Words from McNulty Scholars

Mary Katherine Dougherty ’19, B.S. in Chemical Biology

On Saturday, McNulty Fellow Mary Katherine Dougherty ’19 will receive a B.S. in Chemical Biology.  She joined the McNulty Program as a Fellow during the 2018-19 year, and it was exciting to try to keep up with all of her research accomplishments.

This year, Mary Kate conducted research in the laboratory of Dr. Jen Tudor, studying the link between sleep deprivation and an increase in the formation of stress granules in the nematode Caenorhabiditis elegans.  Last fall, she received a Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience (FUN) Undergraduate Student Travel Award to present her work at the 2018 Society for Neuroscience (SFN) conference in San Diego, CA. While there, she also presented her findings at the Molecular and Cellular Cognition Society Meeting.  This work represents the basis for her honors thesis research, and she is planning to return to make another presentation at the 2019 SFN Conference in October.

In addition to her research, Mary Kate has served as a Supplemental Instruction Leader and Mentor in the Biology Department. She is a Fellow in the Institute of Clinical Bioethics, where she distributes and examines the impact of prenatal materials and infant care supplies in marginalized communities through the Baby Box Project.  She is a mentor with the Seedlings Program, which is an educational outreach program sponsored by the SJU Department of Biology in partnership with the 4th grade teachers of nearby Samuel L. Gompers Elementary School.  She is also a member of Saint Joseph’s University Singers.

Mary Kate is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. She was named a semifinalist in the Fulbright ETA Program in Taiwan, and is the recipient of the 2019 Chemical Biology Award.  This year, she was also awarded an SJU Gender Studies Trailblazer Award for her excellent performance in a major in which women are traditionally underrepresented.

Upon graduation, Mary Kate will depart for Bethesda, MD, where she will begin her work in a Postbaccalaureate IRTA position in the Department of Perioperative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.  Best wishes, Mary Kate!

Kaleigh Williams ’19, B.S. in Biology

McNulty Scholar Kaleigh Williams ’19 will receive a B.S. in Biology when she graduates on Saturday.  She arrived here at SJU nearly 4 years ago from Brookeville, MD, with a very steadfast plan to ultimately pursue a career in veterinary medicine.

While on campus, she conducted research in the laboratory of biologist Scott McRobert,Ph.D., studying dependent courtship modifications in two different fly species: Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila affinis.  Specifically, she investigated whether males of either species would modify their courtship behavior following rejection from females of the opposite species. Her work resulted in a departmental honors thesis.  While working on this project, Kaleigh also served as the lab’s Biodiversity Manager, caring for the amphibians, reptiles and fish housed in Dr. McRobert’s facilities.

Outside of the lab, Kaleigh works as a Veterinary Assistant at Radnor Veterinary Hospital in Wayne, PA. During the summer, she returns home to work at Seneca Stream Farm, overseeing the care of the sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, turkeys, miniature donkeys, cats and dogs housed there.  She alsospent a summer working as a Veterinary Technician at the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic in San Ignacio, Belize, assisting doctors in surgery at the free spay and neuter clinics and working alongside wildlife veterinarians to rehabilitate and release native wildlife.

Kaleigh has been an active member of the McNulty Program community, serving as a peer mentor and coordinating the program’s booth at the Philadelphia Science Festival.  She volunteers with Hand-in-Hand and is a member of the scholarship committee of the Zeta Iota chapter of Phi Sigma Pi, a national honor fraternity.  She tutors students in French and has been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and Pi Delta Phi, the national French Honors Society.  She recently received the American Institute for Biological Sciences (AIBS) Award, which is given to an outstanding graduating senior in SJU’s Biology Department.

Next year, Kaleigh will embark on her pursuit of a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is particularly interested in immunology and microbiology research.  We will miss you, Kaleigh!!

Teamwork at the Philadelphia Science Festival

On Saturday, the McNulty Scholars Program once again had a great showing at our booth at the Franklin Institute’s Science Carnival on the Parkway.  But this year, we had company.  For the first time ever, students from Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School joined in the action.  Led by science teacher (and McNulty alumna) Kathleen Logan ’16 and current McNulty students Amelia Bielefeld ’20 and Maura Flynn ’21, more than 20 high school students worked alongside McNulty students to help booth visitors learn about DNA by making bracelets that represent the DNA structures of their favorite animals.  As Kathleen remarked, “I especially appreciate Amelia and Maura for embracing the students’ enthusiasm and encouraging them to jump in and lead the DNA bracelet-making activity. Yesterday truly captured the spirit of a McNulty Scholar–a woman who is warm and inclusive, and who shares their love of learning with others.”

