People like to make assumptions about Semiu Durowoju.
Some of his fellow students at his college in Vermont assumed that the Black student from New Jersey must be there on a basketball scholarship, just like the handful of other Black students at the mostly white school.
A few professors assumed that he should try something else when he told them he wanted to be a pharmacist.
Even an academic advisor had assumed that his grades were too low for him to get into pharmacy school.
People make assumptions about him – and he does nothing but prove them wrong.
When you assume …
Given the assumptions his fellow students made about him, it was ironic that Durowoju broke his arm playing pickup basketball during his first year at school. But that break would ignite his passion for pharmacy when he found himself doing extensive research about the medications prescribed to him during his recovery. He knew he wanted to go to pharmacy school.
“I was always interested in science and I liked chemistry, so I had always considered doing something in medicine,” he recalls. “Pharmacy was one area that appealed to me, but this was kind of the breaking point for me … no pun intended.”
But just like in that pickup game, there would still be some bumps and bruises for him along the way.
“I had a few doubters on my way to pharmacy school because I was just this kid from Jersey, now in Vermont, and trying to become a pharmacist,” he says. “It just wasn’t likely to them, but it was likely to me.”
While he was exploring his options as an undergraduate, Durowoju sought guidance from his pre-pharmacy faculty. But the advice he received, from both professors and academic advisers, was to look into becoming a lab tech, go into public health or try something else altogether.
Even though he had the pre-requisites completed for pharmacy school, his GPA was just a fraction lower than it needed to be, and his academic advisor told him they were “surprised that he was still here.”
But Durowoju pushed on, believing that pharmacy was the right path for him and doing whatever he could to realize his dream. Self-motivated as he was, it was still discouraging to see other students receiving different treatment. He recalls another student, a friend who was white, attending all of the same classes, doing all the same work and receiving the same grades as he did – but she was never told to try something else.
“I think if I were a white student, in Vermont, my situation would have been treated like more of a normal thing,” he says. “They’d tell me what I needed to do, how to improve my GPA and what I needed to do in the summer. But instead, I had to do a lot of the research on my own.”
A passion for the profession
It shouldn’t really be a surprise that Durowoju found his way to pharmacy. His uncle worked for years at Bayer, putting the idea of a career in and around pharmaceuticals into his head even before college.
As an undergrad, Durowoju worked at a local Rite Aid as a part-time pharmacy technician, and he would pepper his supervisor with questions during his entire shift each day.
“I would ask him what Sertraline was or what Zoloft was, and he’d tell me that was just the brand name. I annoyed him every day, but he understood my passion.”
Durowoju’s supervisor didn’t just understand his passion – he invested in it, writing a letter of recommendation for pharmacy school and telling Durowoju, “We can’t have you as a technician anymore, you have to be a pharmacist.”
After completing his undergraduate degree in 2016, and on the strength of his application and letters of recommendation, Durowoju was accepted, in 2017, to pharmacy school at Fairleigh Dickinson University back home in New Jersey. And unlike his experience in Vermont, FDU provided him with a much more diverse, representative and supportive environment in which to pursue his dreams.
“Fairleigh Dickinson makes great effort to bring diversity into their schools,” he says. “They really like to pride themselves on admitting students from all different backgrounds – there are American and international students here, and it’s something I really appreciate: diversity outside of just the basketball team.”
Well on his way
“Now here I am,” says Durowoju. “In my fourth year, doing rotations and on the brink of completing pharmacy school as part of FDU’s class of 2021. My doubters were completely wrong. I can do this.”
This year, Durowoju was awarded a Walgreens Diversity Donation Scholarship to help with the cost of tuition in his final year of pharmacy school … one more step toward making his dream a reality.
The Walgreens Diversity Donation Scholarship was established in 2008 to increase the enrollment of underrepresented students in schools and colleges of pharmacy. By increasing the availability of educational assistance for underrepresented students, such as Durowoju, Walgreens’ goal is to promote diversity and inclusion within the institutional culture.
This year, Walgreens will award more than $850,000 to 126 schools, including Fairleigh Dickinson University, in the form of scholarships and discretionary funding to aid with diversity and inclusion programming and promotion.
“We want to do what we can to create a more diverse and inclusive pharmacy profession,” says Justeen Streich, senior manager for talent acquisition for Walgreens, and a manager of the program. “Ideally, scholarship recipients would eventually come work for us, but in our mind it’s all about creating more representation across the industry, wherever they decide to work.”
Durowoju has already begun working for Walgreens, completing his internship rotation at a pharmacy near his home in New Jersey. The people he grew up with and are now his patients and customers.
“At Walgreens, I feel represented and I get to work in my hometown,” he says. “I look back on what they told me in undergrad, and then I see kids in my neighborhood now and they’re proud of me. It sounds cliché, but I like to show them that this is something they can do, too. But nothing is ever given to you. You just have to keep pushing.”