Since the age of four, Sara Maltinsky wanted to be a rock star.
As someone who grew up in a lower-middle class turbulent home, she used music as her escape—a way to avoid the constant fighting between her parents who were going through a divorce during some very impressionable years.
Growing up, she sang in the church choir and learned how to play the saxophone. As a teenager, she got into song writing and taught herself how to play the acoustic guitar.
“I was kind of isolated and sensitive as a kid, and writing was my way of dealing with things at home,” she said. “My biggest influence was my oldest brother, Jake, who can play every single instrument and also turned me on to the Beatles, Nirvana, Pink Floyd and the Beastie Boys, which really shaped my perspective on music.”
After graduating from high school, she was determined to go to college. She saw what a lack of education did to her parents, and she didn’t want to spend her life lacking financial stability or job opportunities. She found Northern Arizona University—a school that was small and intimate, and most importantly, far from her home in Los Angeles.
She took a BIO 100 course as a freshman, and memories of her childhood, in and out of the doctor’s office because of allergies, asthma, pneumonia and reoccurring tonsillitis flooded in. For most, being a sick kid would not be looked upon fondly. But for Maltinsky, it ignited a passion for medicine that she didn’t know she had. She changed her major from anthropology to biomedical science.
After earning her bachelor’s degree, she got the courage to apply to medical school. And then was rejected.
“NAU has prepared me for the future in ways I did not at all expect,” she said. “I came to NAU with very little confidence or self-worth, felt very lost and like a failure upon graduating in 2014 and then not getting into medical school. I took three years off in between to save money and figure out what the heck I was doing. I dealt with shame, regret and fear of never being successful.”
Then, in 2017, she was accepted into the biological sciences master’s program at NAU.
“It almost felt like I was getting a fresh start at NAU and had an opportunity to make myself proud for a change. With time came maturity and focus so when I returned to NAU for grad school, it was with a new feeling of purpose and discipline.”
During her graduate studies, Maltinsky was advised by College of the Environment, Forestry, and Natural Sciences Dean Jason Wilder, who she describes as “incredibly supportive, patient, kind and just a bottomless pit of knowledge.” Together, with assistance from professor Emily Cope, they worked on a project that looked at how genetic variants in the human lactoferrin gene influence the microbiome.
“Molecular biology lab work can be very tedious and experiments that can take many hours to set up have a frustrating way of failing completely. Sara wears her heart on her sleeve, and I could always tell the second I walked into the lab how her experiments were going. Seeing her excitement about new data produced from an experiment that worked well would light up my entire day, and her ability to bounce back from frustrations was an inspiration.” Wilder said. “Sara is an absolute joy of a person.”
In addition to her independent study, Maltinsky taught microbiology lab for four semesters and realized she loved teaching. She took courses outside of her comfort zone and came to love and appreciate scientific disciplines she once brushed off. She even joined the Northern Arizona Association for Women in STEM—a group whose mission is to raise awareness of the biases against women in STEM fields and create a support group for females pursuing careers in STEM both at NAU and in the community.
“In the end, NAU became a symbol for me finding my self-worth and realizing my academic strengths. I’ve become a much stronger person over the last nine years I have been living in Flagstaff and I feel like I finally have the courage to take the next step forward, wherever that may take me.”
For Maltinsky, that next step will take her back to LA—she still hasn’t given up on her childhood dream.
She hopes to get a day job working as a lab technician and finally dedicate some time to record a full-length album with her brother in her off time. In the longer term, she wants to go back to school for a Ph.D. in biology, and, of course, be a rock star on the side.
Listen and download her digital album, “Moltensky,” online.
Carly Banks | NAU Communications
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