Best of Both Worlds

Spring 2009

Best of Both Worlds 

By Natalie Davis Miller

Mary Anne Luzar ’72 works and lives in the Washington, D.C. area with her husband, the Honorable William J. Tattersall, and their 13-year-old daughter, Mary Isabelle.

A liberal arts degree may not seem like the first step on the path to becoming a scientist. For Dr. Mary Anne Luzar ’72 however, her liberal arts foundation led to a successful career in the sciences and an opportunity to make a difference in the world.

Luzar returned to campus this past October to present a four-day, non-credit mini course, titled Human Clinical Trial Research in the 21st Century: The Complex World of International Drug Development. Luzar is the chief of the Regulatory Affairs Branch, Division of AIDS, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health. She currently works on AIDS research for the Department of Health and Human Services, and has traveled to over 20 countries for work-related projects. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including her clinical findings from her dissertation, which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. She is fluent in both French and Spanish, and defended her dissertation in French, becoming the first American to receive the Ph.D. summa cum laude in microbiology from the Free University of Brussels, Belgium. Prior to that she obtained a Master of Science degree from the University of Tennessee. Luzar was then recruited by Baxter Corporation to work in their European Research Center in Belgium, where they funded her Ph.D. studies. Needless to say, she has received a myriad of professional honors. And she got her start right here at Saint Mary’s College.

Luzar double-majored in humanistic studies and French literature at Saint Mary’s. As a first-year student, Luzar heard Dr. Bruno Schlesinger speak on the humanistic studies program. “He was mesmerizing,” says Luzar. “He spoke eloquently about the role of history, religion, art, and philosophy in our western culture—but more importantly, he wove them together into a ‘cultural basket’ and made me understand that this program could give me the foundation on which to build anything I wanted in my life. And so I decided that night to major in humanistic studies…”

Luzar spent her sophomore year studying in Angers, France, living with a French family. “My French family with eleven children spent hours teaching me French—at dinner there was a French dictionary between the father and me at the table and there was no hesitation in using it,” describes Luzar. “Learning about the French language, people, and culture sparked my interest in travel and work abroad.” She traveled throughout Europe, visited her father’s relatives in Slovenia, and in the summer, she worked with a French architect and other college students restoring a chateau in Southern France. “In hindsight, I see it was a significant experience that shaped my life. Angers was the leg of three segments of my life spent abroad and it helped me adjust to all of them.”

In addition to her study-abroad experience, Luzar appreciates the relationships she’s had with her Saint Mary’s professors. “Having been a teaching assistant in graduate school myself, I realize how special it is to have faculty of such high caliber at Saint Mary’s teaching undergraduate students,” explains Luzar. “Because I learned to trust my intellect at Saint Mary’s, I was ready to take on academic challenges in graduate school.”

Today, Luzar is responsible for ensuring that the 400 human clinical trials in 45 countries sponsored by the U.S. government, here and internationally, meet pertinent U.S. laws and regulations. The four-day mini course gave Luzar the opportunity to share current information on clinical trials for testing new drugs and vaccines for the prevention and treatment of HIV.

“Because Saint Mary’s has a student body interested in making a difference in their world, and because this world is increasingly international in scope, I believe this course…will be of interest to them and will provide an additional tool for them to help realize their goals.”

Luzar embodies how a liberal arts foundation works hand in hand with the discipline of science. “I always tell people that humanistic studies taught me to see the connections between complex issues that do not appear on the surface to be related. The Saint Mary’s liberal arts education I received with humanistic studies has been invaluable to me as a scientist.”