JTC 24: A Journey All His Own

Pharmacy graduate Nicholas Dean makes his own way

A young man in a suit stands outside a building with lots of windows.

This story is part of the 2024 Journey to Commencement series, which celebrates the pinnacle of the academic year by highlighting University of Mississippi students and their outstanding academic and personal journeys from college student to college graduate.

Pharmacy student Nicholas Dean has not come by his academic success easily, although he often makes it look that way. Despite being diagnosed with two conditions that make completing a rigorous academic program difficult, the University of Mississippi senior has excelled.

Dean, from Brandon, graduates in August from the UM School of Pharmacy with a bachelor's degree in pharmaceutical sciences. If the first time someone met him was at the pharmacy school's annual Awards Day in April, they might assume school is an environment in which he naturally thrives.

At this year's ceremony, he brought home the Merck Award for Scholastic Achievement in Pharmacy, the Outstanding Overall Scholastic Achievement Award and the Class Member of the Year distinction for his P1 class, among other honors.


Nicholas Dean (right) accepts his award for P1 Class Member of the Year at the UM School of Pharmacy's annual awards day. Submitted photo

"The class favorite award is my favorite award he's gotten because it speaks to who he is as a person," said Erin Holmes, a pharmacy administration professor who has worked closely with Dean. "Nicholas is one of our most cherished students in the School of Pharmacy.

"He is hard-working, funny, thoughtful and has such a kind heart. He is an exemplary representative of the school and we are so proud of all he has accomplished."

The class favorite recognition both puzzled and delighted Dean, who is known for his self-deprecating sarcasm. He is humble to a fault and a self-described hermit, so winning a social-leaning award was not what he expected when he showed up to the ceremony.

He names the moment among those he is most proud of in his undergraduate career, right up there with receiving a Taylor Medal, the university's top academic honor.

"Nicholas' achievements speak volumes about his intelligence, character and passion for making a positive difference," said Donna Strum, dean of the School of Pharmacy. "I am excited to see his future impact on medicine."

Dean's journey in education has been different than most. Previously diagnosed with ADHD, he also was recently diagnosed with autism, a disorder that affects multiple members of his family.


Erin Holmes (left), a professor of pharmacy administration, congratulates Nicholas Dean on winning a Taylor Medal, the University of Mississippi's highest academic honor. Submitted photo

"I was told that I'm high-functioning," he said. "No two cases of autism are exactly alike. Some people are higher functioning and some people, like my sister, are severely affected by the disorder."

The diagnosis did not change much in terms of school, as he was already receiving support from the university through accommodations for his ADHD diagnosis.

"Nicholas is successful because he is 100% committed to the academic pharmacy experience," said John Rimoldi, professor of medicinal chemistry and environmental toxicology in the Department of BioMolecular Sciences. "He comes to class prepared, asks insightful and thought-provoking questions, and is highly proficient in connecting concepts to application."

Dean is still exploring his options in terms of what area of pharmacy he sees himself working in, but he likes the idea of pharmacogenomics, the study of how genes affect a person's response to drugs, in relation to autism.

"Until I started pharmacy school, I didn't realize how many areas of pharmacy there were," Dean said. "There are so many interesting areas to work in, but in the current state of things, it feels like we're not prepared for autism patients at all."

While his mother is an alumna of the school, Dean insists that he was not influenced by family to pursue pharmacy.

"I just wanted to do something in the health care field in general because you can have a stable job and help people," he said.

The sheer volume of medical issues plaguing society serves as inspiration for Dean's future career.

"There are so many people with a condition or disease, some rare and some common, and our system isn't exactly set up to handle everything, especially in terms of psychiatric issues," he said. "If I can do anything to help with that, I feel like that might get me the closest to feeling fulfilled."

In a practical sense, Dean also notes the options available to someone who has received an education in pharmacy.


Nicholas Dean shows off his white coat, a symbol of professionalism presented as a milestone for pharmacy students. Submitted photo

"Pharmacy can be a good springboard into other health care fields," he said. "If I decided I wanted to become a doctor, I would already have a good foundation in medicine. If I wanted to get into research, I would already know about medicines that are out there and what gaps there might be.

"You can go anywhere from pharmacy."

Reflecting on his undergraduate career, Dean is able to see his growth. He has had to learn to be flexible and adaptable in academics, figuring out new ways to study and different tactics and strategies for different classes.

"I have a lot of trouble focusing and paying attention in class, and I've had to kind of work around that," he said.

He has also learned to pay more attention to his mental health, seeing a wellness counselor at Ole Miss and making himself take breaks to go on walks or listen to music. He also now describes himself as "comparatively outgoing," evidenced by his classmates naming him their favorite.

With all this growth comes wisdom. To incoming freshmen on the pharmacy track, he offers tips such as getting a job as a pharmacy technician to get some exposure to the field, strengthening one's science knowledge as much as possible and making friends in class with which to study and share notes.

He also highly recommends staying in tune with one's mental health.

"Work on yourself while you're working on your classes so that once you start learning about how to help people, you will be in a good, healthy state yourself to take in all that information and be able to counsel a patient," he said.

Though most of his time is spent studying, Dean does enjoy hobbies such as playing video games, looking up historical facts and information about current events, and "collecting" interesting, little-known facts. For example, did you know the chainsaw was originally a medical tool?

Despite being closer to achieving his goal of becoming a pharmacist, Dean considers what a mystery his future remains.

"I'm kind of known as a pessimist," he said. "I have no idea what the future will be like, good or bad, but I think I'm doing OK right now."

As for the future of medicine?

"I'm hoping the future of medicine will be better than it is now, and I hope to help with that."

See more photos from Nicholas Dean's Journey to Commencement


Natalie Ehrhardt, School of Pharmacy



May 08, 2024


Nicholas Dean

A man and woman congratualte a young man and woman at an award ceremony.

Donna Strum (left), dean of the UM School of Pharmacy, and John Bentley (right), professor of pharmacy administration, congratulate Nicholas Dean (second from left) and fellow pharmacy student Lindsey Poirot on winning Taylor Medals. Submitted photo

Portrait of a young man wearing a suit.

Nicholas Dean is exploring his options of pharmacy-related careers, but he says he likes the idea of pharmacogenomics, the study of how genes affect a person's response to drugs. Photo by Srijita Chattopadhyay/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services