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She is a full-time PharmD Student, co-owner of a coffee shop located in Durham, Head of Operations at a consulting firm and a former English teacher. For today’s student spotlight, Sit with Senate’s Jessie Kim interviewed Diana Lee (Class of 2021), an individual who is unafraid to pursue initiatives leading to positive change.


Sit with Senate: How has your perspective on the profession of pharmacy changed since joining the ESOP community?
Diana Lee: The pharmacy profession first interested me as a potential intersection between science and the humanities. Coming from an English teacher background but with strengths in math and science, I’ve always felt the division between STEM and humanities is extremely stark. I feel like pharmacy is a great opportunity to merge the two. Since joining the ESOP community, my view of pharmacists has solidified that notion while simultaneously opening my eyes to all the various options in which this intersectionality can be utilized. I also see it as a profession uniquely poised to address wider systemic issues in healthcare like lack of access and lack of representation of diversity in authoritative positions.

SwS: What is your passion?
DL: “Wellness, fitness, and social justice!”

SwS: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
DL: To get out of my own way. I think there are a lot of things in life that we see as obstacles but are really just self-limiting behaviors. A lot of these are centered on fears, like fear of rejection or fear of failure. When we acknowledge and accept these fears as normal things we can navigate through, we tap into vulnerability which can lead us to our authentic selves. I think when we discover our authentic selves, we can come to terms with the fact that we are not special. Things are set in motion outside of us, and people are generally more worried about themselves than they are about what we do. It’s a really freeing notion because, in that space, we can find our passion and give it our all while maintaining our authenticity.

SwS: In your opinion, what is a trait of a strong leader?
DL: I honestly think it’s the ability to teach and coach. Someone once told me the hallmark of a good leader was to see if the group would thrive with the removal of that person, and that spoke a lot to me. If a leader has influenced her colleagues poignantly, they have been coached to be their best selves: caring, competent, and driven individuals who are themselves invested in the success of the whole.

SwS: What do you want to do with your PharmD after you graduate?
DL: I’d like to start a pharmacy that hires formerly incarcerated individuals and trains them to be pharmacy technicians while simultaneously providing them with a rehabilitation program to help re-integrate them successfully into society. I think our society executes punitively but expects rehabilitative behavior afterwards. My time at Teach for America pushed me to look at root causes of poverty, and this is my way of wanting to help break the cycle. I am extremely passionate about my kids and their communities, and my heart will always be with them.

SwS: Can you tell me about yourself?
DL: I grew up in North Carolina as one of the few Asian Americans in my school and community. That changed when I went to the North Carolina School of Science and Math, where I played tennis and fell in love with creative writing. I attended UNC-Chapel Hill for undergrad in 2008 and majored in English and minored in creative writing. During that time, I worked for ResNET troubleshooting technical issues for people on campus and worked part-time as a tutor as well. My sophomore year of undergrad, I was part of a team that won the 2010 Carolina Challenge. We started a non-profit in Ghana that trains young street mothers to be seamstresses while providing them with childcare, housing, and education. It continues to do great work in Ghana to this day. After undergrad, I joined Teach for America to teach high school English in Hartford, Connecticut. I worked in operations and finance for Teach for America after my 2 years in the classroom while also getting my Master’s degree in microbiology. I moved back to North Carolina in 2016 and continued to work for Teach for America remotely while I applied to pharmacy school. And I also have a coffee shop in Durham.

SwS: Can you tell me how you started your business?

DL: When I moved back to North Carolina in 2016, my family needed a new business, and we chose a coffee shop. It’s honestly kind of exactly what you’d imagine. I researched the coffee industry, learned about coffee and the operations of a coffee shop, we scouted locations for a long time and once we found one, we hired a contractor to design it the way we wanted. We marketed and opened in October of 2017.

SwS: How do you manage being a pharmacy student and also an owner of a coffee shop?
DL: It helps that I’m a co-owner. My dad and my brother run the day-to-day operations of the shop, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to work behind the scenes and contribute based on my prior experiences and strengths when needed.

SwS: What advice do you want to give to prospective students or PY1s?
DL: My advice to anyone in any field is just to remind yourself you are limitless. You are full of light and love, and you are enough. Never forget to be grateful for the people who give you their time and energy!

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