Cynthia M. Harris awarded the 2022 Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health

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Cynthia M. Harris, PhD (Photo courtesy of Harris)
Cynthia M. Harris, PhD (Photo courtesy of Harris)

TAMPA, Fla. (April 1, 2022) – The University of South Florida (USF) College of Public Health has named Cynthia M. Harris, PhD, the 2022 Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health.

The college bestows the award each year to a woman whose career accomplishments and leadership contribute significantly to the field of public health in Florida. Harris will receive the award in a ceremony beginning at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, April 6.

Harris currently serves as the associate dean for public health, in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Institute of Public Health, as well as director and professor of the Florida A&M University (FAMU) Institute of Public Health in Tallahassee.

Harris has over 30 years of expertise, leadership and training in successfully implementing community-based participatory research with a focus on environmental health and toxicology. She is nationally known for her content expertise in environmental health and environmental toxicology.

“Through the years, I have observed her work and commitment to public health and FAMU’s public health program. Harris led the program through its inaugural accreditation in 2000 and three successive re-accreditation cycles after, all with maximum tenure and no non-compliant findings,” said Dr. Larry Robinson, president of FAMU.

A former branch chief with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry for the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS), Harris was the first African American to serve in that position. She was also the recipient of a USPHS award for serving as program director of the First National Health Conference, with a focus on environmental justice.

Harris has been successful in receiving state and federal research funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the development of a toxicology curriculum for lay community members and development of a protocol for the reduction of eye injuries in migrant citrus workers in Apopka, Fla.

Under her leadership, more than 70 local organizations and agencies received mini-grant funding to sustain their health and wellness initiatives to combat obesity in children. In addition, Harris has more than 10 years of experience addressing racial and ethnic disparities in the health professions. She is the director of both the Florida Alliance for Health Professions Diversity and the Florida Health Equity Research Institute Education and Training Core.

Harris tackled the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic directly in Leon County, Fla., and beyond. She is responsible for the development of the FAMU-Bond Community Health Center COVID-19 Testing Site. She still serves as one of the coordinators of the site and assisted in the development of the FAMU Community Vaccine Administration Center. In addition, Harris is the principal investigator of the joint FAMU-Department of Health COVID-19 Outreach, Education and Training Program. This statewide program is tasked with addressing vaccine hesitancy in predominantly black and brown communities.

“I have known Harris for 15 years and, most recently, observed and supported her tireless work in the creation, development and coordination of the FAMU Community and Vaccine Administration Center,” said Representative Allison Tant, Florida House of Representatives in District 9. “Harris is very deserving of this wonderful and prestigious award.”

Harris is the recipient of several public health service and academic awards, including two distinguished alumnus awards from Meharry Medical College and the Black Innovators Award from the Black Alumni Association of the University of Kansas. She was the 2021 recipient of The MLK Foundation of Florida, Inc. MLK Leadership in Community Service Award. In March 2021, she was recognized as a Woman in Health “Her Story, My Story, Our Story” by FAMU in honor of Women’s History Month. Harris was also selected and is currently featured in the Tallahassee Community College 2022 Cherry Hall Alexander African American History Calendar. She previously received an award from the National Forum of Black Public Health Administrators and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Award for Contributions to the Advancement of Women.

The Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health Award was initiated by the USF College of Public Health in 1988 and nominations are solicited from public health practitioners across the state. Past honorees include Lillian Stark, PhD, MPH, retired director of virology at the Florida Department of Health Tampa Branch Laboratory; Lora E. Fleming, MD, epidemiologist at the University of Miami; Lisa Ann Conti, DVM, MPH, director of the Florida Division of Environmental Health; Celeste Philip, MD, MPH, Florida’s surgeon general and secretary of health; Linda Merrell, RN, cofounder of Florida CHAIN and the Florida Child Health Coalition; Deanne Miranda Cornette, vice president of strategic development with Tampa Family Health Center; Danielle Stanek, DVM, DACVPM, state public health veterinarian within the Florida Department of Health; and Megan Wessell, MPH, vice president of regional cancer control for the American Cancer Society’s Southeast Region.

-USF Health College of Public Health-

An urban research university, the University of South Florida is home to the highest ranked public health degree program in Florida and #16 in the U.S. (U.S. News and World Report, 2023). Established in 1984 as the first college of public health in the State of Florida, the USF College of Public Health is a recognized leader in online education, social marketing, community health, maternal and child health and global infectious disease research. The college offers multiple concentrations that lead to BSHS, BSPH, MHA, MPH, MSPH, DrPH, and PhD degrees, as well as several dual degrees, graduate certificates and online programs. To learn more about the college and students who commit to passionately solve problems and create conditions that allow every person the universal right to health and well-being, visit

-USF Health-

USF Health’s mission is to envision and implement the future of health. It is the partnership of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Public Health, the College of Pharmacy, the School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences, the Biomedical Sciences Graduate and Postdoctoral Programs and the USF Physicians Group. The University of South Florida is a Top 50 research university in total research expenditures among both public and private institutions nationwide, according to the National Science Foundation. For more information, visit