After transferring to ASU, global health graduate gets a new outlook on career, and hometown

By

Alisa Reznick

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates.

For as long as she can remember, Micah Gumaru wanted a profession that could help her, help others. First, as a human rights lawyer and then, after a high school tour of the American Red Cross headquarters in Geneva, as a doctor.

But in 2016, she found herself back home in Arizona after spending two years at Gonzaga University in Washington state. She'd transferred to Arizona State University halfway through her undergraduate studies, and for the first time, her career resolve was faltering.

“Back at Gonzaga, my advisor told me I was never going to be a doctor and that I should change my major,” she said. “That really put a damper on my self-esteem.”

Things turned around thanks to a little help from Gumaru’s first academic adviser at ASU.

“She told me, ‘I want you to believe in yourself, you can become a doctor,’ and that really gave me hope,” she said. “Since then I’ve had a lot of experience with professors who actually cared about the success of their students, I think that was a very large part of what helped me succeed here.”

She’s graduating this December from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change with an undergraduate degree in global health and a minor in anthropology.

Two years since her homecoming, she’s gone through two study abroad programs, including a global health advocacy trip focused on parasite treatment and prevention for children in Peru. This spring, she’s preparing to take the MCAT exams.

“I actually just heard back from my advisor who says I have the grades to get into medical school,” she said. “Things really can change.”

But it’s not just her professional prospects that underwent a transformation at ASU. It’s also her outlook.

Gumaru's parents are originally from the coastal province of Isabela in the Philippines. As a first-generation American, she says she sometimes felt isolated growing up in Scottsdale. Spending time on campus gave her new insight.

“I definitely felt a connection to other students whose parents are immigrants because sometimes it can be hard for those whose parents have lived in the United States for so many years to really understand what it’s like to be kind of an outsider,” she said. “I definitely think after years of thinking I come from such a different background, it really made me feel like I wasn’t alone.”

She answered some questions about her time at ASU, and where she’s headed next.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: I definitely think ASU taught me how to deal with very diverse backgrounds. I grew up in Scottsdale and I went to a very small high school. Going there, everyone had a very similar mindset and childhood. So, when I came to ASU and met people from different countries, states, cultures and backgrounds, it really expanded my beliefs and changed my perspective on a lot of things. Most of my relatives are still in the Philippines, it’s just my parents and immediate family that came here to the U.S. There are so many students who are probably having the same sentiments as I am when it comes to balancing your American culture and your family’s culture from a different country. I learned how to have great conversations, no matter what. That was really important for me.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: There have been a lot of them, but one I met recently was Alissa Ruth, my anthropology professor. She really cares about the success of her students. She told us all about her own academic career and the setbacks she’s had, and always encouraged us by saying that we could do anything we wanted to, as long as we put our minds to it. She gave us the resources for career development and internship opportunities, and went through the process of applying to grad school. So aside from the anthropology class itself, she also taught us the life skills we’ll need further on down the road.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I think my advice would be, even if you go through some setbacks and don’t get the grade you want, as long as you keep trying and put your heart and soul into what you want, then you can succeed in whatever dream career you have. I feel like sometimes we’re so stuck on our set plans that if they change, we think the whole world is going to end. People don’t really talk a lot about transferring, but I think it’s a good way to let others know that it’s okay to change your mind a little bit. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I love the palm trees right outside the Memorial Union. When it gets darker, they turn on all those lights and it’s so nice just to sit down and people watch or talk with friends.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m planning to take the MCAT in May and also apply to medical school. I would love to stay in Arizona if possible, but I am also open to other regions! In addition to the MCAT and medical school applications, I am looking forward to finalizing the plans for my nonprofit, SoleFull. Through SoleFull I would like to collect closed-toed shoes to donate to children in developing communities. I was inspired by the children that I interacted with during my ASU study abroad in Peru. Learning about how much of a role shoes play in preventing diseases and illnesses was eye-opening, and I’d love to contribute in any way to help those in environments like that.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I’d put it toward global medical campaigns. Right now it’s really expensive for poorer countries to access medication or cures because it’s so monopolized. So I would probably donate that money to helping others with medical needs.