April 2019: The Best Classes We Have Taken At SJU, by the Class of 2020

by Amelia Bielefeld and Lindsay Miller

As another semester wraps up and we are looking ahead to our senior year, we find ourselves reflecting on the classes that have made the biggest impact on our lives here at Saint Joseph’s University so far.  You might be surprised to learn just what they are!  Read below to find out….

Amelia Bielefeld (Biology)
In my time at Saint Joseph’s University, I’ve taken many courses in many different subjects. Being a Biology major, you might think that my favorite course is in the STEM field.  While I’ve found lots of positives in all of my STEM-related courses, I have unexpectedly found a love for something else as well.  Ethics has become one of my favorite subjects while in college, particularly Just Healthcare in Developing Nations.  I learned an immense amount of valuable information while taking this course, and I also had the opportunity to reinforce the material on a study tour to Cuba.  This course prepared me well for my anticipated career in health care, and it also allowed me to advance my problem-solving skills.  I believe that bioethics is an essential component to good health care, and I highly suggest taking a course or two on the subject!

Lindsay Miller (Mathematics / Actuarial Science)
I have taken a lot of great courses in my three years at SJU.  As a Mathematics and Actuarial Science double-major, my semesters are always filled with lots of math-heavy classes.  Some of my favorites have been ProbabilityDifferential EquationsFinance and Insurance. Although I love the classes for my majors, I have really enjoyed taking the classes required as part of the General Education Program (GEP). One of my favorites was Theology 154 – Faith, Justice and the Catholic Tradition. I am Catholic and grew up going to church and CCD classes, so I had a pretty solid knowledge of the Bible before starting the class.  However, the class was less about the history of Biblical events, and more about the ideology of Catholicism and its applications to daily life. The course made me think introspectively, and I felt like I could apply what we were learning to my life outside the classroom. It was a course which was friendly for people of all religious backgrounds, but I especially appreciated the new perspective on my own religion. Taking GEP courses can seem like a hassle or a bore at first, but if you approach them with the right mindset, you may be surprised by how much you can actually gain from them!

March 2019: Our Favorite Aspects of the McNulty Program from the Class of 2022

by Briana Baier, Elizabeth Ehrhardt, April Pivonka, Katie Lynch and Arianna Varano

It was only a year ago when we were figuring out which college to attend. Although we were planning on majoring in varying fields related to STEM, our paths all crossed due to the McNulty Scholars Program. This was a unifying advantage that Saint Joseph’s University has to offer, and one of the primary reasons we all chose to attend. Below are some of our favorite aspects of the program.


Briana Baier (Computer Science): My favorite aspect of the McNulty Program are the weekly seminars we have on Wednesday nights. We all gather in a classroom in the Science Center and have the opportunity to hear about some very interesting projects, including those of some of our own scholars. By attending these weekly meetings, I have learned so many new things about what it means to enter into a career in a STEM field. As a computer science major, I have had the opportunity to listen in and see how my field of interest is so deeply entwined with other STEM fields, such as biology, chemistry and physics. These seminars have also helped me realize that the community I’m in as a McNulty Scholar is a diverse group of brilliant women. I have never felt like I am in competition with them. Instead it is an environment that fosters excitement and enthusiasm for the accomplishments of my peers. We all share our recent triumphs on projects, applications to grad school, a rigorous course load and so much more. The ability to have a place where I feel comfortable and can embrace my passion for science, all while enjoying a slice of pizza, is something I will never take for granted.


April Pivonka (Biology): One of my favorite features of the McNulty Program is the numerous opportunities available for community service. I have always had a strong interest in helping others and the McNulty Program has allowed me to continue this passion. Thus far, I have volunteered at the Philadelphia Area Girls Enjoying Science Program and the Wagner Free Institute Community Days, where we conducted science experiments with children of different ages to educate and spark their interests in the scientific process.  In addition, I recently was given the role of liaison between the Wagner Free Institute and the SJU students to determine, organize and facilitate activities related to hibernation and Groundhog Day. Inspiring younger students in science is a priceless opportunity which I am so thankful that the McNulty Program has provided me.


Katie Lynch (Mathematics): One of my favorite elements of the McNulty Program is the McNulty Central study room in the Science Center.  I go there in between classes, early in the morning, and late at night to get my work done and interact with other McNulty Scholars. At every school I have attended thus far, I make sure to find a special spot where I feel completely and entirely at home. McNulty Central is certainly that because there, I can scribble math equations onto the whiteboards before an exam or simply de-stress in between classes. The couches and Keurig make the room feel like a home within a home, and the encouraging feminist mural and pictures motivate me to be the best version of myself. Whether my brain is fully powered and in motion, or at peaceful ease in the quiet, McNulty Central has allowed me repose from the chaos of the school day.


