University Report 2015-16 | Students


Summer Scholars: Meaningful Research with Faculty Mentors

“I love immersing myself in the work. There are no daily time limits with Summer Scholars. I can come in early and leave late. The entire day can revolve around research.” - Marisa Egan ’18

In her first year as a Summer Scholar in 2015, biology major Marisa Egan ’18 made a scientific discovery that may be the first step in ultimately enabling the medical community to develop a vaccine. She conducted her research on campus, in the Science Center laboratory, under the direction of faculty mentor Shantanu Bhatt, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology. This past summer, they continued their groundbreaking work.

Egan is just one of the 95 SJU undergraduates who immersed themselves in Summer Scholars projects in 2016.

Under the direction of faculty mentors, students in the annual 11-week program engage in creative projects, scholarship and independent research, and receive a stipend and the opportunity for subsidized campus housing.

“The Summer Scholars program provides a great opportunity for all students to enhance their college experience by working closely with a faculty member and by becoming an expert in one’s research area,” says Jean Smolen, Ph.D., director of the program and associate dean of the natural sciences, mathematics and computer science.

Egan and Bhatt have focused their research on Escherichia albertii, a pathogenic bacterium in the same family as E. coli, that attacks the intestines of humans. The drug-resistant organism has no vaccine and largely affects infants in developing countries, although some cases have appeared in adults in Japan and Germany.

The pair was the first team to successfully engineer a mutation in the pathogen since the bacterium was isolated 25 years ago.

“The goal of our research is to understand how E. albertii causes sickness by creating mutations in its genome,” says Egan, who is also a McNulty Scholar, a program for high-achieving young women who pursue degrees in one of the natural sciences, mathematics or computer science. “Understanding the genes that contribute to its disease-causing ability may lead to the development of a drug that can attack those genes.”

Egan, who received a Barry Goldwater Scholarship honorable mention, has minors in mathematics, philosophy and chemistry. She enjoys the abundance of time that comes with doing her research as part of the Summer Scholars program.

“I love immersing myself in the work,” she says. “There are no daily time limits with Summer Scholars. I can come in early and leave late. The entire day can revolve around research.”

Their discovery was published in Biological Procedures Online (2016), with Egan as the lead author. Additional papers, led by Bhatt and co-authored by Egan and other researchers, were published in 2016 in Gene & Translational Bioinformatics and Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology.

The Summer Scholars program was established formally in 2006, and support includes institutional funding, research grants of individual faculty members, corporate sponsors and alumni gifts.

“Summer Scholars provides a unique training experience for our students as they prepare for their careers of interest,” says Nick Nicolaides ’87 (B.S.), Ph.D., president and CEO of Morphotek and longtime supporter of the Summer Scholars program. “I believe strongly that Summer Scholars, along with the other major-specific programs offered at SJU, provides our students an advantage in the workplace as well as in post-graduate education. The close mentoring by our faculty and the hands-on experience of formulating a hypothesis and implementing a strategy to achieve its goals is a powerful experiential tool that uniquely prepares our students to become leaders in industry and the community."

Eric Adjei-Danquah ’17

Major: Biology
How “Blackness” Is Lived: An Exploration of Cultural and Economic Experiences Between Africans, African Americans and Black Americans

Mentor: Brian Yates, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of History


Ciarra Bianculli ’17 and John Goldberg ’17

Majors: English, Secondary Education
Mentoring and Literacy for Youth in the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Mentor: Suniti Sharma, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Education


Leslie Briggs ’17

Major: Chemistry
The Synthesis of New Molybdenum CO2 Complexes Containing N-Heterocyclic Carbenes

Mentor: Peter Graham, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Chemistry


Philomena Faia ’18

Major: Accounting
Examining Cybercrime: Security Challenges for 21st Century Businesses

Mentor: Joseph Larkin, Ph.D. ’78
Chair and Associate Professor of Accounting


Meghan McDonald ’17

Major: International Business
Minors: Spanish, Economics
Corporate Social Responsibility in the Global Apparel Industry: Analyzing Company Responses to the Rana Plaza Collapse

Mentor: João Neiva de Figueiredo, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Management


Kevin Shank ’18

Majors: Mathematics and Computer Science
Minor: Sports Marketing
Analyzing Player Contribution in Major League Soccer

Mentor: Amie Sheridan
Visiting Instructor of Sports Marketing