Loyola University Chicago

The Graduate School

2017 RMP Projects

Note about the Biomedical projects at the Maywood campus: It is typically expected that you will spend 7-8 hours most days in the lab with your mentor. There is public transportation to Maywood via the Blue line of the El and bus -  please see the CTA website for more information.

Summary Your DNA is the unique combination of genetic information that your parents passed on to you and it is what makes you YOU. In recent years we have come to learn that your parents not only give you the sequence of your genome, but pass along with it information that contributes to how that genome is interpreted. The events and experiences that they have are stored with the DNA by a mechanism called epigenetics which impacts expression of genes (i.e. if the “instructions” are turned on or off). Experiences such as diet, exercise, and drug exposure of both mothers and fathers before conception (during puberty and early adulthood) can impact offspring health. The most widely abused drug in this country is alcohol. More than 5.3 million Americans under the age of 21 report engaging in binge pattern alcohol drinking, which is around 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men per sitting. Binge alcohol during the formative teenage years can have long lasting effects on the brain, causing particular disruption in the stress response, or the ability to properly address a stressful situation and subsequently relax. Therefore our most recent research has focused on the question – does teenage binge drinking impact offspring brain function and, if so, how? We have found that both maternal and paternal preconception drinking (during puberty) impacts the DNA programing in future offspring. Drinking by each parent contributes different epigenetics to offspring and there are even more changes to the DNA when both parents are exposed to alcohol. This epigenetic inheritance has functional implications for the offspring, who have never been exposed to alcohol themselves.  They have altered stress responses, limited drive for social interaction, and stunted pubertal development. With more research into this effect, and how it occurs on a molecular level, we think we will find a mechanism that adolescent drug use works through to impact future offspring and by doing so can impact the culture of teenage binge drinking.

Undergrad Work My goals for the summer are to teach a student basic laboratory skills and familiarize them with both the research environment and scientific process. I will walk the student through the background research that led to my hypothesis, how I chose to purse the path that I did and the steps we will take to answer the questions we have asked. They will then gain firsthand experience in data acquisition and analysis. The field of epigenetics is new and rapidly growing and I think that a summer experience with the techniques involved in this epigenetics research project would give a student a great advantage in future science education. By the end of the summer, they will be able to properly read and write an experimental protocol, critically read primary scientific articles and analyze results. The laboratory skills they will gain will include measuring differential DNA methylation marks in the gametes of animals exposed to teenage binge drinking. During my undergraduate studies I was fortunate enough to have great mentors and participate in multiple research experiences, which sparked my interest in pursuing research as a career. I hope to provide this same opportunity to a Loyola student and show them what continued education in biomedical sciences can provide. My lab is at the Health Science campus in Maywood. I would expect a student to work around 30 hours per week, but am flexible as far as how many days (4 longer days, or 5 shorter days).  

Week 1 – Orientation, lab safety, basic technique training, literature review (including discussion on the subject of animal use in research)

Week 2-3 – Experimental set up and practice using non-essential samples to ensure proper technique

Week 4-5 – Isolation of gametes (sperm and egg) from frozen tissue samples, PCR measurement of DNA methylation in regions of interest

Week 6-7 – Data analysis and presentation preparation 

Explanation of Research: My dissertation examines how the family lives of lower-income community organizers, largely African American and immigrant Latina mothers and grandmothers, shape and are shaped by local grassroots community organizing for social change. I follow the organizing activities of parents at Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), a family-focused organizing institution in Chicago that offers parent leadership trainings and institutional support for community organizing activities around violence prevention, childhood education and health, and economic insecurities. Through interviews with 35 community organizing leaders, participant observations of organizing activities over a 10-month period, and a content analysis of community organizing materials, I document the interplay of family and collective action within an organization that utilizes a distinctive family-focused community organizing model. My initial findings suggest that participation in community organizing shifts gendered dynamics and relationships in the family and offers disenfranchised groups with increased notions of community belonging, freedom, and dignity—in turn, these changes have powerful effects on the organization and diverse communities at large.

