Paying tribute to mentors during Women's History Month

We are fortunate to have many wonderful mentors of faculty, staff and, importantly, our students at the College of Pharmacy. These individuals come from a variety of expertise, backgrounds and identities, and we are grateful for the richness they add to our community. 

During Women's History Month, we’re highlighting a few of the many outstanding women who have supported our community in countless ways. The women mentioned here are representative of so many in our college community who have opened doors, eliminated barriers and paved the way for others. We thank them all for all they have done and continue to do.

Michelle Aytay, RPh, CDE

Michelle AytayMichelle Aytay, RPh, CDE, ‘95, manager of pharmacy affairs, Walgreens Co., shares her time, mentors and supports students in countless ways. Some of these include teaching, serving as a preceptor and role model, volunteering to help student organizations, and being an advocate and supporter of students and the pharmacy profession. "Michelle has been my mentor since I became a pharmacist,” says Grant Shaft, PharmD, MTM pharmacist at UCare and Walgreens/Bethesda pharmacy resident (2015-2016). She has always been a leader who can bridge gaps, grow relationships, and perform at the highest level. Michelle is one of a kind. You won't meet another person who cares as deeply for her patients as her. She shows compassion and empathy in every interaction. Michelle is a generational talent and one of the people, not just pharmacists, that I most look up to in my life. Thank you for everything you have taught me and everything you have done for the profession!"

Dr. Angela Birnbaum

Angela BirnbaumDr. Angela Birnbaum, director of graduate students for the graduate program in the Department of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology (ECP), has an exceptional record of success in mentoring graduate and professional students. She is nationally recognized for these efforts. She has advised over sixty trainees including undergraduates, PharmD, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellows, and Research Associates toward research careers (e.g., careers in industry, tenure-track positions, and research scientist positions); many of her trainees have received numerous awards and recognition. Dr. Birnbaum is known also for her mentoring and advocacy of, not only her own trainees, but the entire ECP graduate program as well as students throughout the College of Pharmacy, the Medical School, and faculty across the spectrum of academic ranks from assistant professor to associate professor to full professor. Dr. Carolyn Fairbanks, professor and associate dean for research and graduate education adds, “We are grateful for her vision, her diligent attention to detail, and good, consistent, sound advice always!”

Dr. Kristin Janke

Kristin JankeDr. Kristin Janke, '93 (PhD), has been a mentor to students as an advisor for professional student organizations and several SAPh graduate students. She has also mentored many junior faculty, particularly in the area of scholarship of teaching and learning. One of her mentees, Dr. Akua A. Appiah-Num Safo, ‘12 alumna and current graduate student, notes, “Dr. Kristin Janke is truly a guardian angel to many students including myself in the profession of pharmacy, especially her ability to anticipate the educational needs of her mentees and always going above and beyond to support their learning and development.” Another mentee, Dr. Kate Smith, ‘13, assistant professor, University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy, says, “Kristin has helped me feel like I belong in the community of pharmacy teaching and learning scholars and shares wisdom which challenges me to keep growing.”  Dr. Laura Palombi, associate professor says, "Since I was a student, she has worked with me to identify and harness my strengths as a leader and to continue to find places where I could best contribute to both public health and student learning.” From Sarah Shore Anderson, ‘13, we learn, “Dr. Janke's mentorship throughout the last 10 years has been invaluable. She has poured vision into the College of Pharmacy and has the unmatchable ability to turn thoughts, ideas, and concepts into action through connecting people with initiatives that fuel their passion.” And SAPh PhD student Cindy (Jungeun) Lee, PharmD adds, “[Her] passion and love for educating and mentoring future scholars / educators as well as her drive to improve pharmacy education is evident in every interaction I have with her…”

