The Journal Gazette
Sunday, December 12, 2021 1:00 am

Coloring book inspires kids to health care 'Future'

Creator pursuing Manchester pharmacy doctorate

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

As if pursuing an advanced degree from Manchester University weren't enough, Ieysha Walker has added another item to study – coloring book pages.

The doctor of pharmacy candidate pored over the illustrations for her debut educational coloring book, ensuring characters' fingertips had nails and tweaking such details as their hair and pose.

Each drawing depicts a health care profession and includes a child-friendly explanation of each role, such as veterinarian, occupational therapist and dentist.

The 26-page book is Walker's way of inspiring children of all skin tones to envision themselves as a professional in whichever career they choose – and to expose them to options children don't typically think about, like pharmacist and psychologist.

“The Future Me Can Be ...” is available through a few retailers, including Amazon and two Indianapolis stores, for $17.99. It is subtitled “The Queen Collection: Health Care Edition.”

Walker, 30, expects it will be the first of many.

“There's going to be way more,” said Walker, whose boy version of the health care edition is set to release in January.

Walker collaborated with illustrator Ujala Shahid to bring her vision to life. The final product includes characters based on real Black people: the girl with a stethoscope around her neck on the cover depicts Walker's niece; the registered nurse looks like Walker's mother, who is a nurse; and the pharmacist is, as Walker said, “supposed to resemble me.”

The book is dedicated to her mother, whom Walker describes as her rock, best friend and motivator. The biggest lesson she taught her children was resilience, Walker said.

Rene Walker said she is overjoyed by her daughter's project.

“I thought, 'Oh, it's time,'” Rene Walker said. “I wish when I was growing up there were books about the medical field that showed people that looked like me.”

Amazon customers agree. In reviews, one called the book a “must get” for Black children, and another said she couldn't wait for her goddaughter to see faces that look like hers in a coloring book.

Ieysha Walker began creating the book as a third-year pharmacy school student. She didn't brag about the project to her Manchester classmates or professors, she said, but it spread by word of mouth anyway, eventually reaching Tom Smith, an associate professor of pharmacy practice and pharmacogenomics.

“She's certainly not someone to boast about herself,” said Smith, who spent four weeks with Walker during her rotation at Parkview Behavioral Health in Fort Wayne.

Creating the coloring book from scratch illustrates Walker's leadership, initiative and creativity, Smith said, noting the pharmacy program is a demanding four years. The final year includes multiple four-week rotations at settings such as hospitals and retail pharmacies.

“Definitely, it's a full workload that you really need to commit yourself to,” Smith said.

The book project speaks to who Walker is, he said. She didn't do it for financial reasons or because it would look good on her résumé, Smith said, but because of vision: Smith said she told him she's living her dream.

“I think she wants everyone to feel that way,” he said.

As a father of four daughters, including a 3- and 5-year-old, Smith has seen the “quick impact” the coloring book can have, piquing children's interest in professions they know nothing about, like biomedical engineer.

“It's a cool way for them to be engaged,” Smith said. “It's helpful for parents, too.”

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