From Summer Camp To College
From Summer Camp to College
Call it proof positive that the Walgreens Explorers Program helps steer prospective students toward the profession of pharmacy: eight of the 30 participants in last year’s program are now enrolled at St. Louis College of Pharmacy.
The program’s goal is to prepare bright, young scholars for careers in pharmacy. It attracts minority students from across the region and has a highly competitive application process. During the four-week immersion program, which is a partnership between Walgreens and STLCOP, participating students split their time between classroom and lab work at the College and on-the-job training at area Walgreens locations. At the end of the program, each student receives a certificate of completion and a stipend.
Three “Explorers,” now enrolled for fall 2012 as first-year students at the College, had summer orientation together on June 12 and 13. Each said their experience in the program was invaluable and played a part in applying for the College.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” said Jessica Kowalski, a graduate of Belleville East High School.
“Everything we did was fun. It really steered me toward pharmacy,” said Kenneth Gandaho, a graduate of McCluer High School in Florissant. “It played a huge role in me coming to (the College).”
They all believe that the Explorers Program has prepared them for the rigors of pharmacy school, and that they are ready to meet the challenge.
“I expect to have fun, but it’s going to be hard at the same time,” said Gandaho.
“I like the challenge; I’m up for it,” said Kowalski. “I’ll have to study a lot, but I’ll also have a good time.”
Like many students at the College, Gandaho and Kowalski said they chose pharmacy because they wanted to help people.
For Stefan Menchaca, also a graduate of Belleville East High School, it was personal. His grandfather died of cancer six days before he was born. “I want to find a way to beat cancer,” Menchaca said. “A handful of people in my family have died from cancer.”
“I always wanted to be in the medical field,” Gandaho said, adding that many of his family members are doctors or nurses. “I saw the enjoyment that they got from helping people,” he said.
Gandaho found out about the Explorers Program through his mother. Kowalski and Menchaca heard about it from a guidance counselor at Belleville East.
Kowalski, who had already shadowed at a Target pharmacy and Copper Bend Pharmacy, said the interview process was grueling. “I didn’t think I’d get in at all,” she said. “But they wanted to invest in someone that was looking at pharmacy as a career, not just fun.”
For the three, getting into the Explorers Program was one thing, but making friends was another. Sitting next to each other in the College’s Parkview Café, Menchaca and Kowalski explain how everyone in the program was shy at first. Since they knew each other, at least vaguely, from high school, Menchaca and Kowalski stuck together.
“At first it was awkward,” Menchaca says before he turns and asks Kowalski, “How did the ice get broken?”
“It was the whole ping pong thing. Raj and Justin are ping pong Jedi Master’s,” she says, naming two former Explorers.
“Everyone was talking about how good they are,” adds Menchaca. “We just started talking, hanging out, playing basketball. We became one giant, happy family. No one was a stranger. Everyone was talking to each other.”
Now Menchaca and Kowalski carry on and joke like old friends.
Kowalski said she made a lot of friends through the Explorers Program, including her future roommate.
Gandaho is glad he applied and was accepted to the College. “The second I got here, I fell in love. All the people are nice,” he said. “I hope (the Explorers Program) continues in the future. I hope everyone gets the same experience I did.”