Green Roof Ecology: Connor Long ’19 and Martin Ryan ’19

Martin Ryan ’19 (left) and Connor Long ’19

Anyone who has walked the path between the Post Learning Commons and the Science Center at Saint Joseph’s has likely noticed signs that indicate the latter’s “green roof.” But what really goes on up there? Martin Ryan ’19 and Connor Long ’19 are exploring the answers as part of a project for the Summer Scholars Program. Together, they are analyzing the microbes in the soil of the green roof in search of bacteria and to discover the types of carbon sources they use.

“We both wanted to know more about the bacteria that live in the soil,” says Long, a biology major from Aston, Pennsylvania. “The green roof is a great resource to have on campus for this type of research.”

Long and Ryan collect soil from different areas on the green roof using a soil core sampler and then place the soil into a 50ml tube and fill it with water. After creating a dilution, they place the liquid onto an agar plate — a Petri dish that contains a growth medium — to count the colonies of bacteria within the soil. Finally, they use a pipette to place the solution into a Biolog “EcoPlates.” This tool has 96 wells, with three replicas of 31 different carbon sources and three wells filled with water that serve as the control. Long and Ryan use this to detect carbon: if the carbon solution turns purple upon contact with the soil solution, the bacteria in the solution is using that specific carbon source.

Their mentor for this research is Karen Snetselaar, Ph.D., graduate director and professor of biology, who has research experience in urban ecology. She has previously mentored students through the Summer Scholars Program on the green roof, and says that Long and Martin’s research has practical value for those who want to start green roofs in the Mid-Atlantic states.

“Because green roofs are still new in the United States, there isn’t a lot of information on some aspects of their ecology,” Snetselaar explains. “When our roof was started in 2010, the soil was essentially sterile, so it’s an opportunity to examine the kinds of microbes that colonize in the soil early on.”

By examining the four types of soil plots on the roof, the two scholars’ ultimate goals are to discover a difference between carbon sources, draining systems and whether there are dry or wet spots.

“So far,” says Ryan, a biology major form Webster, New York, “we have noticed that carbohydrates are the primary carbon source being used.”

Both students sought places in the Summer Scholars Program to engage in independent research and to discern their career paths, which include either research or medical school.

“Summer Scholars allowed me to pursue a question in science independently,” says Long. “I’ve become more involved and confident in my research as the weeks have progressed.”

To Ryan, Summer Scholars provided a chance to set himself apart from the rest of his classmates and to answer his own scientific questions.

Snetselaar enjoys working with both of the students, who each took a course in environmental microbiology, initially sparking their interest.

“Connor and Martin have a lot of data that they are working with to present in an understandable way,” says Snetselaar. “They are doing a great job of learning to read the literature in the field and then adapting methods used by other researchers to their project.”

Outside the research lab, Ryan is on the SJU Gaelic Football Club team and plays in intramural sports. He is also a member of Sigma Zeta Honors Society and Alpha Epsilon Delta Honors Society. Long also plays intramural sports and is involved in Sigma Zeta. Both students are on the Dean’s List.

Project Title: Microbial analysis using Biolog EcoPlates™ to Study Microbes Contained in the Soil of Different Plants Growing on the Green Roof

Mentor: Karen Snetselaar, Ph.D., professor of biology

Hometown: Aston, Pennsylvania / Webster, New York

Follow @sjuartssciences @haubschool on Twitter to learn about this year’s summer scholars. #SJUSSP

Bringing Mathematics to Life in the Sport of Volleyball: Lauren Hall ’19

Hall

Hall

It’s a game of inches.

The adage has been applied to sports for decades, and it’s true: contests across the globe are decided by a small margin every day. In fact, dozens of math concepts can be applied to any given moment in a sporting event.

Lauren Hall ’19 is hoping to use this to her advantage in developing an engaging math curriculum for high school students and college freshmen.

Hall, a dual mathematics and secondary educations major from Malvern, Pennsylvania, is taking on the project as part of SJU’s Summer Scholars Program. Under the mentorship of Tetyana Berezovski, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics and director of the graduate program in secondary mathematics education, Hall is designing a challenging lesson plan based on the mathematics of volleyball.

