Hometown: Great Neck, N.Y.
Major: Bioengineering with a minor in Chemistry
Activities: Co–President of Shelter Health Outreach Program, Finance Officer of OAX Society, Research Assistant in The Elovitz Lab, Penn Engineering Council Marketing Team Member, Hexagon Senior Society Member
Bella Mirro (E '23) channels her passionate attitude into all that she is involved in on and off campus, especially when opportunities unexpectedly fall into her lap. As a woman in STEM, she potentially sees herself engaging in the women’s health field and empowers other women to do the same. Bella balances her research, activities, and sorority life while absorbing Philly's rich culture in her city–girl era. As a big foodie, you may often find her on Instagram through her food blog, posting her favorite Philly meals. Maybe the next time we read about her, it'll be about a new restaurant she's opened.
Can you tell us about your work with the Shelter Health Outreach Program?
SHOP stands for Shelter Health Outreach Program. We are a group of volunteers that partners with different homeless shelters throughout the West Philly and Center City areas. We have weekly cohorts of volunteers that go and provide free blood pressure screenings to guests at the shelters.
That was really how SHOP first started. It was based on blood pressure screenings and provided a very general indicator for health through heart health. [We provide it] free of charge to people in Philly. Another service that we provide is connecting the guests to free and accessible services such as primary care, emergency departments, and other housing shelters. I think an important message that SHOP tries to convey to our guests and to our shelters is that we're not healthcare providers. We're simply undergraduate students that empower these individuals to seek out primary care in other ways. We gather resources throughout Philly and use our connections with other shelters and/or physicians at Penn Medicine to seek out accessible resources that people might not be aware of.
How did you first get involved in SHOP at Penn?
I joined my freshman fall—I think it was one of the three or four clubs that I joined. It's so funny, I can't even remember to this day where I found out about SHOP … it must have been on Locust Walk. I was [in] the first group of students that SHOP accepted. The work that we do is so amazing. I can barely remember writing the application, but I do remember getting the email—I still have it saved, because it was a super special moment. What was really unique about joining during my freshman fall was [that] I was able to see a sharp transition from what I saw in the beginning: how SHOP transformed through COVID and our transformation out of it. When I joined as a freshman, we were the first class, and now we're graduating. I've really been able to see SHOP from the start.
How has COVID–19 affected your work?
Our shelters didn't allow volunteers during COVID, but we have grown so much since. We had to shift to an online format. We were one of the only service clubs on Penn's campus that continued running throughout COVID, but we adapted to it. So what we did was we formed four different committees: fundraiser and donations, marketing, education, and policy and outcome. Those committees worked on a ton of different projects. We raised over $2,000 during a Holiday Auction that we gave to our shelters. Then, through the policy and outcome committee we were able to apply for and win some grant money, which was exciting. Through the marketing and education front, we were able to create different infographics with information regarding COVID [as well as] general heart health, and we were able to create these pamphlets [to] distribute them to our shelters. I'd say the most monumental thing that SHOP has done was [winning] the Projects for Progress award in 2021. We won a $100,000 grant to open a clinic in West Philly. The goal with that clinic was to create an accessible center for families to come and seek primary care with Penn Medicine physicians and social work care. The clinic began Sept. 12 [and] SHOP volunteers can help staff it. That’s SHOP in a nutshell.
Tell us about your research experience.
I do research at the School of Medicine. I work in Dr. Michal Elovitz’s lab. She's part of the OB–GYN maternal fetal medicine division. My work there has been super exciting, and I've worked on projects investigating the vaginal microbiome and the influence on preterm birth. The group that I work with [is female–dominated], and we're all passionate about furthering health initiatives for women, especially women in Philadelphia, who are primarily minority groups. I presented on a project back in September and have been part of the group since September of 2021. [Since then,] I've been able to learn a ton of skills over time and come into my own as part of the group even amongst a group of Ph.D.s, postdocs, and other research assistants. As an undergrad, I still feel just as hands–on [and included]. Dr. Elovitz is a great principal investigator, but [also] a doctor and a female leader who has guided us throughout the past six months. Given the [overturn of] Roe v. Wade, she has led initiatives in Philly [and has been in contact] with Josh Shapiro to gather support for women's health and women's reproductive rights. It's a really empowering position that has further illuminated my desire to maybe go into the women's health field in some aspect.
How have your involvements at Penn impacted your sense of community?
I consider myself an active participant in Philadelphia life both on and off campus. I'd say through SHOP I've been able to expand my networks and connections to unique individuals that dedicate their lives to caring for [and] working with people experiencing houselessness.
I'm [also] involved in OAX Society, where we've been able to engage with women against abuse, leading initiatives for finding health and social resources for women and families experiencing domestic violence in Philadelphia. So I would say most of my involvement beyond my classes has really just gotten me further engaged with the Philadelphia community and taken me out of the Penn bubble.
Lastly, I'm super passionate about restaurants and the food industry. [Living] in Philadelphia has [allowed me to] grow a passion for food and cooking as well as what really goes into running a restaurant. I've been able to explore amazing restaurants and the food industry and I run a cooking Instagram page.
Who inspires you in your efforts?
My mom is a primary care physician, and she didn’t take a day off of work for [the pandemic]. She's been a longest–lasting role model for me and wants me to pursue a career in medicine. She's really shown me the value of primary care and how important it is. I think that's an initiative that I try to convey throughout my involvement in SHOP by empowering individuals to seek out primary care early.
What’s next for you after Penn?
[I’m planning on] taking a gap year before applying to med school.
No skip album? Rihanna’s ANTI.
Favorite restaurant? Fiorella.
Do you have a doppelgänger? I’ve gotten that I look like Blake Lively before.
Early bird or night owl? I’m neither—I can do both.
There are two types of people at Penn… I would say that there are those who work out on the second floor of Pottruck and those who avoid it.
And you are? I’m the type that does go!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.