Archives for December 1, 2023

Inspired to be a Pharmacist

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UNMC Williams Scholar Andrea López Mercado is ‘super, super grateful’ for scholarship assistance

By Susan Houston Klaus

For the residents of Puerto Rico who survived a Category 5 hurricane in September 2017, time has been divided into “before Maria” and “after Maria.”

University of Nebraska Medical Center student Andrea López Mercado grew up in the town of Lares and lived there during the storm.

She chose to pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy degree in large part because she was inspired by the role of pharmacists in her community after Hurricane Maria. A scholarship made possible by the generosity of pharmacy alumnus Joe Williams is helping López Mercado achieve her goal.

She recalls that after the hurricane, many businesses were closed. But the pharmacies remained open — a haven for residents in the days, weeks and months after the storm.

López Mercado noticed the role pharmacists played, providing medication storage for those without power, offering a cool place to get some air or charge a cell phone, or simply lending emotional support.

“That’s when I saw that pharmacists were pillars in the community,” she said.

Years later, the kindnesses she observed during that time had an impact on her choice of career.

“That’s kind of where I started learning,” López Mercado said. “When I was seeing this, and basically how they were on the front line of this emergency, I started to research a bit more into pharmacy. That’s where I ended up kind of falling in love with it because I saw how broad and big this profession is.”

Today, she’s a first-year student in the College of Pharmacy.

López Mercado is a Williams Scholar, the recipient of a scholarship created as a result of an estate gift from Williams, who died in 2021.

Williams was a leader in the pharmaceutical industry, having served at the helm of industry giants Parke-Davis and Warner-Lambert.

Williams and his wife, Millie, have been generous supporters of the College of Pharmacy. The Williams name is found throughout new and former pharmacy buildings, including Joseph D. & Millie E. Williams Science Hall. The couple also were among the principal benefactors of the UNMC Center for Drug Discovery and Lozier Center for Pharmacy Sciences and Education. Williams was a driving force behind the college’s first endowed faculty chair, the Parke-Davis Chair in Pharmaceutics and Drug Delivery.

Williams left the college an estate gift of $20 million, through Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future. Part of that gift funds scholarships for students like López Mercado.

The Williams scholarships range from $2,500 to $10,000. Tuition aid allows students to lessen debt and helps UNMC to compete for some of the nation’s top students.

López Mercado was already looking at pharmacy programs when her husband, a member of the U.S. Air Force, left Puerto Rico to be stationed at Offutt Air Force Base.

“UNMC just overall seemed like an amazing school,” she said. “It was an obvious choice. I applied, and, thankfully, they accepted me.”

In her acceptance letter, López Mercado also learned she would be a Williams Scholar.

Finding out she received the scholarship, “was incredible,” she said. “I was super, super grateful.”

The support has eased a lot of the financial burden for her.

“It made me feel a lot better going into this, knowing that I was getting some help,” López Mercado said.

When she learned Williams’ story, she was even more inspired. In fall 2023, she had the opportunity to meet Millie Williams and thank her for the couple’s generosity.

López Mercado says her experience so far as a pharmacy student has given her an even broader knowledge of career possibilities.

“I have been exposed to so many areas of pharmacy that I didn’t even know existed,” she said.

Wherever the future takes López Mercado — whether it’s staying in Omaha, moving back to Puerto Rico or living in another place — she envisions herself as a reliable resource for people in her community.

“For now,” she said, “all that I can say is that I just want to be someone who people can go to and hopefully make a positive impact in their life.”

Receiving the Williams Scholarship, López Mercado said, means the world to her.

“I feel like it was a confirmation that I was doing the right thing,” she said, “that I was going to the right place, and kind of like my dreams and aspirations were valid and achievable.”