Arianna Varano (Biology): One of my favorite parts of the McNulty Program is the unique opportunities for service presented to us. Like April, I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer at the Philadelphia Area Girls Enjoying Science Program and the Wagner Free Institute Community Days where I was lucky enough to demonstrate science experiments for the children and young girls of the community.  Having the ability to share my love of service and science with the local community and the other women in the McNulty Program (who share the same passion for STEM as I do) always makes my love for the McNulty Program grow.

McNulty Students: Out and About!

Since returning to campus in January, McNulty students have made time around their class schedule to participate in a couple of community events in the Philadelphia area.

First, on Thursday January 24, Emily Lehman ’21 (Physics) and Zoe Mrozek ’21 (Biology) were invited to attend a lunch meeting of the Society of Professional Women, featuring guest speaker Dr. Rhea Seddon, former NASA astronaut and Author. Dr. Seddon was one of the first six women accepted by NASA and is a veteran of three space shuttle flights.  She has been inducted into U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and the Tennessee Women’s Hall of Fame.  Her presentation was entitled Be Bold: Navigate, Adapt and Master the Workplace.  Upon their return to campus, Zoe remarked that it was interesting to learn that Dr. Seddon attended medical school before pursuing a career in aviation, and that this background in medicine factored into her research on the effects that the absence of gravity has on human physiology.

On Saturday, February 2, McNulty Scholars April Pivonka ’22 (Biology) and Kathryn Lynch ’22 (Mathematics), along with Elizabeth Binder ’22 (Biology), staffed two tables at the Wagner Free Institute of Science’s Winter Wonderland: Groundhog Day Festival. They helped the event’s school-age attendees make foam groundhog masks, and used posters and games to teach them about animal hibernation.  They also shared the story of Punxsutawney Phil.  Needless to say, Phil didn’t see his shadow this year. What a great way to inaugurate an early spring in Philadelphia!


December 2018: Finals Week Self-Care Suggestions from the Class of 2021

by Thi Nguyen, Iswarya “Ice” Vel, Maria Johnson, Zoe Mrozek, Michelle Wheatley, Emily Lehman, Maura Flynn and Gianna Penezic

Before we can sit back, relax and celebrate the holidays with family and friends, we have to get through FINALS WEEK!  Depending on your test schedule and how many papers you have to turn in, that can get pretty stressful.  Here are some ways that we chill out in the face of all that work!

Thi Nguyen (Biology): As a person who absolutely loves being outdoors, one of my favorite activities in times of stress is running. It’s a great way to clear your mind while increasing your fitness. In addition to having the opportunity to be out in nature, running with friends always makes the experience more fun!

Iswarya “Ice” Vel (Biology / Business Intelligence & Analytics): My favorite way to de-stress during finals week is to give myself breaks during my studying. I either like to watch TV shows or go out for something to eat with my friends. My favorite show to watch right now is Parks and Recreation. My favorite place near campus to get food is Honeygrow. These breaks give me the chance to forget about the tests that are coming up!

Maria Johnson (Biology): Something about making lists makes that huge pile of work seem just a little less daunting. During a time when it feels like I have to do everything at once, making a list of the tasks ahead helps me focus, prioritize and (most of all) stop worrying. Not only do I feel a sense of accomplishment once I check off an item, but also I am far less likely to forget something. When I make a list, everything I need to do is clear and concrete, and I can break my work down into manageable tasks instead of trying to tackle everything with no plan.

Zoe Mrozek (Biology): My favorite way to de-stress during finals week is to head to my favorite place on campus for a little bit: Wolfington! Nothing makes me feel better during the craziness of studying for exams than sitting in the community room by the fireplace, hanging out and laughing with friends. And during this time of the year, Wolfington is always decorated and stocked with hot chocolate to remind me that Christmas is coming soon!

Michelle Wheatley (Mathematics): My favorite way to de-stress is to go to the gym. I grew up in the gym, and so being there is very relaxing for me. I try to go at least a couple of times a week because, for me, going to the gym is my self-care time. Practicing self-care, especially during finals, is one thing that definitely keeps me sane. Plus, going to the gym keeps me healthy, which is super important in college.

Emily Lehman (Physics): De-stressing during finals week is nearly impossible, but what brings me a little closer to sanity is making to-do lists for the day. I write large projects, like Study for my Physics Final, and small tasks, such as Make Breakfast. The sense of accomplishment I get from checking off even simple items really helps motivate me to continue on with the day’s work. If I’m overwhelmed at all, I will simply add items I have already completed and check them off.

Maura Flynn (Biology / Psychology): My favorite way to de-stress is to listen to throwback songs, such as songs from High School Musical or Hannah Montana. My roommates and I like to dance around in our apartment. We always end up laughing our heads off, which is truly the best medicine. Being surrounded by my best friends and roommates makes me remember the joys in life and anything I’m stressed about is quickly forgotten or made smaller. This is one of the many benefits of being able to live with your friends.

