Words from McNulty Scholars

McNulty Fellow Corinne Merlino ’20 presents at Stanford University’s Yeast Genetics Meeting

McNulty Fellow Corinne Merlino ’20, biology major, presented her research last week at the Yeast Genetics Meeting at Stanford University in Stanford, CA.  Under the guidance of Julia Lee-Soety, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology, Corinne has been studying yeast telomere dynamics. Telomeres are the compound structure at the end of a chromosome, and Corinne has been interested in exploring how telomeres contribute to cell aging and cancer biology.

This summer, Corinne has also been conducting research in bacterial genome identification and bioinformatics in Dr. Lee-Soety’s lab. She is a teaching assistant for the Phage Genomics Laboratory and also serves as coordinator of the Biology Filter Project.   She plans to obtain her master’s degree in Genetics Counseling and ultimately pursue a career in research.

The McNulty Scholars Program Featured in Saint Joseph’s University Magazine, Summer 2018

The McNulty Scholars Program is featured in the latest edition of the Saint Joseph’s University Magazine in an article entitled “Down to a Science.” In it, alumnae Corinne Noel ’13 (Mathematics), Kim Nguyen ’13 (Biology), Elena Montoto ’14 (Chemistry) and Christina Freeman ’16 (Biology) are featured.  Also included are recent graduate Marisa Egan ’18 (Biology) and current Chemistry major Elise Brutschea ’19.

The article spotlights the program at an auspicious time, as we celebrate our 10th anniversary of promoting excellence and fostering leadership among young women pursuing STEM degrees at SJU.  The program now counts 42 alumnae among its ranks and is looking forward to working with the 26 students currently enrolled in the fall.

McNulty Fellow Alana Cianciulli ’19 presents at CeNeuro 2018

Last week, McNulty Fellow Alana Cianciulli ’19, Biology, attended the CeNeuro 2018: Neuronal Development, Synaptic Function and Behavior Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  For the past two summers, she has been working in the lab of Matt Nelson, Ph.D., studying the stress-induced sleep behaviors of Caenorhabditis elegans nematodes. The pathways identified to promote sleep in C. elegans have been proven to be conserved in human sleep, and consequently provide insight into human sleep behaviors.  Specifically, Alana focused her presentation on the manipulation of the cyclic adenosine monophosphate/Protein Kinase A (cAMP/PKA)  pathway.  She has used a Förester resonance energy transfer (FRET) based biosensor to quantify cAMP levels and assess how they affect sleep and wakefulness.

McNulty Students are a Hit at NEMPET!

Last week, four McNulty students traveled up to Blue Mountain Lake, New York, to present at the NorthEastern Microbiologists: Physiology, Ecology, Taxonomy (NEMPET) Conference 2018.

Scholar Marisa Egan ’18, B.S. in Biology, represented Saint Joseph’s University and the McNulty Program as she presented her investigation of the role of Hfq in the virulence of Escherichia albertii, an emerging pathogen responsible for millions of cases of food-borne illnesses around the world

Fellow Sarah Muche ’19 (Biology) shared her work focusing on how the Escherichia coli (EPEC) pathogen invades the small intestine by forming lesions on its surface, which reduce the cellular surface area for water absorption, leading to diarrhea.

Fellow Leona Ryder ’18, B.S. in Biology, discussed her research on the bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti, specifically how proteins are encoded to transport and break down a-galactosidases.

And Scholar Iswarya Vel ’21 (Biology) discussed her work to isolate and identify bacteria carried by two varieties of fruit flies, the lab-strain Drosophilia melanogaster and the wild-caught Drosophilia suzukii.

Marisa Egan ’18, B.S. in Biology

McNulty Scholar Marisa Egan graduated on Saturday with a B.S. in Biology, and minors in Mathematics, Philosophy and Chemistry. For the past four years, Marisa worked under the mentorship of biologist Shaan Bhatt, Ph.D., to engineer the first chromosomal mutations of an emerging, diarrheal pathogen, E. albertii, and to uncover the virulence repertoire of this pathogen.  Closely related to strains of E. coli, E. albertii could be the causative agent of millions of cases of food-borne illnesses around the world.  Marisa’s research should aid in the future development of effective therapies against this pathogen.

