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Endowed Chair Supports Volunteer Efforts Amid Pandemic

Oct 26, 2021
5 min Read
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Alekha Dash smiling in white coat talking to colleagues.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacy students Andrew Trautman and Katie Sandquist were moved to put into practice the values of their Ignatian-inspired education.

Seeking support to offer hand sanitizer to those in need, Trautman and Sandquist reached out to Alekha Dash, RPh, PhD, professor and holder of the Gilbert F. Taffe Jr. Endowed Chair.

“The need for hand sanitizer was at an all-time high, and we knew we could use our knowledge to fill this need. As a mentor, Dr. Dash encouraged this project, and in class, was inspiring,” Trautman says.

Since 1990, Dash has applied his values-centered teaching approach to motivating his students at Creighton. In 2008, he was installed as the second holder of the Taffe Chair, which recognizes a prominent pharmaceutical scientist. As chair, Dash has invested funds from the endowment into the School of Pharmacy and Health Profession’s research software and equipment.

“Research is an important aspect of student learning and professional advancement,” Dash says. “The infrastructure we have built, to date, has contributed tremendously to our students’ successes.”

The Gilbert F. Taffe Jr. Endowed Chair is the only endowed chair in the school. Given by the late Gilbert Taffe Jr., BS’49, the gift honors the memory of Taffe’s late father, 1914 Creighton pharmacy school graduate Gilbert Taffe Sr.

When Taffe Jr. died in 1998, his bequest to the University helped ensure the school would continue to be associated with leadership in teaching, patient care and research in the health professions.

The significance of his generosity is not lost on Sandquist.

“I have realized that my good fortune is built from people who have gone before me,” Sandquist says. “Creighton is preparing me by providing the highest quality education and experiences to fully engage in my profession.” To first understand the need for sanitizer,

Trautman, who led the duo’s service mission, contacted partners in Creighton’s clinics.

“I was surprised when Andrew reached out and asked if we needed sanitizer, since we actually did,” says Craig Kessler, PharmD, RPh, assistant professor of pharmacy practice and director of the Creighton University Campus Pharmacy.

“It was great that Dr. Dash, with the support of the school, saw the opportunity for this project and saw the need for their product — it all represents well the values of the school.”

Based on feedback from the clinics, Trautman estimated their team should produce approximately 12 gallons of sanitizer, for which the Pharmacy Science Department provided the compounding materials, PPE supplies for the volunteers and safe lab space in which to work.

“I am grateful to pharmacy faculty and staff, especially Dr. Dash and Dan Munt (lab technician), who volunteered their time and laboratory space to help make this project possible,” Trautman says.

For two months last fall, under the guidance of Dash and Munt, every Wednesday and Friday a group of 18 first- and second-year pharmacy students volunteered in two-hour shifts to compound the sanitizer.

“First-year students don’t get exposed to compounding medication until their second semester of pharmacy school,” Trautman says. “Those who helped had to step out of their comfort zone and learn how to compound with the help of Dan and Dr. Dash. They, too, were vital in making this project a success.”

In her role, Sandquist coordinated volunteers and oversaw the distribution of sanitizer to the clinics.

“As students, we are empowered to take action, be involved in our profession, and contribute in a meaningful way,” Sandquist says. “We are fortunate to have access to quality labs, instruction and faculty to bring our ideas to fruition.”

During the challenges faced from COVID-19, the Taffe Chair has helped Dash maintain pharmacy’s resources and tools to support the efforts of passionate students like Trautman and Sandquist.

“Andrew’s and Katie’s endeavor is one example of how we can make an impact,” Dash says.

“Pharmacy is a highly science-based education and our facilities and infrastructure are essential in providing a quality education and training.”

By Nichole Jelinek, MA’15