ASU alumni find success by impacting others

By

Amanda Stoneman

Driven by a desire to succeed and make a difference in the lives of others, three distinguished alumni from Arizona State University have persevered to overcome obstacles and accomplish personal and professional goals. 

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has invited these three remarkable alumni back for the CLAS Leaders program during the university’s homecoming festivities, Oct. 16-22.

“It’s a great privilege being named a CLAS Leader,” said Najla Arekat, a political science alumna. “I just want to be a role model people can aspire to … one who kept trying no matter what.”

These distinguished individuals – Arekat, Daniel Kolk and Nick Lambesis – reflect the breadth of the arts and sciences and represent a growing network of successful alumni in prominent positions of influence.

“The college was a huge component of my career path,” said Arekat, wealth advisor and vice president of BBVA Compass. “I realized I had a natural talent for finance and turned it into a lifelong career.” 

Arekat pursued a Bachelor of Arts in political science with the intention of attending law school. After graduating from the university in 1997, she changed her career trajectory and decided to enter the workforce. Her college courses in economics and finance steered her toward the finance industry.

“It’s been about 18 years now – I guess, I can’t believe that – since I’ve been in this industry,” laughed Arekat. “There have been lots of ups and downs and many challenges, but I think I made the right decision going down this path.”

Since graduation, Arekat has worked for several top-tier investment banking and wealth management firms such as Charles Schwab, Merrill Lynch and J.P. Morgan. She has managed multi-billion dollar funds for institutions, family offices and high-net worth individuals in the U.S. and Middle East. She also founded and served as CEO of ADL Capital, a registered investment advisory firm. 

“There are so many pieces to running an investment firm,” she said. “It was much bigger than I ever anticipated but well worth it.”

Currently, Arekat works as a wealth advisor and vice president of BBVA Compass, a banking franchise in the U.S. She’s also one of just 235 people in the country who have the NFLPA Registered Player Financial Advisor designation, which helps ensure NFL players are being treated fairly by financial advisors.

“The reason I’m where I am today is because of all the chances I took,” said Arekat. “Just don’t give up.”

Similarly, alumnus Nick Lambesis found success in the corporate world after having to switch his career from teaching to freelance writing, which eventually led to the creation of an advertising agency.

“My passion was education,” said Lambesis, who acquired two master’s degrees in humanities and English literature from ASU. “I had to put it on the back burner to make sure I could support my family.”

After lecturing in the Department of English for 12 years, Lambesis became a freelance writer and later joined the creative advertising market. Currently, he’s the chairman and founder of The Lambesis Agency, which creates iconic brands by establishing a deeper emotional and cultural connection with consumers.

“I get to take all the very same elements of the humanities and apply them to the creative development of a brand,” he said. “In the advertising/brand world, we call them strategy instead of philosophy, copywriting instead of literature and of course music, film and art.”

Lambesis’ methods of merging the icons of culture with the principles of humanities to brand clients, including Bebe, Coke, Hitachi, Guess and Tacori, has led to many new developments in marketing such as the creation of buzz, viral marketing and the use of short films on the internet. The work of his agency has been publicized extensively in trade publications, movies and college textbooks.  

“I want to be a part of the vision and genius of Neal Lester,” said Lambesis. “I think he is taking the humanities in the direction it needs to go. We need the humanities to be, well, more human in a decent way. And all that creative stuff fits in but none of it matters if we’re not pulling it all together.”

When thinking about finding success, Lambesis encourages students and recent alumni to consider what they want to be remembered for after they’re gone. For himself, he said he wants his legacy to be that he made a difference in the lives of people: personally, professionally and in serving them.

Alumnus Daniel Kolk has also committed himself to serving people through health care. He has utilized his knowledge from his doctoral program in molecular genetics to make a difference in the field of in vitro diagnostics — tests used to detect human diseases, conditions or infections. 

“The interesting thing about in vitro diagnostics is you can start developing something and see it on the market at four years or less,” said Kolk, who graduated from the university in 1992. “I was attracted to this industry because I knew the turnaround time was faster and we can make a difference quicker.”

Since 1995, Kolk has worked in assay development at Hologic, a global health-care and diagnostics company formerly known as Gen-Probe. The company just received European regulatory approval for a molecular test to confirm Hepatitis C.

As the senior director of product development, Kolk helps create premium diagnostics for a variety of infectious diseases and makes sure they are ready for clinical trials.

“We’re in the golden age of molecular biology,” said Kolk. “I always wanted to contribute to people’s wellbeing through science so it’s very inspirational to know people are making health care decisions based on results I helped generate, design and get into the laboratory’s hands to help their patients.”

Kolk said he learned a tremendous amount about molecular biology and virology at ASU, which has been essential to moving forward in the in vitro diagnostics industry. He believes his perseverance in difficult times has been the key to acquiring both personal and professional success.

“Everyone goes through periods of ups and downs,” he said. “If you really want to achieve your dream, you have to be willing to buckle down and solider through the down times because it’s inevitable that you’ll have them. But in the long run, it will ultimately be more satisfying to know that you stuck with something through the tough times to achieve your goal.”