Camille Schrier won the title of Miss Virginia in June with the help of her science-related talent exhibition — a demonstration of the catalytic conversion of hydrogen peroxide that created a dramatic burst of colored foam on the pageant stage.
That win and the video of her demonstration led millions to see her story on TV news reports, social media and websites. She has been hailed for breaking stereotypes and as a role model for young women.
But most people have no idea of the disorder that helped inspire her career in science.
Camille is living with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a genetic condition that affects body tissue, joints and blood vessels. She was diagnosed when she was 11.
“It definitely got me interested in science and medicine because there’s no treatment for this right now,” Camille says. “There was a lot of genetic information regarding EDS and genetics was something I was always really interested in. This is was a further interest, in terms of genetics, for me to look at and think about how that could help us diagnose people.”
Camille’s family noticed something was wrong as soon as she was born: Camille was born with her hips dislocated. She also fell a lot as a child and was prone to injuries because EDS can make people less stable. She found out she had EDS when she went to see an orthopedic surgeon for scoliosis, which her family learned was caused by her EDS.
She lives with pain from the condition. Her level of pain varies in intensity from day to day, sometimes making her feel like she has the flu.
“It’s not like shooting, burning or electric pain. It’s kind of a dull chronic achiness that I get frequently,” she says. “It … rarely interferes with my everyday life. But it’s definitely a reminder that it’s there.”
EDS affects about 1 in 5,000 people. There are 13 different types, classified based on the symptoms and signs that patients show. Common symptoms include loose and unstable joints that can lead to frequent dislocations, joint pain, fragile skin that can bruise easily, and poor wound healing. EDS can cause early onset osteoarthritis, scoliosis, musculoskeletal pain, arterial/intestinal/uterine fragility or rupture, poor muscle tone and gum disease.
Camille has classic EDS, which affects the genes in her type V collagen. Symptoms include joint hypermobility, skin hyperextensibility and skin fragility that leads to scarring and bruising.
It is a genetic condition. Camille and her mother, Cheryl Schrier, were both diagnosed at the same time. Cheryl Schrier says she would get injured frequently as a teenager but was consistently blown off as being “overdramatic.”
“Camille was experiencing some of the same [experiences I had],” Cheryl says. “Her swim coach told her she was ‘trying to get out of the hard work’ when her shoulder dislocated repeatedly during backstroke practices, and field hockey coaches told her to ‘walk off’ ankle subluxations and hand injuries.”
Camille says she hopes her condition helps people, particularly healthcare professionals and pharmacy students, understand that EDS is “wildly misdiagnosed” and more common than people realize since there are many different strains of the disorder.
“I have something that causes me pain constantly and causes me injury and chronic fatigue sometimes,” she says. “That’s something I deal with, and there are many other people that have illnesses that are not obvious.”
Camille has taken a one-year leave of absence from her Pharm.D. studies. She is currently travelling the state, sharing her STEM platform as Miss Virginia. She will compete in the Miss America pageant in September.
A VCU School of Pharmacy research team is studying how aging affects the ways drugs interact with the body. The results may help doctors better manage medications in older patients.
The aim is to better understand why older people seem to metabolize drugs more slowly, with the goal of someday seeing fewer adverse drug reactions and hospitalizations among the elderly, said the principal investigator, Joseph McClay, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the VCU School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science.
Older patients are almost seven times as likely to be hospitalized for adverse drug reactions than younger ones, according to a 2006 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. A separate study in the United Kingdom found that adverse drug reactions contributed to 6.5% of hospital admissions and primarily occurred in older patients.
The causes for these disparities are not well known, McClay said.
The study, supported by a $454,000 grant from the National Institute on Aging, will explore how genetic factors that are turned on and off by the body — a process known as epigenetics — affect how the body interacts with medications as it ages.
The body’s genes, its DNA, do not change over time. But its epigenetics, how the body expresses those genes, does. The VCU team will begin the process of tracking how these epigenetic changes affect the body’s reaction to drugs.
McClay and his colleagues — Elvin Price, Pharm.D./Ph.D., and Matthew Halquist, Ph.D., in the VCU School of Pharmacy and Mikhail Dozmorov, Ph.D., and Patrick Beardsley, Ph.D., in the VCU School of Medicine — and a team of graduate students will begin by mapping age-related changes in key genes using samples of livers from aged mice from the National Institute on Aging.
