Loyola University Chicago

The Graduate School

Summer 2016 Research Mentoring 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 – RMP will help cover commuting costs.

Project Description: Chromium exposure happens daily, it is in the food and water we ingest, it is released by industrial activities, and it is in consumer products such as make up and cleaning materials. Chromium’s interaction with the human body is unusual because it has two main oxidation states with extremely different characteristics. The trivalent form is proposed to be necessary for glucose metabolism while the hexavalent form is toxic and carcinogenic. The trivalent form can be found in nutritional supplements and is added to intravenous solutions. Zebrafish have been used increasingly in laboratories due to several advantages including rapid development, transparent embryos and they share a large amount of homology with the human genome. By utilizing zebrafish as a model organism, toxicity to trivalent chromium was identified in zebrafish embryos. Hexavalent chromium is known to be toxic to zebrafish embryos however there is little information about the effect trivalent chromium has on zebrafish. Due to the assumption that trivalent chromium is essential to humans, it is imperative to understand how this element interacts with the human body. Further exposures studies will be conducted on zebrafish embryos in order to characterize the response to trivalent chromium and elucidate a mechanism of toxicity.

Undergraduate Work: The undergraduate will learn how to prepare chromium solutions and set up zebrafish embryos for exposure. Knowledge of zebrafish will be taught in order for the undergraduate to identify mortality and biological markers such as reduced mobility, skin deterioration, and twitching. In parallel to collecting these observations, the student will gather images and videos that demonstrate the toxic effects of trivalent chromium. The student will need to understand how to apply statistical analysis such as analysis of variance in order to ensure the significance of results. The student will also assist in performing literature searches in order to gather more information on the chemistry of chromium in biological systems and formulate a mechanism of toxicity. Due to each exposure taking six days, the student will design and perform at least seven exposures during the summer (one exposure a week). All images, videos, and observations need to be compiled in an organized fashion by toxicant concentration. The data collected will need to quantified and converted into graphs that exhibit the concentration dependent effects of trivalent chromium. Due to the amount of tasks that need to be completed in parallel, the undergraduate researcher will be expected to work full days during the summer program.

Project Description: As one of America’s prominent gateway cities, Chicago has a rich history of immigration. While newcomers from the nineteenth century onward increasingly called Chicago their home, they often faced continual hardships and unexpected occurrences. To meet the changing needs of “new immigrants” an array of community-based organizations (CBOs), beginning in the late 1800s, were established to aid in both the arrival and integration of immigrants. These organizations held a common purpose: to provide resources for fellow immigrants within the ethnic communities and ultimately aid with integration into the host society (Guo & Guo, 2011). Today, these organizations continue to thrive, with recent statistics showing over 500 community-based organizations in the Chicago region alone. Since their inception, CBOs have greatly expanded their offerings, shifting from insular programs and resources, to a variety of educational courses, such as English as a second language, heritage language, citizenship, computer literacy, cultural arts, pre-school, coding, and after-school tutoring. This study will specifically focus on educational programs at CBOs, aiming to not only further understand programs offered, but also what has attracted each organization to adopt specific courses and curriculum. I will explore two Chicago ethnic community-based organizations of South Korean and Polish origin to compare and contrast the various roles of education services for immigrants. The research will uncover how these services have evolved and ask what has been the catalyst for these changes. Utilizing an embedded case study, I will comparatively analyze the associations to finally shed light onto these education resources, while simultaneously uncovering their pivotal role as the voice of the local in a multicultural and pluralistic society.

Undergraduate Work: For the summer I would like the undergraduate student to assist me in my fieldwork. I will be conducting research at two community-based organizations (CBOs). I would like my research partner to assist me in setting up interviews with administrators, teachers, and students. Although my protocols will already be established, I would like help with fine-tuning questions. Also, I would like to work with my partner throughout all the stages of the data collection process, including assisting with interviews with administrators, students and teachers; observations of classes, document analyses of curriculum and reports, transcribing interviews, and finally analyzing all the data to uncover important themes.

Project Description: Children of low-income Mexican-origin immigrants experience multiple chronic stressors related to poverty and immigration. This accumulation of stress is related to Mexican-origin children exhibiting higher rates of anxiety than children in other ethnic groups. A likely factor contributing to this anxiety is HPA axis activity, which causes a buildup of cortisol in the body. Although HPA axis activity has been established as a biomarker of chronic stress, which can lead to problems with anxiety, not all low-income Mexican-origin children develop anxiety, so there may be another factor determining which children develop anxiety. Children who develop anxiety disorders tend to be vigilant for threats in their environment, attending to threatening stimuli significantly more than other types of stimuli as they process information. This attentional bias to threat determines the trajectory of children’s anxious behavior later in life and could be a moderator of the pathway from HPA axis activity to anxiety; however, attentional bias to threat has not been studied as a potential moderator distinguishing children who develop anxiety from those who do not. The current research focuses on both HPA axis activity and attentional bias to threat in order to explain the development of anxiety in Mexican-origin children.

Undergraduate Work: The undergraduate mentee working with Stephanie will have the opportunity to become trained on all of the steps involved in conducting clinical research with highly stressed samples using cutting-edge neurobehavioral and physiological research measures. This includes learning the following skills: (1) conceptualization of research questions, (2) research design, (3) literature review and integration in scientific writing, (4) data management and analysis, (5) interpretation of results, and (6) dissemination of findings. We will cover these topics throughout the summer in our weekly meetings and in the completion of the ongoing activities contributing to this research. The mentee will work one-on-one with Stephanie and will be invited to attend weekly lab meetings with Dr. Cate Santiago’s research team. Finally, the mentee will work with Stephanie to interpret preliminary research findings and present them at both the Undergraduate and Graduate Research Symposia.

