Dominique Pepe couldn’t get enough of ACPHS. So, she came back after 10 years away.
Pepe, an Amsterdam, N.Y. native, received her Bachelor's in Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2012 from ACPHS. Now, she’s working on her doctorate.
She grew up in a close-knit family that owned and operated a bakery for more than 100 years. After her high school graduation, the family sold the business, and she went off to college. Pepe attended the 7,000-student Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences for her first year, later transferring her second year to be closer to home.
Being part of a smaller community, like the one she grew up in, was also a selling point when Pepe decided to transfer.
“It felt like a small community and felt like a family,” she said, “especially the Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Sciences’ program because I think I was (in) the second or third class that joined the program.”
Pepe’s cousin attended Northeastern University to earn a Pharm.D. degree, piquing an already budding interest she had in the profession, medications, and their impact, both good and bad.
"The opioid epidemic affected me and my family and learning about medications was just so interesting to me,” she said. “I think the negative effects of the opioid epidemic pushed me to want to learn more about helping people.”
In Pepe’s initial three years at ACPHS, she had research published in academic journals, worked closely with faculty on research, and made professional connections that helped her succeed after graduation. She secured a job at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in Rensselaer in the manufacturing department in drug formulation. That’s where she stayed for nine years.
During her years at Regeneron, she gained valuable industry experience and felt satisfied that her work ultimately made a difference in patients’ lives. But eventually, she yearned for more interaction with the people her work benefited.
“I felt a disconnect from the patients that we were helping,” Pepe said. This feeling pushed Pepe to quit her job and reapply to ACPHS to pursue her Pharm.D.
In order to be on track in the program before her August 2021 start, Pepe had to complete courses through ACPHS, the University at Albany and Hudson Valley Community College. The transition from established professional to returning student came with a bit of a learning curve.
“In terms of leaving my career after nine years to go back to college with students that were 10 years younger than me, was a culture shock,” she said. “I had a lot of moments of like, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing?’”
Pepe highlighted one of those instances with a laugh: “There was a moment when I asked a student, ‘Oh, how do you communicate with each other?’ Because back in school in 2009, we used AOL Instant Messenger. And the student goes, ‘Oh, well, do you use text messaging on your phone?’”
Of course, Pepe was used to texting on her phone. Her classmates answer suddenly made her feel silly. “I said, ‘All right, well, there it is. There's the humbling experience as an older student.’”
While the return to college was overwhelming at times, Pepe said being a non-traditional student has helped her manage her time, connect with her professors, and become a teaching assistant in her pharmacy skills courses. She’s been able to advise students based on her experience as a former bachelor’s student and professional in the field.
“I’ve given some students some advice and I heard a couple of students say, ‘oh, that's helpful for me. Thank you.’ And just that little bit of help, even though it's not career changing, it makes me feel good to help other students,” she said. “I would encourage students to reach out to people who have worked in the industry and any type of industry.”
As a full-time student, Pepe has dedicated her time to her coursework and connecting with patients. She works part-time compounding at Menges & Curtis Apothecary in Saratoga Springs (pictured, above).
“Taking the part-time job has been wonderful,” she said, adding that she always wants to be productive. “Growing up in a bakery and working with my hands and recipes — it led to college, where I did formulation research, and then I had a career in formulation, and when I took Pharmacy Skills 1 and 2, I was compounding and capsule punching, and I absolutely fell in love with that niche of pharmacy.”
She believes she has found her life’s work in compounding.
When asked about the reaction of her family after announcing she was leaving her job to pursue her Pharm.D. at her alma mater, Pepe said they were surprised but very supportive.
“My partner and I have been engaged since 2019 so when I said, ‘I have news,’ everyone was hoping that we had set a wedding date,” she said with a laugh. “Instead, it was, ‘I'm quitting my job and going back to school.’”
The support from her partner (whom she met while working at Regeneron), family, and friends has helped her as she works hard to balance schoolwork, her pharmacy job, and personal life.
“I have a strong, strong relationship with my family,” she said when explaining what her life outside of ACPHS is like. “Everyone’s been super-supportive and proud of me. They tell me how much they are proud of me and how I'll be proud of myself in the end when I finish this endeavor.”