Isabella (“Bella”) Karabinas received the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship. She is one of four 2019 Goldwater Scholars from Oregon State this year. The junior Honors student, whose favorite classes in high school were biochemistry and psychology, is double majoring in both psychology and biochemistry and molecular biology and minoring in chemistry with a pre-medicine option. This interdisciplinary approach to her studies has given Karabinas the tools “to think critically about complex issues in biomedicine and society.”
Two other OSU science students received a Goldwater Scholarship, the nation’s top undergraduate award for sophomores and juniors in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics award, Ryan Tollefsen and Kendra Jackson.
Karabinas, a Mexican-American, is originally from southern California. When she was young, her family moved to the small town of Oroville, Washington, just four miles from the Canadian border, where she spent the first few years of her life. Her family now lives in Central Point, Oregon, where Karabinas finished middle school and attended high school at Crater Renaissance Academy. The high school was recognized as one of Oregon’s four model schools for college readiness in 2016, and one of the top high schools in the country by 2017 U.S. News & World Report. Karabinas’ interest in science was ignited by an AP Biology course, which she took online since her high school did not offer it.
“I had great teachers in high school, in physics, chemistry, biology, and psychology. They helped me see the connection between the sciences and the arts,” said Karabinas.
Truly a renaissance woman, Karabinas was drawn to science as well as the arts. She was extremely involved in the humanities and the arts throughout high school.
“The relationships with my Spanish and theatre teachers really inspired me about what I wanted to study and where I wanted to go. I am actually surprised that I chose a major in the hard sciences. I was very artsy in high school,” said Karabinas. The aspiring neuroscientist is an accomplished musician. She has played the piano for 10 years and played the alto saxophone in the jazz, marching, and concert bands in high school.
“The relationships with my Spanish and theatre teachers really inspired me about what I wanted to study and where I wanted to go. I am actually surprised that I chose a major in the hard sciences.”
Thanks to academic scholarships, Karabinas chose to pursue her studies here over other universities, which were “farther from home and more expensive.”
She is supported by numerous scholarships, including the Zonta Club of Corvallis STEM Scholarship, the Southern Oregon Latino Scholarship and the national Hispanic Scholarship Fund award. Most notably, she received the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Scholar award, which is awarded to interns for outstanding achievements in the Weill Cornell/Rockefeller/Sloan-Kettering Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. Gateways to the Laboratory Program. She is also a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society OSU Chapter.
“I didn’t know much about OSU until I came for a campus tour in the spring at the end of my high school senior year. I loved the College of Science tour, the Honors College tour and the biochemistry program, which had so many opportunities to get involved in undergraduate research,” said Karabinas. “And it is such a pretty campus!” After touring a nearby university the next day, she found she was disappointed with the limited science opportunities and programs.
“Two of my favorite courses have been Bacc Core classes: Middle Eastern Literature and Medical Anthropology. They were a refreshing break from my science classes and added to my personal growth,” said Karabinas. “They introduced interesting perspectives that have complemented and built on those presented in my science classes.”
A summer well spent at a research internship in New York City
A Gateways to the Laboratory internship last summer took Karabinas to a lab in Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, where she worked on projects related to neurobiology and behavioral neuroscience in the areas of chronic stress and depression. She used a mouse model of depressive behavior to measure stress-induced changes on certain behaviors and studied the effects of pharmacological modulation of a signaling pathway in the brain on reward behavior.
Karabinas’ internship crystallized what she wanted to do in her career: To pursue an M.D.-Ph.D. education. This will enable her to be a practicing neurologist or psychiatrist, as well as a professor who conducts laboratory and clinical research in neuroscience. At OSU, Karabinas studies the role of a protein essential for cellular survival in the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis in Alvaro Estevez’s laboratory.
“I didn’t expect my college experience to come together so well and so quickly in terms of finding my interests and my career path. But it comes together piece by piece in unexpected ways. Then one day you wake up and see, ‘oh yeah, it’s that’,” shared Karabinas.
Although her coursework has shaped her thinking about her future, Karabinas explains that it is her research experiences that have most influenced her decision to pursue a career in biomedical research as a physician-scientist. For her Honors thesis, she studied the stress physiology associated with empathy and perspective taking. The project afforded her the opportunity to learn to design an experiment to test her own research question and to learn laboratory techniques in social psychology and molecular biology.
“Two of my favorite courses have been Bacc Core classes: Middle Eastern Literature and Medical Anthropology. They introduced interesting perspectives that have complemented and built on those presented in my science classes.”
“I want to have the kind of career where I can ask questions directed at understanding human behavior from an integrated perspective of biopsychology and neuroscience. Human studies in neurobiology, systems biology and social psychology can tell us a lot about the way people behave in response to their environment, and how the sum of these interactions come to make up the individual,” explains Karabinas.
Keys to success
When asked what she attributes her success to, she paused, giving it some thought before citing three key factors.
“I have a deep passion for learning, I am a hard worker, and I have a lot of people in my life who have helped me. My parents helped me with my homework when I was home, and they have always been super supportive of my studies. My AP Literature and Civics teacher helped me improve my writing and critical thinking with her feedback, which I grew from immensely,” said Karabinas, who has a younger sister at home who also excels in math and science.
“She is only 13 years old and she already knows she wants to be a bioengineer and make prosthetics. She knows it to her core!” laughs Karabinas. Knowing what you want, working hard, being passionate, and persevering must run in the family.