New Devils 2027: Isabella Peralta

A gymnast since she was four, Isabella “Isa” Peralta is used to soaring.

Peralta is fascinated by outer space, interested in space medicine and intrigued by model rocketry.

That adds up to an interest in space medicine that by the time Peralta graduates from Duke could see her soar even higher.

Does she want to be an astronaut?

“I get this question a lot,” she said, “and yes, I have not closed the door.”

Peralta acknowledged the selection process is difficult, but she’s aiming high.

“I still can see myself as the quote, unquote, ‘space doctor,’ and doing some type of research along those lines,” she said.

Peralta, a native of Aiken, South Carolina, is a B.N. Duke Scholar who plans to study biomedical engineering and eventually go to medical school. She became interested in space medicine as a high school sophomore while taking an advanced placement research course. That’s when she became interested in neurology. Her budding interest in the field coincided with her love of outer space, and she thought about combining the two seemingly disparate disciplines.

New Devils 2027 Heading: Isabella Peralta. Contains icons of a blue devil emoji, a rocket and a telescope

Fascinated by all things space | Aiken, SC

Studying: Biomedical engineering but interested in space medicine

Why Duke: The sense of community I immediately found at Duke. It’s also the perfect place for my academic pursuits

Looking forward to: Immersing myself in the community

Little know fact about me: Gymnast since the age of four

“I found that there was some research there,” she said. “So it was a whole field in itself, and it’s still a field that’s growing.”

What clinched it for Peralta was a meta-analysis of neurology in space that involved “a type of space medicine” throughout her sophomore year that was the basis of her research project. Peralta said the high school project, along with being in contact with NASA’s Human Research Center, motivated her “to just keep diving into that niche aspect” that she finds intriguing and enjoys.

“Space medicine is pretty much the study of how the human body reacts to the space environment,” Peralta explained. “So any physiological changes that the human body experiences, from microgravity, radiation, isolation and confinement; all of that fits into space medicine. So a lot of it deals with trying to better understand the human body in a new environment, but also all of the developments that we can make in space really, ultimately contribute back to Earth as they have throughout history.”

Peralta is a Pratt Engineering student from a close-knit family. She has a brother ten years older than her, and her 90-year-old grandmother lives with her family as well.

Peralta and her family arrived at Duke on move-in day with her mother behind the wheel of a gray Avalanche sports utility vehicle. When Peralta’s mom pulled alongside the curb at Pegram dorm, the new student emerged from the SUV carrying a green houseplant dubbed “Leafy,” a gift from her best friend, Amanda.

Her first two weeks on campus have been a rich cornucopia of new experiences: orientation week, a Class of 2027 photo shoot replete with cheerleaders and members of the marching band, and front row seats at Wallace Wade Stadium during the opening game of the football season to watch Duke thump Clemson.

“It was a great game,” Peralta said. “My brother went to Clemson, so the game was very important to me. Especially with all of the text messages I had been receiving from him trying to intimidate me.”

She also enjoyed her first week of classes, which signaled the start of her college career.

 “It was definitely an awakening to the fact that summer’s done and it’s time for school again,” she said.

Peralta is Puerto Rican and passionate about her Hispanic heritage. She decided to enroll at Duke after visiting the campus during Latino Student Recruitment Weekend.

“Honestly, I was really nervous before that weekend because I was going to be in a new environment,” she said. “I had never come to Duke before and I was meeting so many new people.”

Peralta, who had arrived on campus early, says her nervousness pretty much vanished when the first busload of her peers showed up on campus, and “it really clicked” on day one.

“I was so scared,” she said. “I didn’t know whether I could fit in. But whenever they got off the bus, I instantly started being able to talk with the students. And we related on so many things beyond our heritage, just from our backgrounds and how we grew up [and] like…our goals to come to Duke. So everything aligned in that moment, that first day…whenever those first students came and all of those fears kind of fell away because I was able to just talk with people who ended up being more similar to me than I expected.”

Peralta, front left, with fellow Project Waves participants.

Peralta participated in Project Waves, a weeklong orientation program of immersive, experiential learning activities to build community and bonding around shared experiences. It took place at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort and at Falls Lake near Durham.

“Project Waves was amazing,” she said. “I mean, it was an incredible experience with incredible people, and I think that it had so much to do with how I already feel at Duke. I feel like I have such a big sense of community.”

“It was an incredible experience with incredible people, and I think that it had so much to do with how I already feel at Duke. I feel like I have such a big sense of community.”

Peralta credited the Project Waves’ orientation leaders and staff with making clear to the new Devils that they are a community, family even, who should be supportive of each other.

Much of the bonding process came from fun activities; kayaking, camping out, beach volleyball, spikeball and night swims.

“It was a really good bonding experience,” Peralta said, “maybe a little bit of trauma… with setting up the tent and having to sleep all tight together. That was really fun. But we got so close, especially through things called narratives, where everyone would share their life story at some point in the week. If they were comfortable doing so.”

Peralta is loving her new college community. She remembers when her acceptance letter arrived in the mail, and described seeing the word, “congratulations” as “surreal.”

“I could have never imagined myself coming to a university like Duke, especially in South Carolina, where there’s more of a Clemson versus  University of South Carolina type of rivalry,” she said. “I still honestly can’t believe it sometimes that I’m here just walking past the Chapel. That acceptance letter was the highlight of my year. It felt like it was meant to be.”

This is the first in a series of stories following members of the Class of 2027 during their experience at Duke.