Financial support from alumni and friends of the School allows student pharmacists to immerse themselves in learning
By Katie Gerhards
Jenny Lin was born in New York, to parents had who recently immigrated to the U.S. from southeastern China.
“They came here because they wanted me to grow up with opportunities that they never had,” says Lin, a third-year PharmD student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy. She spent most of her first five years with family in China while her parents worked on finding jobs and a place to raise their daughter. They settled in Platteville, Wis., and brought their daughter back to join them.
“Platteville is where I attended grade school and where I completed my undergrad to further my education,” she says. “I am a proud first-generation college student, and I certainly never would’ve thought I could make it this far.”
Since high school, when her chemistry class hosted a pharmacist as a guest speaker, it’s been Lin’s goal to pursue a degree in pharmacy.
“Five years ago, this was all a dream,” she says.
That dream was made possible in part by a scholarship supported by School of Pharmacy alumni, one of dozens that impact nearly 40 percent of the School’s PharmD students.
Lin’s scholarship in particular is supported by alum Ronald Taylor (MS ’66), who spent more than four decades in pharmacy and business before retiring in Florida. Reflecting on his successful career, Taylor was motivated to pay it forward and started an annual pledge to the School several years ago, which evolved into a scholarship fund last year.
“My goal was to help a current pharmacy student with direct financial aid, someone like me, who had to work two or three weeknights and on the weekend in a pharmacy to make ends meet — clearly not ideal, with many an all-nighter, particularly around exam time,” says Taylor.
The first year the Ronald Taylor Scholarship was awarded, he says it helped a PharmD student avoid having to drive hours across the state to work on weekends. Instead, the student could spend more time studying or participating in beneficial student events.
“What a good feeling, to see money well spent so that she was on campus improving her grade point with weekend studies rather than windshield time,” he says.
Lin is seeing the same benefits of the financial support — both for her and for her peers.
“Shifting the focus toward student organizations and volunteering allows my peers and me to be more connected with our community and make changes in real time,” she says. “This sets us up to be successful pharmacists because we develop these leadership skills even before we go out in practice.”
For the 2021–22 academic year, a new scholarship was awarded for the first time, supported by two School of Pharmacy alumni — Armin Gerhardt (BS ‘79, MS ‘88, PhD ’90) and Azita Saleki-Gerhardt (BS ’88, MS ’91, PhD ’93) — who were also motivated to pay it forward and help PharmD students enhance their educational experience at the School.
“Armin and I are deeply thankful for the strong education we received from the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy,” says Saleki-Gerhardt, executive vice president, operations at AbbVie. “We wouldn’t be in the position we are today without the strong foundation the School of Pharmacy provided us in science, research, and critical thinking that helped us develop the leadership skills necessary to accelerate our careers. With the Saleki-Gerhardt Family Scholarship, our goal is to help School of Pharmacy students from diverse backgrounds pursue a similar world-class education and build a solid foundation on which to grow their careers in whatever industry or field they choose.”
The 2021–22 PharmD scholarship recipients were honored during a brunch in October, featuring a series of speakers — including UW–Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin — that presented a unique opportunity: Lin and Taylor were able to meet and get to know each other.
“Meeting Mr. Taylor in person and getting to know him has made this experience even more impactful for me because we need to be reminded that our donors are not just passively reading our scholarship applications,” Lin says. “Our donors are people who went through challenging journeys themselves and they give back to students who resonate with them, going through similar challenges.”
On behalf of her peers, Lin offers gratitude for what the financial support of a scholarship has enabled her to do.
“I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all of the donors who make this possible year after year for my peers and me,” says Lin.