SSP News

Writing through Faith: Erin Breen ’19

Erin sits cross-legged on a chair in the sunlight, bent over her laptop, hard at work.

Breen is particularly interested in the balance writers strike between their individual experience and connecting to an audience through universal themes.

Erin Breen ’19 does not hesitate when asked about the goal of her Summer Scholars project: “I want to publish a book,” she says.

A veteran of the program, Breen is writing a series of creative nonfiction essays this summer that explore the intersection of spirituality and the literary. As an English and theology major, she finds her faith comes into everything she does — but especially in writing.

“Creative nonfiction writers — essayists, memoirists — seek to tell true stories that communicate the abstract in tangible ways that allow for better self-understanding,” says Breen, of Glenside, Pennsylvania. “Because of the individualism of spiritual development and the fluidity of this medium, the two disciplines blend and interconnect.”

To inspire her creative energy, Breen is reading a number of spiritual creative nonfiction authors, as well as experts outside the genre, such as C.S. Lewis, Pádaig ó Tuama and Gillian Flynn, to learn how writers utilize literary techniques to document their faith journeys. She says she is particularly interested in the balance writers strike between their individual experience and connecting to an audience through universal themes.

“What are the universal elements of spirituality that can be explored in personal writing, in creative nonfiction, and what techniques and styles do so?” asks Breen, who is working under the mentorship of Jenny Spinner, Ph.D., associate professor of English and director of the Writing Center at SJU. Breen’s project was born out of Spinner’s undergraduate English course in creative nonfiction.

“Dr. Spinner’s class taught me how to write about the personal,” she continues. “Don’t bring anything to class if you’re not ready to make art out of it.”

This summer, Breen also strives to develop her own literary voice — in her literary essays, as well as in journalism. She flexed her writing and reporting skills in South Africa with Saint Joseph’s summer journalism program.

Under the supervision of Shenid Bhayroo, Ph.D., assistant professor of English, and Spinner, the cohort of 8 budding journalists researched, developed and reported on interesting stories throughout Johannesburg, Cape Town, Rosendal and Pilanesberg, and chronicled their storytelling in The Hawk. Breen interviewed refugees receiving support from the Jesuit Refugee Services in Johannesburg and Gail Millard, owner of the Bounty Hunters Charity Shop, who rescues stray cats.

“A writers’ work can be so insular at times, especially the kind of spiritual writing that Erin is trying to accomplish in her essays,” says Spinner. “The South Africa trip opened up a new space for her — for all of us — and allowed her to re-examine herself, her thinking, her writing, in a way that she would not have otherwise done.”

An Economic Survey of Student Debt: Charles Gallagher ’19

With the cost of higher education reaching record heights, student loan debt and repayment has become a national conversation.

Charles Gallagher wears a red sweater and smiles before a canopy of changing fall leaves.

Previously a music major, Charles Gallagher ’19 (pictured) sought out economics, because he feels that it provides more opportunities to apply his passion for problem-solving to help others.

Charles Gallagher ’19 has dedicated his summer to researching the relationship between student loans and the behavior of recent college graduates in the job market with the Summer Scholars Program. While there has been extensive research on students’ ability to pay back their loans, Gallagher has decided to focus on how the financial burden of loans affects the job market behavior of students once they’ve graduated.

“I’m wondering if people are making the best decisions when they’re getting their education, specifically how they behave in the job market,” says Gallagher, an economics major from Malvern, Pennsylvania. “One of my hypotheses is that people who are deeply in debt are going to take jobs sooner than people who are not, leading to less satisfaction at work.”

With the aid of the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 from the National Center for Education Statistics, Gallagher’s research is based on a survey of 2,400 of graduates who obtained their undergraduate degree within six years of graduating from high school.

“The real purpose of doing this research is to learn how to do research,” he says. “The Summer Scholars Program bridges a gap between academic research and classes. There is no teacher to please or grade to grab: I have the time to pursue the paths I think are important and take chances on ideas that might be dead ends.”

Gallagher’s credits his mentor, Laura Crispin Ph.D., associate professor of economics, as the largest influence on his decision to pursue this specific topic. “This is an important topic because, while many people have first-hand experience with college debt, there is very limited research about how taking on college debt may affect individuals in their early job prospects,” says Crispin.

