Although she’s a senior, this past year has been full of “firsts” for Ania Issac, and she hopes to keep adding more new experiences throughout her time at MSU.
A psychology major, Issac applied for the Office of Access, Diversity, and Inclusion’s undergraduate research experience program nearly a year ago, and she was placed with the Social Science Research Center’s Gender Impacts Lab. What started as simply responding to an opportunity advertised on a campus flyer led her to gain research experience, an understanding of different cultures and professional guidance.
“I didn’t really know what to expect in the beginning,” Issac said. “I just saw an opportunity and I applied for it, but I’m so happy I did.”
As an undergraduate assistant, Issac sorted data, assisted with reports on multiple projects and enjoyed working with the lab’s directors, Mary Read-Wahidi and Kathleen Ragsdale.
“I gained a lot of knowledge but I also made some strong relationships,” she said. “I learned how to do a lot of computer work, but I also feel like my research professors gave me a great introduction to the things I would need when applying for grad school and jobs.”
The Joliet, Illinois, native, plans to pursue a career as a physician assistant after completing her undergraduate degree. She values interacting with different people and cultures and has done this for years working as a Certified Nursing Assistant each summer since high school, practicing some of the skills she’ll need when entering the medical field in a full-time capacity.
The Gender Impacts Lab offered another opportunity for a new interaction—a trip to Zambia for fieldwork. The summer journey was Issac’s second time traveling internationally with the university after first participating in a study-abroad trip to Spain last spring.
Issac traveled with GIL Director Ragsdale and graduate research assistant Robert Kolbila for the two-week stay. The team was conducting focus groups and taste tests for the FishFirst! Zambia project, which is funded through MSU’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish and investigates the constraints and opportunities in the harvesting, processing and selling of small pelagic fish. The project aims to increase access to nutritious fish for mothers and babies, particularly in the babies' important first few years of life.
Working with the team from World Fish, a leading nonprofit organization researching aquatic food, Issac helped with cooking demonstrations and preparing foods for taste tests. Participating mothers were offered different soups, porridge and chutney which had been fortified with ground-up, dried fish.
“Throughout the semester, I was able to learn a little about the FishFirst! Zambia project through Dr. Ragsdale and Dr. Read-Wahidi, and I really enjoyed reading their past reports, but I didn’t fully understand the project until we were there and I was experiencing it with my own eyes,” she said.
With that significant learning experience under her belt, Issac is now enjoying her current role as a resident advisor in Sessums Hall, a role she’s considered since developing a connection with her own RA during her freshman year.
“I had an amazing RA who inspired me,” Issac said. “She was one of those people that you could call anytime, and she had great insight about things on campus. I want to be that outlet for other students.”
Additionally, she is an Alumni Delegate and enjoys interacting with MSU alumni visiting campus.
Issac said there are so many ways to get involved at the university and each experience can have a life-changing impact.
“I appreciate the research program so much because it brought me a whole semester of experience and a trip around the world,” Issac said.