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'Like winning the lottery': MN teen gets tuition-free ride to NDSU's pharmacy program

Anna Lehrke poses for her senior photo. Next year she's off to pharmacy school at North Dakota State University tuition-free thanks to a full-ride Cultural Diversity Scholarship. Submitted Photo

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - It was a day like any other for Anna Lehrke, a senior at Waubun High School — totally normal, that is, until she "won the lottery."

Lehrke came home from school, left her backpack by the door, and turned on the television, ready to relax before starting in on the homework stack when her cell phone rang.

"I saw it was from North Dakota," she said, "So I figured I better answer it—seemed important."

The person on the other end informed her that she was the recipient of a cultural diversity scholarship at NDSU, a full ride for six years of pharmacy school.

"They said it was like winning the lottery," said Lehrke's mother, Angie Lehrke.

The journey to the full ride

Not many high school graduates know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Often times, the first couple of years of college are spent taking generals and exploring interests—but not for Anna Lehrke.

Lehrke did her exploring in high school, attending a career immersion program at the Mayo Clinic last summer.

"I knew for sure I wanted to go into the medical field," said Lehrke.

She had always excelled in her math and science classes and knew it was an area of interest for her—but she didn't know what area of the medical field she wanted to go into or even what all of her options were.

That's where the immersion program came in. Lehrke heard about it from her English teacher, she applied and, before she knew it, she was holding a human eye at the Mayo Clinic.

Lehrke and a handful of other students were chauffeured around the hospital, taking "mini classes" in subjects like phlebotomy where they got to "practice drawing blood from a fake arm."

"I got to see a colon right out of surgery," said Lehrke.

She also got to see things like the liver of someone who had abused alcohol and a placenta from the birth of twins.

"Before, I thought about medical, like I could see myself (going into it)," she said, but she just wasn't sure what part she wanted to do. "I went there, and it just sort of broadened my views."

Lehrke came back to Waubun certain about the medical field, but she wasn't sold on pharmacy school until she had to do a job shadow in her Senior Seminar.

"I babysit for a lady who is a pharmacist," said Lehrke.

So that's who she decided to shadow—and she learned a lot during her time in the pharmacy.

"There's just a lot more to it (being a pharmacist) than I initially thought," said Lehrke.

And that's when he decision was made—Lehrke was going to pharmacy school.

She applied to the University of Minnesota in Morris, where she would be able to get free tuition due to her Ojibwe descendancy—but there was just something about North Dakota State University that seemed to be calling to her, though that tuition came at a steeper price.

At North Dakota State the pre-pharmacy program is only two years, as opposed to four at Morris, and it's closer to her family, so she applied—and applied for scholarships, including the full-ride, Cultural Diversity Scholarship, which looks at GPA as well as the applicant's goals.

In addition to proving her Ojibwe descendancy, which comes from her maternal grandmother, Lehrke had to write an essay.

"It was about goals and what you wanted to do," she said.

But the goal part came easily, seeing as she knew being a pharmacist was the career path for her.

A few months later, she got the call. She "won the lottery," a prize that will pay for her six years of pharmacy school minus reciprocity, since the school is in North Dakota, and minus her cost of living.

"I think I even cried a little," Lehrke said, remembering the day she won the scholarship.

As for college, Lehrke says she feels ready—maybe even more so than her mom.

"I think I'm more prepared than you," she smiled at her mom.

Her mom proudly smiled back, adding, "We've been joking she's going to go to her dorm and her roommate will be her mother."

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