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Foundation endows Native American pharmacy scholarships

Missoula Current

When the Skaggs’ Scholars program was created at the University of Montana, the school ranked fourth among the nation’s pharmacy schools in enrollment of Native American students.

But as of this academic year, UM had climbed the charts, claiming the largest number of Native American students of any pharmacy program in the country.

A $1.2 million gift from the ALSAM Foundation will now help the university maintain its position and recruit more Native American students to the program. The permanent endowment was announced Monday, one that will provide financial assistance to five pharmacy students each year who are American Indian or some other underrepresented minority.

“The scholarships will provide opportunities for future generations of Native American students to pursue their dreams of becoming pharmacists,” said Howard Beall, associate dean of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy. “Many will then return home to serve and strengthen their communities.”

Pharmacists do more than just dispense medications in small towns across the country. They serve as a vital resource for patients, providing important health screenings and education for conditions like diabetes and asthma.

Jessi Cahoon stands among the scholarship’s recipients. After graduating with her pharmacy degree in 2015, she completed a residency at Community Medical Center before accepting a position as an ambulatory care pharmacist for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Pablo.

“The scholarship offers inclusion in a wonderful network of people,” said Cahoon. “The scholarship coordinators, faculty mentors and other recipients eased the isolation of being a Native American student with many barriers to success. The support of my mentors emboldened me to pursue the highest goals of pharmacy.”

The Skaggs’ Scholars program has been highly successful in its goal of recruiting more Native American students, according to the school. All 30 practicing pharmacists in Montana who identify as Native American are graduates of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy.

Skaggs was a retail giant who, building on top of a business his father started, pioneered innovative merchandising techniques that revolutionized the grocery and drugstore businesses.

“The education of minority and underprivileged students and providing pharmacy services to rural communities were both goals of Skaggs,” said Ronny Cutshall, president of the ALSAM Foundation. “We hope the Skaggs’ Scholars program will continue to satisfy these goals.”