Research Opportunities: The research mentee will play a key role in my dissertation research process this summer by transcribing, analyzing qualitative data, and situating findings within existing literature on collective behavior and community organizing. Together, we will transcribe at least four previously recorded one-on-one interviews with community organizers from Chicago using tools to accurately create interview transcriptions. We will code these transcriptions using NVivo, a qualitative data analysis software, to uncover emerging themes and write memos expanding on these themes. Lastly, we will place findings in the context of previous research to highlight unique contributions to the literature. I will train the mentee each step of the process and be readily available to assist or answer questions. Although being fluent in Spanish is not required, Spanish speaking mentees will have the opportunity to practice translating Spanish interviews into English.

Explanation of Research: Although it makes up 3 months of the year, few studies have examined how different summertime contexts translate to behavioral outcomes and psychological well-being for adolescents. Summer increases the amount of time spent unsupervised or with peers, which implicates summer as a high-risk time for adolescents to engage in problem behaviors. Recent evidence suggests adolescents are indeed more likely to initiate substance use or engage in delinquent and antisocial acts during the summer, which presents challenges for parents who must find ways to fill time that was previously occupied by school. Despite knowledge that afterschool programs, extracurriculars, and other types of organized activities are generally beneficial during the school year, more research is need to examine the role of summertime organized activities on adolescent development. Therefore, my dissertation will address these gaps in knowledge by 1) examining the patterns of problem behavior as they occur over the summer months and during the school year, 2) incorporating the impact of risk (such as friend's deviancy) and protective (such as parental monitoring and self-control capabilities) factors on problem behaviors and 3) examining whether participation in summertime organized activities protects against problem behaviors and increases positive youth development above and beyond all other factors. The findings of this study will contribute to the knowledge regarding when and under what circumstances adolescents engage in problem behaviors, as well the efficacy of summer programs to promote resiliency.

Undergraduate Work: During the summer an undergraduate mentee and I will work closely collecting and analyzing data for my dissertation. This includes entering participant information from consent forms into a database, monitoring data collection and participant response rates of online surveys through the Opinio Software System, answering questions from participants, and statistical analysis. In addition, my undergraduate mentee will gain knowledge about the predictors of adolescent problem behavior and be able to discuss the research regarding the protective role of organized activities. Because my research is primarily concerned with adolescent behavior during the summer, my undergraduate mentee will have the opportunity to be highly integrated data collection, be able to ask and effectively answer a research question, and learn how to effectively communicate results. Over 8 weeks (from mid-June to the first week of August), I will require 12 hours of work per week from my undergraduate mentee. In order to learn about graduate-level work and research, a portion of the research findings from the first data collection point in the summer will be turned into a poster to be presented at the undergraduate LUROP Research Symposium in the Spring.

Project Description: It has been argued that Paul, in his New Testament writings, preaches against the Roman Empire. Some scholars go so far as to say that Paul is trying to subvert the Roman Empire in exchange for the “empire of Jesus Christ.” Yet through a critical examination of Paul’s letters, by means of a rhetorical, socio-historical, and theological study, these claims of a Pauline subversive agenda falls short. What will be shown is that Paul did not directly support or directly condemn the Roman Empire. His dealings with the empire were more nuanced. Paul is relativizing the relationship between himself and the Roman Empire, insofar as he does not suggest its subversion but rather places the empire within his theology of the “end-times” (eschatology). Paul’s eschatology is heavily dependent on how he understands the world after the death and resurrection of Christ. Though Paul was writing in a society heavily influenced by the Roman Empire, the empire has remarkable little role in Paul’s theology.

