Maine students explore career options at Husson pharmacy camp

Viola Ogak (from left) of Catherine McAuley High School and Taylor Porter of Camden Hills Regional High School get help from Husson University second-year student Jonathan Anderson during the Pharmacy Camp at Husson University on Wednesday, July 20, 2011. The students used custom Lego blocks to build DNA molecules and learned how the molecules changed as food is digested.
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Viola Ogak (from left) of Catherine McAuley High School and Taylor Porter of Camden Hills Regional High School get help from Husson University second-year student Jonathan Anderson during the Pharmacy Camp at Husson University on Wednesday, July 20, 2011. The students used custom Lego blocks to build DNA molecules and learned how the molecules changed as food is digested.
Posted July 20, 2011, at 8:48 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — While many of their peers are basking in the sun or hanging out poolside, 16 high school students from around Maine are spending this week at Husson University learning about the challenges and rewards of careers in pharmacy.

As participants in the Husson School of Pharmacy’s second annual Pharmacy Camp, the future high school seniors and juniors have been attending guest lectures, touring campus facilities and the local Walgreens pharmacy, learning about how to be admitted into a pharmacy school, what their career options are and competing in such games as “Pharmacy Calculations Jeopardy” and “Pharmacy Minute to Win It.”

They also have engaged in hands-on learning activities including making “medicinal” lollipops in Husson’s compounding laboratory and building DNA models using specially designed Legos.

The week-long camp which has brought together students from as far north as Presque Isle and as far south as Portland, kicked off Monday morning and runs through Friday afternoon.

Mindy Downing, 16, of Brownville is among the campers considering a career in pharmacy.

“I can work anywhere,” said Downing, who soon will begin her senior year at Penquis Valley High School in Milo. “You get to help people and people get to know you and they respect you.”

Downing, who hopes to be accepted into Husson’s pharmacy program, said in an interview Wednesday afternoon that she has been considering a career in the field for about a year and that she has picked up some valuable information during the camp, such as how to be admitted into a pharmacy school, what it takes to become a pharmacist and what it is like to be one.

She also has made friends with students from around Maine who share similar career goals, she said.

“We plan on hanging out Friday,” she said with a laugh.

Viola Ogak, 18, said she wants to earn a pharmacy degree so she can one day return to her native Sudan and help the people there.

“I just want to make a difference. I want to work very hard so I can become a pharmacist. If you put your mind and your heart into it, you can accomplish anything,” said Ogak, who is gearing up for her senior year at Catherine McAuley High School in Portland.

Ogak, along with her parents and four brothers, emigrated to the United States in 2003 in pursuit of educational opportunities. She said she was among the thousands of Sudanese immigrants in Maine who marched and celebrated on July 10 when their homeland, the Republic of South Sudan, separated from the northern half of the African country after decades of fighting.

Walgreens, a national pharmacy chain, has provided a $10,000 diversity grant for the second year in a row, a significant portion of which goes to sponsor the camp. The funds allowed deserving low-income students to attend. Organizational support is provided by the Husson University School of Pharmacy Academy of Student Pharmacists.

“One of our goals is to show off Husson, to encourage them to come here and hopefully stay and work in Maine,” Rodney A. Larson, dean of Husson’s School of Pharmacy, said Wednesday. He said the demand for qualified pharmacists in Maine is high, given its largely rural setting and relative high median age.

Husson is home to one of two pharmacy programs offered in Maine, he said. The other is at the University of New England.

Husson University will graduate its first class of pharmacy students in 2013.

Admission to pharmacy programs is highly competitive, with Husson alone receiving 550 applications from around the country for 65 openings this year.

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