Featured in the 2021 Summer Communiqué
Undergraduate Diversity Program Honoree: 2010
Current Position: Associate Program Director, MS Program in Physiology, University of Michigan
2012 : BA, Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Pennsylvania
2017 : PhD, Pharmacology/Toxicology and Environmental Toxicology, Michigan State University
2017–2019 : Postdoctoral Research Fellow, The Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center, University of Virginia
Isola’s interest in a career in toxicology began in an unsuspecting place: her living room couch. Years of Friday night marathons of CSI (Las Vegas and Miami editions, of course!) and a love for chemistry sparked an interest in a career in forensic toxicology. In pursuit of this goal, Isola attended the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), where she attained a bachelor of arts in chemistry and biochemistry. While at Penn, she conducted summer research in the labs of Dr. Gregory Weiss and Dr. Amy Palmer at the University of California Irvine and the University of Colorado Boulder, respectively. Additionally, during her junior and senior year at Penn, Isola worked in the laboratory of Dr. Bruce Sachais in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. These undergraduate research experiences were instrumental in developing Isola’s passion for academic research, and Drs. Weiss, Palmer, and Sachais provided key mentorship and support for her transition to graduate school.
Isola attended the 2010 SOT Annual Meeting as part of the Undergraduate Diversity Program (UDP). This was Isola’s first-ever conference, and attending a national meeting of this caliber at such an early time in her academic career was a pivotal moment in her professional development. She gained an early appreciation for science communication, networking, and mentoring as key parts in developing a fulfilling academic career.
In 2012, Isola matriculated into the Pharmacology and Toxicology PhD program at Michigan State University (MSU). At MSU, she was fortunate to be in a department that housed leaders in various fields of toxicology, including past and present SOT leadership. Although her research interest changed from toxicology to neuroscience during graduate school, the strong and supportive training environment provided by the Pharm/Tox Department ensured the successful defense of Isola’s dissertation titled “Enteric Glial Cell Regulation of Oxidative Stress and Immune Homeostasis during Gastrointestinal Inflammation” in 2017 from the laboratory of Dr. Brian Gulbransen.
After completing a PhD, Isola pursued postdoctoral training as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center (CVRC) at the University of Virginia, working in the laboratory of Dr. Brant Isakson. There, she spent two years studying the role of intravascular endothelial cells in viral infections, continuing her broad research interests developed in graduate school in intercellular signaling in disease. Her postdoctoral work was supported by funding from the CVRC Training Grant and a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship.
One of Isola’s key takeaways from the UDP was the importance of strong and supporting mentorship and advising. Following the model provided to her by the UDP host and peer mentors made mentoring future scientists a priority in her academic training and career. As a female underrepresented minority scientist, this mentorship is particularly targeted to other women and minorities in science (although not exclusively). During graduate school, she was an active member of the MSU chapter of the Graduate Women in Science, an organization through which she mentored middle and high school girls and undergraduate women with a passion for science. Isola also became a graduate student mentor for the MSU Summer Opportunities Research Program, where she provided one-on-one feedback and guidance to underrepresented undergraduate students engaged in summer research at MSU. Isola was a steering committee member for the MSU Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), a National Science Foundation (NSF)–funded program supporting the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in PhD programs at MSU. In those roles, she played an active role in ensuring gender and racial diversity within academia and gained a novel appreciation for academic mentoring.
This appreciation, and other experiences, led Isola to her current role as the Associate Program Director of the MS Program in Physiology at the University of Michigan. Since October 2019, she taught courses in physiology and neuroscience and mentored and advised program students as they prepared applications for health profession programs (such as medicine or dentistry) or other future employment. Her work in the MS Program directly aligns with her long-term career passions in teaching, student mentoring and advising, and student success outcomes.