Marisa has presented her work at many conferences, most recently at the American Society of Microbiology Microbe 2017 in New Orleans, LA;  the Sigma Xi National Research Conference in Atlanta, GA in Fall 2016; and the 2nd World Congress on Infections Diseases in Philadelphia, PA in Summer 2016.  She has authored several articles about her work as well, which have appeared in publications such as Pathogens and Disease (2016), Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology (2016), Gene and Translational Bioinformatics (2016), and Biological Procedures Online (2016). She is currently in the process of preparing two more manuscripts, as well.

Her work has earned her several commendations, most notably a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship last spring.  She has also received research awards including the American Society of Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowship, the Thermo Scientific Pierce Scholarship Award and the National Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid of Research Award.  This spring, she was named one of 40 finalists for the prestigious Hertz Fellowship.

While at SJU, Marisa has served as President of the campus chapters of the Pi Mu Epsilon honorary mathematics society and the Phi Sigma Pi honor fraternity. She served as the Supplemental Instruction Leader and Mentor for the General Biology-Cells course, as the Teaching Assistant for Microbiology Lab, and as the Supplemental Instruction Leader for Calculus III.  She also served as a two-time Chair of the McNulty Scholars booth at the Philadelphia Science Festival.

This weekend, Marisa received the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Award, the University Student Senate 2018 Senior Scholarship Award and the Phi Sigma Pi 2018 Senior Sally Siebert Award.  She leaves SJU to pursue her Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, with a 5-year National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Congratulations, Marisa!  We can’t wait to see what awaits you at Penn!


Amelia Brown ’18, B.S. in Biology

McNulty Fellow Amelia Brown graduates tomorrow with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in English.  She was a member of the McNulty Program community for two years, as she conducted research in the laboratory of biologist Matt Nelson, Ph.D. During that time, her work focused on the interaction between C. elegans nematodes and the fly Drosophila suzukii, and how these behaviors might help C. elegans escape unfavorable environmental conditions.  She presented her research at two different conferences while she was in the program–this year at Experimental Biology 2018 in San Diego CA and last year at the 21st International C. elegans Conference at UCLA in Los Angeles, CA.

This year, Amelia was inducted into the Sigma Xi Research Honors Society and also worked as the Lead Teaching Assistant for the Food Chemistry labs in the Chemistry Department.  She has been a long-time Big Sister volunteer through the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia.

After graduation, Amelia plans to continue her studies, currently deciding between pursuing a Masters Degree in Biology and applying to veterinary school.  We wish you much luck, Amelia!!  Congratulations!!

Aswathi Jacob ’18, B.S. in Biology and Environmental Science

Aswathi (Asha) Jacob joined the McNulty Program as a Fellow in the summer of 2017.  This weekend, she will graduate with a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Science, and a minor in English.

As a McNulty Fellow, Asha worked with biologists Eileen Grogan, Ph.D. and Richard Lund, Ph.D. to describe, illustrate and analyze the anatomy of Aphol, a 323.3 million year-old Paleozoic fossil fish from the Bear Gulch Limestone of Montana.  Last August, she presented this research at the annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She is awaiting the publication of two papers, one detailing the vertebral morphology of this unique fish, and the other, a complete description and analysis of this new taxon.

While at SJU, Asha was inducted into the Sigma Xi Research Honors Society, the Alpha Epsilon Delta premedical honors society and the Sigma Tau Delta English honors society. She served as an Hawk Host admissions tour guide, and was a member of the Catholic Relief Services Ambassador Program.  She also worked as a 4th grade Sunday School Teacher at St. Thomas Indian Orthodox Church.

Upon graduation, Asha will prepare to take the MCAT and start the medical school application process for Fall 2019.  In the meantime, she also plans to find short-term work in clinical research.

Congratulations, Asha!!  We will miss you!!!

Abigail Sweetman ’18, B.S. in Biology and B.A. in History

McNulty Scholar Abigail Sweetman will receive a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in History when she graduates on Saturday.  Hailing from Ketchikan, AK, Abbie brought an electic set of interests with her when she joined the McNulty Scholars Program four years ago.