This map of epigenetic changes, McClay said, will help researchers understand how the liver, the body’s main organ for metabolizing drugs and other outside chemicals, could interact with medicines in older bodies.
Once the mapping is complete, the team plans to focus on a gene known as CYP2E1, which is part of the liver’s system of metabolizing chemicals such as drugs and alcohol and has been shown by the VCU team and others to be expressed differently in older bodies.
In particular, the VCU researchers will study how chlorzoxazone, a drug metabolized by CYP2E1, is affected. If livers from older mice metabolize the drug more slowly, as McClay and his team predict, this could lead to greater understanding of the reasons that older humans are affected differently by medications. and iIn time this could lead to better medication dosing in elderly patients.
“That is the point, in the end,” McClay said. “We want to keep people healthy.”
Elvin T. Price, Pharm.D./Ph.D., has been named Victor A. Yanchick professor and director of the Geriatric Pharmacotherapy Program at VCU School of Pharmacy. He takes over the roles from longtime professor Patricia Slattum, who retired earlier this year.
The Yanchick professorship is named for Victor A. Yanchick, dean of the School of Pharmacy from 1996 to 2014, and has the goal of providing sustained leadership for the geriatrics program.
“We are thrilled that Dr. Price has agreed to take on this role and lead the Geriatric Pharmacotherapy Program,” said Joseph T. DiPiro, Archie O. McCalley chair and dean of the School of Pharmacy. “His experience and dedication to improving health among older patients will guide the program into the future of geriatric medicine.”
Price joined VCU School of Pharmacy in 2017 from University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy, where he was an assistant professor, as an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science. He also is affiliated with VCU’s Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation (iCubed), focusing on health and wellness in aging populations.
“Older adults have a special place in my heart,” Price said. “As a child I witnessed several of my older relatives live with, and die from, diabetes and heart diseases. This suffering inspired me to pursue a career studying the impact of genetic variation on aging and how people respond to medications.”
Price earned his doctorate in pharmacy from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and his Ph.D. in clinical pharmaceutical sciences and pharmacogenomics from the University of Florida. His published research has focused largely on pharmacogenomics and personalized medicine, as well as on health issues such as diabetes and substance abuse.
Camille Schrier’s science and medical education led her to stop taking part in pageants. That same education helped her become Miss Virginia 2019.
Schrier, 23, a doctor of pharmacy student at Virginia Commonwealth University, was awarded the statewide title in Lynchburg on June 22. She was one of 24 contestants. As Miss Virginia, she will represent the commonwealth in the Miss America competition.
Instead of dance or baton twirling, Schrier’s winning talent presentation featured her in a white lab coat and safety goggles mixing chemicals to create spouts of colorful foam that shot far above the stage.
A few days after her win, Schrier stopped by VCU.
“It’s been crazy,” she said. “It’s been a wild ride.” She recalled being escorted from the competition after her win by guards who ushered her into a waiting car. “I felt like the president,” she added with a laugh.
Schrier is in the process of moving into a Roanoke apartment provided to her as part of her reign. She will take a year off from her studies at VCU to tour the state and share her campaign platform of STEM awareness and drug safety.
“I’m trying to be like Bill Nye [the science guy],” she said. “That’s what I’m going for. I want to get kids excited, but I don’t want it to be boring.”
Schrier, a Pennsylvania native, said she was an athletic kid, never a “girly-girl.” She attributes her love of science and nature to an eighth-grade science class. When she was 14, she became interested in pageants as a creative outlet.
The process taught her more than she expected, she said: “It taught me a lot about being professional … in terms of just being able to prepare a resume, go into an interview confidently, and how to prepare for something like that.”
Schrier participated in pageants from age 14 until she started college four years later. She graduated cum laude from Virginia Tech in 2018 with degrees in biochemistry and systems biology. She entered VCU’s Doctor of Pharmacy program last year.
Lauren Caldas, Pharm.D., an assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy, taught Schrier in a challenging first-year pharmacy foundations course.
“In a class where a lot of students can become very stressed, she shined and was just a wonderful person to be around. She was always an example of professionalism,” Caldas said.
