Ranger in Paris: Ellen Arena at Pasteur Institute
Ellen Arena was still somewhat star struck by her good fortune recently when she returned to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside campus to visit Dr. Carmel Ruffolo. Shortly before stopping in Kenosha, she was informed that she had been selected for a highly coveted position as a post-doctoral researcher at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France.
Arena ('05, Molecular Biology & Bioinformatics) had exceptional credentials for the job. Coming out of Waterloo (Wis.) High School with the recommendation of science teacher Dennis Baker, she excelled at UW-Parkside working with Dr. Ruffolo, a professor in the Biological Sciences Department, and other faculty. After graduating as the Class of 2005 Chancellor's Award winner, Arena was accepted for graduate studies at the University of British Columbia (UBC) working with world-renowned researcher Dr. B. Brett Finlay.
Wanting to stay in an academic setting and wanting to continue pursuing research, in 2010 Arena began considering her options for post-doctoral work.
"I did look at some labs in the States. I had the interview in Boston at Tufts University but then I decided to focus on labs in Europe," Arena said. "I had [an interview at the] Pasteur Institute with Philippe Sansonetti, another in Stockholm at the Karolinska Institute, and then another at Max Planck [Institute] in Berlin. All pretty prestigious institutions."
Ultimately, the decision came down to the people she would be working with and she felt the right fit was to be found in Paris.
"The reason I decided to go to France was mostly based on the people. I had such an amazing experience here and I left Parkside having this feeling of family with the professors and my fellow students and I've always wanted to keep that everywhere I went. And I got that at UBC. Now, when I'm going to a new research environment, that's what I'm looking for. I really think that I've found that again. It just happens to be at the Pasteur," Arena said.
Saying her passion is in the field of bacterial pathogenesis, Arena said this has been true since she first set foot in a lab at UW-Parkside and started working with Dr. Ruffolo.
"I knew that's what I wanted to do," she stated.
And the Pasteur Institute may be the perfect place for Arena to pursue her passion. Founded in 1887 and named after revered medical researcher Louis Pasteur, the father of microbiology, the institute has been at the forefront of the battle against infectious diseases. It has been responsible for breakthrough discoveries against diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, tuberculosis, polio, influenza, yellow fever, hepatitis B, and bubonic plague. The institute's scientists were the first to isolate HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Since 1908, eight Pasteur Institute scientists have earned the Nobel Prize.
At the Pasteur, Arena will work in Dr. Sansonetti's laboratory carrying out research on the bacterium Shigella, a worldwide cause of major water-borne diseases such as dysentery.
When asked what she would do first upon arrival in Paris, Arena said: "Drink some wine," with a laugh.
Her serious answer to the question revealed much about her growth not only as a student during her years at UW-Parkside but also as a person.
"To see as much art as possible. That's was one thing about being here at Parkside, even though my main focus here was science, I was able to take other classes. One of my favorite classes was an art history class," Arena said. "And ever since then I have this greater appreciation for art."
She added, smiling, "I think Paris is the right city for that."