Carson Smith: Leading the Florida Way

Carson Smith & Sian Hoctor
Sian Hoctor and Carson Smith, Vice President and President of the Class of 2022, respectively.

If you know Carson Smith, you know the DMD Class of 2022 president, president of the Dental Ambassadors, winner of the National Student Research Group President’s Award two years ago, “Friend of Albert” – yes, that Albert – as captain of the Florida Gators Mascot Program, and chair of the Florida Letterman Awards, or FLAs, for the University Athletic Association this year.

And that’s, quite literally, just a few of the top — and recent — highlights of Smith’s seven-page resume detailing a long list of accomplishments, research endeavors, awards, community service and areas of involvement during his time at the University of Florida.

Carson Smith Class of 2022 President & Albert Mascot
Smith carrying on the Albert tradition at commencement as part of the Florida Gators Mascot Program.

On May 14, Smith walked across the UF commencement stage for the second time to earn his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree with High Research Honors to cap off eight years in Gainesville as a double-Gator after earning his undergraduate degree as a double-major in nutritional sciences and microbiology & cell sciences from UF’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences in 2018.

He has done it all, and then some, in Gainesville, but what’s most remarkable is the way he balanced the demands of dental school, extracurriculars and being class president, while being a well-respected, consummate professional and taking a measured, compassionate, kind and fun approach to being an exceptional class leader and advocate throughout dental school that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact on the college, faculty, staff and his classmates, alike.

“Carson is a natural leader,” DMD Class of 2022 advisor Marcelle Nascimento, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., remarked. “He is wise, dedicated, focused, kind, compassionate, and he communicates really well with faculty, staff and students. He is hardworking and his actions served as a great example for the class. That is what we should expect from great leaders like him. What an experience – to have worked side-by-side with an amazing human being like Carson. I am going to miss Carson and this class tremendously.”

Carson Smith 2015 Pre-Dental Fair
Smith at the 2015 Pre-Dental Fair as an undergraduate at UF.

An Orlando native, Smith’s parents Craig and Linda were both pharmacists, inspiring him towards a career in healthcare where he could combine science, art, leadership, a business acumen and an entrepreneurial spirit.

And that’s exactly the path he set out on. While Smith had many interests during undergrad at UF – the mascot program being one of them after being raised on UF football games each fall growing up – he found the most value at that time being involved in the UF Pre-Dental Society and serving as a dental assistant at a local practice to set the table for the ultimate goal: dental school.

In quite rare fashion, Smith was president of the pre-dental society, then served as a national pre-dental consultant for the American Student Dental Association, or ASDA, then transitioned right to dental school at UFCD where he applied to be interim class representative his first year, and then ran for class president. The rest is history.

Nascimento proposal
The DMD Class of 2022 ‘proposed’ to Dr. Marcelle Nascimento, inviting her to serve as the class advisor.

“My role with ASDA prior to dental school really showed me my passion for being a voice, organizing and leading my peers,” Smith said. “I was able to come in to dental school as pre-dental society president. I came in with a lot of those same people and we had already formed those relationships right away.”

Then, the fun began.

Smith has left a reputation and legacy of being an excellent communicator, advocate and creating an enjoyable, family-like dynamic for his class, despite the rigor and stress of dental school.  

Easter weekend approaching? Here comes the “Easter Bunny” hopping from clinic to clinic, department to department with eggs full of candy. Holiday season? Perfect opportunity to don “ugly sweaters” while distributing candy canes and holiday cards to the college from the DMD Class of 2022. Tough day of exams? Everyone’s heading to Flip Factory to let off some steam in the multi-level trampoline park. The list goes on – baby showers, weddings, nature outings, faculty and staff appreciation efforts.

Carson easter bunny
Smith, alongside VP Sian Hoctor, as the Easter Bunny in 2021.

“Those things are a nice way to break up the day-to-day to bring excitement and energy to the class,” Smith said. “Really, from the beginning, we wanted to make sure we had an amazing class culture, to boost morale and bring everyone together. Those little things ended up leaving a lasting impression.”

Mission accomplished. Yet, he still found time to participate in the Summer Research Program in the Dr. Bernadett Papp Lab, present at the Hinman Student Research Symposium, compete in the Hatton Competition – and place second – at the American Association of Dental Research conference, earn a travel grant and several scholarships, represent UFCD at numerous events as a Dental Ambassador, and showcase the best of the college to prospective and aspiring dental students as an Admissions Outreach Ambassador.

“I told Carson, you have taught me so much,” Associate Dean for Advocacy & Inclusion Patty Probert, Ph.D., said. “He taught me so much about leadership, student life, and about communication. I am so thankful for that.”

A global pandemic probably wasn’t in the plans. But Smith took that in stride, and thrived, hoping to represent his classmates and their struggles to help them cope through the once-in-a-lifetime event.

“COVID was by far the biggest challenge,” he said. “The college’s response was naturally from an organizational perspective, but it was really great as a class leader being in on those discussions to give the student perspective so that we could have more input on our learning and education during that time, and to help curate solutions to the different problems we were facing.”

And about that Florida Gators Mascot Program that intrigued him so much during undergrad? Heading into his third year of dental school, the timing finally seemed right after Smith received a flyer advertising the program in the middle of COVID.

Carson Smith_Albert
Smith as Albert, alongside Alberta.

“Coming to UF, I had researched it a few times. Ultimately there were other things that took precedence at that time to position me better for dental school. I never thought it would happen.”

But like everything he tackled during dental school, being in the mascot program was no different. Smith auditioned with Dazzlers and Mascot Coordinator Casey Reed after discussing the time constraints and schedule with Probert, and quickly eased in to a new, challenging schedule in the midst of COVID-19, establishing himself as a leader at the UAA as eventual captain of the program.

Efficiency with his time became even more of a priority as a “Friend of Albert.” Despite his studies, Smith would work UFCD’s emergency clinics to earn time off to devote to the mascot program. Not to mention attending mandatory workouts, partaking in creative content and event planning meetings, representing at sporting events, commercial shoots – including traveling with Albert to the Nissan Heisman House, to Tallahassee for Gator Days, and various other Gator alumni and recruitment events each month.

Being involved in the mascot program opened up a whole new world of opportunities for Smith, including a Gatortown Gators Spirit Squad Scholarship, and the chance to serve as chair for athletics’ annual FLAs ceremony where he was a recipient of the Florida Way Award.

Class of 2022 Code of Conduct Ceremony
The DMD Class of 2022 following their Code of Conduct signing ceremony as first-year Gator Dentists.

While the Heisman House was a fond memory with Albert, Smith’s favorite house was his own that he shared with three other dental school roommates not far from UFCD. It became a common gathering space for the Class of 2022 – lunch break hang outs, holiday party host house, end-of-year clinic party house – made all the more memorable after the class hadn’t gathered in some time due to COVID.

“Being class president gave me a greater perspective on how to advocate for others and a greater insight into what other students are facing,” Smith said. “I gained perspective on certain situations working with a large group and understanding different viewpoints, perspectives and challenges to find a solution that works for the vast majority. As a class, we wanted to leave UFCD in a better spot for the future classes of Gator Dentists.”

And he’s done just that as the leader of the DMD Class of 2022 after a rich experience at the University of Florida, where he’s given so much. Smith is off to private practice now at Village Dental in The Villages, but he’s left a little magic and inspiration behind in the process, cementing his legacy as an exceptional leader who has set the standard for leading the Florida Way.