Mascara in a suit in front of the Cathedral
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A program to help under-resourced students succeed got him through pharmacy school

  • Health and Wellness
  • School of Pharmacy

Gerard “Jerry” Mascara (PHARM ’11) is doing what he loves, helping to heal bodies and lives challenged by disease and injury. And he’s teaching others to do the same.

For more than 12 years, the clinical pharmacy specialist has been at his happiest when on rounds with young pharmacy students, providing them training in drug therapies, patient counseling, and safe and effective use of cancer medications

He’s also found great joy in the classroom, where he is an adjunct assistant professor of pharmacy and therapeutics in Pitt’s School of Pharmacy, lecturing on alkylating agents and antimetabolites. He also works as a medical writer, sharing the lowdown on the most recent chemotherapy protocols, dosage modification guidelines, supportive care and treatment outcomes.

Mascara has wanted to be a pharmacist since his days as a teenager working in the coffee shop at Passavant Hospital in Pittsburgh’s North Hills neighborhood where he said he absorbed all of the energy of the health care professionals and healing that buzzed around him.

He was a good student at North Hills Senior High but, he said, not the most disciplined.

Before he started at Pitt in 2005, he was invited to participate with TRIO Student Support Services, a support system meant to help under-resourced students pursue college degrees. The extra support, he said, taught him how to succeed in college, giving him the encouragement to develop the rigor and order to advance his studies.

“The people there really helped me to double down on my study skills,” he said.

The support would pay rewarding dividends for Mascara. He graduated from Pitt with high honors with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree in 2011.

[Here’s how TRIO is helping another Pitt student make it from first-generation to graduation.]

After training and residencies at Allegheny General Hospital in pharmacy practice and oncology, he was able to build an impressive career, first as a clinical pharmacy specialist in hematology/oncology at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and now as medical science liaison at Bristol Myers Squibb.

To arrive at this point, he has had other cross-cutting experiences, including work as an oncology clinical pharmacist at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and research stints at Pitt and St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

Over about a dozen years, his professional work has enabled him to serve thousands, mending lives and leading people to be as healthy as possible.

“When TRIO students finish their degrees, enter into their workplaces, and are active contributors to advancing society, whole communities are beneficiaries,” said Michele Lagnese, the Pitt director of TRIO.

“Jerry is an example of a first-generation student who persevered over challenging obstacles and who forged a path that can now show future first-generation students that they do not have to view college as that option in the distance that they can barely see and might not reach. They can view college is an option that they can choose without hesitation, that they too can become someone who can change not only their life, but the lives of others.”

[This first-generation student is on her way to becoming a philosophical counselor, thanks to TRIO.]

But Mascara said TRIO prepared him for a life beyond the pharmacy, too, strengthening his sense of service to community.

Mascara’s parents didn’t have the chance to attend college, and TRIO broadened his world by immersing him in new places, new friendships and teaching him to welcome new possibilities.

He traveled to New York City and to Memphis with TRIO, and over the course of his stay in the program, he was exposed to a diverse group of friends. “That exposure was good for me,” he said. “I was able to interact with people from different backgrounds outside of the bubble I grew up in and it prepared me for the workforce.”

He also found a sense of belonging. He became a mentor and tutor with the program, developed leadership skills and he found financial support with TRIO-enabled Work-Study. He played on the Student Support Services intramural volleyball team and in 2008 was the Student Support Services Student of the Year. In addition, he credits tutoring prep and a letter of recommendation from his TRIO advisor with helping to earn him a seat in the highly competitive School of Pharmacy.

“I needed every advantage,” he said.

All of these experiences deepened his bond with Pitt. “It was such a tightknit, home feeling that I wanted to come back and be an adjunct professor with the School of Pharmacy,” he said. “It is one way to repay some of the benefits I received.”


— Ervin Dyer, photography by Tom Altany

For 50 years, Pitt’s TRIO Student Support Services Program has embraced first-generation and low-income college students, empowering them to lift themselves up — and their communities, too. Pittwire is telling their stories in a limited series.