“We will take snapshots of game action, particularly passing, and run it through dynamic geometry software to map out angles and distances,” Hall explains. “From there, we can formulate age-appropriate problems for students to solve ­— calculating time, speed, force and so on.”

A member of SJU’s women’s club volleyball team, Hall hopes connecting the sport to math will help students to more readily understand concepts.

“I believe that an interesting, comprehensive and challenging curriculum is paramount to better engaging and enriching students as they progress with mathematics,” she says.

Berezovski praises Hall’s breadth of expertise, saying “Laura’s background in calculus and physics is fundamental for mathematical modeling, and her extensive experience in volleyball form two major domains of knowledge needed for this project.”

Hall has earned a place on the Dean’s List in each of her semesters at Saint Joseph’s. Outside the classroom, she serves as a resident assistant and is a member of Sigma Zeta, the national Science and Mathematics Honor Society. She says that the Summer Scholars Program allows her to work at her own pace.

“The program allows you a more flexible approach to learning,” she says. “If you understand a concept quickly, you can move right on to something more advanced. By the same token, if something takes more time to study, you can do exactly that. Learning is tailored to you as an individual.”

Project Title: Bring Mathematics to Life in the Sport of Volleyball

Mentor: Tetyana Berezowski, Ph.D.

Hometown: Malvern, PA

Follow @sjuartssciences @haubschool on Twitter to learn about this year’s summer scholars. #SJUSSP

Catholic Themes in Foster Care: Erin Breen ’19

Erin Breen

Breen

Students at Saint Joseph’s are encouraged to form a lifelong commitment to thinking critically, making ethical decisions, pursuing social justice and finding God in all things.  Theology major Erin Breen ’19 of Glenside, Pennsylvania, understood this when she took on her Summer Scholars project, which aims to examine the success of the current foster care system and its educational resources while evaluating its adequacy in terms of Catholic social teaching.

She began her project by looking into the current condition of foster care in the United States by analyzing statistics on foster demographics, parental demographics, school changes, educational outcomes, incarceration rates, average time in care, and average age when the children leave foster care. She is taking this research and connecting it to Catholic Social Teaching, which she will use to analyze whether or not the system is ethical and discover ways to improve it.

“Catholic social teaching places a great deal of emphasis on the importance of education in the broader process of human development and social justice,” says Breen. “It is useful in determining if patterns in statistics reflect a need for change.”

She is working under the guidance of James F. Caccamo, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of theology and religious studies. Caccamo’s work has focused on Catholic social ethics, and he believes that Breen’s project has potential to add to the conversation about foster care and education, especially through the lens of Catholic education.

“The first step for SJU students and faculty to be in solidarity with those who have been marginalized in society is becoming aware of things that are in need of attention and change,” says Caccamo. “Erin’s project is a perfect example of how research can help us in our work to become ‘men and women for and with others.’”

Breen has never before researched foster care to this extent; this project was the perfect opportunity for her to apply what she has learned. “Many of my SJU theology classes have discussed these topics in the abstract,” says Breen. “The Summer Scholars program affords me the opportunity to investigate how ethics and morality affect social structures.”

Breen is also a Kinney SCHOLAR and Writing Center tutor; she participates in Campus Ministry retreats, immersion trips and is part of Christian Life Communities. She will also be a residential assistant in fall 2017.

Project Title: Catholic Social Teaching and the US Foster Care System

Mentor: James F. Caccamo, Ph.D.

Hometown: Glenside, PA

Follow @sjuartssciences & @haubschool on Twitter to learn about this year’s summer scholars. #SJUSSP

Play it Again: Austin Sbarra ’18

Austin Sbarra

Austin Sbarra

When some of us hear a particular piano piece, even one from the great composers, observations might end with, “Oh, that sounds nice.” Seldom are we able to recall why we liked or disliked what we did. Yet to Austin Sbarra ’18, a music and communications studies double major, a piano piece isn’t just a series of sounds; it’s a challenge, a dare to uncover the elements that produced them and a chance to create something new.

