Whenever Shannon Biello, ’13, began to worry that she might not accomplish everything she wanted to do in her four years at the University of Richmond, all she needed to do was pull out a map.

The map, a four-year plan created by her academic advisor and mentor Lisa Gentile, planned out Biello’s double major in English and biochemistry, gave her the chance to conduct research in both subject areas, and still accounted for a semester abroad.

Biello developed her love for writing and science in high school and wanted to pursue both passions in college, engaging her mind in a variety of ways. Early on, she met with Gentile, a biochemistry professor and associate dean, and they began to plan her college experience and bring the two disciplines together. 

“There were a lot of white board moments,” Biello says.

Gentile also opened Biello’s eyes to possibilities that she hadn’t considered, such as the Integrated Qualitative Science (IQS) program, an interdisciplinary approach to teaching science and math that launched her first year. Biello immediately saw the value in the experience. “When you take components from various areas of study and combine them, you create a big picture where everything makes sense and is much clearer,” she says.

IQS also includes a summer research opportunity, and again Biello looked to Gentile to lead the way. Gentile’s research group to studied misregulations in neuron receptors, which can cause Alzheimer’s disease or other neurodegenerative disorders. By determining why those misregulations occur, they hope to figure out ways to resolve them.

“Sometimes the answer to a research question is more complicated than you anticipate, but the experience of trying to find the answer is satisfying,” she says.

Though Biello spent three years conducting research in the  biochemistry lab, Gentile’s map made sure her research experience wasn’t limited to biochemistry. Her English honors thesis looked at literature through a science lens, as she addressed how Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf created a language in their novels to describe what would be classified today as post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“World War I was traumatizing for many soldiers, and the medical profession at the time didn’t have the understanding of neuroscience we do now,” she says. “As a result, they couldn’t give answers to what was going on in a soldier’s head.”

Biello’s map also included a stop overseas. She was afraid she would have to switch one of her majors to a minor in order to go abroad, but Gentile came to the rescue and located a program at Uppsala University in Sweden that allowed her to complete several English requirements. “I got to take courses in Sweden that aren’t offered here at Richmond,” she says. “It was interesting to see how English is taught from a completely different perspective, especially as the only American in class.”

Now, it’s Biello’s turn to create her own map — one for her life beyond Richmond. “Writing can fill in the gaps of people’s understanding,” she says. “My dream would be to have a career using my writing skills to translate highly scientific information, particularly relating to health and disease, to make it accessible for the general public.”