The UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy has been on a good news streak recently. In December 2014, former pharmaceutical executive and alumnus Fred Eshelman donated $100 million, the largest gift by an individual in Carolina’s history. In 2015, the school and pharmaceutical giant GSK created a $20 million public-private partnership to focus exclusively on finding a cure for HIV/AIDS.
And this year, the school has been ranked the No. 1 pharmacy school in America by U.S. News & World Report. That’s what Carolina celebrated March 30, a bright spring morning, at Kerr Hall, decorated inside and out with bunches of blue and white balloons — some of them with silver “#1” inflatables.
Recalling the similar celebration of the Eshelman gift in 2014, Chancellor Carol L. Folt told more than 50 guests gathered on Kerr’s second floor lobby, “I don’t think we could have actually predicted how fast and how enormously active that gift would prove to be.”
The Eshelman donation brought national attention to the school, she said, and was a catalyst for other changes that lifted pharmacy to its No. 1 status. One key change was the school’s 2015 launch of a reengineered doctor of pharmacy (also called Pharm.D.) curriculum that includes more active learning in the classroom, more experience with direct patient care and greater opportunities for students to participate in research activities.
At a time when federal research money has gone flat, the school has seen a $20 million increase in grants since 2002. The school’s research program has generated 15 companies between 2005 and 2014 and 131 patents over the same period.
Deans and faculty at more than 130 accredited U.S. pharmacy schools ranked the nation’s top schools and their doctor of pharmacy programs for U.S. News & World Report, giving Carolina a 4.7 (out of 5.0) score, nudging it ahead of the University of Minnesota with 4.5. In the magazine’s last two ranking cycles for pharmacy, 2009 and 2014, Carolina ranked second, behind the University of California at San Francisco, which is now ranked third with a score of 4.4.
“You don’t get a No. 1 ranking because of the depth of your research. It’s really about pulling together all the pieces of a great school,” Folt said.
Pharmacy Dean Bob Blouin spoke next, telling the audience about the school’s mission to educate the next generation of pharmacists, to do research to find cures and to serve people “at the highest possible level.”
Blouin thanked faculty and students for their excellence, reminding the students that the school will continue to be judged by what they do in the future.
“What really makes a great university?” he asked. “It’s not shiny buildings or brand new equipment. It’s the quality of the people.”
Eshelman spoke briefly at the close of the celebration, congratulating Blouin, his faculty and students on the top ranking. “You are the guys that accomplished this. We didn’t do this. I certainly didn’t do this,” the philanthropist said.
“You should be stimulated to go further” by the No. 1 ranking, Eshelman told them, encouraging them to set their sights even higher. “You hit what you aim at. You aim at nothing, that’s what you hit every time.”
At the end of the speeches, guests streamed outside for lemonade, fruit and cookies. And – although Blouin joked about saving money by recycling the cookies from the previous event by putting a decimal after the “1” in their icing “100” – some of the sugar cookies were decorated with a blue “#1” on white icing — and no decimal points.