For the SJU Summer Scholar’s program, Sbarra is engaged in a project that revolves around Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8, Op. 13, or “Pathetique.” His goal is to analyze the harmonic and formal structures in the composition to then create a new piece using those elements, while incorporating his own musical interest and influences, mainly jazz artists like Bill Evans.

Sbarra is working under the guidance of Suzanne Sorkin, Ph.D. chair and associate professor of music, theater and film.

“While Austin’s compositional voice is quite different from Beethoven’s,” says Sorkin. “the idea of binding together melodic and rhythmic material through use of a ‘motive,’ or recurring musical phrase, is applicable to a number of different styles including classical and jazz.”

Sbarra, from Bel Air, Maryland, is currently analyzing the introduction and exposition sections of the first movement, which is in a sonata form. He is also currently in the precompositional phase, which involves developing 3 motives, similar to those of Beethoven, for his own composition.

“Creativity can come in more structured forms. In Beethoven’s work, he managed to break classical convention by modulating, or moving keys, while staying within the form,” says Sbarra. “I will be working through 3 motives and try to be creative in using them in different contexts and transpositions, much as I have seen in the Pathetique.”

Sbarra is involved in the SJU jazz band as lead pianist and occasional alto saxophonist, where he is also the president. He holds a student work study position for the Department of Music, Theater and Film and SJU’s Department of Athletic Communications. Additionally, he is a teaching assistant for Sorkin and a Residential Assistant.

“Music is universal in that it spans genres,” says Sbarra. “What holds true for classical composition can also hold true for jazz. In fact, that’s how jazz originally came to be. For me, it becomes a challenge to find the balance between the two genres.”

Project Title: Beethoven as a Blueprint: Using a Theoretical Analysis of a Beethoven Sonata as the Framework for Piano Composition

Mentor: Suzanne Sorkin, Ph.D., chair and associate professor of music, theater and film

Hometown: Bel Air, Maryland

Follow @sjuartssciences @haubschool on Twitter to learn about this year’s summer scholars. #SJUSSP

Diving in Head First: Kathryn Hyduchak ’18 and Nathalia Benavides ’18

Benavides (left) and Hyduchak

On a hot summer day, nothing refreshes like a tall glass of cold water. As you reach to turn on the faucet, most people can generally assume that the water is clean and safe to drink. But exactly how clean is your local water, and how much do commercial filters help the cause?

Kathryn Hyduchak ’18 and Nathalia Benavides ’18 are studying water quality as part of the Summer Scholars Program. The students will collaborate on two projects: measuring the effectiveness of household water filters in removing lead and testing local water supplies for any detectable levels of pharmaceuticals. The project is mentored by Jean Smolen, Ph.D., associate dean of mathematics, natural sciences and computer science and director of the program. Peter Zurbach, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, is providing assistance with instrumentation.

“We will start by perfecting our methods using spiked samples,” Benavides explains. “We’ll use gas chromatography, which separates analytes by vaporizing them, to quantify pharmaceutical concentrations. For the lead determination, we use an instrument called ICP-OES, inductively couple plasma-optical emission spectroscope, which can detect trace metals. Once we are certain of our methods, we will collect water from local streams and the Schuylkill River for analysis.”

Hyduchak, a chemical biology major from Scranton, Pennsylvania, says that she chose to work on the project because of its global relevance.

“Water quality has always been a major concern throughout the world, not only in developing nations, but even in countries such as our own,” she says. “The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, brought to everyone’s attention the importance of clean and drinkable water, and we wanted to research the methods of testing for lead in our own area.”

Benavides, a dual chemical biology and French major from Weston, Florida, adds that there are many other contaminants, in addition to lead, to consider when testing drinking water.

“More medicine is being administered to the public than actually being consumed, and because there is no national standard for disposing of pharmaceuticals, many people flush their unused medication down the drain,” she explains. “That could lead to detectable levels of contaminants in the local water supply, which is harmful to people, wildlife and the environment.”

