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El Pionero

A path didn't exist for the education he wanted, so Lucas Casserlie blazed the trail that's letting him earn degrees in both Spanish and pharmacy.

Lucas Casserlie grew up in a middle-class family in the homogenous village of Doylestown, Ohio (population: 3,051). Nothing in his background suggested he would come to Ohio Northern University and embrace diversity and blaze a new trail. Yet that’s exactly what he did.

When Casserlie graduates in spring 2017, he won’t be a typical American pharmacist. He’ll be a bilingual pharmacist who possesses a deep appreciation and understanding of Hispanic culture.

At ONU, Casserlie designed his own course of study so that he could earn both a Bachelor of Science in Spanish and a Doctor of Pharmacy. In a gesture of goodwill, he then mapped out his curriculum course on paper so that future ONU pharmacy students can follow in his footsteps.

Opportunities like this don’t happen at other schools,” he says. “It’s only because of the resources and tremendous support provided at ONU.

Growing up, Casserlie admired his mom, a nurse who was dedicated to patient care. He decided to study pharmacy because he excelled in math and science and he wanted to make an impact in the health care field.

After several visits to ONU, Casserlie knew the campus was the right fit. He liked the small-town setting, beautiful green spaces and friendly people. “Every time I visited, students that I passed on the path would say ‘hi’ or ‘good luck’ because they knew I was a prospective student,” he says. “I knew it was my kind of place – a home away from home.”

During his first year on campus, Casserlie signed up for a Spanish-language course on a whim. He’d taken four courses of Spanish in high school, and while did OK in the classes, he felt ambivalent about the subject. His Spanish class at ONU, however, opened up a whole new world.

I had no intention of taking more than one course, but the subject just grew on me,” he says. “I learned more than language and grammar; I learned about Hispanic culture and music and cinema. I found it fascinating, and things just snowballed from there.

Casserlie still wanted to become a pharmacist, but now he also wanted to pursue this new passion. So in summer 2013, he traveled to San Ramon, Costa Rica, for an 11-week study-abroad experience coordinated by ONU. Casserlie’s study-abroad experience wasn’t a sightseeing trip with stays at fancy hotels; it was a complete immersion into a different culture. He lived with a mother and her teenage son in a small, open-aired home, and they treated him like a member of their family. Neither of his hosts spoke English, so Casserlie was forced to hone his Spanish-language skills. Casserlie also took courses at a local university and interned at a village hospital. He spent time shadowing a nurse who traveled by foot to visit people in their homes to take blood-pressure readings, administer vaccines and update medical records.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” says Casserlie. “Family and personal relationships are very important in Costa Rica. The people I met live in the moment and enjoy their time with each other.”

Upon his return to the U.S., Casserlie realized that the 11 weeks he’d spent in Costa Rica were the best 11 weeks of his entire life. He became determined to complete a BA in Spanish in addition to his PharmD. ONU’s pharmacy program is rigorous and intensive. To fit in another major and still graduate in six years, Casserlie worked closely with his advisor, Dr. Natalie DiPietro Mager, PharmD ’01, and his pharmacy and Spanish professors. Their support, combined with his hard work and effort, made it possible.

The United States now has one of the largest Spanish-speaking populations in the world – second only to Mexico. In 2014, Hispanics accounted for 17.4 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Pew Research Center.

Being able to communicate with patients in Spanish is a valuable skill for pharmacists to have, especially ones practicing in certain regions of the U.S.,” said DiPietro Mager, associate professor of pharmacy practice. “It’s also useful when volunteering on medical mission trips.

When Casserlie interviewed for pharmacy internships during a career fair on campus, every prospective employer perked up when he talked about his study-abroad experience and BA in Spanish. “It set me apart and set me up to succeed even more,” he says.

Casserlie accepted a position as a pharmacy intern at Marc’s Pharmacy in Cleveland for summer 2014. About 20 percent of the pharmacy’s patients were Hispanic, but the pharmacy didn’t have a translator on staff. The internship turned out to be trial by fire, says Lucas. “I was given a lot of responsibility because I was the only staff member who could speak Spanish,” he explains. “I had to step up and counsel patients and answer their questions about their therapy. The word spread that I was the Spanish-speaking intern, and I think it brought in more business. I could see the look of gratitude on the faces of patients.”

The following summer, when Casserlie was a hospital-pharmacy intern at Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Va., another incident spotlighted the usefulness of his educational background. On rounds with medical residents, Casserlie stopped at the bedside of a patient who was clearly in distress but didn’t speak English. The translator couldn’t be there for another 20 minutes. To the amazement of the medical team, Casserlie stepped up and began conversing with the patient. He was able to relay critical medical information to the attending physician. “Everyone was kind of shocked when I started talking to the patient,” he says. “I am sure they thought, ‘Who is this guy?’”

Casserlie felt so positive about his educational journey that he prepared a document that outlined his curriculum for obtaining both degrees. “My path took a lot of coordination,” he says. “I thought it would make sense to write it out on paper to help future students. I didn’t do it for recognition. I did it because I sincerely want future students to have the same amazing experiences that I did.”

According to DiPietro Mager, the Raabe College of Pharmacy is grateful for his efforts. “Lucas has been a tremendous asset to our program,” she says. “He’s given his time and talent for the betterment of the Northern campus and community. I foresee Lucas continuing to contribute in a significant way to ONU and the pharmacy profession.”

Next year, Casserlie will complete his studies at ONU and engage in a block-rotation internship at the Cleveland Clinic. He hopes this experience will lead to a hospital residency at the clinic. Ultimately, he dreams of working as a pediatric pharmacist at a large teaching hospital in a southern U.S. state with a large Spanish-speaking population.

“ONU has expanded my horizons,” he says. “I plan to travel to other Hispanic/Latino countries and learn more about their cultures. “I want to see what the world and the profession of pharmacy have in store for me.”