting applications for the 2021 – 2022 academic year.

More information, including a link to the application, can be found at