Meet Nicola LoCascio

FUN FACT: LoCascio feeds the squirrels. She has a bag of peanuts on her desk for them, unsalted of course.


Nicola LoCascio, Honors College interim dean, earned a bachelor’s degree in history, but went on to pursue a doctorate in immunology.

By Sara Ryan

The Parthenon

Marshall University’s interim Honors College Dean Nicola “Nicki” LoCascio went from history to science to Marshall administration.

LoCascio received a Bachelor of Science in History and Biology from Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in immunogenetics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

LoCascio went to college as a history major but also took science classes.

“I wanted something very different, and I learned to enjoy it,” LoCascio said. “When I graduated from college, I got a job very easily in science, my history major, not so much.”

LoCascio said she got a job immediately in a physiology lab.

“It was absolutely fascinating, and from there I started refining what I was interested in and I ended up in immunology,” LoCascio said.

She worked for two years in immunology and then went into a doctoral program dealing with immunology and immunogenetics, a combined program at UNC at Chapel Hill.

“It was really work experience that got me into the sciences,” LoCascio said. “I can’t say my undergraduate experience really excited me about the sciences. I liked it, and I was good at it, but it was working in the field that really got me liking it.”

Immunology is a branch of biomedical science that deals with the immune system and organisms. Immunogenetics is a branch of medical research that deals with the relationship between the immune system and genetics.

LoCascio had two postdoctoral fellowships that consisted of doing different things.

“It was my own research under the guide of a mentor,” LoCascio said. “My first one in developmental biology, I was responsible for setting up a mouse colony so that we could restrict the genetics. We looked at cell development using genetics as the background and looking at how it changed between different gene types.”

One of her personal postdoc projects was looking at eye development in different backgrounds.

LoCascio’s husband, an ophthalmologist, worked along side her in dissecting mouse eye tissue.

“We got some really fascinating information from that,” LoCascio said.

She eventually went to Rochester, New York, for another fellowship.

“I looked at cytokine and fluids and how they impacted development of the immune system,” LoCascio said.

Cytokines are a broad and loose category of small proteins that are important in cell signaling. They are released by cells and affect the behavior of other cells.

LoCascio said she knew what program she really wanted to get into.

“I knew I wanted immunology,” LoCascio said. “I had taken several genetics classes, and so I wanted to combine the two. I had been applying for genetics and immunology programs, but I really wanted immunology. I looked at Chapel Hill and they had an interdisciplinary program in which you were a graduate student in both departments. That’s how I ended up in immunogenetics,” LoCascio said.

LoCascio said she made her way to Marshall because her husband found a job in Huntington.

“I came to Huntington without a job set up,” LoCascio said. “I thought this community was very welcoming, and I just started working at different places. I ended up doing part time teaching at Marshall, and that lead me into a teaching track and a tenured track and eventually into administration.”

LoCascio started part time teaching around 20 years ago and has been a part of the Marshall staff since. This is her first semester not teaching any classes.

“We are doing a lot of policy changing, and they’ve asked me not to teach while I’m doing this,” LoCascio said. “I’m hoping in the fall I’ll get back to teaching. I miss it,” LoCascio said.

LoCascio said it was it was her students that helped her into the interim dean position.

“I noticed in my classes there were certain students who seemed like they wanted to go beyond the lecture material, and once I started following up on that, like I’d give them extra readings or research papers, and it turned out they were from the Honors College,” LoCascio said.

Her first job in the Honors College she describes as “overseeing and coordinating some of the scholarships.”

LoCascio said when she had her first job in the Honors College, she taught classes as well.

“That was the best of both worlds for me,” LoCascio said.

LoCascio said she would like students to know it is still possible to get into the college.

“I’d like Marshall to dispel the perception that the Honors College is elitist, it’s not,” LoCascio said. “If you’re not in the Honors College at first you can get in after two semesters.”

LoCascio said she believes the college benefits Marshall.

“I think we benefit Marshall by having a place and a curriculum that new faculty and existing faculty can develop classes,” LoCascio said. “The impact of the Honors College isn’t just on our students, I think it’s also on Marshall’s curriculum,” said LoCascio.

LoCascio will remain the interim dean of the Honors College until a new dean is found.

Sara Ryan can be contacted at [email protected].