Immunology and Infectious Disease student offers a new vision of agriculture

Marissa Moran, a junior majoring in Immunology and Infectious Disease in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, plans to become an optometrist. Credit: Marissa MoranAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Although she grew up working in her father’s Agway store, Marissa Moran did not set out to be part of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

“Growing up seeing the industrial side of ag, I have a deep appreciation for the work and the people who do it,” said Moran, of Tunkhannock, who now is a junior majoring in immunology and infectious disease. “But I knew it wasn’t going to be the career path for me.”

Moran started her freshman year focusing on biochemistry and microbiology. She was feeling a little lost in the vast Eberly College of Science when her older sister, Megan, a 2019 graduate in veterinary and biomedical sciences graduate, who is now attending veterinary school at Ohio State University, introduced Moran to the idea of moving to the College of Agricultural Sciences.

“Megan was an Ag Advocate [student volunteers who promote the college and its programs to the wider Penn State community and the public] and she was the one who told me about the immunology and infectious disease major,” Moran said. “When I started doing more research about it, it seemed like a place I could see myself. The College of Agricultural Sciences has given me a small-college feel while still having all of the opportunities of a large university like Penn State.”

Moran added that she found it interesting that only five schools in the country offer majors comparable to hers. She knew it would be something that would help her stand out when she applied for postgraduate work.

She said being in the college enables her to “combine my appreciation for agriculture and everything it provides for us, while also pursuing my interests.”

Looking ahead, Moran is planning to pursue a career as an optometrist.

“I've always been fascinated by eyes,” she said. “Even as a little kid, I wanted glasses. My younger sister wears them, and I was so jealous of her. I started researching why her eyes needed glasses, but my eyes did not — and I just fell in love with it.”

Moran explained that ophthalmologists tend to do more research and be involved with eye surgery such as Lasik and cataract surgeries, while optometrists see patients during their annual visits to evaluate the overall health of their eyes or update prescriptions.

“I enjoy working with people, so when I shadowed an optometrist last summer, I got to see how they get to know all their patients on a one-on-one basis, and that interaction appealed to me," she explained.

Moran said the immunology and infectious disease major offers students the opportunity to apply microbiology and biochemistry to real-world situations and provides strong preparation for further studies in schools of medicine, optometry, veterinary medicine, pharmacy or public health.

Robert Paulson, professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences, taught Moran in VBSC 211 The Immune System and Disease. He said she is a great fit for the major.

“Marissa embodies what we are looking for in a student — someone who is smart, hardworking and easy to teach,” he said. “She also is interested in doing more than just going to class. Her service as an Ag Advocate is a great way to give back to the College of Agricultural Sciences and the Immunology and Infectious Disease program to ensure that we recruit top students year after year.”

Moran has been an Ag Advocate for about a year. She noted that interacting with prospective students has been one of her favorite parts.

“Not many people know my major is in the College of Ag Sciences, so being able to spread the word about it — it’s not just a ‘cows and plows’ college. There’s more to agriculture than animals and farming.”

Moran is also taking advantage of one of the college’s newest minors: One Health. The One Health minor became available to undergraduates in the spring 2020 semester. The 21-credit minor offers a new, interdisciplinary way to approach many fields of study, focusing on the interdependent relationships between the health of humans, animals and the environment, and allows students to explore a wide range of careers.

Alongside her duties as an Ag Advocate, Moran is a member of the One Health Club and the Pre-optometry Society; a resident assistant in East Halls; and a member of a rules and regulations committee for THON.

Last Updated March 12, 2020