Aspiring Geneticist’s Passion for Helping Others Rooted in Her DNA
- Hometown: Indio
- Major: Biochemistry
For some people, picking a major is a decision fraught with sleepless nights and existential anxiety. That wasn’t the case for Marea Rubio. For her, the choice was rooted in her very DNA — literally.
“I want to become a medical geneticist because I have a family full of people with genetic disorders,” Rubio says.
Her father suffers from bipolar disorder and her younger brother has autism.
Rubio has faced her own health struggles as well.
In high school, she was a star student. She earned A’s and B’s. She was a dancer. She volunteered in the office of a local assemblyman.
At age 16, something changed.
“My grades went from A’s and B’s to C’s and D’s overnight,” she says.
Her thoughts were foggy. She alternated between jittery anxiety and exhaustion. She once came home from a school dance feeling incredibly groggy for no apparent reason.
Not knowing what else to make of her symptoms, family members chalked them up to the effects of teenage hormones. But a routine trip to the doctor for the common cold revealed that she was suffering from Grave’s disease, a potentially fatal disorder of the thyroid.
Rubio endured radiation treatments and took countless medications. Unable to handle the rigors of school, she spent a year studying from home.
“It flipped my whole life upside down,” she says. “There’s a limit to how much radiation a human can take. I got the most you can get.”
Rubio got better and finished high school. She always had been interested in chemistry and biology, and her family’s health struggles cemented her commitment to helping people suffering from illnesses. During her hunt for colleges, she took a liking to Cal Poly Pomona’s learn-by-doing philosophy.
“There are a lot of opportunities for people who want to get their hands dirty. Cal Poly Pomona just offered so much more,” she says.
The fact that it was affordable and local didn’t hurt either, she says with a laugh.
Now in her third year as a biochemistry student, Rubio is back to being her star self.
She’s a member of the Zeta Tau Alpha fraternity and the Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society. As part of her work with UC Riverside’s Future Physician Leaders program, she led a team that developed a website to raise awareness about autism in the Coachella Valley and connect residents with autism resources.
“Where I’m from, people aren’t aware of mental issues, autism included,” says Rubio, who grew up in Indio.
Since last summer, she’s been volunteering at the Genetic Research Institute of the Desert, where she assists with research into cancer genetics.
Recently, she was named a recipient of the Hilda L. Solis Scholarship, which is a joint effort of the Cesar E. Chavez Center for Higher Education and Cal Poly Pomona’s Latino Professional Alumni Chapter.
Once she graduates from Cal Poly Pomona, she intends to continue on to medical school to study medical genetics. She knows it will be hard work, but the challenges of her past have prepared her well for any difficulties she might face in the future.
“They’ve made me more unstoppable and determined,” Rubio says. “If I can push through that, I can do anything.”