Due to the pressing relevance of his topic, Gallagher plans to continue his research throughout the school year. Ideally, the relationships found through this project will enable Gallagher to present his findings at conferences and spark policy changes regarding repayment.

“All of the projects that I mentor have a particular policy focus, such that their findings can help to provide suggestive evidence that policymakers may use to improve outcomes of individuals,” says Crispin. “I think the Summer Scholars Program is an excellent way to encourage bright and motivated students to take on research outside of the classroom, learn new skills, and fully engage in the research process.”

Previously a music major, Gallagher sought out economics, because he feels that it provides more opportunities to apply his passion for problem-solving to help others. “Economists can do a lot of good if they know how to help people,” says Gallagher. “It’s the study of all choices, not just the choices you make with your money.”

By Julia Snyder ’19 (M.A.)

Project Title: “Student Loan Debt and its Effects on Early Job Market Behavior”

Mentor: Laura Crispin, Ph.D., associate professor of economics

Hometown: Malvern, Pennsylvania

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

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



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

Humor and Incivility on Social Media: Karleigh Lopez ’20

Karleigh Lopez '20

Karleigh Lopez ’20

When a politician says or does something you don’t like; what do you do? You rush to your favorite social media site armed with your passion and wit, of course! Perhaps you may take a moment before posting: Karleigh Lopez Summer Scholar project, which studies humor and incivility on mass media and their effect on society, might change your mind.

“The public is concerned about social behavior on online platforms,” says Lopez. “Increased political polarization is often associated with incivility, but recent research has shown the problem may be more of a widespread characteristic of our society.”

Lopez, a communication studies major from Shamong, New Jersey, is exploring the role of on social media as a response to significant newsworthy events and the extent to which it is marked by politeness or discourtesy. More specifically, she is exploring the reaction across the political spectrum to President Trump’s (June 1 2017) announcement that the United States’ would withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

From about two weeks since the date that it was announced, Lopez and her mentor began to study tweets, using programs like TAGS (Twitter Analytics Google Sheets), Tableau, and NVivo to search positive and negative key terms, such as “amazing,” or “poor.” In addition to looking at reactions from everyday people, Lopez scans celebrity responses and tallies retweets from new sources. She analyzes whether the posts use humor that is merely humorous vs. humor that crossed the line into incivility.

Lopez met her mentor,Ken Weidner, Ph.D., assistant professor of management, while taking LEO 150, Serious Comedy and Social Justice. Her interest in the topic led her to observe the effect of mass media on the political climate in the past year. From there, she created her Summer Scholars project.

“This kind of scholarship is exploratory, so there are many challenges as there are successes,” says Weidner. “Lopez is not discouraged easily, and her perseverance seems endless.”

Lopez hopes to publish her work in an academic journal, or write an op-ed article on her findings. She says that having an opportunity to read about social media, politics and egoism is helping her to understand the political climate and how modern media affects our way of thinking.

“The whole saying, ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ isn’t even a choice nowadays. Everywhere we turn we see potential political conflict,” says Lopez. “Humor gives power to the individual, and it makes the political climate easier to comprehend.”

Lopez is a member of the Honors program and Phi Sigma Phi Honors Fraternity. She is on the SJU cheerleading teaming and is an opinions writer for the student newspaper, The Hawk.

Project Title: Humor and Incivility on Social Media

Mentor: Ken Weidner, Ph.D., assistant professor of management

Hometown: Shamong, New Jersey

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

Hispanic English Language Learners and Gifted Education: Elaine Estes ’19

Elaine Estes


Learning isn’t the same for every person; a teacher’s mission is to challenge students while also providing a safe and caring environment where everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Elaine Estes’ ’19 Summer Scholar project is focusing on the pathways to and barriers within gifted education for English Language Learners (ELLs), with a special focus on Hispanic ELLs and those within the greater Philadelphia area.

“One thing I’ve learned in my time as an education major and teacher candidate here at SJU is that student experiences and teacher experiences are radically different,” says Estes.

