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Anita Bechtholt-Gompf – OC alum, PhD, Harvard Med School researcher, neuroscientist

OC Alum Anita Bechtholt-Gompf

“OC inspired me to Ask questions. Discussions were open. My limits were challenged. I was encouraged to be curious. Now I ask questions for a living.”



Why did you choose OC?

I moved to Port Orchard from Florida after my high school graduation. My father retired from the Navy and wanted to go back home to Washington. I wanted to go to college, but didn’t really know how to go about it. No one in my family had ever gone to college. OC was nearby and seemed like a good place to start.  With money from my grandfather and my job at Jack In The Box, I was able to register on the last day of open registration for my first quarter at OC. I attended OC from 1991-1993.

Who was your favorite professor at OC?

Anita Bechtholt-Gompf

Anita stands in front of the Harvard Medical School building in Boston, Mass. She works for McLean Hospital, an affiliate of the medical school.

Jack Sandler. He taught two psychology classes that helped me to recognize my interest in the brain. Jack’s enthusiasm was really inspirational. He and a number of other professors helped to broaden my horizons by instilling in me confidence, responsibility and knowledge. Their efforts fostered in me a drive toward success that has contributed substantially to my career. (Ed note: Jack Sandler is still dedicated to teaching psychology classes at OC Shelton and OC Bremerton.)

What educational goals did you pursue after OC?

I obtained an Associate in Art and Science in general studies from OC and was able to transfer the credits to Washington State University where I obtained a Bachelor of Science in psychology.  After working on a Master in Science in experimental psychology at Western Washington University, I transferred to Oregon Health & Science University where I obtained a Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience.

What is it you are doing now?

I am currently doing research at Harvard Medical School working at McLean Hospital to find more effective treatments for depression and alcoholism. My work involves conducting experiments, mentoring and supervising a postdoctoral fellow and research assistant, serving on institutional committees, writing grants and scientific papers, and traveling to scientific meetings to discuss our results. Before beginning my current position, I completed my scientific training by taking part in a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania.

What recognition have you received for your studies and work?

After leaving OC, I graduated cum laude from Washington State University. During my training, I was awarded the “Dean’s Research Award” from Western Washington University, the “Tartar Trust Fellowship” from Oregon Health & Science University, the “Best Student Publication” award from the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience at Oregon Health & Science University, both individual and institutional “National Research Service Awards” from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a “National Research Service Award” from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, two “Student Merit Awards” from the Research Society on Alcoholism and the “Enoch Gordis Research Recognition Award” from the Research Society on Alcoholism. My current research is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression.

I have also been named the “Rappaport Mental Health Research Scholar” and been given a “Young Investigator Award” from the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

The nature of my work doesn’t allow for a lot of spare time, but when I have it, I enjoy cooking with my husband and travel.

What was your upbringing like?

I was raised in a Navy family in which we didn’t have a lot, but wherein education was prized. My father is really smart, but didn’t have any degrees to show for it. I think somehow that always bothered him. I remember him saying at one point: “You show ’em what we Bechtholts are made of.” It meant a lot to him that I get an education. The only problem was – having not done it themselves – my parents had no idea how to make that happen. The OC and faculty guidance counselors helped to bridge that gap. In the end, I had a pile of student loans (that I am still paying back), but it was worth it and doable. I am convinced that anyone can achieve the same things that I have, if only they have enough determination.

Please finish this sentence. OC inspired me to…

Ask questions. Discussions were open. My limits were challenged. I was encouraged to be curious. Now I ask questions for a living.

To read more about Anita Bechtholt-Gompf’s work in neuroscience, visit www.mclean.harvard.edu/about/bios/detail.php?username=abechtholt.

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