When Kurt Hafeken ’17 and Shannon Smiderkal ’17 first met at Pharmacy Orientation Day at the University of Findlay way back in 2011, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. “I was with some friends I had already met, and he was sitting by himself,” Smiderkal said. “We ended up sitting next to each other and had the same phones, so I tried to make small talk about that. He wasn’t having it. It didn’t work.”
Fast forward to present day and nearly seven years later, however, and the two are now together, excited about being pharmacy professionals and about Hafeken asking Smiderkal to marry him right here on the UF campus on a warm day in July under the Griffith Memorial Arch.
It’s been a worthwhile path for the two toward burgeoning careers in pharmacy. Hafeken is a nuclear pharmacist with HeartLight Pharmacy Services in Lima, Ohio and Smiderkal is a staff pharmacist at ProMedica/Toledo Hospital, and while they’re both in the same “field,” their jobs are quite a bit different. “People ask us all the time,” Smiderkal explained, “‘Isn’t it boring being with someone who has the same job as you?'” Same job, as it turns out, is only true in the sense that they both work under the umbrella of pharmacy. The similarity ends there, according to Hafeken. “I work the night shift, compounding medicines that are used for radio imaging, getting them ready to send out very early in the morning. She’s more out front, working directly with patients and doctors. They’re seriously different areas of pharmacy,” he said.
The pair’s fondness for UF and its pharmacy program is abundantly clear when they describe the six years they spent on its campus studying, socializing and growing. Both agreed that the deciding factor in convincing them to commit to UF wasn’t really a thing as much as a feeling. It’s something frequently mentioned by other alumni when telling their own UF story. “I looked at several schools, obviously, but what closed the deal for me was the feeling of ‘home’ that UF has,” said Hefeken.
“Right,” agreed Smiderkal. “Everyone was welcoming and inviting and I knew I could see myself here for six years. UF definitely has a feeling of friendliness and home.”
One aspect that helped the two succeed and prosper once they were immersed in their college career was the pharmacy program itself. From classes to rotations to experiential learning and internships, the two checked off positive experiences that they said were constantly propelling them toward achievement and progress. The six-year program, the experiential learning and the variety of rotations available were very important attributes for the two, the latter ultimately assisting each in deciding for certain in which specific areas of pharmacy they wanted to focus. “The IPPE [Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experience] and APPE [Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience] rotations offer many areas that you can choose from,” said Hafeken. “If you have an interest in something, UF will make sure you’re able to have the type of hands-on experience necessary and point you in the right direction of gaining a job.”
Equally as important, and what the two said could often be relied upon as a lifeline of sorts while they were involved with the ups and downs of life as college students, were the people they came into contact with at UF, particularly the faculty. Through stories of how they were challenged, guided, mentored and calmed, the couple shared the mutual affinity they have for those who were there to positively shape their academic experience. Ryan Schneider, Pharm. D. Chair and associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, and John Stanovich, R. Ph., Assistant dean of pharmacy, external programs, were two of those people. “Dr. Schneider has always been a mentor,” Hafeken said. “If I was having difficulty, he helped me through for sure.”
Smiderkal agreed about Schneider and added that both he and Stanovich were always there. “The faculty are always with you for both the good times and the not-so-good,” she said. “I had instances where things I had planned on happening did not, and they were there saying ‘Don’t panic; we’ll get it figured out.’ That connection is so important.”
Clearly, however, the one thing that each considers paramount to their success in college and beyond is the other. They’re quick to point out that being together through more or less their entire college experience was a blessing for them both. They said that, while their personalities are quite opposite, it’s that difference that helped them at UF. “I was the one who came to college, never really having had to study much in high school,” Hafeken said. “It came easy to me. So when I got to UF, I struggled.”
“He’s got a more relaxed approach and I’m more of a Type A, that is organized and ordered,” Smiderkal continued. “I reminded him to study and he reminded me to have fun.” It seemed that the two worked off of and through one another. “Having someone that understands exactly what you’re going through really helps,” Smiderkal said.
And, as Smiderkal said yes to Hafeken’s proposal on that perfectly sunny summer day, it appears that the two will be able to help each other out for a lot longer. For this young UF couple, newly added to the list of Findlay Faithfuls and now fresh out of college and into their careers, it seems the best is yet to come.