Dr. Laura Palombi

Laura PalombiDr. Laura Palombi, ‘12, has been a role model and mentor for students in the College of Pharmacy. She has tirelessly supported and mentored 20 pharmacy students pursuing the master’s in public health dual degree and helped elevate this program to prominence in the College of Pharmacy. According to one of Dr. Palombi’s mentees, Jake Noble, a third-year student, “...Dr. Palombi has supported me in pursuing a dual degree (PharmD/MPH) during uncertain times of the pandemic, by helping me recognize opportunities, pushing me to expand my thoughts on the interplay of my two interest areas and acting as a support system as I navigate both graduate degrees.” Her research program is designed to effectively incorporate these trainees, providing numerous opportunities for learning best practices in community engagement and community engaged research. Dr. Palombi also provides guidance and supervision of various student activities, and has received many awards in recognition of her community engagement, mentoring, teaching and clinical skills. These have included UMD’s Academic Advisor of Year and several Professor of the Year awards, as voted on by our pharmacy students, among many others.

Dr. Dana Simonson

Dana SimonsonDr. Dana Simonson, ‘09, clinical pharmacy development specialist at Fairview Pharmacy Services, has been a leader in mentoring and supporting students. As immediate past president of the Pharmacy Alumni Association, in partnership with current president Ronda Chakolis, ‘09, she fostered the development and implementation of a mentoring program. She has been recognized for her commitment to mentoring with the Pharmacy Alumni Mentor of the Year Award in 2020. Her nominator, Ekaterina Patel, praised Dana for her love of pharmacy, for being flexible and understanding, and for her commitment to making her mentoring experience a positive and educational one. When mentees are asked about her they praise her for her love of pharmacy, for being flexible and understanding and for her commitment to making the mentoring experience a positive and educational one. 

Dr. Wendy St. Peter

Wendy St. PeterDr. Wendy St. Peter is an inspirational and brilliant educator who deeply cares about her learners and all those she mentors. She constantly strives to innovate and enhance her teaching in ways that evolve the curriculum for the better. All her learners are better pharmacists and critical thinkers because of her lasting impact. Through her mentorship, Dr. St. Peter innately and consistently encourages, challenges, and fiercely advocates for junior faculty. Dr. Jean Moon, associate professor, remarked, “I can't say enough about my deep gratitude for Dr. St. Peter and the legacy she has left on this college.” Dr. St. Peter is the recipient of the 2019 Lawrence C. and Delores M. Weaver Medal. Several of her nominators for that award wrote, “Dr. St. Peter is a truly skilled mentor. Wendy has invested her expertise into building up numerous graduate students and residents into competent clinicians and powerful researchers.” They went on to say, “She also serves as a positive and dedicated role model for our junior faculty, particularly the women of Pharmaceutical Care and Health Systems. Wendy epitomizes what it means to be a strong, successful woman, balancing research, teaching, and family. Dr. St. Peter empowers and encourages each of us to lead through our strengths. Personally, we are better pharmacists, teachers and citizens because of her amazing ability to provide guidance and advice when it is most needed.” 

Dr. Norrie Thomas

Norrie ThomasDr. Norrie Thomas has mentored numerous students, faculty and pharmacists throughout the country based on her expertise in managed care and leadership development. Her mentee Dr. Ann VanBoxtel, ‘19, clinical auditor at The Burchfield Group, an Aon company notes, “Dr. Thomas’s leadership and pioneering of managed care pharmacy inspired me to pursue a career in this field. Her mentorship helped me get here, and now that I'm working in the industry I continue to turn to her for advice and input on my future career goals and direction. I love my career and the path I chose in pharmacy. I don't think I'd be in the same position today if I hadn't met Norrie.” Another mentee Dr. Rowan Mahon, ‘20, HEOR claims data analytics manager at Pear Therapeutics shares, “I first met Dr. Norrie Thomas at a women in leadership panel, in which she was a panelist. It was the first time I heard just the beginning of her amazing story, and I remember how inspiring I found everything she was talking about. Little did I know then that she would become one of the biggest mentors of my career. One of my favorite things about Dr. Thomas is that she is always seeing connections and possibilities for the future of pharmacy. She has been there to help me become better at state legislation, public speaking, leadership, data analytics, health informatics and how pharmacy can be intertwined within all of these seemingly separate skills. Dr. Thomas is able to see and bring out the best in individuals and I feel extremely lucky that I have been able to have my career guided by her.”