Acupuncture. Psychology. Counseling. World Religions. Chemistry. The research areas of the University of Bridgeport’s first Summer Scholars Program underscores the direction UB is heading as a research institution: diverse and interdisciplinary. Over a four-week period, May 23-June 16, nine students honed their research skills while furthering faculty inquiry in their chosen areas of scholarship under the guidance of seasoned faculty research mentors. One by one, participants learned that “research is the key to unlocking the answers to our questions, and the only way to further our current finite knowledge,” as Saul Almazan ’18 described it.
For Almazan, who is looking forward to being given “author status” on a paper he is currently co-writing with faculty mentor Dr. David Oberleitner, highlights of UB’s Summer Scholars program ranged from a tour of UB’s research facilities to the weekly Research-In-Progress (RIP) and Journal Club meetings.
“Attending the RIP meetings allowed us to learn how to participate in advanced academic discussions,” said Almazan, a Psychology major whose leadership activities include Gear Up Alumni Leadership Academy State Representative, President of Psi Chi International Honor Society, and Senior Student Ambassador. “We were given the opportunity to present our own progress, after which we would have an open discussion so that other faculty and fellow Summer Scholars could provide constructive criticism and ask intellectually challenging questions that drove us to reach deep down into our knowledge to answer correctly. In addition, the Journal Club meetings grounded our knowledge and further developed our critical thinking skills by reading articles that challenged us to think deeper.”
Organic in Formation and Approach
According to Dr. Jessica Nelson, Director of Undergraduate Research who spearheaded the program, part of the movement of undergraduate research at UB is to step away from the idea that research happens only within the natural sciences. “We want to bring awareness to the scholarly activity going on across disciplines,” Dr. Nelson said, “for instance, in the departments of Music, English, Education, Design, Business, Marketing Analytics. We want to broaden the scope of what people consider scholarship to be.”
In keeping with this train of thought, UB’s Summer Scholars Program was jump-started by Brandy Beans, an undergrad currently enrolled at Fisk University who was looking for a summer research opportunity in her chosen field of study: acupuncture. Excited by what she found on Bridgeport.edu’s Acupuncture Institute website — faculty immersed in the very research she was interested in pursuing — Beans reached out to Professor Jennifer Brett, who shared Beans’ request with Dr. Tarek Sobh, Senior Vice President for Graduate Studies and Research. Dr. Sobh responded by tapping Dr. Nelson to look into the possibility of UB offering formal summer scholarship opportunities.
Over the next three months, Dr. Nelson visited local institutions in Connecticut (Sacred Heart, SURF, the University of Connecticut, and the University of New Haven), and met with the directors of their summer research programs. She learned what they were offering, what worked and what didn’t, and budget considerations. Once she had a plan in place, faculty “from so many departments jumped on board, no questions asked,” she said. “That demonstrated to me where we are as far as collegiality and interdisciplinary work, and the commitment to the advancement of research as an institution.”
That sense of collegiality permeated throughout the faculty-student mentoring experience. “I still remember the first day of the program,” recalled Almazan. “All the mentors were giving honest stories about times when they waited to the last minute to write their papers and the hours they spent editing and collecting information. At the end of their stories, each gave us tips to point us in the right direction with our own research goals. It was truly an organic experience.”
The Research Projects
The 2017 Summer Scholars Program offered participants the experience of pursuing research as a creative intellectual activity under the following student-faculty pairings:
Topic: Antimicrobal Properties of Plant Extract
Faculty: Dr. Amanda Petrus, Chemistry
Student: Allen Iza ’19, Biology Major
Topic: The Role of Social Isolation and Other Psycholgoical Factors in the Perception of Body Image
Faculty: Dr. David Oberleitner, Psychology
Student: Saul Almazan ’18, Psychology Major
Topic: Family Member Reports of Symptoms of Psychopathy in Perpetrators of Intra-familial Abuse
Faculty: Dr. Liane Leedom, Counseling and Psychology
Student: Stacy Ishack ’20, Psychology Major
Topic: An Analysis of Chinese Herb Granules: Examination of Microbial Corruption
Faculty: Dr. Stephen Jackowicz, Acupuncture
Student: Brandy Beans, Fisk University, Spanish Major
Topic: Vitamin B-12 and B-9 Drug Delivery
Faculty: Dr. Amanda Petrus, Chemistry
Students: Santigie Mansaray ’19, Sylvester Ofori-Amanfo ’19
Topic: Radicalism, Reform and Migration: The Transformations of Shaykh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr
Faculty: Dr. Robert Riggs, World Religions
Student: Jonathan Stupple, Religious Studies; IPED
Topic: Reversing Dental LA with Acupuncture and University of Bridgeport Acupuncture Clinic Patient Demographics
Faculty: Professors Jennifer Brett and Wendy Garcia, Acupuncture
Student: Peter Tournas, General Studies; Health Science
Topic: Motivation and Attribution: Can We Predict Athletic Performance?
