Two PharmD classes celebrate Commencement 2021

In May 2021, two UCSF School of Pharmacy graduating classes received their doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degrees, each in a virtual commencement.

The ceremonies, honoring the PharmD classes that matriculated to UCSF in 2017 and 2018, were broadcast on May 15 and May 21, respectively. Each ceremony featured nods to the legacy of pharmacy education at UCSF as well as optimism for what these new pharmacists will bring to patient care and the health sciences as their careers unfold.

These classes both graduated in 2021 thanks to the School’s adoption of a three year, year-round PharmD curriculum in 2018, which replaced its legacy four-year curriculum. The 127 members of the Class of 2021P completed the School’s legacy pathways PharmD curriculum, while the 96 members of the Class of 2021T completed the School’s transformed curriculum.

In their last year, all 223 students completed their advanced pharmacy practice experiences (APPEs) together during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, applying the knowledge gained in their time at UCSF to care for patients across California.

Many of these students also directly aided efforts to fight the pandemic, from organizing personal protective equipment (PPE) drives for health care workers to administering COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as they became available.

“Class of 2021, your experience as health care practitioners is forever shaped by the events of the past year,” said Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD. “I—along with the faculty and your preceptors—admire and respect the dedication you have shown to your patients in the face of these challenges.”

The unparalleled strengths of both curricula were reflected in a 75% residency match rate for all 2021 graduates at pharmacy residency programs nationwide, with the remaining students pursuing other opportunities in pharmacy and beyond.

These students are entering the pharmacy profession at a critical time for health care. Not only are vaccinations to control—and hopefully end—the pandemic still underway, but issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion are receiving renewed and deserved attention in health care, offering hope to remedy discrimination in the workplace and clinic.

“You came to us guided by your drive, determination, empathy, vision, faith, and desire to heal,” said Guglielmo. “In your time here, you have consistently excelled, and we cannot wait to see the contributions you make, contributions that will be bold, innovative, and uniquely you.”

Former Surgeon General Carmona delivers two keynotes


Richard H. Carmona, MD, MPH

The commencement address was delivered to both classes by Richard H. Carmona, MD, MPH, the 17th surgeon general of the U.S. and distinguished professor at the University of Arizona. Carmona’s career has spanned a variety of disciplines, from government to industry, giving him a unique perspective on the professional possibilities offered by specialization in health care.

Carmona first met Dean Guglielmo decades ago, sparking a long friendship bridging the medical and pharmacy professions. In distinct keynotes written for each class, he shared a common message encouraging the students to always strive to improve their impact on patient care.

“Now it’s time for you to think about what you’re going to do in the future. Sure you can be a pharmacist, but you’re trained to do just about anything,” said Carmona. “Pharmacists are responsible for the destiny of others on a daily basis irrespective of the job they do, and you’ve been well trained to take on that responsibility. Think about where you want to spend your time. Get up every morning with a sense of urgency. The world needs you now more than ever.”

Class of 2021P springboards into pharmacy from the School’s legacy curriculum

The Class of 2021P commencement on May 15 highlighted the class’s entrance into an esteemed group of over 2,000 alumni pharmacists who all completed the School’s legacy, or pathways, curriculum since its adoption in 1998. Pharmacists trained with this curriculum have gone on to found pharmacies, serve in leadership roles throughout health care and government, and some have even returned to UCSF as faculty members in the School.

Full video of the commencement for the Class of 2021P

Distinguished Alumnus Knoben offers his congratulations and wisdom


Distinguished Alumnus of 2020 James E. Knoben, PharmD, MPH

James Knoben, PharmD ’71, who was selected last year as the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year for 2020, delivered a congratulatory address to the class. His 45 years of service in pharmacy and public health, which spanned stints with the FDA, NIH, and the U.S. military, was formally honored last spring during Alumni Weekend 2020.

Knoben, who was also the founding author of the Handbook of Clinical Drug Data, which was a critical part of a pharmacist’s reference for decades, remarked on how the skills the Class of 2021P gained at UCSF would serve them over their long careers.

“Lifelong learning will be key to maintaining your professional competence, where therapeutics and medical technologies continue to evolve and rapidly advance,” he said. “Be proactive and connect and collaborate with colleagues to achieve innovations. You are just as capable as the pharmacists who preceded you to make exceptional contributions to the health care system.”

