Ikram Isa was interested in pursuing medicine when she began attending College of DuPage.
“After doing some research into the different majors that would give me exposure to the biological and medical field, I chose to pursue biomedical engineering as I appreciated the creativity, problem solving and hands-on experiences that the major called for,” she said. “My long-term goals include assisting health insecure communities in developing preventative and interventional methods of combating illnesses. Therefore, I believe a background in biomedical engineering will give me some of the skills and problem-solving approaches needed in the medical arena.”
Isa was also named a Presidential Scholar at COD, which covers full tuition and membership in the Honors Program and Phi Theta Kappa. It meant that she did not have to travel far for school during COVID-19.
“COD was a good financial decision for me. Plus, having graduated from high school during the height of the pandemic with a lot of uncertainties in the air, it was a comforting idea to begin college close to home.”
When she began at COD, Isa took several honors classes as she was interested in their rigor and curriculum, which often included research projects. Her involvement with the Honors Program began with an idea to unite students during the pandemic.
“I proposed an honors care package idea to Dr. Lisa Higgins, director of the program, as a means of creating a feeling of community and engagement with the honors students at COD,” she said. “She invited me to the first Honors Student Advisory Committee (HSAC) meeting of the year so I could pitch my idea, and by the end of the meeting I had been named the vice president of the committee.
“Throughout the year, we stayed very active hosting student networking events, developing care packages, hosting virtual movie nights and collaborating with other clubs and organizations. HSAC was genuinely the highlight of the pandemic for me. I loved how it was truly student-led yet well-supported by faculty members Dr. Higgins and Kenneth Orenic.”
Because of this work, Isa was one of several students who attended the Illinois Community College Faculty Association Conference and shared how they successfully kept the club active. This was the second conference at which Isa was a presenter. During the Honors Council Illinois Region Student Symposium, she and her peers discussed a project-based English course that prompted students to identify an issue in society and develop a solution that reduced its negative impact.
I absolutely love how COD gives students the space and resources to take initiative, be creative and get involved in the community of the school.
“We discovered the negative impacts that motorized gardening tools have on the environment due to the gas emissions they produce. Even further, the style of gardening done using these tools often promoted habitat loss for animals,” she said. “With the research we collected, we unanimously decided to generate a solution within our own school with the planting of native species. We chose native species due to the low maintenance that these plants require, as well as the suitable habitat it provides to certain animals and insects. This class taught me how we could use our research, discussion and writing to make beneficial changes to our community.”
Her involvement on campus also included being an orientation leader for New Student Orientation and returning the next year to be a team lead.
Currently a biomedical engineering student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Isa is an undergraduate research assistant in a UIC research lab that studies the extracellular matrix (ECM). Her work primarily focuses on generating open-access resources that simplify ECM research, and the work was presented at the Tissue Matrix Pathology Conference.
Her group in senior design is creating a topical wound protection system that targets bacterial growth at chronic wound sites using organometallics. Isa also completed an internship at UI Health where, through daily observations of surgeries and other procedures, she worked with medical and biomedical engineering students to identify unmet user needs regarding workflow and medical devices in the Department of Anesthesiology. At the end of the program, they devised a needs statement that called for improving current blood pressure monitoring systems available in the market.
“COD really helped me in pursuing my educational and career goals by allowing me to take smaller classes where I felt like the teachers knew me and had time for me as an individual student,” she said. “I felt well-supported by the accessible tutoring and support resources like the Writing Center, which I used to get my essays reviewed and edited when applying to scholarships and schools. Through the clubs that I was part of, like the Biotech Club and HSAC, I was able to develop my interpersonal and management skills.
“COD also allows students to learn and grow at their own pace while still giving them different opportunities to excel and go above and beyond. Plus, I absolutely love how COD gives students the space and resources to take initiative, be creative and get involved in the community of the school. My one advice to students is to use the resources the school has and if you are not sure if a resource you are seeking exists, ask a professor, other faculty or classmates because you might be surprised by just how much support is out there ready to be used.”