While on campus, she conducted ongoing research in the laboratory of biologist Julia Lee-Soety, Ph.D., observing relationships between telomeric proteins in baker’s yeast, and how they protect DNA to preserve genome stability and integrity. She presented this work at the American Society of Cell Biology’s National Conference in San Francisco in 2016.  In pursuit of her second major in History, she completed an Honors Thesis project this year, exploring gender roles in modern China.

Abbie serves as a Writing Tutor at the SJU Writing Center, and as the Editor of the SJU Hayes History Journal, publishing two articles herself about how visual art invokes national identity.  She is the 2nd chair oboist in the UPenn Wind Ensemble and a weekly radio DJ on Radio 1851. She is the owner and principal artist of Brine Jewelry, and she also participates in student theater productions.   She has been inducted into the SJU chapter of the Phi Alpha Theta history honors society.

Next year, Abbie will move to Washington D.C., where she will pursue her Master of Arts in Global, International and Comparative History at Georgetown University.  Congratulations, Abbie!!


Natalie Barrett ’18, B.S. in Biology

McNulty Fellow Natalie Barrett will graduate next weekend with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Asian Studies.  Natalie has been a member of the McNulty Scholars Program community for the past two years, completing two consecutive summers of research in the lab of biologist Matt Nelson, Ph.D.

Natalie’s research has focused on how sleep is regulated at the molecular level.  Using the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) for its simplicity and conserved neurochemistry, Natalie focused on stress-induced sleep and the ALA neuron, which secretes signaling molecules called neuropeptides in stressful environments.  She has presented her work at several conferences, including the 21st International Caenorhabditis elegans Conference at UCLA last June, and more recently the Experimental Biology Conference in San Diego in April 2018.

On campus, Natalie has worked as a Teaching Assistant in Organic Chemistry.  She has also been the Captain and Coach of the SJU Women’s Club Basketball Team for two years, and was named Club Sport Athlete of the Year in 2016-17.  She was nominated to the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society this spring and received a Sigma Xi Undergraduate Student Research Grant Award.  Natalie is also a member of the Alpha Epsilon Delta Pre-Medical/Pre-Health Honor Society and the Sigma Zeta Mathematics, Computer Science and Natural Science Honor Society.

Next year, Natalie plans to begin pursuing her Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine.  Congratulations Natalie!!  We wish you all the best!!!

Leona Ryder ’18, B.S. in Biology

Leona Ryder will graduate next week with a B.S. in Biology and minors in Chemistry and Interdisciplinary Health Services.

A member of the McNulty Program for two years, Leona worked closely with biologist Dr. Catalina Arango to conduct research on the bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti, specifically how proteins are encoded to transport and break down a-galactosidases.  Leona presented her work last June at the Northeastern Microbiologists: Physiology, Ecology and Taxonomy Conference in Blue Mountain Lake, NY, as well as at the Summer Micronet Symposium in July 2017.  Last year, she received a Local Sigma Xi grant to help fund her research, and this work culminated earlier this month with the defense of her honors thesis.

At SJU, Leona is a recipient of the Maguire College Scholarship, a two-year scholarship awarded to select students from one of the Faith in the Future high schools who have demonstrated strong academic and service records during their time on campus.  Leona has served as a research lab mentor in Dr. Arango’s lab and as a Biology Stock Room assistant.   She is involved in the Molloy Chemical Society and the Biology Club, and served as a Peer Mentor to two biology students through the McNulty Scholars Peer Mentoring Program.  She has been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the Sigma Zeta National Honors Society for Mathematics, Computer Science and Natural Science, and the Alpha Epsilon Delta International Pre-Health Honor Society.  Leona is also a member of the national and local chapters of the Sigma Xi Research Honor Society.

After graduation, Leona plans to spend a year preparing for medical school by taking the MCATs, completing EMT-certification training and finding work in either the healthcare or clinical research arena.

Best wishes, Leona!  We will miss seeing you around the hallways of the Science Center!