Student speakers Le and Koreie reflect on years of service and fun

The first student speaker was Kevin Le, PharmD, who served his class as president and will begin a general practice residency with the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System this July.

Le began by reading from a printed sheet of paper before tossing it aside. “I haven’t seen you all in so long,” he said. “I don’t think it would be fair to read this typed-out speech, so here goes.”

Le highlighted memories of MUNI bus tickets and complicated metabolic maps as he recounted all the experiences that filled his four years becoming a pharmacist at UCSF.

The second student speaker was Nathan Koreie, PharmD. In his time with the School, he co-founded San Francisco Hillel at UCSF and was active in community service, legislative advocacy, teaching, and patient education programs focused on underserved communities.

Koreie, who will begin a residency with Mission Wellness Pharmacy in San Francisco in July, gave the class life advice, both sage and humorous, accompanied by relaxing background music. His advice ranged from simply “wear sunscreen,” to remembering compliments, being wary of excessive worrying, and making sure to dance.

Faculty members MacDougall and Cocohoba share words of advice

School faculty members Conan MacDougall, PharmD, MAS, and Jennifer Cocohoba, PharmD, gave the Class of 2021P their most valuable advice for building and living through fulfilling careers in pharmacy.

MacDougall, who graduated in the first School cohort to undertake the PharmD pathways curriculum in 2002, joked about how his words would be recorded for posterity on YouTube, and then reflected on what students might remember as they made their way through their careers.

“Always remember your ‘why,’ and keep your ‘why’ in front of you. Try to make it specific, about the patient in front of you, and not just helping people in general,” said MacDougall. “And remember that helping people can be a side effect of your primary motivation for doing your work, whether it’s problem-solving, or teaching, or supporting your own family.”

Cocohoba struck a different note, inviting students to tap into their creative sides even while adhering to the rigors of drug dosing or medication reimbursement.

“Creativity forms the basis for reframing any situation, especially when you’re feeling stuck. It allows you to see old problems with fresh eyes, and this can be crucial as we all continue to work in and through health care systems that remain fractionated,” said Cocohoba. “It’s also linked to happiness, which can help transform a job into a profession that’s held proudly over a lifetime.”

Class of 2021T completes a transformed curriculum

The Class of 2021T convened on May 21 for its commencement. As the first class to experience the School’s new curriculum, these graduates served as critical partners of the faculty members and staff who oversaw the curricular rollout, providing feedback to improve the fledgling program as each academic quarter went by.

Full video of the commencement for the Class of 2021T

Distinguished Alumnus Skahl encourages graduates to think beyond the walls of the pharmacy


Distinguished Alumnus of 2021 John T. Skahl, PharmD

John Skahl, PharmD, ’71, who was selected as the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year for 2021, delivered an address remarking on the possibilities that a UCSF pharmacy doctorate had opened for his career—and would open for each of the new graduates.

Skahl spent many of his professional years building the California Pharmacists Association into its current form, and later founded a variety of pharmacy-oriented businesses to ensure patient access to critical therapies. He also served the UCSF pharmacy alumni community for 18 years, first as president of the UCSF Pharmacy Alumni Association and then as president of the Alumni Association of UCSF.

Skahl described only working “three full days” as a licensed community pharmacist before branching out into roles within the California Pharmacists Association that tackled prescription payments and ongoing monitoring of patient outcomes.

“These were roles for pharmacists that had not been thought of when I graduated,” he said. “However, the foundation that I got from UCSF gave me the confidence to take on the unknown.”

Student speakers Virk and Dinger reflect on equity and legacy

The dean noted that the first student speaker, Mehr Virk, PharmD, chose her path in part based on the impression that a compassionate pharmacist made on her when she was a pediatric patient.

Virk emphasized the importance of using diversity as a lens through which pharmacists could better serve the public. She expressed confidence that her classmates would “not simply stand up for others, but also use the PharmD as a vector for change, where the individuals who hold this title are up to the task of practicing at the highest possible standard.”

The second student speaker, Julia Dinger, PharmD, who served as the class’s third-year president and currently mentors students in UCSF’s post-baccalaureate program, highlighted the class’s responsibility to carry the torch of excellence in pharmacy and pass it on to future generations of pharmacists.

