Best of Both Worlds

Best of Both Worlds

So you’re wondering, What can I do with a liberal arts degree? If you’re like alumna Mary Anne Luzar, you take it and make it your launching pad to making a difference in the world.

Mary Anne Luzar, PhD recently visited the campus to present a four-day, non-credit mini course, Human Clinical Trial Research in the 21st Century: The Complex World of International Drug Development. Luzar ’72 is the Chief of the Regulatory Branch in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Division of Aids (DAIDS).

Luzar double majored in humanistic studies (HUST) and French literature. 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 PhD (summa cum laude) in microbiology from the Free University of Brussels, Belgium. Needless to say, she has received a myriad of professional honors. And she got her start right here at Saint Mary’s College.

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. “The year I spent in France opened my eyes to the world,” says Luzar. 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.

“Learning about the French language, people, and culture sparked my interest in travel and work abroad. In hindsight, I see it was a significant experience that shaped my life,” says Luzar.

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 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 increasing in international scope, I believe this course . . . will be of interest to them and will provide an additional tool for them to help realize their goal.”

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 liberal arts education I received with HUST has been invaluable to me as a scientist.”