Commencement Spotlight: Samara White

Fourth-year PharmD student Samara White recently received the 2022 Excellence in Public Health Pharmacy Award from the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) for her work as a founding committee member of the School’s Project Wellness initiative. The award recognizes pharmacy students who have made significant contributions to public health by promoting wellness and healthy communities.

White, who studied cognitive science at UC Berkeley before coming to USC, is a vocal advocate for the Black community and other communities of color who face negative mental health outcomes from socioeconomic disparities. “The Black community has a heightened issue with health literacy and psychiatric conditions,” she says. “My passion for psychiatric pharmacy stems from wanting to do better for my community by combating the stigma against mental health.”

When White was accepted into the USC PharmD program, she immediately sought opportunities where she could make long-lasting impacts on her community. She has been a member of the student committee for diversity, equity and inclusion since 2019 and served as the Director of Professional Development for the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists (CPNP) USC Student Chapter from 2019-2020. She currently serves as a student ambassador for the Margaret and John Biles Student Leadership Center, co-chair for USC School of Pharmacy Project Wellness, and is a co-founder of the USC School of Pharmacy Black Pharmacy Society.

For the past three years, White and her colleagues from Project Wellness organized meditation practice groups, fitness classes, book clubs, and educational seminars. During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee planned programming on ergonomics, self-compassion, self-care, sleep hygiene, sustainability and conflict management. They also held fundraisers to support the Black Lives Matter movement, brought awareness to violence against Asian American Pacific Islander communities, and donated to the Armenian and Lebanese relief efforts.

“Samara has not only made notable contributions to the School of Pharmacy, but she has been an incredible mentor to others who will now follow in her footsteps,” says Dr. Melissa Durham, assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion who nominated White for the award.

Mareena Biju, a second-year pharmacy student who will be taking over White’s responsibilities in Project Wellness, says she is inspired by White’s achievements. “If she was able to build Project Wellness from the ground up with Dr. Durham, I have no doubt that she is going to continue to make positive changes in the world just like she did at USC.”

One of White’s proudest accomplishments at USC School of Pharmacy was co-founding the School’s Black Pharmacy Society. Her efforts to lead the student organization inspired other students to form their own cultural affinity groups such as the Armenian Affinity Association, Indian Subcontinental Club and LatinX Advancing Pharmacy. White encourages students to amplify their voices and teach others about their cultures. “These affinity groups can help future clinicians increase cultural competency in the healthcare system.”

White is preparing to move to New York to complete a postgraduate year one (PGY1) residency at the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.