Both students sought places in the Summer Scholars Program to engage in high-level research with a faculty member.

“Working in this setting allows me to be able to fully immerse myself in a topic,” Benavides says. “Doing research has given me control of my education and enhanced my understanding of topics I have previously learned in my lecture courses.”

Hyduchak adds that “this kind of research allows for more freedom and creativity than assigned laboratory exercises. I can take the time to think of and test out several different possible solutions to a problem.”

Smolen, who has been studying water quality with her students for years, praises Benavides and Hyduchak’s commitment to the topic.

“Because they are passionate about water quality, Nathalia and Kathryn have been delving into the corresponding scientific literature and mastering their analytical techniques,” Smolen says.

Outside the research lab, Hyduchak is a member and the scholarship chair of SJU’s chapter of the Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity, vice president of the Alpha Epsilon Delta Pre-Health Honor Society, and a Resident Assistant. Benavides is a sister and director of academics for SJU’s chapter of the Alpha Phi sorority, secretary of the Biology Club, and a member of both the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society and Pi Delta Phi French Honor Society.

Impromptu Iambs: Emma Seely ’18

Emma Seely ’18

Are you a poet? If you haven’t met Emma Seely ’18, it’s possible that you are and you just haven’t discovered your inner bard yet.

As part of a project for the Summer Scholars Program, Seely, a dual English and psychology major from Parkton, Maryland, is building a collection of poems written by people she meets on the streets of Philadelphia.

Seely guides the writing by asking the poets to think about an object, then gives them several prompts to describe the object: its appearance, how it affects the world, and so on. Each exercise lasts 30 seconds; within five minutes, a new poem is born. She publishes the finished products online at https://poemsofphiladelphia.wordpress.com.

“When I approach people, a lot of them worry about not being able to write a ‘good’ poem,” Seely says. “I want to make the point that anyone can be a poet if they aren’t caught up in the need to write to meet someone else’s criteria for good.”

A longtime fan of the art form, Seely hopes that the projects kick starts a love of poetry in both her spontaneous authors and those who visit the site.

“Sometimes people feel like poetry is inaccessible to them if they don’t have a master’s-level understanding of English,” she says. “These poems prove that an audience can appreciate and relate to the work even if it isn’t necessarily the next Shakespearean sonnet.”

Seely’s mentor, Thomas Coyne, M.F.A., assistant professor of English, agrees about the project’s potential to inspire a love of poetry.

“This project combines the best of what we do here at SJU, blending art and academic pursuit and community engagement,” he says. “It makes a real case that poetry matters, and that language can reshape the way we look at our lives. It is both service and research, and its potential to show people the poetry in their lives is truly exciting.”

When not working on her Summer Scholars project, Seely is a member of three national honor societes: Sigma Tau Delta (English), Psi Chi (psychology) and Alpha Sigma Nu (Jesuit). She participates in weekly service at Covenant House, hosts a radio show on Radio 1851, volunteers in a campus psychology lab and mentors students at SJU’s Writing Center.

Seely says that the hopes the project brings her to a better understanding of the world around her.

“I’m seeing Philadelphia in new and exciting ways,” she says. “I always wonder about the secret lives of the random people I see walking on the street, and now I have an outlet to bring us closer together.”

Project Title: Poems of Philadelphia

Mentor: Thomas Coyne, M.F.A.

Hometown: Parkton, Maryland

Follow @sjuartssciences & @haubschool on Twitter to learn about this year’s Summer Scholars.

Investigating Pathogenic Bacteria E. albertii: Marisa Egan ’18

Egan and Dr. Bhatt

Egan and Dr. Bhatt

It’s important in college for students to find a place where they can escape and focus. For many, it’s a quiet corner in the library or a residence hall lounge late at night.

For Marisa Egan ’18, it seems that the best place to go after a long day of classwork is the lab.

