The founding of a resiliency magazine

Together We Can

The Crimson Cypress team (from left): Clark Bishop, Emily Ford, Michael Nguyen, Reagan Williams, and Sara Collins. Photo courtesy of Simon Hurst Photography, Oklahoma City, OK.

School is tough. It’s a choice and definitely a sacrifice. I could tell you all the ways that school is challenging and demanding, but I already know you can relate. It’s hard to stay positive, to be resilient. School is only one aspect of life and you still have to handle all the other things that happen. Where can you turn when life gets in the way?

The idea of creating a resource with a resiliency focus was presented to the final-year student pharmacists who were part of the Leadership Degree Option at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OUHSC). Clark Bishop, Sara Collins, Emily Ford, Michael Nguyen, and I were honored to take on the challenge of creating such a resource. In our case, it was a magazine. 

Together, our team equated resilience to the cypress tree: strong, sturdy, deep-rooted, and long-lasting. With that sentiment in mind, Crimson Cypress was born. 

Identifying needs

If this was going to be a useful resource, then we needed to know exactly what students worried about as they started school. I had some ideas, but I only knew about my own fears. So, we asked. As we received responses, I realized the potential impact of this publication. The intimate details of the struggles shared by students were heartbreaking. We had been given a glimpse of our peers’ innermost fears and offering support was a responsibility we took very seriously. 

Of course, we knew we didn’t have all the answers to their uncertainties, but we knew who would. We asked faculty and graduates to share their experiences in the form of stories, poems, and artwork, so readers could learn from them. After all, who better to write about enduring professional school than those who have already endured? This became the basis of our publication.

“It was amazing to read such personal and honest stories, and to know that they trusted us to publish their stories in a way that could help others,” explained Sara Collins, PharmD, Crimson Cypress co-founder and co-editor. “It was a humbling and highly rewarding experience that I will always cherish.” Reading accounts from faculty members had just as much of an emotional impact as hearing the students’ worries, except their stories ended with hope instead of fear. Faculty and graduates invited us into their lives and the events that shaped them: fighting cancer, quitting a job, and even witnessing a patient’s death. 

Our goal was to be able to connect with every type of student on campus. When we first started receiving copy, much of it was very somber in tone. While many students experience tragedy in their school career, others don’t. We decided to include our own stories and embrace worries that may not appear as disastrous. It was important that the tone of the magazine be serious yet optimistic.

Embracing vulnerability

There were many times I felt vulnerable during the process. Personally, I felt most exposed when I decided to write my own story for the magazine. There is no opportunity to “edit“ or “undo” once your ideas and thoughts are printed. I braced myself for whatever feedback would come. 

Decisions were carefully and painstakingly made, from every hyphen and comma to the layout of the photos and order of the stories. We considered ideas that ultimately wouldn’t work. Sometimes I felt like I had shared a brilliant concept, and other times I wanted to reach out and grab my words back before they landed in the ears of my teammates. 

I was afraid of the judgment the publication would receive. Without my teammates to offer assurance of the quality of the magazine and the impact it was going to make, I might have hesitated. We supported and uplifted each other and reminded ourselves why we were doing this project. They encouraged me when I felt apprehensive. We maintained a delicate balance of our collective strengths and weaknesses.

Coming together

The more the magazine came together, the more the team came together, and vice versa. No one person could have made this happen alone and none of it would have happened without a lot of hard work. And we did work hard— meetings, group texts, and shared files consumed our lives. 

“We started this project with the knowledge that we would have to work on it outside of our normal classroom schedule, and not once did anyone complain about working through the weekends or staying late on campus,” said Collins.

I know that if this publication turned into only what I envisioned personally, then it wouldn’t have been as useful for the wide variety of people on our campus. The positive dynamics of our team that we fostered allowed us to accomplish our goals and even surpass them.

We also had a lot of fun with inside jokes, happy hours, and talks about ridiculous things. Some of the hardest work I have ever done was also some of the most enjoyable. “A high point of working on this project was being surrounded by an incredibly talented group of individuals who shared the same passion and standard for producing great work,” said Michael M. Nguyen, 
PharmD, Crimson Cypress co-founder and graphic designer. 

Gaining momentum

After 27 days of seemingly nonstop work, we had a finished product. Although we were sure we had something exceptional, there was no time to relax; more work was left to be done. We needed funding to get it into the hands of students. How do we prove that this magazine had value? 

Our original charge was to create a practical resource for first-year students, but as time went on, we realized how useful something like the Crimson Cypress would be throughout school and life. Being resilient isn’t something you learn and then know forever. Living every day takes resiliency. We wanted to give this to every student on campus. OUHSC had already planned to build an online portal to showcase the magazine, but we wanted each person to get an actual copy to hold in his or her hands instead of only reading the stories on a lifeless screen. 

There were lots of presentations: in front of our class, the deans, more deans, our National Advisory Board, and then finally the vice-provost. We brainstormed about the ways this publication could add value to the campus—increasing retention rates, raising student satisfaction, and promoting services. The effort put into marketing the finished product was just as important as the quality. Ultimately, we got backing through private funds given to the campus, which made it possible for every student, not just those coming in, to have a copy. “We had been recognized in the form of funding and recognized for a piece of work that we had poured our hearts and souls into,” said Nguyen. “That is definitely a special feeling that I will never forget.” 

Looking forward

It was worth it to me to have the message of resiliency come full circle. Like most final-year students, I struggled with what I wanted to do after graduation. It was then that I found myself reflecting on one of the stories in Crimson Cypress, and I drew strength from this person’s experience that I didn’t relate to initially. I was able to see the full value of what we had created.

I’ll forever be able to look back on my time spent creating Crimson Cypress and be proud. I won’t dwell on all the late nights when all I wanted was to get some sleep, but I will remember my team and the difference we made. Together, Clark, Sara, Emily, Michael, and I combined our strengths and invented a resource that was meaningful. It was completely worth it. 

The future of Crimson Cypress is still a work in progress, but the words written inside will always be true:

“The cypress tree is much like the professional student. We are pushed to the edge of breaking, yet we only bend. We withstand emotional floods. Although we change, we do not waver because of it. We may grow slowly, but we are deep-rooted. We are resilient. We are the crimson cypress.” 

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