Thinking about the future is something all graduating students do. Some, like Connor Walker ’18 (Pharm.D.), find that exercise and exploration encourages clarity. Walker’s regime? Extraordinary.
It all started when Walker signed up for CAHNR Professor Morty Ortega’s study abroad class on South African Field Ecology when he was a pre-pharmacy student in 2014. That experience ticked his travel muse and the following year he participated in the School of Pharmacy’s study abroad course in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Based in Beijing, but including excursions to important sites such as the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace, the experience opened his eyes to the beauty and intrigue of the Far East.
“I loved going to South Africa and it really opened my eyes and made me want to travel more. Then, after seeing China, I was so completely overcome with the beauty of the land and the people that I knew I wanted to return to Asia someday,” Walker says. “I realized then that I’d probably never stop traveling.”
A native of Torrington, Conn., Walker originally thought of majoring in electrical engineering when he first came to UConn. But, although he had the grades, he found he wasn’t particularly enjoying the coursework. A friend whose father is a pharmacist talked to Walker about the profession, and that’s when he decided to explore the possibility of a major in pharmacy. Once he started taking the requisite pre-pharm courses, he was hooked. As it turns out, pharmacists are needed everywhere and as opportunities to travel to far away places arose, Walker took advantage of them.
His next adventure in an exotic landscape was in Peru as a health volunteer in mobile clinics around the Cusco area. While in South America, he helped educate the populace on an array of health topics including proper oral care, healthy eating, and exercise. Finishing his time in Peru he had a chance to hike through the Peruvian landscape up to Machu Picchu, visit Lake Titicaca and continue to immerse himself in Peruvian culture.
Once he was well on his way to his Pharm.D., and after his initial successful travel experiences, it was natural for him to take advantage of an Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) rotation in December of 2017 at the Taipei Medical University, Municipal Wan Fang Hospital in Taipei, Taiwan.
There, he had the opportunity to work alongside and learn from pharmacists, doctors and nurses providing care for patients, as well as seeing how a Traditional Chinese Medicine pharmacy was operated. The experience allowed him to gain insight in the role that pharmacy plays in an international setting.
Walker says, “That was also an incredible experience, and I was lucky that my friend Shuai Wang [’18 Pharm.D.] had also done his APPE rotation in Taiwan and then was in China visiting his family. When I finished my rotation, I spent a week traveling through Japan and then I went to spend two weeks with Shuai in his hometown of Tianjin, China where he took me to many interesting places.” And, he adds with a smile, “He also introduced me to delicious local foods!”
Following his return from Taiwan, Japan, and China, and due to some careful planning on his part, Walker found himself free to travel again in the Spring. He spent most of the month of April hiking in Nepal, returning just in time for graduation.
He says that experience was terrific. He spent time in Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu, then embarked on a 17-day trek through the Himalayas up to the base camp of Mount Everest, finishing with a climb of the 20,305 ft mountain Imja Tse.
Given his interest in Asia, it’s not a surprise that when Walker took the School of Pharmacy’s Public Health & Healthcare policy course with associate clinical professor of Pharmacy Practice Thomas Buckley, he became interested in the complicated issues surrounding Cambodian refugees who have settled in the area. This led to a month-long clinical rotation at Khmer Health Advocates in West Hartford, an organization devoted to the health care of Cambodian refugees in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The contacts he made there were instrumental in Walker’s decision to join the Peace Corps after graduation.
Walker had hoped to be assigned to the health sector in Cambodia, but unfortunately that option isn’t currently available. Instead, he will be working with the Peace Corps in South Africa as a Community HIV/AIDS Outreach Coordinator starting in January 2019.
In a sense, this assignment seems entirely correct. It means that Walker will be returning to the country where he initially discovered his passion for world travel.
Walker was the University of Connecticut’s 2018 United States Public Health Service Excellence in Public Health Pharmacy Practice Award recipient.
A selection of his personal travel photos is below: