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ASU graduate earns doctorate after 4 decades away from school


School of Life Sciences graduate Mary Drago.

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December 13, 2016

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2016 commencement. See more graduates here.

When Mary Drago participated in her undergraduate commencement ceremony, the Ebola virus had not been discovered and the term global warming was used in its modern sense for the first time. A lot can change in 41 years, including Drago herself.

After finishing her bachelor’s degree in biology in 1975, Drago accomplished a great deal. She worked at a hospital, co-owned a software company and worked as an administrative assistant in the office of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Arizona College of Medicine–Phoenix.

But Drago always wanted to go to back to school and realized the tuition waiver she earned through her work meant there was no better time to hit the books. With a background in medicine, she searched graduate degrees from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, stumbled upon the master’s degree program in bioethics and fell in love with the program’s description. When she completed her master’s in 2011, she decided to continue with her education and earn a doctorate in biology and society.

Going back to school took some adjusting. Not only was she studying a subject that required more writing and thinking than time in the lab, there were also new academic processes Drago had never dealt with before.

“The first time around, there was no such thing as APA, Chicago or any other bibliographical techniques,” Drago said. “My first paper after returning to school was a grueling exercise. I spent hours formatting.”

Still, she adapted to the new environment and managed to earn a doctorate with good grades, all while balancing a full-time time job. That, in and of itself, is delightful enough to make her proud.

Name: Mary Drago
Major, school/college: Biology (Biology & Society), the Bioethics, Policy & Law track/School of Life Sciences/College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I entered a master’s program at ASU in its inaugural year, and my “aha” moment, as well as the impetus for entering the program, was the description of the program. I recognized my lifelong interest in that program description.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I can’t say that it changed my perspective because I didn’t have a pre-conceived idea of how professors are, but I was extremely lucky, and learned firsthand, how committed the professors affiliated with the Center for Biology and Society are to the success of their students.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because it offered the master’s program in bioethics, and then I followed that with my doctorate.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Don’t be afraid to ask for help, but make sure you are giving your best effort.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I often met people at food venues on campus. Because I worked full-time on campus, I did my studying at home when work and school were over.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m hoping to find employment in the Phoenix area.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I have spent my graduate career examining the causes for health disparities, particularly among certain population groups. While $40 million dollars might not be enough to eliminate health disparities, I would put it toward that effort.

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