As told to Samson Frendo
As soon as I’d heard the news, I came to Mr. John Stanovich to inquire about a new internship opportunity that was being offered for the first time on the Ohio Northern University campus. I was a fourth-year pharmacy student at ONU and we had opened up one of the first Drug Information (DI) centers on a college campus, and by 1981 they were offering a unique position to only one student intern. By this point in my college career, I had found my passion and love for the sciences but I had no idea where I fit in the pharmacy field. I needed a job for the summer, so naturally, I had an interest in the position, though I sincerely wasn’t sure what exactly it would entail. I was a youthful adventurer looking for career opportunities that could turn into lifelong endeavors, and the summer I spent in drug information, a field almost as young as I was, metamorphosed into an experience that uncovered a path that I would walk for decades to come.
Before I was allotted the opportunity to ask questions about this new position, Mr. Stanovich crumpled up a piece of paper on his desk and handed it to me, pronouncing with an impish smile that if I could throw the paper ball into the trash can from where I was standing, then I could have the internship. Mr. Stanovich was a light-hearted man and a jokester who was always throwing paper into his basket. He was my professor at the time and we had a friendly relationship, but I had no inkling of whether or not he was serious.
Now, basketball was never a sport that I thrived at, and knowing that I would only make the shot by pure luck I gave it my best go with a quick flick of my wrist. Within a second the moment was over and the paper traveled through the air at the perfect trajectory, hitting the bottom of the can with a soft thud. Stunned I simply turned to Mr. Stanovich in wonder, amazed that I actually made the shot and it was clear by the look on Mr. Stanovich’s face that he was just as surprised as I was. Not knowing quite what to say, he proceeds to wad up a second piece of paper and tells me that if I make this second one, then I can honestly have the position. I could tell in that moment that the stakes had clearly risen and that he would hold true if I could replicate my act.
There’s no telling whether or not he would have given the position to me had I not made the basket, but the thought that perhaps it was all just fun was no comfort to me as my stomach dropped and I reached out to take the second wad of paper. This was my moment to take that final lucky shot, and I could feel the blood coursing through my veins, my pulse pounding in my ears. Looking at the can I knew there was no way I would make the shot again, but I gave the crumpled mess another soft throw holding my breath and we both waited as the paper soared through the air.
Thinking back on the experience, I find myself realizing how that particular situation was about as unconventional as my journey toward pharmacy school. At 12 years old, I had been offered the Ford Foundation scholarship to attend Juilliard for high school on a track for ballet. I didn’t fully comprehend the impact of what could have happened had my parents accepted the offer and due to that fact, I certainly wasn’t in the position to make that kind of decision myself. I would have been inevitably set on a track for a career in dance, a stereotypical feminine career worlds apart from where I ended up; thus, not knowing where my true passions would fall as I aged, my parents made the decision for me. It was a no-brainer for the scientists that my parents were; I wouldn’t be going. At the time, we in the process of moving from Delaware to Ohio, placing New York a distance away, but my parents also understood the implications of putting their child in a fine arts school.
My father was a mechanical engineer, holding positions in management, while my mother was a clinical laboratory scientist who had made a career out of education as well, so she understood the importance of scholarship. My parents would support me in any decision I would make about my future career when I matured, but they didn’t want to box me in and set me on a course that perhaps wasn’t one that I would want to walk after graduation. No one made a big deal out of my scholarship. Every moment of my dance career, such as all the times I had won awards at performances or placed first at an event, wasn’t celebrated. My parents kept me grounded in that way, and their decision led me on my path towards Pharmacy school.
Fast forward nearly a decade, and there I was standing in Mr. John Stanovich’s office unable to breathe as I watched the makeshift basketball fly towards the trash can hoop. As I grew up, my love for healthcare bloomed and I knew that I had a passion for helping others, but I didn’t give up my life of performance until I was shipped off to college. Dance had never been the same for me after we moved to Ohio, so I took up gymnastics instead. I was offered multiple full ride scholarships to grand universities for gymnastics, but as my parents once decided to deny my offer for ballet, I too decided to deny the scholarships, choosing to focus on my culminating love for science, a feeling my parents both shared for their careers.
So here I found myself knowing that I loved healthcare, but not knowing where I fit in in the field of pharmacy, and it was this one lucky shot that revealed my purpose. In less than a second we both stared as the paper fell straight into the can a second time. I let out a breath and a smile, knowing that Mr. Stanovich would hold true to his word. I had only come to inquire about the position in the DI center and now I had the job whether I wanted it or not, and it was only a taste of a field that I would work in for decades to come.
Working in drug information, as I quickly discovered, requires ample reading and writing of scholarly works, activities that many pharmacy students back then, and even today, weren’t interested in working into the core of their career. Doctors, pharmacists, patients, and others would contact these centers with questions about prescriptions, multidrug interactions, potential available medications for individuals with a particular allergy, disease, or reaction, and the like, and depending on one’s work environment, the situations could be emergent or not.
When the field first came about, computers were limited and the data bases with the literature were expensive and difficult to navigate. Today anyone could peruse for this information on their smartphone, but the massive world of primary literature is still difficult to navigate and interpret and occasionally, professionals find themselves in urgent situations given no time to dissect the findings of a lengthy experiment, making the field entirely relevant even today. This world of puzzle games, having a patient with particular parameters and trying to find pieces that fit perfectly in the grooves their criteria, was a terrain that I navigated with infatuation and passion.
From that one fortuitous moment, my life took a turn for the better. After graduating with my doctorate in pharmacy, I was able to work in poison control before eventually moving back to Ada, OH to work at Ohio Northern, teaching other students about the relevance of drug information. I was able to forge paths for women in the pharmacy field, an opportunity that wouldn’t have presented itself had I followed a career in dance or gymnastics.
When I first started at ONU I worked with two other women, facing adversity from both staff and students, but now in 2016, eighteen other women work alongside me. As for my students, when it comes to career choices, take every opportunity given to you, regardless of how unconventional or strange it may seem, and never deny an opportunity until you’ve at least given it a shot. You never know when that could be the lucky shot that changes your life.
This story originally appeared in Facing Our Futures Beyond High School, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.