War disrupted Abdulwhab Shremo Msdi’s education in Syria, but four years after coming to the United States on a student visa — and learning basic English in three months — he’s halfway through pharmacy school.
The rising third-year student in the Lloyd L. Gregory School of Pharmacy is $1,000 closer to achieving his goal, thanks to the newly-established Atlantis Pharmacy Scholarship. Dr. Damien Simmons, the pharmacy manager and a member of the Gregory Leadership Council, created the endowed scholarship, “reflecting his heart to help the next generation of pharmacists succeed,” said Dean Dr. Jeff Lewis.
“He has been encouraging and supporting the School of Pharmacy with his counsel, his financial generosity and opening his pharmacy as a clinical practice site for our students,” Lewis said.
For two consecutive years, Simmons has also paid for stethoscopes for the entire first-year class — an additional expense the incoming students would otherwise absorb along with tuition.
Simmons’ generosity is rooted in his own experiences, both as a pharmacy student and a youngster whose parents emigrated to South Florida from the Bahamas in the 1980s. A random act of kindness on a dark road in Palm Beach late one night had an outsized influence on his life.
With the whole family in the car, Simmons’ mom, a traveling nurse, ran out of gas. Despite the rain, a stranger in a two-seater Jaguar convertible stopped to help. The man offered to take Simmons’ dad to the gas station — even though the family had no money, only Simmons’ mother’s uncashed paycheck. The stranger bought a five-gallon jug of gas and handed Simmons’ mother a $50 bill before they parted ways.
“He changed my life,” Simmons said. “His thing was, ‘Maybe you could be somebody’s angel.”
Now Simmons wants to be an angel to everybody, including Shremo Msdi, whose parents remain in Turkey. The two hadn’t met until Simmons presented the big check at the pharmacy and amazed Shremo Msdi with his story.
Shremo Msdi continued learning English during a semester of undergraduate classes in medicinal and biological chemistry, but he struggled to earn good grades. Director of Pharmacy Admissions Lucas Whittaker suggested he take the Pharmacy College Admission Test, and his high scores propelled him into graduate coursework.
He was just the kind of student Simmons and Dr. Erin Dorval, assistant professor of pharmacy practice, wanted to receive the scholarship: someone with passion and a drive to persevere.
“He’s got such a natural curiosity,” said Dorval, whose practice is based in the pharmacy. “I love him as a student.”
Shremo Msdi said his love of science motivated him to pursue pharmacy. The Aleppo native is open to whatever possibilities await.
“I was so happy,” he said. “I didn’t know someone cares about your performance, your grades.”
Photo 1: Dr. Erin Dorval, assistant professor of pharmacy practice; Dr. Shawn Altieri, Atlantis Pharmacy assistant manager; pharmacy student Abdulwhab Shremo Msdi; Atlantis Pharmacy Manager Damien Simmons and Lloyd L. Gregory School of Pharmacy Dean Dr. Jeff Lewis pose for a photo at Atlantis Pharmacy, where Shremo Msdi was awarded the first Atlantis Pharmacy Scholarship. The scholarship is for $1,000.
Photo 2: Atlantis Pharmacy Assistant Manager Shawn Altieri and Manager Damien Simmons, right, pose for a photo with Abdulwhab Shremo Msdi, center, a student in the Lloyd L. Gregory School of Pharmacy, who received the first Atlantis Pharmacy Scholarship for $1,000. Altieri and Simmons presented Shremo Msdi with a big check at the pharmacy.