SPIN peer mentoring program inspires diversity in pharmacy profession

SPIN group

Founded in 2018 by impassioned student pharmacist Mona Mawari, the Student Pharmacists Inclusion Network (SPIN) is making big strides to ensure that the Wayne State PharmD degree program reflects and supports a diverse student body, with a long-range goal of reducing health care disparities in Detroit. 

“While the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences – like all of Wayne State – is a vastly multicultural community, the PharmD program does not yet reflect the diversity of the surrounding communities in Detroit,” Mawari said. “We want to contribute to a student body and a professional health care workforce that truly reflects the population it serves.”

Raised in a Yemeni family in which almost all elder women were illiterate due to the lack of schools and resources in their village, Mawari was determined to break the cycle and pursue higher education. Now on the verge of graduating and eager to give back, she designed the peer-mentoring program to prepare students from historically underrepresented backgrounds for the academic rigor and personal demands of earning a PharmD degree.

WarriorFunder Giving Button“I thought back to how challenging college was for me when I started my undergraduate classes. I understand some of the roadblocks that students from disadvantaged backgrounds often face,” said Mawari. “I was fortunate to have met great mentors along the way who helped me pursue my goals and encouraged me when I was doubtful.”

The support Mawari received from those mentors inspired her to design SPIN specifically for pre-pharmacy students.

To recruit motivated mentees from backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented in pharmacy, SPIN collaborates with University Advising, APEX and the Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity, and WSU student organizations including the Black Student Union, Latino Professionals for America, and Black and Latinx Students in Biology.

Participants are then matched with current PharmD student mentors to build one-on-one relationships for support. SPIN also runs personal and professional development workshops that prepare mentees for the challenges of the PharmD degree program. The workshops provide networking training and opportunities, and teach skills in goal setting, professionalism, leadership and more. In addition, mentees get first-hand exposure to the profession through shadowing opportunities and help securing pharmacy technician positions. 

“By providing guidance to pre-pharmacy students from diverse backgrounds, we are empowering them to become well-rounded pharmacists, to uplift their communities and reduce healthcare disparities,” Mawari said. “We need diversity within our profession to better serve our diverse patient populations, and we hope that our mentees go back to their communities to create a domino effect by being role models and mentors themselves.”

To date, 17 Wayne State undergrads with their sights set on PharmD degrees have been mentored through SPIN, which is now run by a board of five student members of the Student Pharmacists Diversity Council (SPDC) in collaboration with WSU faculty and staff. The board includes Mawari and fellow student pharmacists Hannah Scharboneau, Ashley Blanchette, Renee Bookal and Mehvish Khan. SPDC faculty advisors and WSU Applebaum professors David Pitts, Randall Commissaris and Dennis Parker provide guidance to the board, and Insaf Mohammad serves as the workshop facilitator.

The level of Mona’s motivation, commitment and leadership to develop the SPIN peer-mentoring program has been truly incredible,” Pitts said. “Her passion for this effort has been embraced and furthered by fellow members of the SPDC, providing a tremendous benefit to disadvantaged students who come from the surrounding Detroit communities.” 

Detroit outreach

Mawari sees many socioeconomic challenges in Detroit that can affect academic performance and high school graduation rates, making the decision to pursue a college degree a foreign concept in many communities.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 14.2% of the Detroit population had a bachelor’s degree or higher between the years 2013-2017, and 37.9% of the Detroit population lived in poverty. Additionally, the National Institute for Literacy reports that about 47% of adults in Detroit were classified as functionally illiterate in 2011. Detroiters who do make it to college are often the first in their families to do so.

Several SPIN mentees, including Edison Nwobi, came to Wayne State via Detroit Public Schools. Nwobi is a graduate of Renaissance High School and currently a pre-pharmacy major at WSU.

“I was inspired to join SPIN because I know it will give me great support toward my career goals. I chose to go into health care because I like learning about chemicals and about what makes the human body work,” Nwobi said. “Talking to my mentor has been invaluable as I navigate my academic program and prepare myself for the PharmD program at Wayne State.”

Nwobi and fellow SPIN participant Brandon Buchanon have worked in Commissaris’s research lab.

“From what I have seen, the SPIN mentorship program has been a huge success,” Commissaris said. “Edison is on track for applying to the WSU Doctor of Pharmacy program in the near future. Brandon had an outstanding admissions interview, was accepted in the early decision process, and is planning to start work on his PharmD degree in fall 2019. The mentorship provided through the SPIN program had a tremendous impact on career preparation for these students."

SPIN leaders hope to foster deeper ties between the program and the metro Detroit community, connecting with students as early as high school to foster longitudinal mentorship relationships and further diversify the professional degree program.

“The SPIN program was founded in Detroit and Wayne State is an anchoring institution in the city, so we hope to direct our focus specifically to Detroit residents in addition to other underrepresented populations in pharmacy,” said Scharboneau. “Our main goal is to provide mentorship and guidance to undergraduates who previously may not have had much access or opportunities to explore a career in pharmacy.”

Looking ahead

The efforts of SPIN are maintained through the generous contributions of sponsors and donors. CVS Health was instrumental in providing sponsorship for the first class of mentees in 2018, and this year the group received funding from a private donor who supports its overall mission.

“Each year we welcome new collaborations and donations that will help move the SPIN program forward and we are extremely grateful to our previous sponsors for their contributions,” Mawari said. “As current student pharmacists, we believe we have a responsibility to give back to our communities. And as mentors in the SPIN program, we strive to use our own privilege to uplift, educate, and empower other individuals to achieve their goals of becoming valuable pharmacists who make a difference in our Detroit community every day.”

For more information about SPIN or to get involved, contact SPIN Chairperson Mona Mawari at monamawari@gmail.com.

SPIN is a featured project on Wayne State’s WarriorFunder, where you can support it with an online gift. Funds raised will be used to assist the peer mentoring program with prospective student and mentor recruitment, as well as cover operational costs for the program including personal and professional development workshops, orientation, graduation and regular meetings.

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