Faculty: Dr. Liane Leedom, Counseling and Psychology
Student: Hakeem Adams, Psychology
In addition to furthering faculty research lines, enrichment activities for participants included:
- Weekly workshops by UB faculty, staff, and community partners
- Weekly Journal Clubs to enhance critical thinking and analytic skills
- Weekly Research in Progress (R.I.P.) Meetings led by UB Biomedical and Bio Behavioral faculty
- An academic and professional development series on developing a research career, graduate school admissions, and other topics of interest to future researchers
- Opportunities to attend various on and off campus social and cultural activities.
Concluded Nelson, “What wowed me was the passion the students had for their discipline and their learning. I was floored by their excitement every day, and by watching their skills evolve and their confidence grow. By the end of the program they were truly undergraduate scholars.”
The Undergraduate Council on Research and Scholarship
According to Dean Tarek Sobh, this coming year will mark a significant milestone for the institution: the University of Bridgeport will be formally recognized as a “research university.” To promote a culture of inquiry by furthering professional development through the advancement of knowledge and the production of research, the newly-formed Undergraduate Council on Research and Scholarship will take a stronger role in the years ahead. Members include:
Tarek Sobh, Ph.D.
Senior vice President for Graduate Studies & Resarch
Dean of the School of Engineering
Jessica A. Nelson, Ph.D., MFT
Assistant Professor, Counseling
Director of Undergraduate Research
Ruba S. Deeb, Ph.D.
Director of Biomedical Research Development
Research Associate Professor of Bioengineering
David Oberleitner, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Psychology
Kathleen Engelmann, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Biology
Medical Laboratory Science
Carrie Picardi, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Human Resources & Leadership
Christine Hempowicz, Ed.D.
Director, Office of Sponsored Research & Programs
Robert Riggs, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, World Religions
Director, UB Honors Program
Manyul Im, Ph.D.
Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences
The 2017 Summer Scholars Symposium
The program concluded with the 2017 UB Summer Scholars Symposium, held at Littlefield Recital Hall in the Arnold Bernhard Center. Keynote Speaker Adam Pérez ’10, who received his B. Sc. in Biology with a minor in Chemistry at UB and went on to obtain his Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology at the Pennsylvania State University, shared how his journey from a Kohl’s cashier to a budding UB scientist unfolded.
As Pérez shared in his Spotlight On profile, “My research interests began in chemistry, at a part-time job on campus. In my first semester at UB, I realized I needed money to buy pizza [and coffee], but my part-time job at Kohl’s wasn’t enough to cover these expenses. I looked into opportunities to work on campus in between classes, and inquired about becoming a technician to one of my chemistry professors. That’s when my research interests ignited.”
Currently, Pérez is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Louisville working in the Dr. John P. Wise Laboratory of Genetic and Environmental Toxicology — a connection he originally made at UB through Dr. Spiros Katsifis.
As for participants in the inaugural UB Summer Scholars Program, five of the nine scholars will continue working with their mentors throughout the Fall semester, and three of the nine will co-present or co-author with their mentor.
One of the latter will be Jonathan Stupple, whose contribution will be recognized when Dr. Robert Riggs presents formally at two major conferences:
- British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) annual conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, July 6
- Middle East Studies Association (MESA) annual conference in Washington, D.C., November 9
In addition, Almazan will be submitting a poster for presentation at the 2017 New England Psychological Association convention titled “The Role of Social Isolation and Other Psychological Factors in the Perception of Body Image.” This opportunity is in addition to co-authoring a paper of the same title with faculty mentor Dr. Obertleitner that will be submitted to a peer-reviewed psychology research journal, based on their continued collaboration over the summer months.
Recalling the initial tour of UB’s research facilities in the beginning of the Summer Scholars Program, Almazan commented that he and his fellow scholars “got to take a look at the University of Bridgeport’s bright future as a research institution.” But while Dean Tarek Sobh, who spoke at the closing Symposium, jokingly imagined the program growing to 190 students in 2018, both Nelson (program director) and Almazan (summer scholar) hope to keep next year’s participants to 15-20. “I would like to see the numbers kept low,” explained Almazan, “to protect the genuineness of the relationship between the mentor and mentee.”