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Student finds college experience exciting and humbling

January 10, 2011

Coming to ASU as a freshman was a “jarring” and humbling experience in many ways for Neil Saez of Irvine, Calif.

A top student in high school, he got his first C on an essay. He worked harder in his Human Event class than he ever thought possible. And he learned how to talk about his Christian faith calmly and openly with others who didn’t share his beliefs.

“So much of the academic life is spent deconstructing what you know, and admitting that you know nothing,” says Saez. “That isn’t bad, in fact it’s a big part of what college is about. I had to find a balance between knowing when to listen, and knowing when to speak my heart.”

Saez grew up as the son of a biomedical consultant who also is the president of a non-profit organization, Friends of the Orphanages. Faith, and volunteering regularly in an orphanage near Ensenada, Mexico, were a big part of his upbringing.  

Those experiences have shaped his life goals, which include becoming a reconstructive surgeon and returning to the orphanage to improve the lives of less fortunate and disfigured children.

Currently Saez is a bioengineering sophomore with a 4.0 GPA, though he struggled in that freshman humanities class in Barrett, the Honors College.                      

“The best way to describe the class would be a mixture between philosophy, English and debate,” he says. “It was a truly intellectually stimulating and jarring class. It forced me to grow, to break free of a high school mentality and adopt a much more independent, structured way of thinking.

“Getting a C on the first essay was a real shocker for someone who had never gotten one before. But the great thing was that the professor genuinely wanted to meet with me, and work with me on developing a more coherent, logical paper for the next one.”

It validated what had convinced him to come to ASU in the first place. After the first hour of a visit to campus, he knew that ASU was where he wanted to be.

“As cheesy as it sounds, what caught me were the people. At no other college that I visited, did the students, the professors or the faculty so genuinely care about communicating with me on a personal basis.”

He was selected a student senator last year, working on issues of concern such as student fees. This year he has turned his efforts outside class to research, working in Jeffrey LaBelle’s lab in the Biodesign Institute. Saez is working on developing the logistics of manufacturing a tear glucose sensor, to take the place of a blood glucose sensor for diabetics.

“I love the collaboration, the freedom involved in problem-solving, applying what I learned in the classroom, knowing that every step taken is leading us one step closer to actually having a real-world impact.”

He also continues to visit the Estado 29 orphanage in Mexico with his family, during his school breaks. He mentors children and helps coordinate teams of missionaries in construction projects.