As a student, Kristi Lazar ’00 says the unique living and learning environment at Westmont shaped her life. “Being a part of this community is special,” she says. “I felt blessed to have four years here to devote my time to learning and growing as a person. My professors encouraged me every day.”
Ten years later, Lazar, assistant professor of chemistry, returns to Westmont, seeking to impart a joy for learning. “I hope my students feel motivated to apply themselves, embrace the material and learn to think about the world in terms of God’s handiwork,” she says.
Lazar, who earned a master’s degree at Princeton University and a doctorate from the University of Chicago, returned to Westmont as a visiting assistant professor in January 2010 and began her tenure-track position this fall.
Her area of expertise is in protein aggregation, including the deposits of misfolded proteins thought to be responsible for many degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. She recently completed a 10-week summer research program with two Westmont students. Her students focused on the aggregation of protein models of apolipoprotein A-I, a protein that helps remove cholesterol from the body.
“I’m interested in delving into the structural level, trying to figure out what the protein looks like in the aggregate,” she says.
Lazar credits President Emeritus David Winter for her decision to enroll at Westmont in 1996. On a cold, rainy day in Visalia, Calif., Winter visited Grace Community Church to talk about Westmont to prospective students.
“There was a very small turnout,” she says. “I was a junior in high school and had never heard of Westmont, but after meeting him I got so excited about the college. He is an amazing person.” After applying and attending Preview Days, Lazar met Allan Nishimura, professor of chemistry. “That was very special as well, and I knew this was the place I was going to study,” she says.
Lazar recalled her initial encounter with Dr. Winter as he spoke at the dedication of Winter Hall in May 2011.
“I was standing there listening to him at the ceremony, thinking about God’s provision, the meeting at my church and how that led me back here as a professor,” she says. “It was moving to reflect on that, to see this new building and Dr. Winter’s legacy.”
Lazar enrolled at Westmont with the intention of becoming a pharmacist, but after conducting research in the chemistry department, her professors encouraged her to attend graduate school.
She undertook two years of postdoctoral research at Genentech Inc., a biotech company, before applying for the Westmont teaching position.
“I worked as a teacher’s assistant while I attended Westmont, and I always dreamed about teaching,” she says. “I reread my prayer journal recently, and I mentioned it would be wonderful to teach at a place like Westmont. It’s a little surreal.”