Concordia pharmacy graduate Hiwat AbebeConcordia pharmacy graduate Hiwot Abebe

Editor's Note: This is one in a series of stories highlighting Concordia's May 2019 graduates.

Hiwot Abebe isn’t afraid to carve a new path in the world.

Four years ago the Concordia University Wisconsin pharmacy student was working at a stable job that brought in a respectable—enviable even—salary and afforded her a wonderfully balanced schedule full of cherished time with her husband and extended family.

The only problem: she felt unfulfilled in her career.

So she upended the comfort of her familiar routine and set out in pursuit of her Doctor of Pharmacy degree. This weekend, she’ll proudly join the more than 1,200 other Concordia University Wisconsin graduates who will participate in the university’s spring commencement ceremonies. Of the thousand-plus graduates, 715 of them—including Abebe—will be receiving their master’s or doctoral degrees and will participate in graduate commencement exercises this evening.

The career switch wasn’t the first time Abebe cut her own path in life.

Her smarts, combined with an impressive work ethic and a personalized approach from CUW’s professors, opened multiple doors for the talented young pharmacist.

This summer, the Iowa native will begin her fellowship at Eli Lilly & Co., one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in the world. Abebe is the first CUW pharmacy graduate to match to a post-graduate fellowship program, a highly competitive process. Furthermore, she’ll be the first fellow in Eli Lilly’s Clinical Information & Process Automation (CIPA) group. In order to land the opportunity, Abebe participated in a rigorous interview process at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists’ midyear conference this past December.

The CIPA fellowship will entwine Abebe’s interest in informatics and technology, giving her the opportunity to learn and grow from the internationally recognized Indianapolis-based company.

During her time at Concordia, Abebe was also the first student from CUW to be selected to complete an Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) rotation at Bristol-Myers Squibb. The global BioPharma company, with offices in New Jersey, offers a limited number of APPE experiences each semester in areas including medical, commercial, and regulatory research.

At Bristol-Myers Squibb, Abebe played an important role in ensuring new medications on the market were safe for patients.

“I would take the individual data points and work with them to make a clinical picture of what’s going on,” Abebe explains. “Through that, I’d be able to determine the high frequencies of reactions that patients were having in real time, and in this way, I became a piece of the overall medication safety puzzle for patients. You kind of drink from a firehouse; it was definitely intense, but it was also really rewarding for me.”

While the months spent in New Jersey were fruitful, they required an undesirable period of separation from her husband, who continued to work at ATI Metals on the south side of Milwaukee.

“There were regular phone calls and FaceTime conversations for sure,” says Abebe. “That experience has made me all the more thankful for the Eli Lilly opportunity, because it happens to be the closest fellowship to home. So we’ll still at least be within driving distance from each other and our family members.”

The desire to be close to family also fed into Abebe’s decision to only apply to pharmacy schools in Wisconsin. At the time of her application, that meant either the University of Wisconsin-Madison or Concordia. While she was admitted to both schools, Abebe ultimately landed on Concordia for its personalized approach.

“When I interviewed for Concordia, I remember it was just me and Dr. (Melissa) Theesfeld one on one, as opposed to me and four or more people in a room,” Abebe says. “I felt like the sentiment at Concordia was: what can we do for you? And so I figured if I’m going to go somewhere for four years, I might as well enjoy it.”

Abebe says she was also drawn to Concordia because of its “student friendly” scheduling which incorporates a summer break for students.

“I honestly feel like my professors at Concordia care about me,” Abebe says. “Especially with Dr. Theesfeld, she knew me from day zero. It’s definitely a more human type of educational experience that Concordia offers.”

Learn more about Concordia’s School of Pharmacy by clicking here.

— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at or 262-243-2149.

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