“Our roles as pharmacists are more than just jobs—they’re essential to the well-being of cities and communities around the world,” said Dinger. “We are privileged with the responsibility to continue learning, serving, and growing. The best way we can repay our mentors is by honoring our obligation to mentor future pharmacists ourselves.”

A fond farewell to Associate Dean Cindy Watchmaker

Cindy Watchmaker, MBA, MEd, who in her role as associate dean of student and curricular affairs has shepherded UCSF’s PharmD classes from orientation through commencement over the last 23 years, was given the special honor of addressing the Class of 2021T in what would be her final commencement as a School administrator.

Vice Dean Sharon L. Youmans, PharmD, MPH, introduced Watchmaker and recounted her countless contributions to student welfare and success over the years.

“This will be Cindy’s last commencement, as she will retire at the end of June,” said Youmans. “I am personally and professionally indebted to Dean Watchmaker. She taught me everything I know about working with students in higher ed. On behalf of the School family, Dean Watchmaker, I say thank you for your service and thank you for being you.”

Watchmaker then took the virtual stage to provide the class with her warmth and encouragement one last time. She shared her thoughts not only on the careers in pharmacy that lay ahead of the new graduates, but also on values that have served her so well in her decades in higher education: excellence, integrity, and the alignment of the personal and professional selves.

“As pharmacists you all have a particular responsibility to be accurate in what you do, because the lives of your patients, and the quality of the care that you and your colleagues provide, depend on it,” said Watchmaker. “But excellence does not mean being perfect, excellence lies in our capacity to learn and grow to try new things and to embrace the lessons born of experience.”

Watchmaker also admitted that the concept of “balance” between the personal and professional had not made much sense to her over the course of her career. She shared that she had benefited from carefully investing time in these complementary parts of her life when the situation called for it and extolled the students to “create your story with purpose and intention, listen within, and you won’t regret it.”

Two winners of the Bowl of Hygeia

In both ceremonies, following the student speaker speeches, the dean introduced the Bowl of Hygeia Award, the School’s highest honor bestowed on a graduating student. The award is given annually to a graduate who “best exemplifies the qualities most desirable in a pharmacist,” as voted by their peers.

Greg Smith, PharmD ’92, president of the Pharmacy Alumni Association Board of Governors, gave remarks on the history and importance of the award, and the dean then announced each classes’ nominees and winner.

Brooks awarded the Bowl of Hygeia for the Class of 2021P


Jordan Brooks, PharmD, was the winner of the Bowl of Hygeia for the Class of 2021P.

For the Class of 2021P, the Bowl of Hygeia was awarded to Jordan Brooks, PharmD, who will begin a fellowship in the Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics Postdoctoral Training Program at UCSF this summer.

Brooks is a “jack of all trades,” said Guglielmo, and “an engaged, active leader who is calm under pressure, always ready to lend a helping hand and known for spreading joy, positivity, and kindness.”

The other nominees in the Class of 2021P were Janelle Agustin, PharmD, described as “always willing to go the extra mile with enthusiasm, empathy and patience;” Jennifer Le, PharmD, whose classmates felt inspired to be better pharmacists thanks to her altruistic nature; Allison Lee, PharmD, praised for “combining an uplifting spirit with a grounding in the ethics of our profession;” and Jessica Wisniewski, PharmD, who “spoke out on behalf of the class and modeled engagement in professional organizations.”

Berkley awarded the Bowl of Hygeia for the Class of 2021T


Ellen T. Berkley, PharmD, was the winner of the Bowl of Hygeia for the Class of 2021T.

For the Class of 2021T, the Bowl of Hygeia was awarded to Ellen Berkley, PharmD, who will begin a residency at University of California Davis Medical Center this summer.

“Dr. Berkley’s active professional engagement as a speaker and writer about digital health and pharmacy, combined with her contributions to both large and small group learning sessions, have inspired students and faculty, earning accolades as a rock star in digital pharmacy,” said Guglielmo.

The other nominees in the Class of 2021T were Gabrielle Driller, PharmD, praised for “leading with approachability and professionalism, listening carefully, articulating issues clearly and taking action to promote community and input;” Niamh O’Grady, PharmD, who co-founded a pharmacy peer teaching program that will “assist students for years to come;” Judy Viduya, PharmD, described as “an active advocate to improve the experiences of the class through an inclusive approach to leadership that empowers others;” and Virk, the student speaker, whose efforts to promote the field of pharmacy were highlighted.

