Ara Anspikian, M.D., Ph.D.
They couldn't have seemed more different: Ara Anspikian(BA '00) and the residents of the group home. They were trying to get away from gangs and get their lives together. He was doing an internship for his psychology major at FPU. But Anspikian saw himself in them.
"I feel like we're all one or two decisions away from not being in a good place," he says.
Anspikian's first place was Montreal, where he says he didn't grow up in the best neighborhood. His latest place is a two-year fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute.
After graduating from FPU, Anspikian finished Loma Linda Medical School in 2005 and became chief psychiatry resident during a four-year general adult psychiatry residency. He started at UCLA in July. "When it is all said and done I will be medically double boarded in adult and child/adolescent psychiatry," he says. He will also be both an M.D. and a Ph.D.
The duties are numerous, including work with inpatients and those who come for day groups and therapy. The young patients have been diagnosed with psychosis, mania and suicidal tendencies. "During the second year I will mostly be working in outpatient clinics for those suffering maladies including obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, panic and Tourette syndrome," Anspikian says.
Anspikian moved to Fresno with his mother when he was 17. Considered an international student, he applied at FPU, Fresno City College and California State University, Fresno. Though near the top of his high school class, Anspikian wasn't looking for academic prestige. In his typical smiling, self-depreciating manner, he describes his hopes as more basic: "I was looking to see if any of these schools would take me."
Practical considerations made FPU the obvious choice; Anspikian does not call it a second choice. "Coming here was awesome in retrospect, it really helped me out," he says.
Medical school had long been Anspikian's goal, but he became so taken with psychology at FPU it almost took over his career. In the end, he double-majored in natural science and psychology.
Psychology faculty Ted Nickel, Phil Collier and Paul Mavergeorge were major influences. Anspikian was always at the top of the class and became an example of what the psychology program could be, Collier recalls: "He was an extremely bright student who set the curve on many of the exams that he took. It was clear early on that Ara was gifted academically and that he had the potential to go far."
Mavergeorge oversaw Anspikian at the group home. "He jumped in and went way outside of his comfort zone," Mavergeorge recalls. "Ara's intelligence would allow him to do anything he chose but he surrendered and allowed God to guide his choice," he says.
Helping kids has become a shared mission for Ara and wife Tricia (Wichert BA '00, MA '04). The two married in May 2005 in an action-packed two weeks before Ara graduated from medical school. In a tone that says 'it seemed like a good idea at the time,' he remembers: "I had two weeks off so we got married, took our honeymoon and came back and I graduated."
Since 2007 Tricia has been a counselor at Kolb Middle School, Rialto. Before that she spent four years as a social worker with Fresno County, working with pregnant and parenting teenagers and as a school social worker. She also taught kindergarten for one year at a Christian school in San Bernardino.
Donna Callahan, social work professor, was a good mentor, and Richard Unruh, political science faculty, and Ted Nickel made her work hard, but Tricia's most memorable class was Edmund Janzen's Sermon on the Mount. "There is nothing like memorizing three chapters of the Bible and reciting it. And nothing can beat the insight and wisdom that Edmund brought to class each day—just awesome! I love looking in my Bible and seeing all the comments and pen marks written in from that class," she says.
At Kolb, Tricia, too, has numerous duties, such as counseling students for problems with grades, discipline, attendance and personal issues; speaking in classes on peer pressure, test taking strategies and other topics; and keeping up the "counselor's corner" website. But it's not all routine. "I also had the opportunity to develop and bring to fruition a counseling center complete with college materials/posters (FPU is right above my door!)," Tricia says.
"I try to help in any way that I can and most often through being a compassionate listener and a constant for them," she adds. "There are so many kids that have so much instability in their own lives, which is why I make it a habit to always have an open door and welcome any student that needs empathy, stern discipline or someone to just say hello to."
When not working or studying, Tricia and Ara enjoy church (small group and Bible study) and physical activity (they've experimented with snowboarding, mountain biking and others). "We're trying to do some new things together," Ara says.
Like Ara, Tricia's interest in helping others was sparked by first-hand experience. In her case an inner city missions trip to Los Angeles. "People always comment that we work in similar fields and I guess you can say that it works well in our marriage, but I don't know that it's what brought us together," she says.
After dating briefly as freshmen, they began hanging out with mutual friends toward the end of their senior year. They wed after four and one-half years of dating—four years long distance while Ara was in medical school.
Ara calls that wedding day his proudest moment and a great time to look back. "It was a culmination of a lot of stuff: graduating medical school, marrying a beautiful Christian woman and seeing all the people that had become a part of our lives there together," he says.
Now that he's started looking back, Ara continues: "I don't think about this every day, but when I do I see the hand of God in my life. All these steps had to be put into place for me to be here and I'm very happy."
His thoughts circle back to the group home. "My life didn't have to turn out this way," he says.
Only one thing could change Ara's course. "I would drop out of my fellowship to be on Big Brother, the TV reality show," he says.
This article was originally published in Pacific magazine, March 2010.