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Convocation Address 2021
M Zhao DP picture resized

Mei Zhao

Distinguished Professor

Professor and Chair Health Administration

Brooks College of Health

A Great Dream Requires a Great Team

Thank you very much Brent for those kind words. My parents would be really proud of me if they were here and could understand English.


Dear President Szymanski, Provost Patterson, Prof. White, and members of the UNF community: I am extremely humbled to be receiving such an important honor: the 2021 UNF Distinguished Professor Award. I am very grateful for the recognition I have received for my work because I am very sure that all the nominees are very deserving to be recognized as this award.  First, I would like to congratulate and honor Dr. Arriale on her Distinguished Professor achievement and her many impressive contributions to UNF, our community and to the Arts.    


When I was told that I have to provide an inspiring address to accept this honor, my colleague Dr. Rob Haley told me:” Please be short!”  ”I am only 5’3”, how much shorter could I be?” Seriously, Isaac Newton once said that “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  


Therefore today, I am really representing our Department of Health Administration from the Brooks College of Health (BCH) in accepting this award, because it is not me who can achieve this much, it is the entire team! I always believe that a great dream requires a great team. While we can do a lot by ourselves, we truly can achieve the impossible with a great team.  Michael Jordon is widely considered to be the greatest basketball player in the history of the game, but he is the first to acknowledge that while “Talent wins games, teamwork wins championships.”


Our department has achieved so many great accomplishments in such a short period of time!!! Look at this year’s awardees, Dr. Rob Haley, our Master of Health Administration (MHA) program director, the 2021 Outstanding Undergraduate teaching award winner, who was also one of the two Outstanding Graduate Teaching award recipients last year.  Dr. Cynthia White-Williams, the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award winner this year, who is also the winner of the reputable Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant this year. Ms. Amy Woodbury, our office manager, won the 2021 USPA Gabor Award Runner-Up. Dr. Hanadi Hamadi, our research leader, has 25 papers either published or accepted during the Covid pandemic in addition to her busy role as UNF’s Vice President of Faculty Association. Dr. Sinyoung Park and Dr.  Jasper Xu, won the Brooks Research Professorship and BCH Dean’s Research Professorship last year.


When we established our department 4 years ago and needed some seed money to start a new department foundation account, Dr. Jeff Harrison, the former Chair of Department of Public Health, immediately took out his check book: “Mei, just tell me how much you need.” Mr. Don Hutton did the same thing. On top of that, Don volunteered to be the first faculty to teach the face-to-face classes in spring 2021 to support the University decision during a very difficult time. Dr. LaRee Moody, our Bachelor of Health Administration (BHA) Program Director, has been working so hard to promote our BHA program to the entire campus with a new minor of health administration. Brent Johnson, our newest faculty, has not only promoted our programs to whoever he can meet (even when he was in the dentist office) but also invited his wife, a local physician, to talk to our students about Covid and how to prevent Covid.

Last but not least, Dr. Shyam Paryani, our Executive Master of Health Administration (EMHA) Program Director, is not only highly committed to our programs, students, and alumni, but also one of the most generous donors to our department by consistently helping students who are in financial needs.


In addition to all the 11 faculty and staff in our department, our programs’ success is also highly dependent on our great Health Administration Advisory Board, a board composed of local healthcare leaders. Dr. Michael Mayo, the new President and CEO of Baptist Health, has served as our Board Chair for the past 10 years who has also been teaching for our MHA program for the past 5 years. Under his outstanding leadership, our Board members got highly involved in our programs and have led our department from one success to another.


Finally, my colleagues from Public Health and BCH are always there whenever I need help. Dr. Michele Moore, how many times you have to remind me: “Mei, there is a deadline for this, a deadline for that.” Without her, I would completely get lost being a new chair. Dr. Cathy Christie, our Associate Dean, how many times you have to help me take care of our frustrated students and parents? Dean Curt Lox, you are always there whenever I need assistance to deal with some challenging issues. And so many more great colleagues from not only BCH, but also the entire UNF campus!!! If I forgot to mention your names, that is because I am getting old and too excited today.


I have been fortunate and blessed to be surrounded by such a great group of faculty, staff, leaders, students, and alumni. Without your support and guidance, I would not be at where I am now. When I am leading the study abroad trips, raising funds for our department, conducting research related to quality and outcomes, organizing national and international conferences, and becoming Osprey hero for helping our community, you are always there! You cannot imagine how much I appreciate this great institution! It is truly a unique UNF! If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.


I am very lucky to work in a department and field that is committed to training and inspiring the next generation of health care leaders. Our students and faculty are passionate about making the world a better place by improving health and health care. Our programs focus on helping students develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills needed to address a wide variety of healthcare challenges such as making the delivery of care safer and more efficient, expanding health insurance coverage and eliminating disparities, as well as designing and improving the performance of the entire health system. William Arthur Ward said: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires”. Over the past 17 years, I have witnessed thousands of our students being inspired and trained to care for people who are at their most vulnerable moment.  It feels great to be part of this great journey.


My dear colleagues from UNF, it is an honor to teach and serve at this extraordinary University. And now, this recognition moves me to work even harder to try to advance our health care system and higher education with every possible tool, especially when we are still experiencing a world-wide pandemic. I am particularly humbled to follow all the previous Distinguished Professor winners and will try my best to be worthy of the great traditions and aspirations of UNF to make our community a better, safer, and fairer place to live and work.


Finally, I would love to thank my parents, my in-laws and the entire family for their unconditional love and support for me over the past half century, even though they cannot understand what I am saying because they do not know English. I would also love to thank my daughter Winnie, who still cannot believe that her simple mom received this honor. Last but not least, my dear friend and husband George, who has stood by my side with unwavering support for almost 30 years.


I am grateful for your support and for allowing me to be a part of the UNF family. Thank you very much for being with me today. I wish you and your family good health, happiness and safety. I do not deserve this award. But like Jack Benny said: “But I have arthritis and I do not deserve that either.” So thank you very much!