Kristen Korankyi’s former teachers couldn’t believe it.
In high school, she could barely carry on a conversation.
Three years later, she can stand in front of 100 students at her high school alma mater and talk for 25 minutes about perseverance, the importance of mentors, her role at High Point University and her work at HPU’s Fred Wilson School of Pharmacy.
And she barely looked at her two pages of notes.
“You were not like this when you left us,” her high school history teacher told her afterward last March. “When I heard you were coming as our guest speaker, I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Can she talk in front of a crowd?’”
She can. But that’s not all.
Korankyi is a Presidential Scholar, a researcher and a second-year pharmacy student. She has made the dean’s list every semester and works as a University Ambassador, the first face many prospective students and their families see when they tour High Point University.
She is HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for the month of February.
She came to HPU to be a pharmacist – just like her dad. But she also came to HPU because of a phone call.
That call came from Dr. Ron Ragan, the dean of the Fred Wilson School of Pharmacy.
A Different Kind of Pharmacy School
First, her last name.
It’s Koran-CHI. It’s a common last name in Korankyi’s home country of Ghana. It can be hard to pronounce, especially when you see it for the first time. But when Dr. Ragan called four years ago and left a voicemail, he got it right.
He called because he wanted Korankyi to come to HPU.
Dr. Ragan talked about the benefits of studying pharmacy at HPU and extended her scholarship from two to four years.
The personal touch of that one phone call made all the difference. Korankyi wanted to be close to her home in Jamestown, a small town 20 minutes from campus, and she liked what she saw in one of HPU’s newest schools.
It offered small class sizes, an innovative curriculum and a talented faculty teaching inside a new 224,000-square-foot building full of technology hardly found anywhere else on a college campus nationwide.
So, she came. After two years as a pre-pharmacy major, she entered the school as a graduate student and began her four-year journey to becoming a pharmacist like her father, Yaw.
But the more she studied, the more she appreciated what her parents, Yaw and Esther, went through.
Yaw and Esther fell in love in Ghana. Esther immigrated to the United States and became a nurse. Yaw soon followed. They got married, Esther became pregnant with Kristen, Yaw started pharmacy school and they began a new life in Rhode Island.
Korankyi is now 21, one of three children, and when she’s buried in research or work, she thinks about her dad.
“He had me when he was in pharmacy school, and that’s a lot to handle,” she asks herself, “How was he able to do it?”
Perseverance, she’ll tell herself. She has that, too.
An Immigrant’s Inspiring Story
Esther recognized herself in the story she heard from HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein.
Both are immigrants. Both came from thousands of miles away. Both came to the United States to continue their education and seek a better life.
Esther heard it during Dr. Qubein’s speech to parents inside Hayworth Fine Arts Center. His story inspired her.
“You have to listen to everything he says,” she told her oldest daughter.
In Qubein, Esther recognized the work ethic and the drive. His story also reaffirmed what she always believed – the need to excel in a country with so many universities that offered opportunities that she saw as boundless.
“Without education,” she always told her children, “your mind is closed.”
Kristen understood. She grew up in a house where education was paramount. After leaving Caldwell Academy, a Christian private school in nearby Greensboro, she enrolled in HPU.
She lived at home and commuted 20 minutes to campus every day. As she did, she wrestled with one question.
“How am I going to make friends?”
It didn’t take long. She met Sarah Mastropietro, an HPU student from Hanson, Massachusetts, in her organic chemistry class. They became best friends. They ate together, studied together, and got to know each other well.
That was just the beginning.
The Empathetic Touch of HPU
Korankyi became a University Ambassador her sophomore year. She still does it. The job helped her learn how to listen better, start conversations and relate better to people she just met.
She also works as a tutor. She leads chemistry learning labs and helps students in general chemistry, organic chemistry and physiology.
Like many pharmacy students, she was paired up with a resident from a local assisted-living community. Her resident had recently suffered a stroke. Korankyi talked to her about her medication and her health. The resident talked to Korankyi about life and life lessons.
They met in the lobby, they met for lunch, they became friends.
“This is the best student I’ve ever had,” the woman told everyone within earshot.
Korankyi has changed. Her teachers at Greensboro’s Caldwell Academy can vouch for that. The why behind it all has everything to do with pharmacy and what she has learned.
“With the way pharmacy is moving, we have to relate to people and be empathetic, share viewpoints and at least feel some of their pain just by listening to their story,” Korankyi says. “That builds trust. That is really important, and that is what I learned at High Point and at the pharmacy school.
“We’re not just people handing out prescriptions,” she says. “We’re getting to know them and their life story.”
Growth Mindset: More than A Term
Korankyi is no stranger to research. She began during her freshman year.
She started with HPU biology professor Dr. Cindy Vigueira. They studied the flight capacity of bees. As a graduate student, she studied with Dr. Aurijit Sarkar. They studied bacteria and how it can affect someone’s skin.
She has been researching with Dr. Sarkar for two years. He has seen her transformation firsthand.
“She has grown from a naïve person interested in doing something good, and she has elevated herself to someone who is aware and willing to work hard to improve herself,” says Sarkar, an assistant professor of basic pharmaceutical sciences.
“That is amazing. I wasn’t like that at that age.”
Korankyi gets her drive from her parents. She’s always been that way. But during her tutor training, which is led by Dr. Craig Curty, HPU’s director of academic services, she found out that trait had a name – growth mindset.
“I came home and told my mom, ‘Did you know there is a term for everything you’ve been telling me? It’s called growth mindset,’” Korankyi says. “She thought that was really funny.
“Now, when I come home, she often asks, ‘Did you have a growth mindset today?’ I just laugh.”