Undergraduate Work: One way we will approach the broader topic of Paul and his relationship to the Roman Empire is to compare and contrast Paul’s “churches” to Greco-Roman associations (social/religious clubs). After the student gains familiarity with the dissertation, the overall argument and framework of the study, we will begin to gather information on the role of the earliest Christian churches in the early first-century CE. In the first few weeks, our time will be devoted to gathering evidence that demonstrates how the Christian communities not only differed from Greco-Roman associations but also how they are similar. Our second goal in the final weeks is to analyze our gathered information in order to answer two questions; 1) “What are the reasons why the early Christian communities differed from Greco-Roman associations?” and 2) “Is there evidence in the letters of Paul as to why these differences exist?” By the end of our study, we should come to a better understanding on how Paul understands the role of his “churches” in the midst of a Greco-Roman society. In this process the student will be exposed to a number of research methods and skills used in Theology, and more broadly, within the humanities. Loyola’s library services will be extensively utilized. We will also be prepared to present our research at Loyola’s Spring Research symposium in the spring semester of 2018.

Research: Previous research has suggested that college women are at greater risk of experiencing negative consequences of alcohol consumption than college men and that drinking to regulate negative emotions, unlike drinking to enhance positive ones, is related to increased negative consequences. Therefore, my project will examine the relations between experiencing sexism and alcohol consumption among college women through two studies. To further understand these effects, my project will differentiate between hostile sexism (e.g., believing that women seek to control men) and benevolent sexism (e.g., believing that women need to be protected by men) and test two different mechanisms (anger and belongingness threat) for how these experiences may be related to alcohol consumption. Finally, I will examine individual differences in identity threat appraisals (the extent to which women view sexism as self-threatening) to see if they moderate the effects of these experiences on women’s alcohol consumption.

Undergraduate work: My undergraduate mentee will have the opportunity to help with entering and analyzing data from the first study that has been collected in the Spring. In addition, they will help to prepare the second study for data collection in the Fall. This will include programming and testing the study materials as well as other preparations for data collection. By helping with these tasks, my undergraduate mentee should become better acquainted with the process of preparing a study for data collection and analyzing data that has been collected. I will also make sure that they have read some of the literature on how discrimination (and sexism in particular) may affect alcohol consumption to give them a better understanding of my specific area of research as well as some of the general methodologies and theories of social psychology. Finally, I will work with my undergraduate mentee during the coming Spring to put together a poster presentation for the LUROP Research Symposium.

Research: In my lab, we study the bacteria that live in and on your body normally – the microbiome. The Human Microbiome Project was a United States initiative aimed at characterizing the microbiome of humans; but the initiative left out one major body site, the bladder. This was primarily because urine has always thought to be sterile. Five years ago, my lab and a few others decided to question this and discovered the existence of a unique bladder/urinary microbiome, effectively showing that urine from the bladder isn’t actually sterile. The presence of bacteria living in the human bladder raises several questions. The two questions that I’m interested in are: how does the urinary microbiome effect our understanding of the etiologies and treatments for urinary tract infections (UTIs)? And, how do the bacterial populations fluctuate over time? The summer research project will be aimed at addressing the first question. We hypothesize that the clinical diagnostic methods used to detect UTI’s are flawed.

Undergraduate Work: This summer, we will determine if the clinical diagnostic methods used to detect UTI’s are flawed. We have done extensive work showing that the current methods are insufficient at detecting pathogenic bacteria from catheterized urine specimens. However, it’s unclear if these methods are also insufficient at detecting pathogenic bacteria from voided (i.e. non-catheterized) urine specimens. This is important because most urine specimens collected for routine UTI diagnosis in a hospital are voided. Therefore, we will work with the urogynecology clinic at Loyola University Medical Center to obtain both catheterized urine specimens and voided urine specimens from 40 women. We will use various methods to determine if the current diagnostic methods are also insufficient for voided specimens. Because the frequency of patients attending the clinic reporting UTI will vary from day to day, expect to be in the lab for a full day in case a sample is obtained. In the down time, we have numerous other closely related projects that could always use extra help. Through this work, you will learn basic clinical microbiology techniques, get clinical research experience, be exposed to clinical, basic science, and clinical microbiology settings, and learn basic bioinformatics skills. The work that is done can be immediately translated into a hospital setting and be used to help diagnose patients with UTI more accurately, ultimately preventing prolonged infection and even death.