While Dhiren Thakker’s time as interim dean of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy may be coming to an end on Sept. 30, his work is far from over.
Nearly 170 gathered at The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Cultural and History on Sept. 27, to hear the dean give a final lecture to the School and learn about the next step in his career.
The lecture, titled Legacy Lecture Series: “A Tale of an Accidental Academic,” captured his transition from India to the United States, his research interests, his research findings and focus on the future.
The lecture was the first in the new Legacy Lecture Series hosted by the School’s Center for Innovative Pharmacy Education and Research (CIPhER), designed to honor retiring faculty. CIPhER’s Director Jacqui McLaughlin, Ph.D., welcomed the crowd. “Dean Thakker, thank you for saying yes to this lecture and for telling your story.”
Thakker earned his B.S. in pharmacy at Bombay University in India, his M.S. in pharmaceutical chemistry from Columbia University in New York, and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Kansas. From there, he held positions at The Food and Drug Administration and GlaxoSmithKline before transitioning to UNC in 1996.
Just two years after joining the School, he became the associate dean of graduate and research programs. He has taken other significant roles, including serving as the associate dean for entrepreneurial development and global engagement, director of the Campbell Faculty Mentoring Program and the Howard Q. Ferguson Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences. He has also mentored dozens of graduate students, postdocs and visiting international scholars and paved the way for pharmacy students to experience education on a global scale.
Thakker was named interim dean in 2017, by UNC Provost Robert Blouin, Thakker’s mentor. During the lecture, Thakker held back tears and thanked Blouin who sat in the crowd.
“When I came to UNC, it was a big risk. I was an accidental academic. I can tell you now, 24 years later, it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” Thakker said.
Today, his eyes are set on helping vulnerable populations in Africa who lack access to affordable medications.
“I want to start a not-for-profit in Africa to supply affordable medication. Affordable medication is not so easy to have,” he explained to the crowd. “A large percentage of the medications in the country are counterfeit. After learning this, I realized I wanted to spend years of my life doing something about it. So I’m going to go there, establish a manufacturing facility and establish workforce training. I want to show you can have good quality, affordable medications manufactured in the country. Equally important, I want to develop oversight and infrastructure. I hope before I finish my mission I get to see some real change in Africa. That’s going to be the last phase of my career.”
His advice to the crowd, “Change is inevitable, so make it happen…Never be afraid of change, that’s what brings opportunities.”
He added, “What a wonderful ride.”