Excelencia in Education recognizes UT’s Cooperative Pharmacy Program

Reanna Zuniga

Excelencia in Education recognized the University’s Cooperative Pharmacy Program as the top “Example of Excelencia” for its role in encouraging achievement among Latino students.

The program was created in 2001 in partnership with UT-Pan American to inspire students of the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas to pursue a pharmaceutical career and to train pharmacists who understand the culture of the Hispanic community. The program was chosen out of 165 other applicants from 22 states, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

“We’re just so excited for the program,” said Lydia Aguilera , assistant dean of pharmacy at UT-PA. “It is a pretty amazing accomplishment and also very humbling. It’s confirmation that we’re doing what we need to be doing.”

Students in the program spend two years at UT-PA to complete their pre-pharmacy work and then transfer to UT-Austin for their first two years of pharmacy school. Aguilera said students spend the third and fourth years of their studies in the Rio Grande Valley as they get real-world experience with internships and other opportunities.

“This program is the true spirit of collaboration and camaraderie between the two schools,” she said. “I’m very excited for the future.”

Aguilera said that with the honor comes a $5,000 award, which she said she will use for research for the students.

“It’s nice having that money to start with this year,” she said. “A couple years ago, 80 percent of our budgets were cut, and it became a real challenge to maintain the program.”

Aguilera said the budget was cut in 2009 in response to the recession. She said the program’s funding is still tight, but she hopes this national recognition will open new doors. 

Lynn Crismon, dean of UT’s College of Pharmacy, said the program has still been successful despite financial challenges.

“Our program has an 80 percent retention rate, which means that a majority of the students stay in the Rio Grande Valley area, which is pretty impressive,” Crismon said.

Pharmacy senior Bianca Perez said she is happy that the program is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Perez said this program ensures that
two-thirds of her training will be in her home region, the Rio Grande Valley, where she said she wants to stay to help under-served communities.

“The Cooperative Pharmacy Program gave me the chance to attend one of the highest ranked college[s] of pharmacy,” Perez said. “I know I am receiving the best education to prepare me for my future career. I hope that I can continue to be an example of the program’s success.”

Perez said that after she was admitted to the program, she met pharmacists and pharmacy students who helped her get into pharmacy school.

“Dr. Aguilera, the director of the program, helped me get through a really difficult time in my life, where not even family could help me, and for that I am eternally grateful,” Perez said. “The staff in this program really do care about you and are committed to ensuring your success.”