A secondary education and Spanish double major from Oxford, Pennsylvania, who is also a member of the SJU Varsity Cross Country and Track and Field teams, Estes is conducting a literature review of scholarly studies on educational opportunities for gifted and Hispanic ELL students. She is creating a survey for and conducting interviews with local gifted program coordinators or school administrators in the Greater Philadelphia area. She will synthesize this information to develop recommendations for potential pathways for Hispanic ELLs in gifted education.

“English language learners have historically been one of many under-identified and underserved populations in gifted education programs,” says Estes’s Summer Scholar mentor Janine Firmender, Ph.D., assistant professor of education, who researches gifted education and pedagogy. “Elaine’s investigation into the pathways and potential barriers to gifted education services for English language learners is an important step in addressing this need in the field of gifted education.”

Estes is a member of the SJU Varsity Cross Country and Track and Field teams and has earned Dean’s List, Athletic Commissioner’s Honor Roll and A-10 Academic Honor Roll during her time at SJU. She was recently admitted to the University Senate as an at-large Senator for the class of 2019. Additionally, she is a member of the University Singers choral group and the Spanish National Honors Society, Sigma Delta PI.

She plans to use the knowledge she gains from her Summer Scholars research as she works toward becoming a teacher.

“I am interested in ELLs as a minority group, because I have seen through my experiences as a student and as a teacher candidate how they are disadvantaged within the school system,” says Estes. “I hope that my research might have a small impact in improving the educational situation for these students.”

Project Title: Hispanic English Language Learners and Gifted Education

Mentor: Janine Firmender, Ph.D., assistant professor of education

Hometown: Oxford, Pennsylvania

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



Colette Hanlon ’18: The Social Meaning of SNAP Benefits

Colette Hanlon


The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been active for more than 50 years, providing aid to families throughout the country. Colette Hanlon’s  Summer Scholars project focuses on the lived experiences of those who grocery shop using SNAP benefits, or food stamps.

Hanlon, a rising senior sociology major and economics minor from Oxnard, California, is working with her mentor, Keith Brown, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, to examine the social meaning of SNAP, mainly, how low-income consumers make decisions regarding healthy eating and food costs and if there are any common themes in purchasing. She will conduct two differently styled interviews with about 50 participants: “shop along” and sit-down interviews.

“The Summer Scholars Program is helping me to apply what I’ve learned in undergraduate work through a practical lens,” says Hanlon. “I’ve always been interested in how people budget their money. This project is giving me the opportunity to discover trends and examine the strengths and weaknesses of the SNAP program.”

Hanlon is working as the project’s coordinator. She has advertised the project to community organizations, such as Philabundance and Coalition Against Hunger, received participant calls, and scheduled, transcribed and conducted interviews for about 50 participants, who each will be interviewed twice. The project also includes Miriam Kahn, a retired anthropology professor at the University of Washington, and Mary Segal, who researched health policy while at Temple University. Kahn and Segal will focus on the program’s health and nutrition aspects.

Brown, whose teaching interests include ethical consumption, culture and economic sociology, says that Hanlon’s project is different than others because most current marketing and consumer behavior research focuses on wealthier consumers. The team will use the data they collect to create memos, which will be sent to community health organizations and grocery stores that seek to better provide access to healthy food for low-income consumers. The team is also planning to publish their research in at least two academic journals, and possibly, a book.

“Colette has an analytical way of looking at social problems, and she is able to work independently,” says Brown. “She has proven to be an invaluable addition to this project; we would not succeed without her.”

Hanlon will continue her research on this project for her honor’s thesis. As a result of her Summer Scholars experience, she is considering a career in research in either economic sociology or behavioral economics.

Project Title: The Social Meaning of SNAP Benefits

Mentor: Keith Brown, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology

Hometown: Oxnard, California


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

Catholic Themes in Foster Care: Erin Breen ’19

Erin 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

Issues Facing Workers Post Incarceration: Jacob Diehl ‘18

Jacob Diehl '18

Jacob Diehl ’18

Jacob Diehl ’18 , a managing human capital  and leadership, ethics and organizational sustainability double major, has always strived to exemplify Jesuit ideals, from his work in iSJU, which introduces incoming freshman to Jesuit Education, to his community service trips like APEX and PSIP. He wanted his Summer Scholars project to reflect his values, which is why he is spending his summer examining the issues that men face in reentering the workforce after incarceration.