Around the time Schrier started pharmacy school, she learned that the Miss America pageant had been revamped — eliminating the swimsuit competition and emphasizing professionalism and social impact. That, and the possibility of scholarships, reignited her interest. The Miss America organization says it is the nation’s top provider of scholarships for young women.
Building on her pharmacy education, Schrier decided she would make her platform “Mind Your Meds,” focusing on drug safety and abuse prevention. Since Schrier did not have much experience in performing, she realized she would have to find a way to highlight her talents that was entertaining on stage.
After looking online for science experiments for kids, she came across an experiment sometimes called “elephant toothpaste” that demonstrates the rapid decomposition of hydrogen peroxide using potassium iodide as a catalyst. The result is a dramatic burst of foam.
She acquired some industrial-strength hydrogen peroxide and practiced the experiment in the driveway of her apartment complex, adding food coloring to the foam. When she tried it in an outdoor car wash, the foam shot out so violently it hit the ceiling, staining it. (She scrubbed it clean with bleach.)
Her science experiment helped her win a regional title, Miss Dominion, making her eligible for the Miss Virginia pageant. Because the Miss Virginia competition would be held in a large space, she made her experiment bigger, with larger flasks and even more dramatic jets of brightly colored foam. She won the preliminary talent award.
“I expected to hear some feedback saying that my talent wasn’t really a talent,” Schrier said. “But I will tell you, I was overwhelmed with messages saying how cool my talent was, how refreshing it was and how everyone was impressed that I was able to tie education and science into something that was also entertaining.”
David Holdford, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science in the VCU School of Pharmacy, worked with Schrier on her research fellowship.
“After finding out she was competing for Miss Virginia, I was really happy for her,” Holdford said. “To me, it seemed her focus on medication safety and science were very innovative and would give her a chance to win.”
After her year as Miss Virginia, Schrier plans to return to VCU to complete her pharmacy degree. She had applied to three pharmacy schools but said VCU “blew every other school out of the water.”
“It’s a community of people that help each other and that’s something that immediately drew me to want to be a student here,” she said.
Schrier is not the only VCU pharmacy student to participate in the Miss Virginia competition. Taylor Reynolds, Miss Arlington, is a rising third-year Pharm.D. student and was one of the top 12 contestants who competed with Schrier on June 22. Last year Reynolds was second runner-up, winning $4,000 in scholarships.
In 2007, then-School of Pharmacy student Traci Poole, now founder and CEO of Apothecary pharmacy in Nashville, was second runner-up in the pageant. “I’ll forever be grateful for the years of experience in pageantry with the Miss VA USA system as it honed so many essential skills such as public speaking, networking, advocating for something I’m passionate about, and thinking critically on my feet,” Poole wrote in an email. “All of which have enabled success for my career no matter the opportunity that arises!”
Schrier said her education in the sciences has not always been easy.
“I didn’t have that kind of role model who had gone through the same experiences that I had of being an undergrad in a science career,” she said. “And now I’m in a graduate program. It’s not easy [getting a science degree] and I want to be that person to go out there and encourage and show them that I did it. And so can you.”
Watch her winning science experiment on stage at the Miss Virginia pageant in this home video:
Watch #VCUPharmacy student Camille Schrier wow the judges for Miss Virginia with her talent performance — the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide!
As part of the school’s Heritage Trail project documenting the history of pharmacy in Virginia and across the world, we have worked with Ost Haus, a creative agency and video production company in Richmond, and alumnus Al Schalow (B.S./Pharm ’61) to present a series of short videos.
Each of the four videos summarizes an aspect of pharmacy history. They are narrated by Schalow and feature illustrations created originally for National Geographic.
We are proud to share these educational videos. They’re a perfect way to introduce people to the profession’s long and illustrious history, and would be ideal for young students.
(Above) Part 1: Potions and Poisons In part 1, Schalow travels to prehistoric times and ancient lands to explore the ways plant medicines and other remedies were discovered and refined.
Part 2: Ancient Pharmacy In this video Schalow discusses ancient civilizations around the world that discovered and refined medications that still are familiar in pharmacy today.
Part 3: Frauds vs. Folk Wisdom Schalow examines the wild days of U.S. pharmacy that brought us patent medicines and dangerous quacks — and how the nation responded.
