A conversation with Dean Pollack


Published April 5, 2023

Garry Pollack.

Gary Pollack has served as dean of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences since August 2021. He recently sat down with UBNow to talk about his vision for the school and what brought him back to the university after earning his PhD from the pharmacy school in 1984.

You’ve been in pharmacy academic leadership for over 30 years. How have your past experiences helped shape your leadership style and your approach to the innovative programs and initiatives launching here at UB SPPS?

Being in the game for a long time is a real advantage in that it provides a wealth of opportunity to observe and experience what works well — and maybe not so well — in leading an organization and developing strategies for programmatic development. I learned a tremendous amount of what works well from Bill Campbell, the first dean I worked for at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Being at UNC, as well as my subsequent service as dean of pharmacy at both Washington State University and the University of Toledo, gave me the chance to experience a broad range of academic cultures while working with consistently amazing faculty, staff and students. These past opportunities provided me with a vast array of experiences to draw upon as we begin to implement many new and exciting strategic initiatives: a comprehensive faculty and staff hiring plan, restructuring our academic units to provide great discipline-level visibility, and curricular enhancements and a new grading system in our PharmD program, just to name a few. These new initiatives will help propel the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences forward and create a welcoming academic space for our current and prospective students, staff and faculty.

You have long been a champion of a holistic approach to student education encompassing not just academics but also a student’s life experiences. Can you tell us more about your work in this area and how this approach improves the student experience?

Many years ago, I taught an advanced graduate course in pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, which required completing a series of mathematical simulations. One part of this assignment was to write a proposal describing the student’s idea and planned approach. One year, instead of a written proposal, the students were asked to communicate their ideas through artistic expression. They came back with paintings, poetry, and one student I recall used interpretive dance. This exercise showed me that even if we are focusing on a highly technical concept or skill, there is value in bringing other learned experiences to the table. We don’t have to sacrifice the breadth of our experiences or interests in the pursuit of depth of expertise or academic excellence. Valuing the student experience in totality allows the student the best and most rewarding academic experience.

UB’s Top 25 Ambition sets a course for excellence across the university’s academic, research and scholarly endeavors. How does the work of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences help support and define UB’s priority to be a Top 25 public research university?

The School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences maintains a strong research enterprise. It has been one of the most research-intensive pharmacy schools in the U.S. for most of its history, and this highly successful enterprise is supported by a relatively small faculty base — further enhancing this accomplishment. SPPS is proud to bring our unique value and perspective to UB’s aspirational goal of becoming at Top 25 public research university. The basic, clinical and social sciences that form the foundation of “pharmacy” are generally viewed as being applications-based or translational in nature, and so are highly interdisciplinary and lend themselves to collaborative efforts among a wide range of interest areas within UB. That puts us in the position to help strengthen the university’s research efforts beyond our individual contributions.

You were a PhD student here in the early 1980s. What drew you to the UB SPPS PhD program and how did your experiences here as a student influence your decision to want to come back to UB as dean?

As an undergraduate, I developed an interest in the discipline of pharmacokinetics. One of my mentors told me that, if I really wanted to learn the discipline, I needed to go to UB, as it was the best place anywhere in the world to learn how to be a pharmacokineticist. So, I applied and fortunately was accepted. I often have commented that the four and a half years I spent here as a graduate student were the best four and a half years of my professional life. I had the privilege of learning from the true luminaries in the field, alongside others who would become luminaries in their own right. It was — and remains — a vibrant community of scholars and an exciting environment for young colleagues. Having the opportunity to come home and help the school continue to provide extraordinary experiences to its students was, and is, a tremendous opportunity. There is no better place to be than here, and no better time than now.