There are a variety of accolades individuals may receive throughout their careers, but it is probably safe to say that those coming from ‘within the family’ are among the most meaningful.
This year, the UConn Pharmacy Alumni Association and the School of Pharmacy continued the tradition of honoring individuals who have made significant contributions to their profession and to the School by honoring three alumni who have shown leadership, compassion, and innovation throughout their careers.
Marielle Nyser ’92 (Pharm), president of the UConn Pharmacy Alumni Association, presided over the ceremony. She was joined at the podium by Dean of the School of Pharmacy, James R. Halpert, who noted that graduates from as far away as Maryland and North Carolina were in attendance.
Halpert said, “In our midst we have alumni who graduated at the top of their class, served in pharmacy student government, or who come from long standing pharmacy families. Others are forging careers in industry or pursuing various novel ventures in pharmacy. Thank you for contributing to the more than 90 years of history and tradition for this school.”
The Distinguished Alumnus Award was presented to Angelo DeFazio, ’85 (Pharm), the Exceptional Service Award to Robert Bepko ’77 (Pharm), and the Tradition of Excellence Award to Susan Holden, ’03 (Pharm.D.).
DaFazio earned the Distinguished Alumnus Award for his dedication to his school and his community. He is a lifetime member of the UConn Pharmacy Alumni Association and a former chair and emeritus member of the UConn School of Pharmacy Advisory Board. He serves as an adjunct faculty member as a preceptor for UConn pharmacy students, and has collaborated with the school on medication management research.
He served the State of Connecticut as pharmacy commissioner for several years and was recently appointed chair of the Connecticut Commission of Pharmacy by Governor Dannel P. Molloy.
A born entrepreneur, DeFazio purchased his first pharmacy at age 26 and has served as president and CEO of the Arrow Pharmacy Group since that time. The Group now includes five retail pharmacies, two management-consulting companies, and two of only nine medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.
In her letter nominating DeFazio for the Distinguished Alumnus Award, Jill St. Germain ’07 (Pharm.D.) described him as being a strong advocate for the advancement and rights of community pharmacies. She also cited his contributions to annual and endowed scholarships, including the Arrow Pharmacy Endowed Scholarship and the Henry Palmer Endowed Professorship in Community Pharmacy Practice.
For Robert Bepko, receiving the Exceptional Service Award stems from his years of service to UConn, including his current role as chair of the School of the Pharmacy Advisory Board and, previously, serving two terms as director of the UConn Pharmacy Alumni Association. As the Network Director of Pharmacy Services for the Western Connecticut Health Network, he has directly influenced the education of hundreds of UConn pharmacy students, often while they completed IPPE and APPE rotations at Norwalk Hospital.
Bepko is a tireless advocate of UConn School of Pharmacy students and graduates. He participates as an alumni representative when students are seeking admission and lectures P4 students on current trends in the health care industry as an adjunct assistant professor of Pharmacy Practice.
Brian Bachyrycz ’10 (Pharm.D.) wrote in his letter of nomination that Bepko continues to give the highest priority to mentoring UConn students through the experiential program. He says, “Bob’s dedication to advancing the education [of students] and promoting UConn pharmacists has led to the successful hiring and practice of in-state pharmacists who serve the greater Danbury and Norwalk communities.”
Susan M. Holden ’03 (Pharm.D.) was named the Tradition of Excellence award winner due to her deep commitment to leadership, education, and advocacy. As a Federal Pharmacist since 2006, she has had many evolving roles within the VA Healthcare System. Currently a clinical pharmacy specialist in primary care, she serves as the lead pharmacist within her campus, working to streamline and standardize Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT) practices among all VA sites. She is certified by the Board of Pharmacy Specialists as both an ambulatory care pharmacist and a geriatric pharmacist. She is also a certified diabetes educator.
Holden has served as a board member for the Boston Druggists Association and as board member and President of the Massachusetts Pharmacists Association. She has been a delegate to the AphA House of Delegates since 2004 and also serves as Veterans Integrated Service Network Clinical Pharmacy Practice Office liaison (VISN 1). In this role, she works to standardize policies and procedures among clinical pharmacy specialists throughout New England, share best practices, and continue the tradition of excellence in service to our nation’s veterans.
Holden is an advisor on the UConn Husky Mentor Network and is also a mentor for the UConn Pharmacy Leaders Track Mentor Program. She participates in UConn networking events and has always valued opportunities to support the aspirations of young pharmacists from UConn.
Among her reasons for nominating Holden for the Tradition of Excellence award, Meghan Wilkosz ’03 (Pharm.D.) included willingness to mentor young UConn pharmacy students as well as serving as a preceptor for the VA Boston PGY1 and PGY2 geriatrics residents. She noted that the Massachusetts Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists recognized Holden as the Residency Program Preceptor of the Year for 2017.
Although each of the awardees represented different decades in which they were students at the UConn School of Pharmacy, they all expressed a similar degree of appreciation for the education they received while in Storrs and to those who had supported and encouraged them along the way.
In his remarks, DeFazio thanked his family for their support, including his late parents, Vincenzo and Angelina who were, he said, “Two very economically poor, illiterate immigrants from Italy who somehow possessed brilliance and riches in the most valuable education of all – the education of life.”
He continued, “Honestly, to be honored by your peers, your school, and your professional family is such an honor. It reminds me that creating a culture of high integrity and professionalism will always reward you in life.”
For Bepko, who admitted to having tears in his eyes when he was notified of his award for exceptional service, the presence of four generations of his family in the audience was particularly meaningful. In addition to his wife, immediate family members present included his father, his daughter, and his grandson.
He further recognized the people he has worked with over the years, saying, “They are some of the brightest and most innovative people in this profession.”
And in commenting on his ongoing relationship with UConn, Bepko added, “There are a lot of people who can say they graduated from the University of Connecticut. There are very few of us that can say, ‘I graduated from the University of Connecticut – School of Pharmacy.’ It’s time for all of us who graduated from this wonderful school to give back and support the organization that has given us the opportunity to succeed in this wonderful profession.”
Holden, too, thanked many people who have been instrumental in her success, including her family and her colleagues who have been instrumental in the advancement of her career. She noted that she particularly loves networking and the opportunity to meet new people, saying that, “This has served me well and I have been lucky to work for and with some tremendous pharmacists and leaders within our profession.”
She also shared a personal memory. “Twenty years ago, my dad and I stood on the corner of Hillside and Glenbrook Roads. We could see the Student Union, Gampel, and Jorgenson. We both knew – and we still talk about – how UConn is special. We could practically feel it humming in the air.
“It is an honor to be recognized as this year’s Tradition of Excellence Award recipient. It’s quite an accomplishment for a girl from Maine who though that UConn was the Big City!”
The UConn School of Pharmacy Alumni Association has over 7,000 members who are committed to maintaining the strong bond among graduates of the school. For more information, or to become involved in its many activities, visit its website.