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Anna Olibarria – From New College to TGEN

June 26, 2007

For many college students, the road to a meaningful career is not always a straight line. It’s a winding path involving a number of personal and educational experiences. For Arizona State University alumna Anna Olibarria, the journey took on a personal significance when her mother was diagnosed with cancer.

In high school Olibarria wanted to be a social worker. She developed an interest in becoming a pharmacist while attending classes at ASU’s West campus, but after shadowing a pharmacist she decided it wasn’t for her. It was around this time her that mom was diagnosed with cancer — and Olibarria changed her career path.

“I guess I just really wanted to help people,” Olibarria said. “It was a matter of figuring how to help people and determining what my best skills were. I later became interested in research about the time my mom got sick. I realized the efforts of the doctors and researchers had helped her so much.”

After graduating from ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with a B.S. in Life Sciences, Olibarria became part of a team at the new TGEN (Translational Genomics Research Institute) in downtown Phoenix, researching multiple myeloma — cancer of the plasma cells. Her path to this impressive position took a lot of hard work, an internship, and research training from New College faculty like Peter Jurutka.

“I felt Dr. Jurutka invested a lot of time in me and played a big part in setting me up on my career path,” said Olibarria. “The best advice I came away with is being organized, and how it’s such an important skill to be learned. I was also urged by another professor to get the best training you can.”

Olibarria sought a TGEN internship and performed so well that management asked her stay on part time before offering her a full-time research position upon graduation. She has not, however, let her newly graduated status hold her back.

“It is a little intimidating being younger here at TGEN,” she reports. “There are so many bright and intelligent people at TGEN. But, luckily, I have a bit of experience here and, well, you have to start somewhere.”