Part 4: Helpful and Hazardous In “Helpful and Hazardous,” Schalow focuses on the double-edged sword of drugs that can save and enrich lives — and also endanger individuals and society.
On the tables of a gray classroom sit red buckets with hazard signs, latex gloves, cotton balls and black zippered bags. Twelve students, all teenagers, are seated at the tables. The scent of alcohol rises from opened packets as they nervously wipe their fingertips, trying to be brave.
One student takes out a meter from the black bag and inserts a small test strip. Her hand shakes as she aligns a needle with her finger, but she can not go through with it. She asks the instructor to do it for her.
“OK,” says instructor Mason Bader, a third-year pharmacy student. “On three. One —” A small snap rings out. The girl flinches, then sighs in relief. She massages her finger until a small drop of blood appears.
The students are taking part in the first year of the Pharmacy Summer Scholars program for high schoolers who are interested in a career in pharmacy. The program ran from June 17 to 21.
Most of the students are from the Richmond region; one is from California. Jasia Redmond is a rising junior from Hanover High School and heard about Pharmacy Summer Scholars through her school’s pharmacy program called The Specialty Center.
“I decided to do this because I was interested to learn more about pharmacy,” Redmond says. “It seemed interesting.”
The program is a part of VCU Pipeline Programs. Participants are charged $50 to cover food and materials, with waivers available. These programs aim to educate students on different health-science careers and diversify the health-care workforce and are offered to middle, high and college students. Middle schoolers can participate in a program offered called Pharmacy Explorers that is similar to the Pharmacy Summer Scholars.
Taryn Hayes, assistant director of recruitment and pipeline programs at VCU School of Pharmacy, is in charge of the Pharmacy Scholars program.
“I want students to have an understanding of pharmacy and the other career pathways that you can go into with a degree in pharmacy,” Hayes says. “I also want them to know about social determinants of health and why culture is important when administering care. Like how you create treatment plans based on a person’s culture. I want them to understand what culture is and how that impacts the way they treat patients.”
The five-day program features activities, discussion and lessons. Jordan Gray is a rising junior. He says one of his favorite parts of the program has been tic-tac-toe. The students play a variation of the classic game to test what they have learned so far. “It was fun,” Gray says, “it was very competitive and it opened us up to each other.”
The program also offers plenty of hands-on activities. On a recent day, in addition to a lecture about blood pressure, blood glucose
and body mass index, third-year pharmacy students Mason Bader and Nick Suarez show students how to take blood pressure and test glucose levels — the purpose of that scary needle prick.
“We take blood to measure glucose because glucose likes to stick to our red blood cells,” Bader says. “Glucose levels are measured in millimeters of glucose per liter of blood.”
Pharmacists are trained to take vital signs such as heart rate, breathing rate and body mass index in addition to blood pressure and glucose levels, the instructors explain. Suarez demonstrates how to take someone’s blood pressure using a blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope.
“After pumping up the cuff, you deflate it slowly while watching the needle fall back down,” Saurez says. “You listen for the first ‘glug,’ which is the blood rushing back in your arm, and keep a note of what number the needle passes when doing so. Then you listen for the last ‘glug’ and see what number the needle passes.”
He takes Bader’s blood pressure. The first glug is at 172, Suarez announces, the last at 72. “So his blood pressure is 117 over 72, which is normal,” Suarez says.
Another hands-on activity is led by Wylie Crane, a fourth-year pharmacy student. She gives a short lecture on compounding. Compounding is when pharmacists prepare medicines by combining or mixing ingredients.
“I call it pharmacy cooking because you take the ingredients from scratch and you make something new,” Crane says.
To get experience in compounding, the students head into a lab where they work in pairs to make lip balm—think ChapStick—out of coconut oil, cocoa butter, beeswax and a flavoring. A glass beaker is placed in a water bath to heat the ingredients after they are carefully measured. After the ingredients are melted and mixed together, the students pour the solution into molds to cool.
It’s the same process a doctor in Lynchburg, Virginia, used to invent ChapStick almost 150 years ago, and basically the same process taking place by the millions less than 20 miles away at the country’s only ChapStick factory.
The students take part in other activities such as creating a suspension of medication particles in liquid that can be taken by mouth or rubbed on skin.
And, of course, blood tests for glucose.
