When Dr. Barima Opong-Owusu Jr., ’06, PharmD’11, was attending an awards dinner for the College of Pharmacy, Peter Niedbala, the executive director of pharmacy advancement and external relations said to him, “That could be you up there one day awarding a student with an endowed scholarship of your own.” At that time, the idea seemed far-fetched.
Black pharmacists make up roughly seven percent of the professionals in their field — among them, Dr. Opong-Owusu and a group of nine other University of Michigan College of Pharmacy alumni dedicated to changing that landscape through the power of collective impact. Together, in 2021, they endowed the African American Pharmacy Alumni LEAD Scholarship to increase access to education and opportunities for Black students pursuing careers in pharmacy. This group of alumni recognized that they can make a long-lasting, meaningful impact on current and future Wolverines through the power of combined giving.
“I never knew how endowed gifts worked, I would see somebody give these massive gifts and assume it’s a lump sum gift given all at one time,” Dr. Opong-Owusu explains. “I certainly was not at a point in my life where I could make a gift of that magnitude, so the idea fell to the back of my mind.”
The idea lay dormant until Dr. Opong-Owusu heard that a group of fellow alumni and friends — all professional football players — established an endowed scholarship together through the LEAD Scholars program. After learning more about LEAD and seeing the impact their combined efforts were making, he began learning more about endowed gifts and the dynamics of group giving. Suddenly, the idea of an endowed scholarship didn’t feel so far-fetched, and he wanted to establish one for Black students pursuing careers in pharmacy.
“The whole idea became much more plausible once I learned that a group of people could come together with smaller amounts to make one large combined gift,” he recalls. “I knew that an endowed gift would be more impactful and longer-standing than any one-time gift I could give myself, so I started to reach out to my alumni network.”
Dr. Omonye Phillips, PharmD’11, a longtime friend and former classmate, was Dr. Opong-Owusu’s first call. Like him, she didn’t feel like she was in a position to grant such a major gift, but contributing to an endowed scholarship like this was a great first step to achieving meaningful impact.
“Barima and I were two of only three Black students in our class of 85 and would’ve loved to see more people who looked like us,” she recalls. “ We know firsthand that a lot of Black students have what it takes to attend a school like U-M but may not have access to the necessary opportunities and resources. For many, financial aid isn’t enough, and an endowment like this is much needed in the field of pharmacy.”
Together, Dr. Opong-Owusu, Dr. Phillips, and another former classmate turned lifelong friend, Dr. Tiffany Porter, PharmD’12, rallied the generous support of seven other College of Pharmacy alumni:
Dr. Regine Caruthers White, PharmD’04, MDRES’06
Dr. Tiffany Scott-Horton, PharmD’10
Dr. & Dr. Uchenna Kole-James, ’01, PharmD’07
Dr. David Johnson, PharmD’09
Dr. Akinyemi Oni-Orisan, ‘06, PharmD’10
Dr. Nana Wiafe-Ababio, PharmD’05
Dr. Uhunoma Osazuwa, PharmD’14
“My peers and I saw this as a great opportunity to come together for the greater good and pass the torch on to the next generation” Dr. Phillips reflects. “There’s power in numbers. It’s incredible to think of the difference you can make as a group, and we couldn’t have done this without everyone’s combined resolve and efforts.”
The first African American Pharmacy Alumni LEAD Scholarship was awarded to Eleanor Sargent in the fall of 2021. The Lansing native and U-M sophomore says the scholarship directly supports her goal of becoming a pharmacist by allowing her to focus on her education without the burden of financial stress.
“I am truly grateful for the support that the LEAD Pharmacy Fund has given me. This scholarship motivates me to maintain my GPA and complete my degree, no matter how hard,” says Sargent. “My donors are genuinely making my dreams become a reality; I never thought that I would be attending such a prestigious school. I thank my donors for their confidence in choosing me to represent the LEAD Pharmacy Fund and their willingness to help me achieve my goals.”
All 10 founding donors hope their fund will help shed light on the career avenues in pharmacy, opening doors for Black students who never previously had the awareness, access, or opportunities. In turn, they hope this directly helps increase their enrollment in the College of Pharmacy.
“Together, we are making an impact by giving sizable scholarships that allow students to attend a university that they otherwise may not have had the means to attend, and through that, we’re changing their generational futures,” Dr. Opong-Owusu says of this group effort. “These kinds of endowed gifts go to show that you don’t have to be a millionaire to be able to make an impact in someone’s life, because every financial gift can change someone’s future.”
“These types of scholarships that break down barriers to a Michigan education are critical if the pharmacy profession is going to reach its full potential,” says U-M College of Pharmacy Dean Vicki Ellingrod. “Without a diverse pharmacy workforce, we will be less able to solve many of the challenges that lie ahead.”
If you are interested in learning more about making a gift to the Alumni Association’s LEAD Scholars program, we welcome you to contact us at [email protected].
Katie Frankhart is a senior writer for the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan.