Sherry Williams endured a lot of sleepless nights studying to be a pharmacist. But the hard work paid off for the 30-year-old single mother who had a 4.0 GPA and was valedictorian of Chicago State University’s (CSU) inaugural class of College of Pharmacy graduates.
On May 17, CSU conferred doctorate of pharmacy degrees for the first time.
During the hooding ceremony the day before, CSU President Wayne Watson, Ph.D., told the class of 77 students that the day was at least five years in the making and was just as special to the South side public university as it was to the students.
“You’re looking at the first doctoral (graduates) in the health sciences that CSU has produced in the school’s 145 year history,” Watson said.
At the hooding ceremony the graduating students received vestige overlays that were lined in olive- toned velvet, which represented the pharmacy profession, and the green and white colors of the university.
During his brief remarks, Watson boasted facts about CSU’s brand new pharmacy program.
It “has been recognized as the most diverse pharmacy program in Illinois,” said Watson. He added that the program ranked No. 11 nationwide in minority student enrollment.
The first graduating class was a one-third split each of white, Asian a combined group that included African Americans, Hispanics, Africans and other ethnicities. They all took an oath and some received special awards.
The graduates started in the pharmacy program in the fall of 2008. University officials said getting the program to the school was a hard-fought battle, but one that CSU would not relent on. The CSU pharmacy program’s dean said it was important to bring the program to the university so that students from different backgrounds could get the chance to study in the field traditionally dominated by white males.
“In our mission, we’re about providing opportunity for individuals who might otherwise not have been afforded that opportunity. Hence the diversity, the high degree of diversity, we have in our program,” Miriam Mobley Smith, Phar.D., told the Chicago Citizen. She is the dean of the College of Pharmacy. “We were out to make a difference in that area.”
Mobley Smith added that the program’s diversity wasn’t simply about race and ethnicity, but about differences in life circumstances. She pointed out that the students were dealing with issues like parenthood, and caring for elderly or ailing parents. Mobley Smith said the school worked with the students as they handled the rigors of the pharmacy program and dealt with the everyday realities of the home life.
“Life doesn’t stop when you pursue your education. So the environment that we created here was one that was embracive. And it wasn’t about lowering standards or excusing people,” she said. “We had an environment that was flexible enough so that they could be successful.”
Mobley Smith explained that the program garnered “extensive” support from the business community. CVS Pharmacy sponsored the hooding event and Walgreen’s gave the program $1 million. Other retail pharmacies embraced the program as well, helping the school to have a 71 percent residency placement.
Williams, who lives on Chicago’s West side, is headed to Rush University Medical Center for her residency.
Another one of her fellow graduates will begin his residency with a big name retailer.
Charles Nolis Anderson started at CSU after graduating from Kenwood Academy high school. He was part of the inaugural class of pharmacy grads and will do his residency with Target.
Mobley Smith reflected on the overall program and explained that she would look to maintain the low student-to-faculty ratio and expand the pharmacy school’s research abilities in areas such as drug discoveries. She said enrollment in the program would not exceed 90 students each year.
“We want to make sure Chicago State is truly on the map” in the industry, said Mobley Smith.
By Rhonda Gillespie