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Students at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s new pharmacy school begin graduate program

Fairleigh Dickinson University’s School of Pharmacy The inaugural class of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s School of Pharmacy donned traditional white coats in ceremonies Friday to kick off the opening of the program, just a week after the eleventh-hour pullout of its corporate sponsor.

The opening of the pharmacy school — only the second in the state — was met with intense interest, with more than 600 applicants for the first class of 87 students, the university said.

But the program, four years in the making, hit an unexpected bump with the loss of its sponsor, Franklin Lakes-based Medco Health Solutions Inc. The firm had signed a $5 million naming rights contract with FDU for the pharmacy school, said Dina Schipper, spokeswoman for the university.

Medco, the nation’s largest mail order pharmacy, was bought last month by rival Express Scripts Holding Co. The St. Louis company promptly laid off more than 200 Medco employees in New Jersey and decided not to follow through with the FDU contract.

Schipper said the last-minute change would not impede the opening of the school next week. “It was not something that was going to impact the student experience,” she said.

She could not say if any of the $5 million had been paid to FDU. A spokesman for Express Scripts, Brian Henry, could not comment about the contract.

Schipper said the university is fully committed to the school with or without a corporate sponsor. FDU said it has spent $3.5 million in securing and outfitting state-of-the-art classroom and laboratory space for the new school in an office building on Park Avenue in Madison, near the university’s Morris County campus, she said.

Students and faculty on Friday said they were excited to be on the ground floor of a unique program.

Anastasia Shevelko of Brooklyn has a bachelor’s degree in finance and plans to take a track at FDU that will allow her to earn a doctor of pharmacy degree and a master’s in business administration.

“There are not many places that offer that,” Shevelko said. “I have a great impression of the school.”

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