School of Pharmacy

School of Pharmacy News

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Greg Weatherford
VCU School of Pharmacy

More than 500 family members, friends and loved ones joined faculty and staff of VCU School of Pharmacy to celebrate the 2023 Hooding and Diploma Ceremony on a bright and sunny May day. 

[Note: Full list of awards can be found below.]

“Health care is starving for leaders — in the community, in our health systems, within pharmaceutical companies and within higher education,” Dean Kelechi C. Ogbonna, Pharm.D., MSHA, told the capacity crowd filling the spacious auditorium of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Henrico County, and many more who were participating via an online live stream. 

In his first hooding ceremony since being named to lead the school in late 2022, Dean Ogbonna reflected on the theme “success is not final, failure is not fatal,” emphasizing the importance of grit and the courage to continue. “Let’s face it,” added the dean, “for some of us the last four years have been tumultuous.”

Allison Zeidan, selected by her classmates to make the Class of 2023 senior address, raised a similar theme in her speech to the graduates. She described her struggles to recover from a sports injury — a serious concussion that led her to take a leave of absence from her Pharm.D. program. “I remember thinking, ‘There is no way I can do this.’ And I was right — there was no way I could do it alone. But I was not alone. You all were my community, my support, my guidance.” 

Along with the help of the school’s faculty and her classmates, Zeidan added, she found the support of one took a particularly caring role, even joining her on all her doctors’ appointments. She and that classmate are now married — and fellow graduates of the Class of 2023. 

Later in the ceremony, Dean Ogbonna presented Zeidan with the school’s Dean’s Award. This award, sponsored by The Rosenthal Foundation in honor of former Dean John Ruggerio, recognizes a student who has demonstrated consistent outstanding achievement and unselfish devotion to their class, school, university and profession throughout their four years of study. 

Keynote speaker Ben Van Tassell, Pharm.D., a professor and the vice chair for research in the school’s Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Scence, shared lessons gained from family, faith and work. One point detailed what he called the Principle of Repetitive Training — the concept that people need to hear new information or ideas multiple times over an extended period before they can incorporate them into their lives. 

“When you tell people something, you think they hear you,” Van Tassell said. “But they don’t. The geniuses get it after [hearing a concept] five times. The rest of us take longer.” 

This year’s ceremony marked the first presentation of the Abby Metzger Academic Excellence Award, honoring the life and values of Abigail Metzger, a second-year Pharm.D. student who died unexpectedly last year. To celebrate her impact and her drive, and with the support of her family, the school’s students, faculty and alumni raised funds to create an award in her name that is given to the student or students with the highest GPA in the graduating class. 

A full list of Pharm.D. Class of 2023 awards, Outstanding Preceptors and Teacher of the Year awards can be found below. The school’s Graduate Student Awards were recognized earlier during a separate ceremony.


  • Patient Care Award: Grace Lee
  • Patient Counseling Award: Jennifer Liriano-Suarez
  • Pharmacy Communications Award: Laure D’Anna
  • Research Excellence Award: Danielle Holdren
  • Emswiller Award for Leadership Achievement: Kelsey Oberholtzer
  • Outstanding Leadership Award: Will Norton, president of the Pharm.D. Class of 2023
  • Community Practice Achievement Award: Jason Gomez
  • Technology Excellence Award: Malik Graves
  • Distinguished Service Award: Kayla Pangilinan
  • Award for Academic Excellence in Medicinal Chemistry: Natalia Smith
  • Award for Academic Excellence in Pharmacotherapy: Addison Taylor
  • Award for Academic Excellence in Pharmacoeconomics and Health Outcomes: Paige Ngo
  • Award for Academic Excellence in Pharmaceutics: Seth Morris
  • Excellence in the Promotion of Pharmacy: Braden Schmidt
  • Community Engagement Excellence Award: Priscila Crawford
  • Award for Excellence in Public Health: Ladan Karim-Nejad
  • Interprofessional Practice and Collaborative Care Excellence Award: Tanner Brandon
  • Excellence in Advocacy and Health Policy Award: Seth Gillen
  • Professionalism Award: Brandon Acors
  • Geriatric Pharmacy Award: Tiffaney Mitchell
  • VCU School of Pharmacy Achievement Award: Alexa Kupper
  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award: Michelle Gantt
  • VCU Alumni Award: Benjamin Cherian
  • 2023 Vitris Excellence in Pharmacy Award: Katie Richey
  • Abby Metzger Academic Excellence Award: Alexa Kupper, Seth Morris, Kelsey Oberholtzer, Ha Pham
  • Dean’s Award: Allison Zeidan

Note: The school’s Graduate Awards were recognized earlier during a separate ceremony.

Outstanding Preceptor Awards

  • Eric Anderson, Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center
  • Lauren Caldas, VCU School of Pharmacy
  • Susan Florin, Walgreens Pharmacy
  • Travis Gatesman, VCU Health System
  • Leigh Anne Hylton Gravatt, VCU School of Pharmacy
  • Kiara Lorenz, Virginia Hospital Center
  • Andrew Moyer, Augusta Health
  • Jennifer Pham, Wegmans Pharmacy

Partner Award: The Tidewater Sentara Health System

Preceptor of the Year: Marjan Daneshman, director of the outpatient pharmacy at Virginia Hospital Center

Teacher of the Year Award


  • P1 Class: Malgorzata Dukat
  • P2 Class: Abigale Matulewicz
  • P3 Class: Alexis Crawford
  • Graduate Program: Dayanjan Wijesinghe

2023 Teacher of the Year: Alexis Crawford

Categories Faculty news, Student news
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