Gianna Penezic (Biology): My favorite way to de-stress is to grab a bite with a group of friends. I always feel so much better chatting and laughing with my girlfriends in between hitting the books during finals week! Being able to rant to each other or reminisce about shared experiences always puts me in a better mood and refreshes me for when I have to get back to work. Also good food always makes my day better!



The McNulty Program Welcomes Professor Dava Newman

This week, Dava Newman, Ph.D., Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, traveled to SJU as a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar for two days of presentations and meetings with faculty and students.  Yesterday, as part of the ongoing Department of Physics Seminar Series, Professor Newman made a presentation entitled Human Exploration from Earth to Mars: Becoming Interplanetary, highlighting a three-stage plan–from missions close to Earth involving commercial partners and the International Space Station, advancing to missions in Earth-Mon orbit (i.e. deep space), and finally moving on to Mars.

After her presentation, she took time to meet with a group of students in the McNulty Scholars Program to further discuss her work, as well as her experiences as a woman in this field where women are underrepresented.

Today, she is making another presentation to the University community, Exploring Space for Earth: Earth’s Vital Signs Revealed. This presentation is open to the public.

November 2018: The World We Have Traveled, by 2018-19 McNulty Fellows


by Isabella Succi ’20, Mary Kate Dougherty ’19, Sarah Muche ’19, Alana Cianciulli ’19 and Corinne Merlino ’20

We spend so much time on campus, in our classrooms and in our labs, sometimes it’s difficult to picture ourselves anywhere else.  But over the past year, whether by way of a family vacation or an academic  conference, we have all had the chance to visit new places.  And as the weather gets colder and finals loom, it’s definitely fun to escape back in our minds to those stunning, pastoral places.


Isabella Succi (Biology): This past summer, my family and I traveled to Switzerland. We stayed in Interlaken, but we took day trips to Zurich and Lucerne.  I have to say Switzerland is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited! The air was so crisp. The scenery was unreal.  And there were so many fun things to do.  We went hiking, kayaking and took a lift to the top of Mt. Pilatus. It was a truly unforgettable trip.  If you ever have the chance to go, I would highly recommend it.


Mary Kate Dougherty (Chemical Biology): Over this past summer, my family and I visited Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We went on plenty of hikes to different lookouts and a few waterfalls. While many of the hikes were a literal “uphill battle,” the scenery was always worth it.  While on the subject of travel, I am actually writing this post from San Diego, where I am attending the Neuroscience 2018 Conference, thanks to the McNulty Program. I am learning so much about the field of neuroscience during my time here, and certainly look forward to sharing it all with my labmates and fellow McNulty scholars when I return.


Sarah Muche (Biology): Through the McNulty Program, I have attended the annual NorthEastern Microbiologists: Physiology, Ecology, Taxonomy (NEMPET) Conference in the Adirondacks for the past two years. My first year, we went on a 4-hour hike through the woods, which was almost impossible for the novice hikers in my group.  Although most of us slid the entirety of the way down the mountain and had to deliver our presentations in muddy clothes, I’d say the view at the top was worth it.  I’ve been to the Adirondacks before, but it’s interesting to think that research and the McNulty Program brought me back to this unique spot, which I would probably not have ever explored in quite the same way.


Alana Cianciulli (Biology): Last April, I was able to travel to San Diego for the Experimental Biology Conference with a few seniors from my lab.  It was an incredible experience, as it was my first time ever on the West Coast.  I have a major fear of flying, so although it was a little nerve wracking, being with my friends made the flight much easier.  While at the conference, we visited the San Diego Zoo, which is one of the largest zoos in the country.  We also rented bikes and rode around the city.  Although we were there for academic and professional purposes, I was able to bond with these upperclassmen and become very close friends with several of them.  We have kept in touch since they graduated.


Corinne Merlino (Biology): At the end of the summer, I had the opportunity to accompany my McNulty research mentor, Dr. Julia Lee-Soety, to the National Yeast Genetics Meeting at Stanford University in California.  We presented a poster highlighting our research, which focuses on studying the telomere dynamics of yeast chromosomes to understand how telomeres contribute to cell aging and cancer biology. Throughout the week, I was able to attend presentations by some of the most prominent principal investigators in field of yeast genetics, and I networked with graduate and postdoctoral students from institutions around the world.   Although we were there for the science, I had the opportunity to explore Stanford’s beautiful campus as well. The scenery there was so breathtaking, especially the views from the top of the bell tower and at the cactus garden.  Overall, this trip was a wonderful opportunity for educational and professional development that would not have been possible without the support of the McNulty Scholars Program!