Sarah Sampaio Izabel

Sarah Izabel with Tronfeld West & Durrett Attorneys

Name: Sarah Sampaio Izabel

Currently Enrolled (2018): Virginia Commonwealth University

About Winning: 

“My main goal right now is to graduate and move on to the next chapter of my life. My education depends on funds to be accomplished. Paying for tuition, books, food, and being able to afford childcare is hard to reconcile with good grades and high achievement. With this scholarship I can pursuit my dream of helping others while caring for mine and my son’s needs and achieving high academically. I can only pursuit my education and career goals with support such as the one provided by Tronfeld, West & Durrett.”


At nineteen years old I had contact with my first college experience. I was in Brazil following my grandfather’s footsteps and heading to law school. I found myself in academia when a study group that I was part of evolved and caught a professor’s attention. After two semesters and three publications I was excited to discover new aspects of the Brazilian’s legal system, but I didn’t feel fulfilled. In 2010 I came to the United States to improve my English and ended up in Richmond, Virginia, where I met my husband. We felt in love and he followed me to Brazil, where we got married and had a son. Having a child propelled me into digging deeper within myself and finding out who I really wanted to become. I knew by then that being a lawyer was not the case. My grandfather was paying for my education but after I got married he stopped and we could not afford it anymore, so we decided to move to the US and start over. Adapting to a new country was not easy, especially because I did not know my husband would struggle with substance abuse, but being accepted into VCU and pursing an education gave me purpose. During my first semester, a psychology class inspired me to explore the human mind. At home my husband’s substance abuse led him to jail, leaving my son and I homeless, with our belongings in the car.

I had to withdraw that semester to work and get financially stable. This event made me realize the importance of seeking resources such as this scholarship to reach my dreams. I was back in school the following semester, but I have since struggled to make ends meet, even after my husband returned from jail. Going back to school provided me with an open view of possibilities and through research I found a passion in neuroscience. I was introduced to biomedical sciences through a fellowship (NIH-IMSD), and completely fell in love. My interest in science helped me see how finding patterns in biological systems can lead to saving lives. I enjoy research, but also service. My ultimate goal is to apply to a joint MD PhD program and realize my dream of becoming a physician scientist, and I work hard to reach this goal. If I could set up a timeline I would say that in 5 years I will be part of a driven cohort of students in an MD PhD program, I will be finishing the first part of the program (two years of medical school) and will be preparing to start my doctorate program in neurobiology.

There, I will develop a project that will change the lives of those suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. In 10 years I will be starting residency in a highly recognized institution, with state-of-the-art Hospitals and a supportive staff. I will be starting to care for patients with more autonomy and dedicating most of my time to medicine, while I seek to develop additional scientific expertise by being part of a research fellowship that adds to my residency. My son will be going off to college and I will be honored to take him as he makes his dreams come true.

Our journeys will collapse at that moment and life will come full circle when we go to each other’s graduations. We will be both starting new levels in our careers and at that moment I will know that it was all worth it. In 20 years I will be at the peak of my career. With almost ten years of experience I will be highlighting my creativity, my passion, and my engagement in science and medicine. I will be working at a thriving University, sharing my time between the laboratory and the University’s Hospital. I will care for my biomedically focused laboratory, managing graduate students, and writing science enriching grants, while seeing patients and helping to save lives. The passion that brings me such certainty that I will have an amazing future in my career lays in the fact that I want to understand more about the brain and utilize the information I gather to improve the human experience while also providing quality of life for patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. The struggles I go through validate my ability to empathize with patients and understand their suffering, while also developing the patience needed to reach boundless research goals. In 2016 I was awarded the HHMI fellowship and spent a summer at UC San Francisco, where my research project led to a peer reviewed publication. I have also received awards and presented at national conferences. I become more interested in medicine as I engage more in science. I spent last summer with the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis working with scientists who believe they can achieve the amazing goal of making people walk again, while also getting to know the patients who suffer from paralysis themselves.

There, I saw what it means to use science to build knowledge that leads to better care in medicine, and how it improves people’s lives. I want to be the one performing the bench to bedside connection to my patients while advancing research to improve wellbeing. Last semester I had to withdraw from two classes because my financial aid came in late and I lost transportation to school and childcare for my son. With opportunities such as the Tronfeld West & Durrett Step-by-Step Scholarship, I can move toward my goals knowing that I am financially stable and that my son and I will be OK, no matter what happens around us.