“Your glucose level is 105,” instructor Bader tells the student who was so anxious about pricking her finger. “Which is normal.”
The student wraps her injury with a Band-Aid. She looks pleased.
May 22, 2019 For immediate release Contact: Kristen Zimmerman, (804) 628-5074
Kyle G. Robb has been named the American College of Clinical Pharmacy-American Society of Health-System Pharmacists-Virginia Commonwealth University Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow for 2019-20.
Pharmacists selected for the position have the opportunity to gain real-world insight into health care policy analysis and development via immersion in the congressional environment. Fellows are actively mentored in legislative evaluation, policy development, research and writing while integrating practical experience with theory.
Robb currently works as a pharmacy supervisor with the University of Virginia Health System. He holds a Pharm.D. from the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at the University of North Carolina and bachelor’s degrees in history and chemistry from North Carolina State University.
He credits his work at U.Va.’s hospital with his interest in public policy. That experience “put me into contact with many patients with needs that far outweighed their personal resources,” he said.
“There are still many barriers to care facing large portions of the general population and each problem requires an individualized solution,” Robb added. “I’ve seen how barriers in perception can prevent people from seeking care that they did not realize they had access to. I’ve seen well-meaning policies implemented in manners that do not best serve all patients and I have been tasked with finding ways to help the excluded patients. … There are many problems still in need of solutions that collectively represent massive opportunity to better manage healthcare resources and thereby improve people’s lives.”
After completing the fellowship Robb plans to work in health policy as part of government or through academic research.
The Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow program will begin in July. Robb will spend one week at the Brookings Institution and three weeks each with ACCP’s and ASHP’s government affairs offices. Finally, he will embark on his placement within a congressional office or on congressional committee staff in Washington, D.C.
The fellowship program, now directed by VCU School of Pharmacy associate professor Kristin Zimmerman, was founded 12 years ago under the leadership of professor Gary R. Matzke.
For more about the ACCP-ASHP-VCU Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow program, click here or contact director Kristin Zimmerman at email@example.com.
Danielle Hess, a third-year Pharm.D. student at VCU School of Pharmacy, received the prestigious George Archambault Scholarship at APhA’s annual meeting in Seattle earlier this year. The scholarship is awarded to a student who demonstrates leadership and professional experiences that align with the United States Public Health Service core values of service to the underserved, integrity, leadership and academics.
We spoke to her about her passion for public health and how the School of Pharmacy has helped her pursue it.
What got you interested in public health?
I grew up on a Christmas tree farm and my parents and grandparents always said, “You’ve got to work really hard for what you want in life and nothing’s going to be handed to you.”
Then on every mission trip I went on, I saw a lot of people working really hard, but still not getting what they need to survive or to be truly healthy. These people are doing all they can; they just don’t have the resources to get where they need to be. I really loved supplying those resources and going into a community and trying to empower them rather than just, “Here’s a bunch of free stuff, good luck.”
When we went to Honduras with HOMBRE [the Humanitarian Outreach Medical Brigade Relief Effort, a nonprofit organization at VCU] after my first year, we took water purification systems. In years past, they had given them out and said, this is what you can purify your water with. And when they came back the next year, they were being used as flower pots. That’s when they realized something was missing.
When I went, they did it again, and I said, “How about we go to the homes and ask them, can you show me how to use this right now?” We realized a lot of them still didn’t know how. So we spent the rest of that day going around and making sure they all knew how to use the system. That was more empowering them and making sure they could use it in their life.
Talk about your formal work in public health.
I earned a global health certificate in undergrad, and with the mission trips and the research that I did in Thailand through that, I saw a lot of what public health can do in different communities, especially in underserved ones. With that certificate, I had an opportunity to apply to the WHO in Switzerland. I completed an internship at the World Health Organization before starting pharmacy school. It was amazing to see what different people are doing all across the world.
After that internship, I knew I needed to put public health into pharmacy during my career. Then, the U.S. Public Health Service came up my P1 year through a recommendation by Dr. Peron [faculty member Emily Peron, Pharm.D.]. I reached out to a pharmacist who had worked at the Gallup Indian Medical Center, and we spoke for about 45 minutes about it and she encouraged me to apply to their externship.
