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‘Because of her, our national reputation is strong.’ Dean Renae Chesnut to retire

DEAN RENAE CHESNUT will be retiring from her position at Drake effective Jan. 31, after which an interim dean will temporarily take her place. Photo courtesy of Drake University.

Pharmacy has been a big part of Drake University alum Renae Chesnut’s life since high school, when she developed a passion for chemistry and business. That passion fueled Chesnut during her eight years as dean of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (CPHS) where she advocated for student wellness, increased scholarship funds and overall improvements to the pharmacy programs available at Drake.

Now, Chesnut will bid farewell to her deanship on Jan. 31, 2024, and will take an administrative sabbatical from Feb. 1, 2024, to the end of the year. During this period of change, Chesnut offered her thoughts on where her role in pharmacy all started.

“Back in high school, I was introduced to pharmacy because I had a student colleague who was a couple of years ahead of me,” Chesnut said. “He decided to go to pharmacy school, and I thought, ‘Oh, that sounds like an interesting career. I like chemistry and I like business, and pharmacy seems like a mix of chemistry and business.’”

Because of that interest, Chesnut graduated from Drake with a Bachelor of Science in pharmacy, a Master of Business Administration, along with Specialist and Doctor of Education degrees. Chesnut initially had a different plan for what she wanted to do in pharmacy compared to what path she ended up pursuing. 

“When I started out in pharmacy school, my thought was that I would own my own pharmacy at some point. That’s the reason I came to Drake was because there was a pharmacy MBA program,” Chesnut said. “Well, as it turned out, I became aware of the different career pathways that you can take as a pharmacist and one of them was with the pharmaceutical industry.” 

This prompted Chesnut to work as an intern at Ortho Pharmaceuticals, a pharmaceutical company based in New Jersey. 

After this, Chesnut became greatly invested in the pharmaceutical industry and went on to work in marketing and sales for another pharmaceutical company based in Indiana called  Eli Lilly. During Chesnut’s time working for Eli Lilly, she was based in Des Moines, which helped fulfill her need for flexibility between her work life and her family. 

“I was able to attend my kids’ basketball games, volleyball matches, track meets and other school events and was able to arrange my schedule so I could take them to doctors,” Chesnut said. 

With this flexibility, Chesnut was able to continue working for Eli Lilly until eventually returning to Drake to serve as a faculty member. Chesnut served as associate dean of academic and student affairs, and eventually as dean of CPHS. During her time as a dean, Chesnut said she faced new challenges and opportunities every day, enjoying the unpredictability and fluidity of her work.

“Every day in this position was very different than any other day. You never know when you walk into your office or you open up your computer what questions you might get throughout the day,” Chesnut said. “A lot of times I would get questions which I was always happy to answer: ‘Why do we do this this way?’ or ‘What’s the history?’ ‘Have we ever tried this in the past?’” 

With the constant cycle of change and improvement found at Drake, Chesnut said she was able to offer her insight into the world of pharmacy and improve the foundation and programs already present. 

“I was able to provide that institutional knowledge about what we’ve done in the past to make changes to things because sometimes we did things and things change and we don’t need to do it the way we used to do it. We can do it in a different way,” Chesnut said.

But it wasn’t just pharmacy that Chesnut was a part of, as her role as a dean combined subjects of student well-being and Drake’s academics as a whole. While Chesnut said it would have been easy for her to not be as involved at Drake and take a more backseat role, that just wouldn’t be true to her character. 

People around Chesnut have experienced this character, including Chesnut’s colleague and friend Charles Phillips, professor of pharmacy administration and associate dean of assessment and curriculum for CPHS. Phillips has been friends with Chesnut for 30 years and said he is saddened to see her go but knows that she has done great things for Drake.

“I don’t know anybody who is more dedicated to Drake and Drake students than her,” Phillips said. “You have people say they bleed blue or they’re forever a Bulldog, [and] that really epitomizes her. She’s always advocating for the University as a dean, but long before that as a faculty member and assistant dean and the other roles she’s had.”

According to Phillips, Chesnut shared a true sense of care and passion for the University and always did what she could to make things better for everyone. When something happened that affected the whole university, it was everybody’s responsibility as members of the institution to provide support and attempt to fix whatever the problem may be together, and Chesnut was always there for it.

But Chesnut said she was never alone in facing these challenges, claiming she always had a sense of community and connection with those around her at Drake. 

“I have felt very supported and part of not just our College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, but the larger University as well,” Chesnut said. “I think the great thing about Drake is that there is a lot of interconnectedness. We’re large enough that we have our separate units, yet we’re small enough that there’s a lot of relationships and working together.”

With Chesnut’s eventual departure, Philips will serve as interim dean until Feb. 1, 2024, with a new dean being appointed sometime in the summer. Despite these changes in leadership, Philips is hopeful for the future of Drake’s CPHS thanks to the time and effort Chesnut put into her deanship.

“She certainly has helped set the college up for success,” Phillips said. “Because of her, our national reputation is strong. We have strong alumni, so I’m confident we’re going to have a great recruiting period for a new dean, who will come in next summer, and [we are] so very hopeful for the future because of the success she has set us up for.”


1 Comment

  1. Kimberly Carmen December 6, 2023

    As an CPHS Alumni, I applaud Dean Chestnut and all of her contributions. I had a chance to meet her a time or two and she was certainly an asset to the university and the CPHS program. I wish her all the luck and much happiness as she charts her next course. There’s no doubt, we will see her again.
    Best Wishes!

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