Carnegie Mellon University
May 20, 2020

Isabel Yoon Receives Fugassi and Monteverde Award

By Emily Payne

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS

Isabel Yoon is the recipient of this year’s Dr. J. Paul Fugassi and Linda E. Monteverde Award. The award recognizes the Mellon College of Science’s graduating female senior with the greatest academic achievement and professional promise.

Yoon, who majors in neuroscience and creative writing, has been a dedicated student, talented researcher and an active leader and volunteer both on and off campus.

Yoon’s advisors describe her as an adaptable, resilient, patient and talented learner. She has mastered advanced biology and neuroscience courses, earning an impressive 4.0 QPA for all semesters. Based on her impressive lab work and interpersonal skills, Lynley Doonan selected Yoon as a teaching assistant (TA) for her Modern Biology Lab course. “Being a TA for a class you have never taken can be a daunting task. However, Isabel was always confident in herself that she could be creative and apply her knowledge to new situations,” said Doonan.

In recognition of her academic achievements, Yoon has been selected as an Andrew Carnegie Society Scholar and inducted early into Phi Beta Kappa and Nu Rho Psi, the National Honor Society for Neuroscience.

Yoon has a great passion for combining her love of science and writing, and she has demonstrated that she is equally accomplished for her writing talent. This year, she won second place in the poetry category in Carnegie Mellon’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Writing Awards and was invited to speak on NPR’s The Confluence in the episode “How Writing Breaks Barriers in the Name of MLK.”

Yoon’s high academic standards and creative approach to problem solving are also evident in her undergraduate research. 

As a sophomore, Yoon interned with UPMC Children’s Hospital’s Program for the Study of Neurodevelopment in Rare Disorders (NDRD) and led a research project assessing the long-term outcomes of using stem cell transplantation to treat late-infantile Krabbe disease, a rare and fatal neurodegenerative disorder in children. Throughout 2019, she presented her findings as platform and poster presentations at the WORLD Symposium, Krabbe Translational Research Network and the American College of Medical Genetics conferences, and she won second place at CMU’s Meeting of the Minds Sigma Xi Competition.

Attending these conferences invigorated Yoon to pursue a career in science as she saw how collaborative the scientific community was and how exciting it was to be a part of a team that worked to better understand Krabbe disease and develop a new treatment. “It was from conferences that I grew as a scientist. I received so much helpful feedback and encouragement from professionals in the field. I also got to meet patients and families from my study and see the actual impact of my work,” said Yoon.

In addition to her academics and research, service has been a deeply meaningful part of Yoon’s undergraduate career.

She has been co-president of the MCS Student Advisory Council since 2017, organizing MCS Pride Day and the MCS Ball and creating a website for the organization.

One of her passion projects has been working with a team of students to found Here for You, a student organization aimed at educating students about the importance of mental health and wellness and encouraging peer support.

Another passion of Yoon’s is connecting with and helping others to thrive in their communities. She mentors elementary school girls in underserved communities as a member of CMU’s chapter of Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG). She also helps refugee families integrate into their local communities through FORGE. And as a volunteer at UPMC Children’s Hospital, Yoon interacts and socializes with long-term pediatric patients to help reduce the negative impacts of being in isolation.

“The past four years haven’t been easy, but I’ve grown so much, met so many wonderful faculty mentors and discovered what my passions are,” said Yoon. “It feels amazing to be recognized and honored for this journey and my efforts.” 

After graduation, Yoon plans to apply for medical school while continuing her research at the NDRD. She has an interest in pediatrics and neurology, and influenced by her work with FORGE and SWSG, she would like to continue serving and working with underserved populations. “I hope that I can learn more about health inequity, and how as a physician I can help address these issues.”