Son follows in mom’s footsteps from Florida to UNE’s College of Pharmacy

Christian Oliver and his mother Neva Gross are both students at UNE's College of Pharmacy
Christian Oliver and his mother Neva Gross are both students at UNE's College of Pharmacy

Christian Oliver (Pharm.D., ’23) recently sat in a classroom inside UNE’s College of Pharmacy and looked up to see his mother Neva Gross (Pharm.D., ’20) teaching the class.

“Can you imagine your parent going back to school?” Oliver asked. “I remember her telling me that she didn't even think college was an option for her, and there she was teaching my class and on the cusp of getting her doctor of pharmacy degree. It was amazing. This is the culmination of her whole journey.”

Neva and Christian have both been on a journey, growing and learning about each other. It is a journey that began in Florida, where Neva worked as a pharmacy technician after serving time in the Army National Guard. Her boss encouraged to go to school, get a degree, and become a pharmacist. She applied to UNE’s College of Pharmacy and then came to Maine for a visit.

“I went back to Florida, and I was like, ‘I'm moving Portland,’” she said.

Not long after starting classes four years ago, she began feeling a lot happier than she was in Florida.

“My quality of life changed so much,” she explained. “Even as stressful as school can be and all of the things that come along with it, I knew it was the best move.”

Visiting his mom in Maine, Christian could notice the change in her.

“Crossing state lines, you could just see her getting happier and happier and happier, just to have a different setting than Florida,” he commented.

At the time, Christian was at the University of Florida majoring in psychology. But something did not feel quite right. One of his advisors suggested he look at other fields of study. 

“I was in Maine for a couple of years with him coming to visit,” Neva recalled. “Then one day he decided, ‘Hey, life is really good for you here. I'm coming too.’”

A couple of years later, Neva found herself at the head of the class teaching her son about pharmacy.

“It was fine for me, but I could tell for him it was a little awkward,” Neva explained. “As you can see, we have a very like, joking relationship. We have so many inside jokes. Sometimes you have to separate that, so I had to just go in and put on my game face.”

Actually, Christian says it was not awkward at all.

“I sat there and thought, this must be what a parent feels like to see their kid grow up,” he stated. “The advancements she has made at the University of New England have been incredible. I saw my parent grow up before my eyes and now I’m proud of her the way that she would be proud of me.”

Neva taught for a brief period as part of her education process. She no longer finds herself in the same classroom as Christian. But they do spend time together in a different room. Once a week they work together at the pharmacy inside Maine Medical Center.

Now, as Neva gets ready to graduate, Christian cannot help but think back to all those people in Florida who never thought she would make it this far. 

“She's always done things her own way,” he explained. “I think that definitely propelled me in my personal development. Just hearing people say ‘you can't do this.’ And then she does it.”

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