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Minnetonka Student Finds Prescription for Success

Student Spotlight: Senior Hannah Van Ochten plans to turn her interest in math and science into a pharmacy career.

Hannah Van Ochten’s goal is to don the white lab coat of a pharmacist. 

The senior will attend the University of Iowa this fall to major in pre-pharmacy.

“I wanted to go to a Big Ten school in the Midwest, and Iowa is ranked high in the country for pharmacy,” she said. 

As a future pharmacist, Van Ochten weighs in on current issues surrounding prescription drugs. 

“Some drugs are good for people with serious depression or ADHD, but most people who get these drugs could function without them,” Van Ochten said.  “For those who have less severe versions of ADHD, I feel like those drugs are an easy way out of learning effective study habits and time management.”

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the U.S. has experienced a surge in the number of medications being prescribed and being abused. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs most commonly abused by teens include painkillers such as Vicodin, stimulants such as Adderall, tranquilizers and cough medicine. 

Van Ochten believes that pharmacists have a role in combating prescription drug abuse.

“I would inform patients, especially those with kids, how severe this problem is,” she said. “One way to assure the medicine is only going to its rightful owner would be to create new refillable bottles that only open at certain times or with a thumbprint and keep track of how many pills are in the bottle.”

As for the high cost of medications, Van Ochten said, “I think prescriptions should be made affordable to anyone who needs them.”

When she isn’t studying, Van Ochten volunteers on the adoption floor of the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley.

“I take the dogs for walks, clean kennels and answer questions,” she said. “The main goal is to get the dogs adopted.”

Van Ochten helps people choose a pet that will be a good fit. “I help get them acquainted in the rooms where you can play with the dogs,” she explained.  “The best part of the job is when you get a dog adopted to a good family, and you know that it’s going to a loving, safe home.”

Seeing so many homeless animals come through the shelter has influenced Van Ochten’s view of pet purchases. 

“I have a huge problem with puppy mills,” she said. “These are basically large scale dog breeders who put profit before the health and safety of the dogs.”

“They may have hundreds of dogs in cramped and disease-ridden cages,” she added. “Some of them don’t ever even get to see sunlight. They breed the same mothers time after time.”

Some pet stores sell these dogs. “It’s hard to resist the puppies in the front window,” Van Ochten said. “The people who buy these dogs, although adorable, just keep adding to the problem.” 

When puppy mills get shut down for legal violations, the Animal Humane Society takes in many of these dogs. “This helps some, but the problem will keep growing if people stay unaware of where their dogs are coming from,” she said.

If only solving that problem were as easy as solving an equation.  At Minnetonka High School, Van Ochten excels in math and science. “I like getting a definite answer,” she said.

Her current favorite class is psychology. “It’s interesting to make connections as to why people do what they do,” she said. 

Van Ochten said her psychology teacher, Polly Patrick, has been a positive influence.

"She was so passionate about psychology, and she put a lot of work into teaching us so much information in such a short amount of time. She makes everything easy to understand and remember."

Another class she has enjoyed was International Foods. 

"I love to cook,” she said, noting that she makes a mean omelet. Her tastes aren’t exotic; her favorite restaurant is Jimmy John’s. “I like just about anything,” she said.

Van Ochten takes advanced placement and international baccalaureate classes and is a member of the National Honor Society.

Her academic advice to underclassmen: “Prioritize your time. Plan ahead and get rid of the distractions.”

“Take more chances," she added. "Minnetonka is full of opportunities you just need to take advantage of. You'll regret the things you don't do much more than the things you do.”

Van Ochten said one of her regrets is judging people too quickly. “There are a lot of great kids at Minnetonka who I shut myself off to,” she said. “I wish I would have been more open-minded.” 

At Minnetonka, Van Ochten is a member of the alpine ski team. 

“Because there was less snow this year, the ski places had to make more of their own, which is icier,” said Van Ochten. “That makes it more of a challenge, which I like.”

She took up the sport in third grade, when she signed up for weekend ski lessons through Skijammers.  

Eventually she became a Skiijammers instructor and spent last winter teaching fourth and fifth graders to ski. “The best part is the kids,” she said. “Their energy helps me keep going on those early Saturday mornings.”

The challenge? “Keeping on task,” she said. “Kids get distracted so easily.”

With summer coming, Van Ochten plans to find part-time work and visit extended family in Michigan.

She has learned to appreciate the importance of family. “Friends will come and go, but you’re stuck with those guys for life,” she said.

The Van Ochten family lives in Shorewood and includes parents Greg and Greta, sister Natalie (a sophomore at Minnetonka) and a dog named Zoey.

Van Ochten’s mother has been a powerful influence in her life.

“My mom does so much for her family, friends, work and community,” said Van Ochten. “She stands strong in her values and does her best to instill them in me. She is a respectable lady. She inspires me to never be too proud to ask for help.”

Van Ochten's interest in medicine may run in the family. “My grandfather and great grandfather were surgeons,” she said.

In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with friends, listening to country music and watching movies.  Favorites include “Forrest Gump,” “The Pursuit of Happyness,” and any scary movie.

She recently read The Hunger Games. “The book was better than the movie,” she remarked.

As summer ends, Van Ochten will prepare for the move to Iowa City.

“I’m excited to get the entire Big Ten experience,” she said, referring to Iowa football games.

When rivals Iowa and Minnesota face off, Van Ochten will be rooting for Iowa.  “But I won’t be completely disappointed if they lose,” she said.

There is one area where Minnesota will always trump Iowa: the ski hills. 

“That will just be more motivation to come back and visit Minnesota next winter,” said Van Ochten.

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