By Vicki Hildner
Monica Evans lost her job, walked away from her marriage of 12 years, traveled around the world, landed in an isolated Brazilian village when she got on the wrong plane, worked her way across Brazil by teaching English, consulted with a wise young man, and found a career which she loves.
“You know people do tell me my life sounds like Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’” Evans laughs, “and I guess they are right.”
Evans graduated from college with a degree in biochemistry, but she was lured into the telecom business at the height of the bubble. She was living in Chicago working as a project manager when her marriage began to dissolve.
At the same time the telecom bubble burst and she started seeing her colleagues let go, one by one. “It sounds crazy,” she says, “but I went to my boss and said ‘Please let me go. ‘“ She got what she wanted along with a generous severance package. “It was enough,” she recalls ”to let me leave a marriage that wasn’t working and start a new life.”
Evans began a journey around the world in South America. When she boarded the wrong plane for a trip into the interior of Brazil, she landed in the isolated village of Oro Puerto. “They took one look at me and said, ‘We will find you a place to live if you stay here and teach English to our children.’ And that’s what I did.”
By trading teaching for food and lodging, Evans found her calling and a simpler way of living. “What I learned in South America changed my life,” she says. “I had been taking, taking, taking. Now, as a teacher, I could give back.”
When she returned to the United States, she joined Teach for America and began teaching chemistry at a high school with 4000 students in Atlanta, Georgia. One of Evans’ students, Asante Dean, kept asking her how he could possibly use the material she was teaching him. “Every time he would ask me,” Evans remembers, “I would say ‘You can become a pharmacist.’”
“Finally, one day, he looked at me and said, ‘You know, Miss Evans, I think you are the one who should become a pharmacist.’ And I realized—he was absolutely right.”
Evans returned to Colorado and went to work as a teacher at the Denver School of Science and Technology while she retook all her prerequisites. She applied to the university’s School of Pharmacy and didn’t get in. “I was 37 years old so I wasn’t a typical applicant,” she says. “But I believed that pharmacists are the teachers of health. I knew this was going to be the right fit for me. I didn’t care how many years it took me to get in.”
Now just months away from graduating from the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Evans has used her time as a student to continue teaching. She worked through the Student National Pharmacy Association (SNPHA) to develop a program for high school students interested in going into health care. “We established this program at Denver School of Science and Technology,” she says, “so we could show the students that being a pharmacist is so much more than just counting pills.”
In early July, Evans and a delegation of fourth-year pharmacy students traveled to San Antonio to accept one of four 2011 AACP Student Community Engaged Service Awards for educating and providing access to care for underserved communities through health fairs. Students at Denver School of Science and Technology also participated in the fairs as a first step toward future careers in health care.
Evans plans to graduate this May. She takes particular delight in reporting that Asante Dean, the student in Atlanta who suggested she become a pharmacist, will also graduate this May—from Pharmacy School.