While wandering Arizona State University’s campus in the late 1970s as a self-professed chemistry nerd, the young Gary Cabirac had no idea he would return and become a beloved lecturer in the School of Molecular Sciences.
“I enjoyed being a student at ASU; there’s an energy level of being on campus,” Cabirac recalled. “Even back then, I recognized that the Department of Chemistry, as it was known then, was an island of excellence.”
Now, as Cabirac prepares for retirement, he is reflecting on a career well-spent.
As a student, Cabirac was active in the chemistry department, performing undergraduate research with Tom and Ana Moore. His scholastic achievement was recognized by the department, which awarded him the Merck Scholarship in 1980.
“Working with Tom and Ana was a great experience,” Cabirac said. “Their passion for chemistry research inspired me to pursue a graduate degree.”
A love for teaching developed concurrently with being a graduate student at the University of California San Diego. After earning his PhD in 1985, Cabirac moved to Colorado, where he was a postdoc at the UC Health Sciences Center. While there, he continued teaching — primarily biochemistry and genetics — to medical students, and researched infections of the human nervous system. His papers, which drew renewed interest because of the coronavirus, have been cited over 500 times.
While in Colorado, Cabirac was awarded a five-year National Institutes of Health grant, but turned it down because, although he enjoyed research, it was not his primary passion. Instead, Cabirac and his wife, Sarah, moved to Phoenix to open a brew pub downtown near the newly finished Arizona Diamondbacks stadium.
“At the turn of the millennium, microbreweries were all the rage,” Cabirac remembered. “Brewing is a mix of chemistry and microbiology, and I’d been home-brewing for years. We saw how well brew pubs had done in downtown Denver, so we thought we could repeat it here. Let’s just say that after a couple of years and $6 million, we learned that downtown Phoenix isn’t downtown Denver.”
Following this, Cabirac continued his teaching career at various institutions, including Brophy College Preparatory (where he had graduated high school) and Glendale Community College. In 2008, Cabirac was hired full time by ASU's School of Molecular Sciences, where he has taught biochemistry and general chemistry on campus. He is adept at putting out student fires, and likewise has been instrumental in developing and teaching online chemistry courses for the school.
“It’s great to be back where I came from,” Cabirac said. “It’s amazing that Tom and Ana are still in the department, which is a testament to their years of productive research. I enjoy being colleagues with them and so many other wonderful people. I’ve also immensely enjoyed forming relationships with students throughout my years at ASU. I still stay in contact with students from over 10 years ago, and just had lunch with a student from seven years back. Some of the students we meet are remarkable people, and their stories are so varied and interesting. Every year, I come away with the sense that I’ve gained a better understanding of the world, especially through the eyes of our international students.”
Many students, both on campus and online, appreciate Cabirac’s teaching style and sense of humor. It is in the classroom where Cabirac has undoubtedly left his mark.
“Professor Cabirac is really great and very caring,” one student noted. “He makes everything very clear, which is super helpful in a class comprised of mainly freshmen. He genuinely cares about his students and gives lots of solid advice, along with being funny!”
“Gary has been central to the success of our online degree programs, regularly taking on the enormous task of teaching classes of over 400 students at a time. I am really not sure how we will make it all work without him,” said Ian Gould, associate dean of online innovation in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Teaching at such scale requires fastidious attention to class organization, structure and detail. But Gary isn’t just a skilled instructor, he cares about each student and is truly loved by them; his students will miss him as much as we do.”
Cabirac, a lifelong learner, doesn’t anticipate getting bored in retirement, whether traveling, mountain biking or gardening.
“Sarah and I want to do some traveling in the states. We’re planning on renting a trailer and visiting national parks across the country. We also want to volunteer and give back to society. We enjoy hiking, and I’ve developed an interest in gardening. I’d like to learn to fly fish and pick up some other hobbies.”
Cabirac, of course, also plans to try his hand at home brewing again.
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