December 15, 2016

Mention the word family and most people tend to think only of their parents, siblings, and relatives. But if you are a student, employee, or alumnus of this College, you are a member of another family – the ACPHS family.

That was very clearly on display at the recent American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Midyear meeting that I attended in Las Vegas. For those unfamiliar with this event, the Midyear Meeting is the largest gathering of pharmacists in the world. Attendees range from student pharmacists to experienced professionals which is why I like to refer to it as the “career trajectory” conference. With more than 20,000 people filling the meeting spaces, there is an undeniable energy to the event.

The Office of Institutional Advancement hosted a reception at the conference for 150 ACPHS students, faculty, and alumni. There were literally generations of pharmacists present across all different stages of their careers, representing an unbroken lineage of ACPHS’s impact on the profession.

As I walked through the crowded reception, it struck me that all of these people were drawn here by their affinity for ACPHS. It made for a festive atmosphere in the room. Students launching their careers eagerly sought out advice from their future colleagues, and alumni were only too happy to share the wisdom of their experiences. Though it was organized largely as a networking event, it felt more like a family reunion.

The scene at the ASHP reception was reminiscent of the Scholarship Dinner we held earlier this fall. This annual event is an opportunity to thank our donors and have them meet their student scholarship recipients. More than anything, it is a celebration of community.

There was one table at the event that was having an especially good time. The alumni seated here were the force behind the “Be the Change” scholarship. This scholarship was established in honor of Associate Professor Ray Chandrasekara (aka Dr. Ray) by members of the Class of 2011 upon their graduation. On this night, many of them had returned to see their former professor, and as they traded stories back and forth, you could see Dr. Ray beaming at the center of the table.

The Be the Change scholarship is a bit unusual because people tend to give back to their colleges near the end of their careers after they’ve had time to reflect on how the education they received helped shape their lives. These students (now alumni) chose to give back at the start of their careers in recognition of how the school, and in particular Dr. Ray, had already impacted them. By creating this scholarship, this group of alumni was effectively inviting new members to join their family, like putting extra place settings around the dinner table.

For Stan Rolen ’56, ACPHS helped expand his family and, in the process, inspired him to return the favor. I recently met with Stan, and during our meeting he gave me his industrial pharmacy textbook. As I thumbed through the hefty volume, it was clear to me that this had sentimental value to him, which made me appreciate the gesture that much more.

Stan told me the story of how he worked in the family drug store of Oren Bigelow ’42 during high school. One of Oren’s three sons – all of whom were ACPHS graduates – encouraged Stan to look at ACPHS. Stan declined after explaining that he had plans to become a chemical engineer, but he eventually decided to visit the campus. Following a tour of the school, Stan met with Dean O’Brien, and he was admitted that day (the admissions process worked a little differently back then!).

It all turned out very well for Stan who enjoyed a long career at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals as an industrial pharmacist. When Oren passed away, the three sons established a scholarship in their father’s name, and Stan continues to support it to this day. So just as the Bigelows welcomed Stan into their family, he is now doing the same for future students.

I have worked at several different institutions throughout my career, and I can tell you that this type of family dynamic is not something to be taken for granted.

Maybe it’s because of our size. Maybe it’s the focus on community that has long been a hallmark of the College. Maybe it’s about the relationships and the impact they have on careers.

We may never know the exact reason, but whatever it is, it’s something to be celebrated.

Greg Dewey, Ph.D., is President of Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

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