In The People Business
Former UIC faculty member and veteran industry executive Jenny Colombo endows a scholarship to invest in the next generation of pharmacy leaders
First as a UIC College of Pharmacy faculty member and then over a 21-year career in industry, Jenny Colombo PharmD ’89 has made a habit of mentoring, coaching and developing others, often joking – albeit with a hefty dose of sincerity – that she doesn’t work in the pharmacy business, but rather the people business.
“It’s all about the people,” the current Takeda executive says.
That earnest mindset fed Colombo’s recent decision to endow a scholarship at the College intended to help the next generation of pharmacy leaders pursue their studies with heightened energy and focus.
“I want the scholarship recipients to be able to think more clearly about their education and the future without financial concerns hanging over them,” Colombo says of the Jenny Colombo, PharmD ’89 Student Leadership Scholarship.
It’s what Colombo admits she wishes she might have had as a UIC pharmacy student in the 1980s.
“It would’ve been nice to have been able to have peeled away some of those financial worries, but I’m fortunate to be in a place today where I can make this investment and help others progress toward their goals,” she says.
At UIC, beyond UIC
A first-generation Puerto Rican born and raised in Chicago, Colombo calls attending UIC “a natural fit” given the College of Pharmacy’s prominent national reputation and geographic location. Once immersed in the College, however, Colombo says she found much more than rich academic training in her native city. She discovered mentors and thoughts leaders, exposure to professional opportunities and an intrinsic passion for continuous learning that spurred her professional ascent.
Upon earning her PharmD degree in 1989, Colombo joined the College’s faculty ranks as a clinical assistant professor, practicing, teaching and conducting research in the areas of transplantation and HIV while also serving as a preceptor for senior pharmacy students in both ambulatory care and medicine clerkships. Those years on faculty inspired Colombo’s interest in people development and ignited her personal mission to nurture others’ professional development.
“I loved working alongside students, coaching them and supporting their learning and growth,” she says.
During those years, Colombo also emerged a recognized voice on the pharmacist’s role in HIV care. She led symposiums and continuing education programs on the topic, while also serving as a clinical HIV specialist at the University’s HIV/AIDS clinic where she directed patient care, developed adherence programs, coordinated clinical research and supervised HIV pharmacists as well as staff education.
As industry pushed investments toward HIV treatments in the late 1990s, Colombo’s expertise in the area became particularly prized, so much so that Roche Pharmaceuticals reached out with a job opportunity.
“I had my reservations about leaving academia for industry, but the more questions I asked, the more I saw working in industry as an opportunity to impact so many more patients,” Colombo says. “I felt I could go into industry with the skills and knowledge to make a real difference.”
So Colombo left the College’s faculty roster in 1997 for a position with Roche before joining Johnson & Johnson in 2002.
“My first few months in industry, I often wondered why I left academia,” Colombo confesses. “Today, though, I have no regrets and believe the work I do is making a difference for patients around the world.”
In 2007, Colombo joined Takeda, where she is currently the enterprise’s vice president of global medical affairs functions. In that role, Colombo ensures that data around Takeda’s products is communicated in a way that healthcare providers and patients have the concrete information they need to make care decisions.
“It’s an opportunity to motivate people and make a difference in their lives by communicating data in clear, transparent and fair ways,” Colombo says.
Consistently connected to UIC
Despite leaving UIC in 1997, Colombo rarely strayed far from her alma mater. Over the last 11 years at Takeda, for instance, she has regularly connected with College leaders and students regarding fellowships, residencies and other potential partnership opportunities. Every time she returned to UIC, Colombo felt as if she never left.
“UIC remains a place so special and familiar to me, a place with spirit and energy that I enjoy reconnecting with,” Colombo says.
The professional ties Colombo cultivated with the College only served to strengthen her personal connections to UIC, the place where she gained her formal training and launched her professional career. That recognition motivated Colombo’s giving and a five-year pledge to endow the Colombo Student Leadership Scholarship.
“It was the right time and a personal investment I wanted to make to the College and its students,” Colombo says of her namesake scholarship. “I had done a lot with Takeda to solidify the company’s relationship with UIC, but this was taking that next step and making a personal commitment to an institution so important to my story.”
The net income from the endowed scholarship will support members of the Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA) who have demonstrated leadership in promoting the pharmacy profession. SNPhA, which is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary on the UIC campus, holds a particularly special place in Colombo’s heart as she served as faculty advisor of the organization’s UIC Chapter during her tenure at the College of Pharmacy.
“This is the type of organization I want to support – one that is inclusive, diverse and welcoming with a good representation of minority students like myself,” she says.
While Colombo hopes the scholarship provides recipients the peace of mind to pursue their education and future without the financial worries that can stifle or complicate progress, she also hopes her investment inspires others to give and support the rich learning and development opportunities the College provides its students.
“I have a deep connection to UIC and am passionate about supporting personal and professional growth, so an investment in the College of Pharmacy checks all the boxes for me,” she says. “I want to make sure I’m doing my part to invest in people and institutions I believe can make a real difference.”