PCOM Georgia Pharmacy Student Shares his Success with First Generation Students

Staff Report

Monday, October 30th, 2023

A pitch for a business competition at Georgia State University in 2016 was the impetus behind the establishment of the Georgia First Generation Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Gwinnett County, which has helped more than 750 students consider next steps after high school graduation.

The Georgia FirstGen brochure begins like a novel. “On a cold and rainy February morning, Charbel Aoun, MS ’21 (PharmD ’25) and Francisco Martinez, MS ‘21 were in a college study area when they entered the competition. 

“Being the first in their families to graduate from high school and attend college, Aoun and Martinez understood the real, yet not impossible barriers that students face when working to achieve a college education.”

Though they did not win the competition, a wave of interest from the community spurred the founders on to forming a nonprofit organization to support the growth and success of first generation high school students and, just as importantly, to create a sense of belonging and community for these students. 

Aoun, a third year pharmacy student at PCOM Georgia, is the founding executive director. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University in physics and astronomy, Martinez, a Lanier High School graduate from Sugar Hill, completed a master’s degree in physics from Georgia Tech and works as a data analyst.

Georgia FirstGen has helped 750 high school students

To date, Georgia FirstGen has student chapters at seven Gwinnett County high schools and has served 750 first generation students who have more than a 95% acceptance rate into college, according to Aoun. In addition, Aoun has helped organize more than 45 educational meetings and conferences.

“These events have served as a platform for students from underrepresented backgrounds to gain valuable insights into higher education and career opportunities,” he said.

“Witnessing the impact of these events on students’ lives has been incredibly gratifying. It reaffirms my belief that education can transform lives and break down barriers.”

Aoun’s efforts have been noticed.

Last year, Aoun was named to the 35 Under 35 class by the Gwinnett Young Professionals, which is sponsored by the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. This year, Georgia Trend magazine recognized Aoun, 27, as a member of the 2023 class of 40 Under 40 and placed his photo on the cover of the magazine as the youngest to receive this year’s recognition.

Aoun said, “Being named to Georgia Trend’s 40 Under 40 is a significant and humbling honor representing a pivotal moment in my career.” 

He added, “The award reflects my dedication to equitable access to higher education and the transformative power of mentorship.

“It motivates me to continue pushing the boundaries of what I can achieve in pharmacy, advocating for healthcare improvement, and empowering future generations of leaders through education.

‘It’s about how we can make the table larger for everyone to be a part of it’

“Being the youngest on this list gives me an opportunity to showcase why my perspective, why my voice, why my intentionality to work is absolutely needed,” he said, “in an age where young professionals and young healthcare advocates aren’t as well represented.”

He noted that the philosophy he lives by – “If not you, then who?” - ensures that healthcare professionals, first generation advocates, and future leaders need to be present in every part of the conversation. 

He said, “It’s not about adding seats to the table. It’s about how we can make the table larger for everyone to be a part of it.”

Aoun grew up in Gwinnett County and is a product of Gwinnett County Public Schools, graduating from Mountain View High School in Lawrenceville. The first of five children, he was born in the early ‘90s shortly after his parents met and were married following their immigration to the United States in hopes of pursuing a fresh start - his father from Lebanon and his mother from Syria.

Gwinnett’s small community at the time attracted them, where Aoun said, “they felt that they could raise a family and connect with a sense of diversity.” In addition, Gwinnett’s school system was a deciding factor in their move to Gwinnett.

Aoun earned a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Georgia State University, before matriculating into PCOM Georgia in Suwanee in 2018 where he earned a Master of Science degree in organizational development and leadership. He then enrolled in the Doctor of Pharmacy program.  

Dedicated to a pharmacy career

Aoun’s dedication to the pharmacy field extends beyond the classroom and pharmacy counter. He serves as vice chair of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists Student Forum Executive Committee and is actively involved in the Georgia Pharmacy Association.

In the community, he is a member of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and its Gwinnett Young Professionals board.

His plans including merging his passion for pharmacy with his commitment to leadership and education.

“I aspire to continue my journey as a pharmacist, leveraging my diverse educational background and clinical experiences to provide exemplary patient care,” he said.

He also envisions a future beyond clinical practice.

“I see myself taking on roles that allow me to contribute to advancing pharmacy practice as a whole.”

Future endeavors could include teaching and mentoring student pharmacists as part of an academic faculty, or healthcare administration positions that enable him to influence policy, drive quality improvement initiatives and optimize patient outcomes.

“Ultimately, my overarching goal is to leave a lasting legacy in pharmacy and health care. I am also deeply passionate about mentorship and inspiring future generations to pursue their dreams and aspirations in the healthcare sector.”

He said that if he had a do-over, he would not change his healthcare profession.

“Pharmacy gives me the space to be a future educator who can guide patients and professionals while advancing the healthcare community.”