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Chemistry Grad Trades Lab for Literacy


The countdown to graduation had already begun, and suddenly Isabella Fante’s resolve to become a chemist wavered.

“I decided that graduate school for chemistry wasn’t for me—but I decided halfway through the application process and then didn’t really know where to go from there,” said Fante, FCRH ’13.

A Clare Boothe Luce Scholar, Fante had already devoted a year to organic chemistry research with Associate Professor of Chemistry Shahrokh Saba, Ph.D. But as she approached the fall of senior year—a season of deadlines for many post-graduate opportunities—she felt a twinge of doubt.

Isabella Fante poses with the City Year logo on Fordham Road. Photo courtesy of Isabella Fante

Although she was nervous to admit to Saba and her advisors that she was questioning a future in research, she approached Donna Heald, Ph.D., then associate dean for science education.

“She was a tremendous help through the whole thing, and she completely understood,” Fante said. “She even told me her story about applying to be a veterinarian and then dropping it and going into chemistry.”

With Heald’s and Saba’s support, Fante made an appointment with Career Services to figure out how to make the most of her remaining time at Fordham. There, she learned about a number of service programs that would expose her to new professional experiences. One in particular jumped out at her, so she applied and after two rounds of rigorous interviews, was accepted.

This fall, Fante will work as a corps member with City Year, an AmeriCorps program that places young adults ages 17 to 24 in high-needs public schools to provide full-time support for students. Based in 24 cities throughout the country, corps members identify at-risk students based on attendance, behavior, and performance in math and English, then provide one-on-one and group support.

The White Plains, N.Y. native will spend the upcoming year at City Year’s San José/Silicon Valley location, where she will be placed in an elementary school to provide reading and math tutoring both in the classroom and in after-school programs.

“I’ve always strongly endorsed education and I did a lot of volunteering in educational organizations during my four years at Fordham, tutoring in after-school programs and in the chemistry department,” she said. “I felt like I had a certain way of understanding things and have been able to convey that to other people in a way that they say works for them, too. So this seemed like a good fit.”

Fante said that, following her year in California, she would like to either continue working in education on the policy level or begin a career in public health. Fante’s mentors in Career Services pointed out that the latter option would allow her to draw on her undergraduate science training.

“I had been inspired to pursue medical research [for the Clare Boothe Luce program]after reading about a group of chemists who developed an inexpensive method of performing mammograms so that women of all economic backgrounds would have access to them. I wanted to use medical research to help women of low-income communities who lacked the resources they deserved,” Fante said.

“I still hope to do this, though no longer through a career in medical research. The lab is very lonely. I think pursuing a career in public health will allow me to use more of my skills for the same purpose.”


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