The junior biology major, mathematics, philosophy and chemistry minor and McNulty Scholar has spent a considerable amount of time during her two years on campus — and two full summers as part of the Summer Scholars Program — in the lab of Shantanu Bhatt, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, conducting research on the pathogenic bacterium Escherichia albertii.

The bacterium, which is in the same family as E. coli, attacks the intestines, causing diarrheal problems. It is drug resistant, has no vaccine, and largely affects infants in developing countries, though some cases have appeared in adults in Japan and Germany.

“There’s so much we don’t know yet about E. albertii,” Egan explains. “The goal of our research is to understand how it causes sickness by creating mutations in its genome. If we can understand the genes that contribute to its disease causing ability, then someone may be able to one day develop a drug to attack those genes.”

In the summer between her freshman and sophomore years, Egan and Dr. Bhatt became the first research team to successfully create such a mutation in the bacterium since it was identified 25 years ago. Their research was published this year in Biological Procedures Online. Egan was the lead author. Another paper, led by Dr. Bhatt and co-authored by Egan and other researchers, was recently published in Gene & Translational Bioinformatics.

“Marisa is one of the most gifted students to have ever graced my classroom,” Dr. Bhatt says. “Ever since I have known her, she has exhibited uninhibited enthusiasm in learning all that she can from her academic journey. It’s students like her that teach teachers so much and serve as a motivator to go the extra mile for our students.”

Egan 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.”

Egan credits her parents — both of whom are doctors — with teaching her a love of science.

“I’ve always been interested in topics that were relevant to human health,” she says. “Ultimately, I want to serve humanity through scientific research and teaching.”

Outside the lab, Egan mentors her fellow students by serving in SJU’s Success Center as a supplemental instructor for Biology 101 and teacher’s assistant for organic chemistry lab courses. She is also the scholarship chair for Pi Sigma Phi, a gender-inclusive academic honors fraternity on campus.

“Besides research, my absolute favorite thing to do on campus is to teach,” Egan says. “Working as a supplemental instructor and teachers’ assistant lets me share my passion for science, humanity, and learning with others. I derive so much inspiration from my parents, my peers, my students and my professors, and my life goal is to pass that inspiration on.”

Ew! Is Expressing Disgust Feminine?: Kristen Lanzilotta ’17

Lanzilotta

Lanzilotta

Imagine yourself sitting at a table, ready to eat lunch. You pick up your sandwich, take a bite, and find that there’s a long hair protruding from between your lettuce and cheese. How do you react? Be careful how you answer; it may determine how desirable you are.

Kristen Lanzilotta ’17, a psychology major and Summer Scholar, is researching how women’s reactions to disgusting situations affect how they are seen in others’ eyes. Under the mentorship of Alex Skolnick, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology — an expert in the emotions of disgust — Lanzilotta is spending the summer conducting surveys, asking participants how they’d feel about a woman who reacted to a disgusting situation in a variety of ways.

“The stereotyped reaction for women is one of helplessness,” Lanzilotta explains. “The aim of my project is to examine the relationship between women behaving in accordance to the gender stereotype of helplessness and their perceived physical attractiveness.”

Lanzilotta theorizes that women who act according to gender roles will be seen as more desirable. “The damsel in distress is a powerful stereotype,” she says. “I want people to understand the implications of applying gender stereotypes to women. They may not only shape how women act, but also how they will be judged by other people superficially.”

Summer Scholars was a natural choice for the project, Lanzilotta says, because it gives her the time and space to find her research style.

“My work on this project differs from my approach to regular schoolwork in that I have assumed more of a leadership role,” she says. “I have to plan, communicate, and delegate to make this project successful.”

Lanzilotta is a regular presence on the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s List, and is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Psi Chi Psychology Honor Society. Outside the classroom, she competes in intramural soccer.

