In Their Own Words: 23andMe’s Olivia Luna ’20 on Gaining the Courage to Click “Send”

As a recruiting coordinator, Luna helps the DNA testing company secure top talent. It’s a role she might not have pursued at all, she says, if Saint Mary’s professors hadn’t encouraged her “to step outside my comfort zone.”

by Hayden Royster, Staff Writer | March 21, 2024

In Their Own Words is a series in which we introduce you to the Gaels you need to meet—students, alums, faculty, and staff—and let them tell their stories, in their own words.

Meet Olivia Luna ’20: a lifelong Bay Area resident with a BS in Marketing from SMC. Since 2021, she has worked as a Recruiting Coordinator for 23andMe, helping secure top talent for the world-renowned DNA testing company. 

East Palo Alto pride

I was born and raised in East Palo Alto, where I live now. It’s different from the place everyone knows about—Stanford, tech companies, and all that. My hometown is actually a much smaller city, separated from Palo Alto by the 101 Freeway overpass. The community is largely low-income, predominantly Black and brown. 

My dad is originally from the state of Michoacán in Mexico, as are many of my East Palo Alto neighbors and friends. The family of my boyfriend Sergio Pimentel ’21 is, too. When I visited Michoacán for the first time in 2017, it was like getting to know where we all came from.

I grew up going to the Boys and Girls Club of Peninsula, from kindergarten up until senior year. The club exists to support at-risk kids in the West and South Bay. In high school, for instance, they partnered me with a volunteer who walked me through the entire college application process. Now that I've graduated, I get to mentor current students. It’s pretty cool. 

Olivia Luna on campus with her dog
Home away from home: Olivia Luna on Saint Mary's campus with the family dog Zapata / Photo courtesy Olivia Luna

The road to Saint Mary’s

From a young age, I knew my family wanted me to go to college. My grandparents moved here for a better life, you know? So that was instilled in me. Another factor, too, was that I was born with cerebral palsy. Some people can graduate high school and go into hands-on, labor-intensive work, but I knew I couldn’t do anything physical. I needed to go to college.

During my senior year, the Boys and Girls Club hosted a college fair of Bay Area schools. Saint Mary’s was one of them. I was like, “Okay, I'll add it to my list.” Once I actually got accepted, I started looking into it more seriously and visited the campus. I knew I needed a small classroom environment to excel in college. I was accepted into a few public schools, but they were so much larger. Between my physical limitations and the one-on-one attention I needed as a student, I knew Saint Mary's was the right fit.

Expanding her comfort zone

The one-on-one relationships at Saint Mary’s turned out to be exactly what I needed. Whether it was preparing for exams or going over papers, I got to sit down with professors and talk it out. They challenged me, too. I was a Marketing major, and there were many times I got discouraged and asked myself, Do I want to keep doing this? I’d heard how hard upper-division classes got. 

I remember asking my advisor, economics professor Andras Margitay-Bechtif I could change majors. And he said, “No, you’re not dropping. I know you want to switch because you're scared. But give it another semester, and then we’ll talk.” And he said this with all love, you know, because he knew I had the potential. I kept going, and he was right. Ultimately, Saint Mary’s professors encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone is what helped me get where I am today.

Olivia Luna's advice to future graduates: "Look at your skill set and what you like and see how those things can apply to any type of role. You might find it to be your fit."

Clicking “Send”

I graduated in 2020, right into the pandemic. No one was hiring, really. I moved back home and started volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club, just to keep busy. Now, one thing you should know: The CEO of 23andMe, Anne Wojcicki, is very involved in the Club. She sits on the board and everything. And so around that time, some people at the Club were like, “Why don't you message her? It’s not going to hurt.”

It felt like a risky thing to do. As a First Gen college student, you always struggle with imposter syndrome. But at Saint Mary’s, like I said, I’d gotten comfortable being uncomfortable. Honestly, if professors like Andras hadn’t challenged me, I think it would have taken me a lot longer to send that email. 

Eventually, someone from 23andMe’s talent acquisition team reached out, and I interviewed for my current position. I didn't get it then because I didn’t yet have all the knowledge and skills they needed. But they did offer me a paid internship, which I took. After ten months, they offered me a full-time Recruiting Coordinator position. In July, I’ll celebrate three years there.

Olivia Luna '20 and her boyfriend
"Educada Y Chingona": Sergio Pimentel ’21 and Olivia Luna '20, first-generation graduates on Commencement Day 2021 / Photo courtesy Olivia Luna

Liberal arts and lasting value

As a Recruiting Coordinator, I support our hiring team as they seek out top talent. I make sure everyone’s in the loop, schedules are lined up, and candidates have a great experience regardless of the outcome. 

My favorite part of my job is working with so many different people across departments. It requires me to see things from many different perspectives, and I wouldn't be able to do that without my experience in the Seminar Program and in Theology and Religious Studies classes. Back then, maybe I didn’t feel like those philosophy books were benefiting me. Today, though, I see how they helped make me a better thinker and communicator.  

I remember feeling in college, too, that writing essays wouldn’t be relevant to my career. But now, as I’ve begun supporting our DEI team here at 23andMe, they're slowly putting me on projects where I need to write things up. I’ve been thinking a lot lately, “All those papers I wrote in English and Seminar really prepared me for this!”

Advice for future graduates

Your major is important, but it’s not everything. When I was at Saint Mary’s, I worked at the Center for Disability Services Office and Career and Professional Development Services Office. The skills I gained there—scheduling, going back and forth over email, interpersonal communication—are the skills I use as a Recruiting Coordinator. If it weren’t for my student jobs, I wouldn’t have been able to apply to 23andMe at all.

So look at your skill set and what you like and see how those things can apply to any type of role. You might find it to be your fit. Or it might not be, and that's okay. I often have to remind myself, It’s okay not to know. And it is. So just try it and see what happens.

(This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)


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READ MORE: Making Family History: Rebecca Carranza ’26 Sees Humanity in the Work of the Law

Hayden Royster is Staff Writer at the Office of Marketing and Communication for Saint Mary's College. Write him.