“The main focus of my research will be the stigmatization that these men face and the factors that lead to employment discrimination,” says Diehl.

Just one of the ideas that Diehl has for his project is creating a form that will display what opportunities are available. He also wants to study the discrepancies between the available spaces in Philadelphia re-entry assistance programs and the number of men who apply to those them.

“If society views these men as criminals, rather than people, even after they serve their sentences, then their views of themselves and what they can achieve are compromised,” says Diehl.

His research includes about 10 interviews with men reentering the workplace, to whom Diehl has reached out through professors at SJU. He will ask them to relate their stories through a personal memoir-type dialogue.

Diehl became interested in this topic after attending a workforce diversity class taught by his faculty mentor and advisor, Eric Patton’s, Ph.D., chair and associate professor of management. Patton has studied those with psychological issues in the workplace and assists Diehl in the interview process.

“In this era of mass incarceration, a two-year prison sentence for drugs can become almost a life sentence of unemployment or underemployment,” says Patton. “A great deal of research shows that gainful employment is key for ex-offenders to remain free and not re-offend, which is also an incentive for society as a whole to care about this issue.”

Diehl wants to understand how this process affects ex-offenders as individuals, rather than as a collective unit.

Says Patton, “This project involves many different perspectives and weighs the rights of different groups, for example, the right of individuals to work vs. the rights of companies to decide who they hire. Jake’s project tackles a big issue, and he is ideally suited for it.”

Diehl hopes to contact Women’s Law Project, a website that has a re-entry forum for women. From there, he wishes to either create a similar forum for men or use his research to spread awareness.

“Someone needs to listen to these men who are re-entering, in order to value their journey and the issues that they face, as they rejoin society,” he says.


Project Title: Examining the issues that men face trying to reenter the workforce after being incarcerated

Mentor: Eric Patton, Ph.D., chair and associate professor of management

Hometown: Dedham, MA

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

Gender Norms & Group Dynamics: Amelia Martinie ‘19

Martinie and Conry-Murray

Martinie (left) and Conry-Murray

We know that attention to gender norms start influencing children at a very young age.  Adults often assign colors schemes like pink bedrooms for girls or blue bedrooms for boys, and little boys get toy trucks while girls get baby dolls. But do those norms shape children’s judgments on their peers’ behavior? That’s the question that Summer Scholar Amelia Martinie ’19 is asking as she focuses on her project, “Gender Stereotypes and Their Effect on Children’s Potentials.”

“I chose this topic because I wanted to use research methods to explore peer group interactions as well as gender differences in perception,” says Martinie. “I’ve been interested in conducting research since taking the Research Methods class, so it was a good fit.”

A psychology major with a Spanish minor, Martinie will interview children ages eight and up about how they think about moral and conventional norms in theoretical peer-group interactions at her hometown YMCA in Jennersville, Pennsylvania. She will read stories to them and then ask about certain characters’ actions and how the children feel the characters should act, and why. She hopes to understand how deeply children consider gender norms and whether or not there are gender differences in their reactions.

Martinie says she discovered this line of research after taking the developmental psychology and research methods class with her Summer Scholars mentor, Clare Conry-Murray, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology. Conry-Murray has conducted research based on gendered toys and their effect on children’s perception of gender and its role in peer-interactions. She found that children do not recognize unequal opportunities available to boys and girls.

“Amelia will investigate how group dynamics affect children’s reasoning about challenging group norms,” says Conry-Murray. “If she is able to find support for her hypothesis, it will support the benefits of diversity, especially in children.”

Martinie is interested in continuing her research in SJU’s five-year M.S. program in psychology. She hopes to pursue a career as an experimental psychologist.

“The Summer Scholars program is giving me the chance to conduct my own research in the field of psychology,” says Martinie. “This is my first time doing research on my own so I’m very grateful for this opportunity.”

Martinie is a varsity rower, and is a member of Psi Chi, the Psychology Honors Society. She has also earned a spot on the Atlantic 10 Commissioner’s Honor Roll all four semesters that she has attended SJU.

Project Title:  Gender Norms and Group Dynamics

Mentor: Clare Conry-Murray, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology

Hometown:  Jennerstown, Pennsylvania

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