Gator Pharmacy Exploration Camp introduces high schoolers to pharmacy’s world of possibilities

By Tyler Francischine

For Jace De Haan, a rising high school senior from St Augustine, attending the University of Florida Gator Pharmacy Exploration Camp was a dream a half-decade in the making. De Haan’s been set on pursuing a career in pharmacy since age 12, when he noticed the skills and precision of his local community pharmacist.

De Haan and 28 other students got an inside look at what life might resemble as a pre-health UF college student during the weeklong Gator Pharmacy Exploration Camp, or GPEC, held June 23-29 at the UF College of Pharmacy’s Gainesville campus.  In this camp hosted by the UF College of Pharmacy Office of Student Affairs in collaboration with the Office for Student Success, Wellness and Community Engagement, students received presentations from a variety of pharmacists, experimented in skills labs, completed faculty-guided case studies, toured the college’s classrooms and its pharmacy museum, and engaged in group activities and team-building exercises.

“My favorite activity was compounding the drugs,” De Haan said. “It was really interesting to see such pharmaceutical elegance. I also enjoyed getting more information from the community pharmacists who visited the camp. That’s what I’d like to do – community pharmacy.”

Jasmine Lee, a rising high school senior from Tampa, also enjoyed the hands-on experience she received during the series of skills labs, which included giving practice injections and completing blood sugar tests.

“I had never pricked my finger before to do a blood sugar test. Now I can tell my future patients how it feels, if they’re ever nervous about having to do that themselves. I was so nervous, but really, it was fine,” Lee recalled.

Faculty and staff across the UF College of Pharmacy helped organize GPEC this year. Ivonne Ponicsan, assistant director of admissions and recruitment; Mary Beth Yokomi, admissions officer and application specialist; Nazandria Jackson, a program coordinator for the Office of Student Success, Wellness and Community Engagement; and Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Clinical Associate Professor Teresa Cavanaugh, Pharm.D., played key roles in showing dedicated young people the many career possibilities that a pharmacy degree creates.

“We want to introduce them to what it’s like coming to college as a high school graduate. We want them to make new friends, have a really good time, and learn about getting into college and pharmacy as a career,” Cavanaugh said. “The very first year we did this program, a student told me, ‘I didn’t think I could go to college. Now, I think I could.’ While we would love every one of these 29 impressive students to come to the UF College of Pharmacy, if we’ve empowered them to pursue any kind of higher education, it’s a win.”

GPEC students received guidance and mentorship from 2024 camp counselors and UF College of Pharmacy students Caela Vasquez, Kyle Lam, Michael Minder, and Roshanna Edwards. De Haan said the insights he picked up during the camp have only stoked his curiosity and drive for a career in pharmacy.

“To students who may be interested in attending GPEC, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Ask all the questions you have. As Dean Cavanaugh says, ‘Don’t tell yourself no. Let someone else say it.’ I’m making sure I’m taking advantage of all the opportunities I can. GPEC was a great opportunity,” he said.

Students from US Health Resources and Services Administration or HRSA-defined medically underserved areas or populations, and from Florida Department of Education-designated Title I schools are encouraged to apply to GPEC. The GPEC program includes all meals, transportation across UF campus, and room and board at a UF dormitory.

The UF College of Pharmacy extends its heartfelt appreciation to Mary Beth Yokomi from the Office of Student Affairs for her extraordinary efforts in creating a wonderful camp experience. Not only did she take a lead role in planning the camp, but she stayed six nights in a UF dorm with the campers and served as their tour guide around campus. For some campers, this was their first overnight experience away from home, and Mary Beth provided the comfort and support they needed. Thank you, Mary Beth, for embodying the spirit of the Gator Pharmily.

Highlights from the 2024 Gator Pharmacy Exploration Camp

Group shot from GPEC 2024