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Serbian native thrives at ASU's School of Molecular Sciences


Zorica Gutic

Zorica Gutic will graduate in December from ASU's School of Molecular Sciences.

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November 24, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2021 graduates.

Zorica Gutic was born and raised in Banja Luka — the most beautiful city in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as she describes it. Banja Luka is a vibrant, university city on the Vrbas River, known for many things, but especially its whitewater rafting and and Kastel Fortress.

Gutic moved to the United States and Arizona in 2009. This was a bit of a shock in many ways. Banja Luka has four seasons, cold winters and rain, so she had to adjust to the climate and culture of Arizona.

Gutic met her husband, who is also Serbian, when he was visiting Bosnia. He came to the USA as a refugee after the war in Bosnia (1991–95). They have two boys who are 9 and 11 years old.

While raising her sons in Arizona, Gutic worked in the hospitality industry. 2020 was a defining year for Gutic. The COVID-19 pandemic was in full force, hotels started closing, and her job — along with many others — evaporated.

“Sometimes you need a little push to start pedaling like when you learn to ride a bike,” Gutic said. “That was the “push” for me and the deciding moment.”

Gutic had been in the third year of her pharmacy degree when she left Bosnia and Herzegovina for Arizona.

“One of the drivers for me to go back to school was to show my kids the importance of education and that people can always improve and learn more. I am one of those moms who checks homework and encourages them to try harder because I know they have potential.”

This fall, Gutic will graduate in December with a major in biochemistry from ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences.

Gutic took prerequisites for nursing at community college here in Arizona. She wanted to use her credits from both schools but was unsure which program at ASU had similar classes. She contacted ASU and several credential agencies and transferred her credits. School of Molecular Sciences adviser Orenda Griffin, the “best adviser of all” according to Gutic, helped her every step of the way during the transfer process.

Gutic started her classes and remembers beginning with calculus and was very anxious, wondering how she was going to remember the math she’d learned 10 to 15 years ago. Impressively she completed her first semester with all As. One of her favorite parts was the biochemistry summer lab with Professor Scott Leffler and Purbasha Nandi, who was the teaching assistant.

“It was hard and challenging to write all those reports after the lab but the whole experience was great,” Gutic said. 

Here she answers some questions about her time at ASU.

Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in at ASU?

A:  My “aha” moment when I realized I wanted to study biochemistry was when ASU accepted my transfer credits from Pharmacy School, and I figured out that I did not need many more credits to earn my degree. When you have family, timing is everything. You just need to get things done. 

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

A:  Something that I learned at ASU is that no matter where you are from or how old you are you are accepted and appreciated. I was probably the oldest person in my lab group but I felt comfortable, and that the most important thing was knowledge. Everyone was helping each other because everyone had a different educational background. I had some difficulties translating some things in math or chemistry from my language to English, but people would always jump in and explain.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU was my choice because it is one of the best universities for my biochemistry major.  Also I was so welcomed by my adviser Orenda Griffin (in the School of Molecular Sciences). She helped me with every step of the transfer process so that the only thing left for me was to study. I did not have to worry about any formalities.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: While at ASU, Professor (David) Capco from BIO 181 taught me a most important lesson and that was how to breathe with your diaphragm before a test or any stressful situation so you can switch from (the) sympathetic to parasympathetic system and relax. Everyone needs this in their life.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A:  My plan after graduation is to have a big party to celebrate! For real, I will explore jobs and see what I like the most and maybe continue with my education toward a more specific field.

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

A:  $40 million is just too little to tackle most problems on our planet. There are so many it is hard to choose. Kids have always been extremely important in my life so I would probably make sure that kids in my country have food, a safe home and a proper education. 

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