Ana Alcaraz, Ph.D. ’98, finds her passion in learning and education

Ana Alcaraz grew up in Mexico City surrounded by a menagerie of animals she collected in her family’s apartment: dogs, cats and an assortment of turtles, chickens and fish.

After graduating high school, it wasn’t a surprise when she enrolled in the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in Mexico City to pursue a veterinary education. When she earned her D.V.M., however, she didn’t feel clinical practice was her true calling.

Alcaraz began working with a pathology professor at the university and discovered what really fascinated her: understanding diseases down to the molecular level. When one of her professors mentioned that she knew Dr. John King, a world-renowned pathologist at Cornell, she decided she wanted to work with him and moved to Ithaca to start a four-year residency in pathology at the College of Veterinary Medicine. This intensive training qualified her to take the pathology boards and she became a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists.

Her residency also led her to pursue a Ph.D. and begin conducting research on bovine viral diarrhea, which had been discovered at Cornell in the 1940s. While fulfilling the requirements for her Ph.D., Alcaraz began helping teach courses in pathology and histology and found that she loved teaching.

“It was very easy for me to come up with analogies to make difficult concepts easy to understand,” Alcaraz said. “I loved to get more knowledge and try to explain diseases at different levels, from the tissue to the cells to the molecules.”

After completing her Ph.D., Alcaraz stayed at Cornell for eight years as a lecturer teaching veterinary pathology. In 2007, she accepted a tenure-track faculty position at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California.

Now a full professor of anatomic pathology, Alcaraz focuses mainly on teaching but also continues to conduct research. Her passion for teaching inspired her to earn a postgraduate diploma in veterinary education in 2016 from the Royal Veterinary College in London.

“The degree helped me to understand how you can be a successful teacher and the science behind that,” she said. “It gave me the opportunity to think more about what I do as a teacher. Now I’m more flexible and more willing to focus in what the students learn.”

Her professors at Cornell, who were always willing to stop and answer a student’s question, also had a profound effect on her approach to teaching. “I was very much influenced by these dedicated, committed and engaged professors at Cornell,” she said, “and that’s why I’m so dedicated and committed to my students.”