School of Pharmacy welcomes Class of 2021

The newest UCSF doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) class gathered for the first time on Wednesday, September 20, in San Francisco’s foggy Golden Gate Park. Although it was their first time meeting in person, class members have been getting to know each other online for months.

The Class of 2021 spent the week in orientation, learning about their new institution, meeting their professors and School staff, and doing things like finding the right fit for their white coats, which will be ceremoniously given to them next month.

Members of the class are mostly from California, but also come from all over the country and the world—from China, Ethiopia, Iran, Jordan, South Korea, Kuwait, Panama, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

A lot of these students carry their family dreams…

—Joel Gonzales
admissions director

A little more than half are graduates of the University of California (UC) system. An additional 12% come from the California State University (CSU) system.

They were most likely to study biology or biochemistry as undergraduates, but they also come to UCSF with degrees in biomedical engineering, economics, environmental studies, neuroscience, nutrition, and psychobiology.

Five percent come to the School already holding an advanced degree.

Applicants had “amazing perseverance”

Cynthia Watchmaker, MEd, MBA, associate dean of student affairs, says the diversity of this group shows the extra lengths the School of Pharmacy goes to, in finding quality candidates.

“It’s about looking at context to find a student’s whole story,” Watchmaker says. “They need to have the academic foundation—that’s critical for them to be successful—but the most important thing isn’t a perfect academic record. It’s who that person is and their potential to make a difference in health care.”

For Joel Gonzales, the School’s admissions director, the class represents the culmination of years of work. Some students contacted Gonzales as undergraduates and worked toward a UCSF education as a goal.

“You meet them, and you get to know them,” Gonzales says. “They stay in touch for years and then you look up and see them occupying a seat in orientation. It’s exciting to see what they’ve accomplished.”

For some in the Class of 2021, the UCSF dream did not come easily. “Some students were previously denied admission to pharmacy schools, and they never gave up,” Gonzales says. That meant working with the admissions office to take extra classes and shore up their academic foundations before finally being admitted.

“Things didn’t come easy for them, and they showed amazing perseverance,” Gonzales adds.

First-generation students carry dreams

The class also includes many first-generation college students, many who have parents who immigrated to the U.S. “A lot of these students carry their family dreams and aspirations on their backs,” Gonzales says. “And many had to navigate their undergrad by themselves, without family members who knew what they were going through.”

The women easily outnumber the men in this class, with 98 women and 23 men. “That just ended up happening,” Watchmaker says.

students in auditorium

Orientation session brings the Class of 2021 together.

In all, the Class of 2021 represents “a real diversity of experience and backgrounds,” according to Watchmaker. “We believe having a diverse class enriches everyone’s education,” she says. “It will be essential for the profession to serve a very diverse society and to bring to pharmacy different ways of thinking and solving really complex problems.”

At an orientation event, Gonzales looked over the new class and said that while it is early, he senses great things from the incoming class. “They are very inquisitive and eager to start, and we’re really happy they’re here.”

Liriany Pimentel

Liriany Pimentel, fourth-year UCSF PharmD student, addresses students at Orientation, as part of a panel that included UCSF pharmacy resident Nancy Koo, PharmD (left), and Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD (center).


School of Pharmacy, PharmD Degree Program

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.