Paying it forward: Michael Smith

Dr. Michael Smith poses for a portrait

Michael Smith, M.D. (BSA ’79), credits relationships, community, and compassion as the driving factors that enabled him to make a difference in both his personal and professional journeys.

Those factors motivated him to support the University of Georgia, where he established the Collegiate Equity Scholarship Fund and the Collegiate Equity Experiential Learning Fund.

Even before attending Cedar Shoals High School in Athens, Smith had his sights set on UGA but knew he would need financial aid to attend. He was one of four children, all of whom were attending college in overlapping years.

During high school, he connected with the late Bob Argo (BBA ’50), a longtime state representative, former UGA Alumni Association president, and father of Georgia’s First Lady, Marty Kemp (BSHE ’90). In the first of many interactions Smith would have with countless mentors, Argo shared a list of financial aid resources, one of which resulted in Smith landing a four-year scholarship at UGA.

“I didn’t have to worry about the financial strain some of the other kids had and I could not have gone to college without the scholarship,” Smith says. “Because of that, I was able to go to UGA, where I had a remarkable experience, and I got a degree and an education.”

Smith benefited from a litany of personal advocates who provided deep, supportive relationships as his career progressed. Over time, Smith took on a variety of prestigious roles, including heading up one of Atlanta’s first Black-led cardiothoracic surgery groups. But one question never left his mind: Who created the scholarship that enabled his UGA experience?

When Smith reached out to UGA, the answer surprised him—the scholarship was provided by the university itself. As it turned out, the university he believed in before he even got into high school had also believed in him.

“I don’t know how it happened, but their willingness to gamble on me changed my life,” says Smith, who is today the founder and CEO of Marti Health, an organization focused on driving better care coordination through patient engagement for socially disadvantaged populations.

The revelation further strengthened Smith’s commitment to give back to UGA—the university helped him, so now perhaps he could help the university by strengthening its support for students. Smith set up his funds in 2021, in the hopes of providing opportunities for at-risk students and students with financial need.

“I know there are students who leave every year not because they’re not academically competitive, but because they are just not financially able to support themselves,” Smith says. “The idea is that there will be, in perpetuity, academically capable kids who won’t be hampered by financial obstacles because those who benefitted before them paid it forward.”