Vice Dean Youmans thanks classes for partnership during curricular transformation

Vice Dean Youmans, who oversees the PharmD program, shared her thoughts about each class’s growth and success over their pharmacy education.


Vice Dean Sharon L. Youmans, PharmD, MPH

“Class of 2021P, you all have had the lived experience of the curriculum that has a long track record of success in preparing graduates to pursue a variety of roles in the profession of pharmacy, some even outside of traditional pharmacy settings,” said Youmans. “And special thanks to the class for partnering with the faculty and staff as we designed, built, and implemented our transformed curriculum. Your insights, opinions, and experiences were invaluable in helping us shape the curriculum from the student perspective.”

For the Class of 2021T, Youmans was grateful for each student’s willingness to be a partner in polishing the fledgling curriculum while it was being rolled out.

“From day one we saw you not only as outstanding students but also as pioneers. You were willing to take a chance on a curriculum that was new, novel, and disrupted the norms of pharmacy education,” said Youmans. “We worked together as thought partners, and most importantly, we learned together, and you provided valuable information that allowed faculty and staff to make improvements.”

Ultimately, the goal of both the pathways and transformed curricula remained constant, Youmans reminded the classes.

“Our goal was to build a curriculum that would prepare you to meet the health challenges of the 21st century and the complex health needs and inequities experienced by our communities,” she said. “We are excited about your future. We raised the bar high, and you rose to the challenge.”

Faculty members and mentors recognized with awards by students

The graduating classes couldn’t have made it so far without the committed efforts of faculty members in the School and pharmacists throughout the State of California. Vice Dean Youmans announced the winners of teaching awards, as voted by students from each class.

Kind of awards Class of 2021P Class of 2021T
Teaching awards
  • Year 1: Paul Ortiz de Montellano, PhD
  • Year 2: Jaekyu Shin, PharmD
  • Year 3: Conan MacDougall, PharmD, MAS
  • Year 1: Jaekyu Shin, PharmD
  • Year 2: Rupa Tuan, PharmD
IPPE Preceptor of the Year awards
  • Erin Knox, PharmD
  • Vicki Jue, PharmD
  • Elizabeth Staub, PharmD
  • Cassia Young, PharmD
  • Johnny Rau, PharmD
  • Rebecca Florez, PharmD
APPE Preceptor of the Year awards
  • John Chang, PharmD (Fresno)
  • Chi-Leung Lai, PharmD (Greater Sacramento)
  • Jesse Wisniewski, PharmD (Los Angeles / Orange County)
  • Netta Bhasin, PharmD (North Bay)
  • Uerica Wang, PharmD (San Francisco Bay Area)

Over 200 new graduates take on a lifetime of responsibility in health care

UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS, congratulated each class before conferring the doctor of pharmacy degrees. Students were invited to have a meaningful person hood them in person, wherever they were tuning in from, and Vice Dean Youmans and Associate Dean Watchmaker read the names of each student while a corresponding slide featuring student photos and acknowledgements was displayed.

The respective distinguished alumni, Knoben and Skahl, then led each class in the Oath of the Pharmacist, recalling the students’ White Coat ceremonies from their first years.

The oath reminds all in the field of pharmacy to “consider the welfare of humanity and relief of suffering my primary concerns” and to devote themselves to “a lifetime of service to others through the profession of pharmacy.”

Dean Guglielmo concluded each ceremony.

“No graduating class in any school of pharmacy is better equipped to pridefully and flexibly adapt to today and tomorrow’s challenges than the Class of 2021,” said Guglielmo. “Family friends, faculty, and students, I proudly congratulate the Class of 2021, the nation’s, no, the world’s newest and finest doctors of pharmacy.”

Students in commencement regalia and the message "We did it, Pharmily! Shoutout to the Fres-yes crew!"

A message from Rebecca Leon: Pharmacist. Because vaccine giving, virus crushing, life saving superhero is not a job title. We are so proud of you. Congratulations, grad!

Woman holding message "Congrats 2021 Pros"


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.