In 1999, Laramie Smith had lost her determination to go to college. She wondered what college would look like, how she would get there, how she could pay for it and what doors it could open. “They were mysteries I couldn't even begin to comprehend. I just knew I could do better with my life,” remembers the Lacey native. As she was looking into her options, Laramie applied for and received a GSBA scholarship. “I found myself without parents who could embody unconditional love and support, but I was suddenly and unexpectedly embraced by the LGBTQ community.”
Fast-forward 15 years: Laramie R. Smith, PhD, is a behavioral health scientist whose research is devoted to the prevention and treatment needs of HIV-affected and medically underserved communities.
Laramie received her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in American cultural studies from Western Washington University. She worked on the Centers for Disease Control’s National HIV/AIDS Behavioral Surveillance study in conjunction with the Seattle–King County Department of Public Health’s HIV/AIDS Program, examining the intersection of substance use and housing vulnerabilities among adolescent and adult populations at the University of Washington.
She earned her doctorate in social psychology from the University of Connecticut. During her doctoral training, she received a National Research Service Award from the National Institute of Health to develop and evaluate a theory-based approach to retention in HIV care in the Bronx. Through a complementary line of research, Laramie continues to investigate mechanisms through which HIV, drug use and methadone maintenance-related stigmas disrupt individuals’ prevention and treatment behaviors.
She worked at the Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP) on a large project in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. As an extension of this trial, she integrated her work in HIV care with her investigation and support of the needs of newly diagnosed patients who were not yet eligible for antiretroviral therapy.
Laramie is currently a postdoctoral fellow at University of California San Diego School of Medicine’s Division of Global Public Health. Her research interests include infectious disease prevention, treatment and care; health disparities; medically vulnerable and underserved populations; LGBTQ health; health behavior theory; intervention development and evaluation; and structural equation modeling.
As the first GSBA scholar to receive four years of consecutive funding, Laramie gained just as much, if not more, from the knowledge that an entire community believed in her ability to thrive and provide leadership in the face of adversity. “This personal connection gave me strength and resolve to attain my education and invest my efforts back into in the health of the LGBTQ and other marginalized communities,” she says. “This support is more than I could have ever expected when I opened my first scholarship award letter in 1999. It has laid a solid foundation from which I continue to approach life's challenges and value my successes.”