Student Profile: Irene Corona Avila, ’22

Irene Corona Avila, '22

As an ambitious high school student in Lawrenceville, Georgia, Irene Corona Avila, ’22, knew she wanted to go out of state for college. The question was where. She had her sights set on becoming a doctor and wanted to be surrounded by people with different perspectives. She expected to end up at a big school, but then she started reading about the benefits of small liberal arts colleges. When the cross country coach at Albion reached out, her viewpoint changed.

“The thing that caught my eye the most was that it had undergraduate research opportunities,” Irene said. “That was the thing that compelled me to apply.”

Irene arrived on campus determined to make the most out of every opportunity. Research experience was highly recommended for medical school, and Irene knew not all colleges allowed the kind of undergraduate research Albion promoted. Committed to her dream, she decided on Albion. 

Her first weeks here were exciting but challenging. She was nervous about being away from her supportive family. And the shift to a new environment meant navigating relationships with classmates from many different backgrounds. The ability to cultivate a close relationship with professors has been crucial. 

“I feel like at a bigger school, I’d be very intimidated to talk to my professor in that way, where we can be vulnerable with each other. Having that small faculty-to-student ratio makes it very comfortable to have conversations like that. ”

As a biochemistry major, Irene has taken advantage of those research opportunities that first attracted her to Albion. To help her gain lab experience, she’s worked closely with Dr. Abigail Cahill, assistant professor of biology, whom she describes as a mentor. “She’s given me feedback on my research essays, my research process, ways to think about research, and life in general, too,” Irene said. “She’s someone I would keep in touch with after graduating.”

Irene’s research experience shifted her future plans. She now wants to apply to joint M.D./Ph.D. programs in the biomedical fields. “I started falling in love with the research part,” she said. “I just cannot skip that in my life.” Her goal is to one day repurpose antibiotics to develop treatments for neurological diseases and disorders.

Irene also runs on the cross country team, is managing editor of The Pleiad, and serves as a First-Year Experience mentor. The newspaper gives her an outlet to write and being a mentor is her way of giving back. She is also a student engagement associate for the National Institute of Health’s ‘All of Us’ pilot program, which aims to build the most diverse biomedical data resource available. As an SEA, she’ll help spread the word about the project and help in efforts to sign up participants. 

Her family’s work ethic has helped her balance out her many responsibilities. “My mom worked three jobs a week. I guess it rubbed off on me. I learned how to manage from her,“ she said. Though she still misses her family, she has also found her own support system through her roommate and her fellow FYE mentors.

Thanks to her newfound community, Albion feels like home. Irene has also witnessed a shift on campus since her first year. Incoming classes have been more diverse and the student life reflects that. “There’s just more people who look like me. It was always interesting, but there’s so many opportunities to learn about different people.”