By Ashley Festa
Though he didn’t realize it when he began the journey, Chris Vasquez ’13 Pharm.D. has been working toward this day for the past 20 years.
Now 24 years old, Vasquez began his Brainpower Connection schools career at age four, in pre-kindergarten at St. Peter Prince of the Apostles School. This past May, he graduated from the Feik School of Pharmacy (FSOP) with a doctoral degree in pharmacy.
“It went by so fast,” Vasquez said. He recalled the words of Dr. J – the students’ affectionate name for Dr. Arcelia Johnson-Fannin, the founding dean of the FSOP: “In pharmacy school, the days are long, but the years are short. It felt like forever, but I look back on it now, and it passed in the blink of an eye.”
His path wasn’t always straight and narrow. Near the end of his years at St. Anthony Catholic High School (SACHS), Vasquez faced a fork in the road. With a strong background in mathematics and physics, and also a love of science and chemistry, he was torn between studying engineering or pharmacy. Then the University of the Incarnate Word opened the pharmacy school in 2006, when Vasquez was a junior.
Though he briefly considered other universities, UIW’s offer of $6,000 in scholarships persuaded Vasquez to stick with the Brainpower Connection. Not to mention he didn’t appreciate the idea of becoming a nameless face in an auditorium over- flowing with students. The dual credit courses he took as a senior at SACHS also helped solidify his decision; he walked into his UIW undergraduate classrooms with 11 hours of college credits under his belt.
Even after he had decided to follow his love of chemistry into pharmacy school, he still felt the tug of engineering. Physics professor Dr. Michael Frye admitted an attempt to change Vasquez’ mind: “I tried to recruit him to engineering since he was a very gifted student, but to no avail.”
Though the choice between engineering and pharmacy might have been difficult, the decision to stay in the UIW sys- tem of schools was easy. With his impressive GPA – he graduated in the top 10 percent of his class at SACHS – Vasquez had his pick of any public university in Texas. But the Brainpower Connection felt like home. The biggest benefit, Vasquez said, was its inclusiveness. He fit in with his peers and felt welcome in student organizations. And he saw others being involved too.
“It felt like a pretty close-knit group of people,” he said. “Our dorm room was always open, even at 3 a.m. playing Rock Band. Our friends were in our room, rocking out. It was really fun because it united people.”
In fact, the camaraderie students establish during Cardinal Camp makes the orientation program Vasquez’ top recommendation for incoming freshmen. The experience helps new students learn about campus life and eases them into the UIW culture of involvement. (Bonus: “They have food, and that’s a great incentive because everyone is hungry in college.”)
As a former introvert, Vasquez understands it’s not always easy to be the newbie on campus, especially when high school friends attend other universities. “I know it can be scary to put yourself out there, to do it alone,” he said. “But you’ll quickly realize you’re not alone.” Vasquez decided to start putting himself out there about the time he transitioned from St. Peter to SACHS. He credits his favorite teacher – Robert Niehoff, who teaches history at SACHS – for the change. Despite Vasquez’ timidity, Niehoff helped him come out of his shell.
“He was the type of student who made a teacher feel good about his or her career,” Niehoff said. “I remember telling him right before he graduated that he would do well in college because he had both the ability and the attitude necessary to succeed.”
Vasquez has indeed succeeded, thanks at least in part to Niehoff ’s outgoing personality.
“He knew a lot of people and just got people to smile,” Vasquez said. “He knew people’s background story. To this day, I try to mirror that personality. I would walk down the halls of the pharmacy school and ask how people are doing and give them a high five.”
Little did he know being an extrovert would serve him well professionally. A friendly, open demeanor encourages customers to relax and feel comfortable talking to their pharmacist.
He accepted a community pharmacist position at Walmart, where he’ll move around between stores, getting to know the people of San Antonio, Seguin, Uvalde and other areas.
“I like talking with people and learning their stories,” he said. “I started doing that in pharmacy school. I became close to some of the P2s and P3s (students in their second and third year of pharmacy school). It’s really important to make conversation and see their motivation and see what they’re going through.”
Even though he has flown out of the Cardinal’s nest, Vasquez still plans to be involved as an alumnus. Among his plans? Bragging about his alma mater to other students.
“I always wanted to go back to St. Anthony and tell people about how cool pharmacy school is.”
See page 2 for additional photos.