Through working at the Indian Health Service, I saw that what they’re doing in the community is an awesome way to put public health into pharmacy. You’re seeing patients all day, but then you are going into the community and helping them with things that supplement their medicines. Because if they don’t have the things they need at home, medicines aren’t solving everything.
It gives you the opportunity to see someone’s life as a whole. If they come into clinic you might say, “OK, let’s increase your metformin and let’s get your diabetes under control.” Whereas in public health, we are looking at all aspects of their life, making sure that they have food security, making sure that their life as a whole is optimal to make sure their health can be as well. That’s what I like about it. You’re seeing the bigger picture of people’s lives and then the population as a whole.
How has the school helped you pursue your passion of public health?
At the beginning, it’s intimidating because you don’t exactly know where to go. I just paid attention to what all my professors were doing. That’s why Dr. Peron was the first one I reached out to after I heard that she goes on HOMBRE trips, she’s interested in global health, and she’s out in the community doing things. I contacted her and asked, “Can we sit down and talk about how you got to where you are now?”
She shared many global and public health ideas with me and then it led to reaching out to Dean O [Associate Dean K.C. Ogbonna]. I heard about his work with the Richmond Health and Wellness program and was encouraged to go talk to him. He showed me how he helped set up that whole program and much of the behind the scenes work. It’s amazing how willing everyone is to help you find your path.
– they truly dedicate themselves to students.
Anybody else in particular you want to shout out to?
Dr. [Abigale] Matulewicz wrote my letter of recommendation for the scholarship, and she has been very instrumental in helping me improve my leadership skills through APhA-ASP throughout my time at VCU.
Because ambulatory care has great opportunities for incorporating public health into pharmacy, I reached out to Dr. [Evan] Sisson and Dr. [Dave] Dixon this past year. They took me on as an elective student for both semesters, where I was able to see patients at the Center for Healthy Hearts every week and complete a research project. With their mentorship, I was able to witness many ways a pharmacist can go above and beyond to make sure patients are receiving optimal care, including finding access for those uninsured and making sure that patients are able to afford the medications they are prescribed.
Pharmaceutical engineering and sciences is a field that covers all aspects of drug product design — from drug discovery and preclinical studies to manufacturing, formulation and packaging — and spans various areas including chemical, mechanical and biomedical engineering as well as pharmaceutical sciences, chemistry and materials science. The field is a key component of the $1.2 trillion pharmaceutical industry.
“This new center brings together not only two schools but many areas of expertise across VCU,” said Joseph T. DiPiro, Pharm.D., dean of the School of Pharmacy and Archie O. McCalley Chair. “Working with researchers and industry partners, VCU’s Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Sciences will discover and deliver health products that improve and save lives.”
“VCU’s Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Sciences will help address the growing need for a new generation of researchers trained in cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary science and engineering who see the need for a team-based approach to solving challenges related to the design and manufacturing of pharmaceutical products,” said Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr. Dean of the College of Engineering.
The center has four main goals:
Facilitate multidisciplinary research and educational and entrepreneurial efforts in the field.
Promote a state-of-the-art infrastructure core for the development of pharmaceutical products.
Partner with and provide service to industrial and other stakeholders.
Serve the community in the region, the commonwealth of Virginia and nationwide.
“The Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Sciences will affirm VCU’s place among the nation’s hubs for entrepreneurial research and drug delivery, development and manufacturing,” said Thomas D. Roper, Ph.D., center co-director and a professor of chemical and life science engineering in the College of Engineering.
“By creating a center in which our scholars and experts in various areas can work collaboratively to develop innovative treatments, VCU is putting into action its principles of improving health and investing in research that can make a difference in people’s lives,” said Sandro R.P. da Rocha, Ph.D., co-director of the center and a professor in the Department of Pharmaceutics in the School of Pharmacy.
Both the School of Pharmacy and the College of Engineering have successful records in research. The College of Engineering recorded $18.2 million in sponsored research in 2018; last year the college received $2.2 million from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to support its Pharmacy on Demand initiative. The School of Pharmacy is No. 15 in the nation for research funding from the National Institutes of Health and brought in $9.85 million in research funding last year.
Serving the community seems to come as naturally to pharmacists as breathing. As consummate multitaskers, pharmacy students and working pharmacists consistently give of themselves and their time in a variety of settings. So it makes sense that many of them assume leadership roles.
