CAFNR Senior Spotlight – Q&A with Isabella Bertarelli

Bertarelli is a senior graduating in December with a degree in biochemistry.

Isabella Bertarelli

Q: Why did you choose to come to the University of Missouri?
Being from St. Louis, I had always known about Mizzou. Initially, I wanted to go on a different route than most people from my high school and go out of state, but my mom suggested we tour Mizzou for fun. The tour blew me away. There is something on this campus for everybody. Going into college as a pre-med student, I just knew Mizzou would have the resources to help me achieve my goal of becoming a physician, and it was the perfect distance from home.

Q: Why did you choose to pursue a degree in biochemistry?
I initially came to the University as a biology and psychology major. I knew biochemistry was on the MCAT, and as an eager pre-med student, I wanted early exposure to the content. I enrolled in Biochemistry 1090. After a week in the course, I knew this was the major I was supposed to be in. I got to learn the biology I love, but I got to know the why and the how behind it, and that’s what drew me to this major- I need to know more than the surface level. The reason why I stayed in the major is the faculty. The major has smaller classes, so you get to know your professors. Every single professor I have had in the department is willing to go above and beyond for all of their students, which shows they care about their students’ success.

I chose to add a minor in nutritional sciences because food = biochemistry. Seeing my major apply to something relevant to daily life was so fun. I also completed a neuroscience certificate because it is fascinating (and there is a lot of biochemistry in neuroscience!)

Q: Were you involved in any extracurricular activities? If so, could you talk about those experiences?
I was selected as a premedical scholar in the Honors College during my first year. In my junior year, I served as the social chair. The most rewarding leadership experience I have had at Mizzou is serving as the current president of Mizzou’s Honors Premedical Scholars. The most rewarding part of my role as a president is mentorship. My favorite part of meetings is when first-year students stay after and ask for advice and guidance; I love being able to give advice. I have also been working on creating a mentorship program with current medical students because I have gained so much fantastic insight from the mentors I have had in the past, and I want that experience for everyone else.

I participated in Mizzou Alternative Breaks. We helped convert a home into Carrollton, Missouri’s, first addiction recovery center. It was a fulfilling experience as we worked together to paint, organize, and prepare rooms for future residents. Seeing the finished product was incredibly rewarding, but the most touching moment was when the woman who invited us broke down in tears, thanking us for our help. It was humbling to realize how much this facility would impact the community, especially because mental health is a topic that is not openly discussed. The opportunity to increase access to these services was invaluable, and I am grateful to have been a part of it.

I joined the Mizzou Club racquetball team during my junior year because I had played the sport my entire life. We went to intercollegiate nationals at Ohio State. I won my divisions in singles and doubles while having so much fun with the team!

In my first year, I was an Alpha Chi Omega sorority member, where True North was their philanthropy. I began volunteering with the organization in the Fall of 2020 and continued to volunteer with the organization. I was recently hired as a Residential Victim Advocate. I love working with an organization that serves our community directly here in Columbia.

I have worked as a Clinical Laboratory Assistant/Phlebotomist at the MU Hospital since August 2021!

Q: Did you partake in any research, study abroad, or internship opportunities? What did you enjoy about those experiences?
In my time at Mizzou, I have been involved in two research opportunities. The first research opportunity was in Dr. William Folk’s lab, working on a project exploring the potential of certain botanicals to inhibit the LSD-1 enzyme, which plays a significant role in expressing traits in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I have contributed to two posters and have presented one at Health Science Research Day. Our work involved manipulating Drosophila media with different drugs and botanicals and analyzing the pigment in the eyes to determine enzyme expression inhibition. Working in a team environment, where we learned from each other’s trial-and-error approaches and research skills, was incredibly fulfilling. Dr. Folk has been a great mentor throughout my time at MU!

The second research experience was in the Nutrition and Exercise Physiology department. During my second semester of sophomore year, I had the privilege of joining Dr. Elizabeth Parks’ lab, which focused on researching non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. I analyzed data, conducted various assays, and performed thin-layer chromatography. It was a rewarding experience to work in the lab during their seven-year clinical trial. The trial included overnight studies, which was a unique experience. I would escort subjects to their MRI appointments and then aliquot blood for analysis later in the lab. Seeing the dedication and hard work put in by all team members involved in the lab gave me a deep appreciation for scientific research.

Q: What is a favorite memory you have during your time in CAFNR?
My favorite memory in CAFNR was being a PLA (Peer Learning Assistant) for Biochemistry 1094 with Dr. Reilly. Being a PLA was a great way to communicate biochemical laboratory techniques in ways that made sense to the students. It was rewarding to help students understand concepts they once found complicated and see their confidence and knowledge grow throughout the semester.

Q: How did your degree program prepare you for the future?
My degree in biochemistry has prepared me for any obstacle that may come my way in any future endeavor. The degree taught me how to think critically, analyze, and problem-solve. It has taught me the value of patience because specific assignments would sometimes take me whole a day to figure out. It has made me appreciate the world around me, from how human physiology is biochemistry to how the scientific process works, and all of the scientific advancements we have today have come from a single idea and persistence.

Q: What are your future plans?
I will begin medical school in Fall 2024!