Over 60 years later, Robert Crisafi still credits faculty care and kindness for his success in the pharmaceutical industry. Now, “Dr. Bob” wants to offer that same support for a new generation of Gator pharmacists.
In a pharmacy career that spanned more than six decades, Robert Crisafi founded 12 successful pharmaceutical companies and made major contributions to the reduction of medication error rates in hospitals.
But ask this entrepreneur about the greatest experience of his life, and he’ll tell you about his years in the manufacturing laboratory at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy.
In the mid-1950s, the fourth-floor laboratory in Leigh Hall, the college’s former home, was state-of-the-art and supported UF’s industrial pharmacy program. Crisafi, one of only five graduate students enrolled in the program, worked there late into the night leading research projects.
The four years of graduate school led to a deep appreciation for UF.
“When I really think about it, my successes in life can be attributed to my education at the University of Florida,” Crisafi said. “That is an excellent reason why I continue to be connected to my alma mater.”
Crisafi’s affection for UF traces its way to the summer of 1953, when Crisafi and his wife, Barbara, arrived in Gainesville from Boston with less than $1,000 in their bank account. The financial challenges of paying for pharmacy school weighed heavily on the newlyweds, who faced the added burden of paying out-of-state tuition.
On his first day, Crisafi was summoned to the office of William Husa, a professor and chairman of the department of pharmacy. Crisafi recalls a fatherly conversation during which Husa steered him away from pursuing a master’s degree and instead asked him to focus on a Ph.D. Husa also encouraged Crisafi to apply for a $500 monthly scholarship from the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education that he ultimately landed and offered him a teaching job in his lab. The teaching position made him an employee of the state of Florida and waived his out-of-state tuition.
That one-hour meeting forever changed Crisafi’s life.
“I could not have imagined all of that happening in one day,” said Crisafi, who would go on to found a company that developed the world’s first liquid pharmaceutical product in a unit-dose cup and another that introduced medication barcoding to track drug administration.
“Why wouldn’t you fall in love with the University of Florida and the people that were guiding you?”
Dr. Bob, as he likes to be called, graduated from the UF College of Pharmacy in 1956, but the impressions left upon him by the college and its faculty were indelible.
The Crisafis wanted to help other UF pharmacy students in need of financial assistance. In the 1960s, they made their first donation — $100 — to the college. In 1997 they made their first major gift — $250,000 to fund construction of a research laboratory in the department of medicinal chemistry. The Crisafis made another major gift of $1 million in 2011, to create a chair in the department of pharmaceutical outcomes and policy who studies medication safety in hospitals.
But it is their most recent philanthropic effort, the Crisafi Challenge, that is deepening their ties to the school and to a new generation of Gator pharmacists.
“Historically, the UF College of Pharmacy awarded scholarships to second- through fourth-year students,” said Julie Johnson, Pharm.D., dean and distinguished professor. “But in 2015, leadership in the college began to question whether it was logical to exclude entering students from receiving scholarships. At the same time, Dr. Bob came forward wanting to do something new and different that would inspire other alumni to give.
“Thus, the Crisafi Challenge was born.”
The inaugural Crisafi Challenge in 2015 raised more than $30,000. Alumni and friends not only matched the Crisafi’s $10,000 gift, but doubled the amount. The UF College of Pharmacy used the funds to award eight students scholarships upon their acceptance to the college. In addition, each student was given the honor of being called a Crisafi Scholar.
The Crisafi Challenge returned in 2016. This time the Crisafis donated $20,000, and once again supporters rose to the challenge and an additional $35,000 was raised, bringing the grand total for the year to $55,000.
Crisafi set his sights on bigger accomplishments in 2017. He pledged $40,000, with the goal of raising $80,000, during the 10-day challenge. The challenge ultimately exceeded those expectations and $100,000 was raised for student scholarships. In addition, during the college’s commencement ceremony in May, he announced plans to donate $1 million through an estate gift to ensure the Crisafi Challenge continues in perpetuity. The donation will generate approximately $40,000 annually.
“Many bright students in Florida and across the country want to study at UF because we are a Top 10 pharmacy college, but some of them do not have the financial means to do so,” Crisafi said. “I wanted the Crisafi Challenge to give quality students the opportunity to pursue their dreams of being a Gator.”
One of those students is Hannah Harper, a second-year Pharm.D. student, from Rio Rancho, New Mexico. The UF College of Pharmacy appeared on Harper’s radar when she was researching pharmacogenomics programs and came to discover that UF is a national leader in this field.
“It was a big financial difference between the other school I was considering in my home state and UF,” Harper said.
Harper inquired about scholarships and learned of the newly established Crisafi scholarship during her acceptance interview. Weeks later, the news arrived that would change her life.
“I almost cried when I learned that I would receive the Crisafi scholarship,” Harper said. “It meant the entire world to me, because it allowed me to attend UF. It is truly a life-changing scholarship.”
In many ways, Harper’s journey to UF mirrors that of Crisafi’s 60 years earlier. Both were out-of-state students facing significant financial obstacles, and thanks to the generosity of others, were given an opportunity to pursue a pharmacy education at an elite college.
“I am very honored that the students are called Crisafi Scholars,” Crisafi said. “It is fulfilling to know that our generous pharmacy alumni are helping these well-deserving students attend the same college that has served us so well.”
More Crisafi Scholars, Class of 2020
I am forever grateful to have the support of Dr. Crisafi and am honored to carry on his legacy of commitment to patient care and safety.
— Bree Ballister —
Hometown: Charlottesville, VA
There was a big financial difference between the other school I was considering in my home state and the University of Florida. The fact that I was able to get the Crisafi scholarship meant the entire world to me, because it allowed me to attend UF. It is truly a life-changing scholarship.
— Hannah Harper —
Hometown: Rio Rancho, NM
As I embark on my journey to become a pharmacist, I am especially grateful to benefactors who make high-quality education possible for capable applicants who are less able to afford it. Receiving this scholarship will undoubtedly allow me to make the most of my time at the University of Florida and explore all possible pharmacy professions.
— Joanna Longueira —
Hometown: Miami, FL
My goal is to become a pediatric pharmacist, and the Crisafi scholarship will help me to achieve this dream. Thank you for helping me pursue a path where my passion lies. I am excited to see what the future holds.
— Madeleine Morin —
Hometown: Weston, FL
Thank you to Dr. Bob for this amazing gift. It is a privilege to be chosen as a Crisafi scholar and be a part of something much bigger than myself.
— John Wang-Hu —
Hometown: Holiday, FL