The Trinity Reporter Fall 2003
Allison Zanno '04
Medic in the making

by Christine Palm


As a child, Allison Zanno ’04 was so squeamish about going to the pediatrician that “they had to tie me down whenever I got a shot.” So when Zanno, now a 21-year-old Trinity biology major, announced to her parents that she was learning to be an emergency medical technician (EMT), “my mom was afraid I would freak out.” But in the two years she’s worked as an EMT for Aetna Ambulance and for Trinity’s College Emergency Response Team (TCERT), Zanno has acquired the professional detachment critical to effective medicine. “I’m actually very calm at the scene of an emergency—you have to be,” Zanno says. “The hardest part is when you have a life-or-death situation with someone you know. I am, by nature, a very emotional person, but in emergency medicine you soon learn that if you get involved with a patient, it doesn’t help them. You have to have a knack for stress management.” That “knack” extends to managing the considerable juggling act of her own life.

“Outside of the classroom, Allison is quite involved,” says Professor Lisa-Anne Foster, with whom Zanno took microbiology, cell biology, and a senior seminar in bacterial pathogenesis, and from whom she received an A in all three, placing her in the top two to three percent of all students in these courses. “She was also one of only two students invited to be part of the Curriculum Review Committee, which spent the entire summer of 2002 reviewing Trinity’s curriculum and suggesting changes to strengthen it,” says Foster. “Allison’s insight as a science student was invaluable. She was able to educate many faculty members in other disciplines as to the special challenges science majors face in scheduling their lab courses. I recommended Allison for this committee because I knew she was thoughtful, but more importantly, because I knew she would be able to discuss important issues with senior faculty members and administrators in an intelligent manner. I don’t believe that many rising third-year students would have had the self-confidence and maturity to handle themselves as Allison did during meetings with large groups—including the Trustees of the College.”

Zanno is a mixture of youthful enthusiasm and steely professionalism—a combination that stands her in good stead with her other extracurricular activities. While earning her basic and intermediate EMT certification (she has one more level to go before she’s a licensed paramedic) and handling a slew of late-night calls on her TCERT team, she has worked as a mentor in the First-Year Program, rowed with the women’s crew team, learned to give an I.V., and, perhaps most importantly, has been instrumental in a major research project on tuberculosis. As a first-year student, Zanno was invited to join Trinity’s Interdisciplinary Science Program, which gave her the opportunity to conduct research with Dr. Hebe Guardiola-Diaz, assistant professor of biology and neuroscience. A grant given to Guardiola-Diaz in 2000 enabled Zanno to stay on campus over the summer and help investigate an enzyme from Mycobacterium tuberculosis that may become a new target for treatment of tuberculosis.

“We need alternate treatment therapies,” Zanno explains. “Novel biosynthetic pathways may reveal potential drug targets.”

In April of 2002, Zanno, fellow student Nick Kwaitkowski (who graduated this year and is a biochemistry graduate student at Harvard ), and Guardiola-Diaz presented their findings as a team at the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology meeting in New Orleans.

“It was a lot of fun, because so many people are interested in what we’re doing,” Zanno says. “I never get tired of it because it’s really important work—T.B. is on the rise and people with compromised immune systems, like people with AIDS, are especially susceptible.”

“Allie is one of a kind,” says Professor Guardiola-Diaz. “She is sharp and always seeks new challenges. At the same time she is very generous with her friends and her peers. I feel privileged to have known Allie since her freshman year and look forward to observing her as she matures personally and scientifically.”

When pressed, Zanno will talk about her non-science studies, such as art history, fiction writing, storytelling, and the psychology of gender differences. “They were all interesting, but to be honest, I just get very excited by the sciences,” she admits. And even though she spends as many as 20 hours a week in the lab doing cell cultures and Western Blots, “I’m never, ever bored.”

What’s next for Zanno?

“I’m hoping to go to medical school and study either emergency medicine or infectious diseases,” she says. Despite her obvious aptitude for clinical studies, she’s pretty much ruled out research as a profession because, “I like interacting with patients too much to spend all my time in a lab.”

This insight is echoed by Professor Foster, who says, “Allie is never arrogant, always tough—but fair and willing to help. I have no doubt that she naturally possesses the attributes needed for a close and comfortable physician-patient relationship.”

When asked to what she attributes her drive and success, Zanno, who grew up in Brookfield, Connecticut, says without hesitation, “My parents. My dad works at the post office and my mom is a secretary. They’ve worked really hard to get me this far.” Clearly, her own ability to work hard will take her much, much farther.

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Medic in the making

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