Summer Scholars Project: Women who do not say “Yuck!” Are Women Evaluated Differently Based on their Response to a Disgusting Situation?
Mentor: Alex Skolnick, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology
High School: Merion Mercy Academy, Merion, Pennsylvania

Follow @sjuartssciences @haubschool on Twitter to learn about this year’s summer scholars. #SJUSSP

Feminist Identity Among Millennials: Nicole VanAller ‘17

VanAller

VanAller

There’s nothing new about feminist rhetoric on college campuses. For decades, women at institutions of higher learning have come together to empower themselves and each other. Likewise, there’s nothing new about feminism online. Countless sites are devoted to advancing equality between genders. Now, a new stage has emerged at the intersection of these two communities.

Nicole VanAller ’17 is studying feminist identify among millennials as part of a Summer Scholars project. Specifically, she is researching the online magazine Her Campus, an online magazine specifically aimed at collegiettes, a term the website created and trademarked to describe “ambitious, savvy and aspirational” college women.

“I’m interviewing members of the SJU chapter of Her Campus, asking them what feminism means to them,” VanAller says. “I’m really interested in the construction of gender that goes on when a journalistic website targets our age group. Do sites like this build a meaningful connection to feminism, or do they stop at ‘girl power?’ That’s what I want to find out.”

VanAller, who is working under the mentorship of Jenny Spinner, Ph.D., associate professor of English, likes that the Summer Scholars program allows her to work on a longer project than she could during the semester.

“I am really enjoying diving deep into the topic,” she says. “I can explore new angles and do a lot more reading for background. I feel like I’m learning a lot more.”

Once the project is finished, VanAller hopes that she can expand her research on millennial feminist identify.

“I hope to learn what drives gender construction in our generation, especially in business,” she says.

VanAller is a student in SJU’s Honors Program and has earned a place on the Dean’s List in every semester since she arrived at SJU. She was recently inducted into Phi Betta Kappa and is a member of the Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society. Outside the classroom, she is the marketing and communications director for the SJU Women’s Leadership Initiative and founder of the SJU Independent Press, a zine that gathers student writing surrounding a single topic.

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Summer Scholars Project: Defining a “Collegiette:” Her Campus and feminist identity among millennials
Mentor: Jenny Spinner, Ph.D., associate professor of English
High School: Methacton High School, Eagleville, Pennsylvania

Follow @sjuartssciences @haubschool on Twitter to learn about this year’s summer scholars. #SJUSSP

Studying Millennial Culture: Angela Christaldi ‘17

Christaldi

Christaldi

Millennials are lazy. They’re entitled. They’re narcissistic. At least, that’s what other generations say about them. But what if you give them a chance to speak for themselves?

Angela Christaldi ’17 is spending the summer composing a series of essays on the culture of the millennial generation. The collection, which is being written as part of a Summer Scholars project, is tentatively titled “Fear and Loathing of the Millennial Generation.”

“I applied for the Summer Scholars program because I wanted the opportunity to fully immerse myself in my writing,” Christaldi says. “I want to explore millennial culture through a variety of different lenses such as politics, economics and gender.”

Christaldi draws inspiration from “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” an influential collection of essays about life in California in the 1960s by Joan Didon. She discovered the book in a class taught by Owen Gilman, Ph.D., professor of English. Dr. Gilman now serves as Christaldi’s mentor for the project.

“Dr. Gilman’s course ‘Rereading the ‘60s’ exposed me to new types of writing, and his knowledge of that type of literature made him a perfect fit to oversee my project,” she says.

“Angela’s project could not be more timely, and she is rather perfectly located to be an essayist on American culture in the summer of 2016 heading toward the election in November,” Gilman says. “Her project will be a lively quest for understanding, a spirited effort to make sense of life in our time by writing.”

During the academic year, Christaldi is a tutor at the Writing Center and managing editor of The Hawk student newspaper. She is also a member of the Women’s Leadership Initiative and a student board member of SJU’s Women’s Center. She has made the dean’s list, studies in the Honors Program, and has been inducted into the Sigma Tau Delta English International Honor Society.

— Jeffrey Martin ’04, ’05 (M.A.)

Office of University Communications

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Summer Scholars Project Title: “Fear and Loathing of the Millennial Generation”
Mentor: Owen Gilman, Ph.D., professor of English
High School: Sacred Heart High School, Vineland, NJ