At least seven living School of Pharmacy alumni now serve or have served as mayors, having been elected by their councils or constituencies as a municipality’s highest-ranking official. Their experiences have differed, depending upon the locale, but they share a common inspiration and aspiration: the desire to make a difference.
Willie Lamar (B.S. ’83) grew up in a family where people were paramount. His father, Jim Lamar (B.S. ’54), was a pharmacist and active with the Boy Scouts, and his mother was a founding member of the local rescue squad. In fact, his parents did emergency dispatching through the drugstore before the existence of 911 centers.
“The issue with small towns is having enough residents to run them,” notes Lamar. “It can be a challenge at times.” But he’s up to the challenge, having been mayor of tiny Madison, Virginia — population 250 — for 18 years.
C.M. Mitchell (B.S. ’71) has served as mayor of Galax, Virginia — population 6,600 — since 1992. He always had “sort of a feel for public service,” he says. “It’s about taking care of people, particularly in a regional environment.”
Making sure you have enough funds to keep things running is paramount, Mitchell says. But one of his proudest moments came when the city of Galax formed a strong working relationship with the two counties of which it is part. “Working together, we can advance much quicker than any of the three entities working by themselves.”
Wanting to “actually help somebody and see the benefits from it” inspired Glen Abernathy (B.S. ’71), mayor of 7,700-population South Boston, Virginia, from 1996 to 2004. “I particularly enjoyed trying to find answers to the problems,” he says.
Under his leadership, Abernathy notes, South Boston was the first city in Virginia to petition the state to become a town again. The results included a wider tax base and much sounder economy.
Nancy McFarlane (B.S. ’80) is serving her fourth two-year term as mayor of the city of Raleigh, North Carolina. (She recently announced that she will not run for a fifth term.)
Running for mayor “wasn’t anything I set out to do,” she says. When her children started school she discovered how much their education depended upon decisions made by county commissioners and, with encouragement from a previous mayor, ended up running for a district city council seat. In time that led to the top position in the 470,000-population metropolis and research hub.
Although McFarlane wasn’t deeply involved in pharmacy school organizations, working with — and for — her fellow citizens “does kind of tie in to that public service piece as to why you become a pharmacist,” she says.
As for Chris Jones (B.S. ’85), the urge to serve led from Suffolk, Virginia, where he served as mayor from 1992 to 1996, to the Virginia House of Delegates, where he now represents residents of the 76th District.
Howard O. Wachsmann (B.S. ’63) served as mayor for the town of Stony Creek in Sussex County, Virginia, for 20 years. He served on the town council for a total of 30 years, from 1966 to 1996.
“I moved back home April 1, 1964, to work in a rural pharmacy,” Wachsmann writes in an email. In 1966 he purchased Stony Creek Pharmacy and ran for town council as a write-in. Two years later he became mayor and served as judge in mayor’s court for about four years (later, Sussex County handled the town’s court cases). “In 1996 I moved out of town so I didn’t run again,” adds Wachsmann, who has a pharmacist son and daughter as well as a grandson currently enrolled in VCU School of Pharmacy. “I enjoyed the rural life and serving the community.”
Curtis H. Smith (B.S. ’75, Pharm.D. ’01) has been in public service in Kilmarnock, Virginia, for years including a term as mayor, 10 terms as vice mayor, and chairman of the planning commission. “I continue to be proud of my alma mater,” he writes.
Galax mayor Mitchell notes that practicing pharmacy has given him a good rapport with people. One of his former co-workers, a member of city council at the time, gave him a feel for how local government worked. Ultimately, he says, “I like doing it, and 99.5 percent of the time it’s very fulfilling.” He adds wryly, “You earn your money on the point-5 percent that’s left!”
Abernathy of South Boston cites as his favorite part of being mayor “just [being able to provide] an overall response to the needs of the community.”
For Madison mayor Lamar, it comes down to “working with people and caring about people”: the very definition of community and public service, whether in a pharmacy or city hall.
NOTE: An earlier version of this story ran in our annual print magazine. After publication we heard from Smith and Wachsmann; they have been included in this updated version. It remains very possible that there are other living School of Pharmacy alumni of whom we are not aware who have served as or who now are serving as mayors. If so, please let us know! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.