Project Description: Our lab primarily studies acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a hematopoietic cancer that arises from myeloid progenitor cells. AML is generally a disease of the elderly and is diagnosed at a median age of 66 years. As a result, AML is very difficult to treat with intensive chemotherapy, which is normally comprised of combination cytarabine and anthracycline chemotherapy and is very difficult for patients to tolerate. As a result, many research efforts are directed toward investigating novel pathways by which AML can be targeted. My research focuses on a potential role for Toll-like receptor (TLR) signaling in AML. Normally, TLRs function on immune cells to detect conserved molecular patterns during bacterial or viral infection or tissue damage and activate an appropriate immune response. We use both human and mouse leukemia cell lines to study this pathway. Using these model systems, my research has shown that loss of TLR signaling impairs leukemia cell proliferation and colony formation, as well as their ability to cause leukemia in mice. We expect that further study of this pathway will clarify its contribution to AML pathogenesis.

Undergraduate Work: We will do a variety of experiments to further study TLR function in AML in vitro on our mouse cell lines. To do so, we will treat leukemia cells in suspension culture with specific inhibitors of TLR signaling and examine their effects using western blotting, Wright-Giemsa staining, and flow cytometry to measure their effect on cell death, surface marker expression, and transcription factor activation. Prior lab experience is preferred but not necessary, and students will be expected to learn the techniques described above and to plan experiments with appropriate controls. For the most part, this project will require a full day of work, but we are flexible and will work to meet the needs of the student as well.

Project Description: Doctrines of divine providence in Christianity are affirmations that ultimately God is in control of everything that happens. Usually theories of divine providence depend on a powerful God capable of bringing all of creation to a good end.  However, many thinkers from the field of continental philosophy of religion have critiqued the conception of God as all-powerful. They offer an alternative “weak” God who can call, but not coerce. This dissertation attempts to develop a concept of providence within weak God theology through an understanding of the Holy Spirit which is non-totalitarian and dependent on creation’s response. Providence, therefore, empowers human action rather than ensuring victory despite our actions. Some of the implications for this reimagined providence are explored in the dissertation’s conclusion by applying providence and weak God theology to the current ecological crisis.

Undergraduate Work: After the student gains familiarity with the project and parts of the proposal, the student will be working on several tasks which will expose her/him to a wide range of research-related skills used in the humanities. The student’s main task will be to research possible case-studies on environmental issues to be used in the conclusion. After we jointly choose the best case-study, the student will work on gathering and evaluating theological responses to that issue. By the end of the summer, the student and I should be prepared to present at Loyola’s spring research symposium on theological approaches to the case-study. In addition to the main project, the student will assist with several other areas of research including developing a chapter bibliography and preparing work for publication.  Through these tasks, the student will learn about the subject matter, gain familiarity with ATLA and other important theology research databases, and gain familiarity with journal tiers, top journals in the field of theology, and submission guidelines and formats.

Project Description: With the influx of technology in our society, writing has become essential not only for academic achievement, but for social (e.g., texting, social media) and professional success (e.g., emails, written reports). Past research has shown that many children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have difficulty with writing.  However, few studies have comprehensively examined the specific strengths and weaknesses in texts produced by children with ASD, especially regarding non-fictional writing. Even less is known about how the writing skills of children with ASD can be independently supported (i.e., using assistive technology), and the root causes of these writing impairments, such as language level, motor ability, or cognitive processing. Therefore for my Dissertation, I aim to bridge critical gaps in knowledge by 1) comprehensively assessing the development of writing skills in children with ASD in comparison to a neurotypical control group; 2) assessing the ability of assistive technology to support the writing of various text genres for children with ASD; 3) identifying the children with ASD who benefit the most from using assistive technology writing software, taking into account age, language, handwriting, and cognitive processing abilities. Knowledge gained from this study will be the first step in identifying the ways in which assistive technology can support non-fictional writing, which in turn may facilitate the removal of barriers to higher education, and successful participation in the workforce for individuals with ASD.

Undergraduate Work: My goal as a research mentor is to provide first-hand experience with all aspects of the research process, giving you insight into what graduate school and conducting psychology research entails.  During the summer program, you will be asked to help conduct literature searches in relevant journals (e.g., Child Development, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders), as well as read research articles related to my Dissertation in order to become knowledgeable in the purpose of the research project.  You will also assist in the preparation of study materials, the creation of the SPSS database (statistical software used to record and analyze data), participant recruitment, and the coding/entry of data.  After completing appropriate training, you will gain experience with data collection, working with typically developing children, as well as children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. At the end of the summer, I will teach you how to conduct descriptive and inferential analyses on the collected data using SPSS.  Finally, during the spring of 2017, I will work with you to put together a presentation or poster for the LUROP Research Symposium.

Project Description: My dissertation examines the causes and consequences of party group switching in the European Parliament (EP). “Party groups” are the main political unit in the EP. They act as an umbrella organization that houses political parties from similar party families across all European Union (EU) member states. For example, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who affiliate with the Green Party in their national system will sit together as part of the Green party group in the EP. Similarly, in order to maximize their political power and gain leverage over other groups, all of the Communists, Social Democrats, National Conservatives, and Christian Democrats will sit together as a unified party group. Thus, in the EP, ideological party groups are more important for political competition than nationality. The goal of my research is to determine why an MEP would begin sitting with the Greens and then switch over to the Communists, or alternatively why would someone start with the Christian Democrats and then switch into the National Conservatives. Further, I am interested in discovering whether or not MEPs change their voting behavior after they switch groups. Do Communists who switch to the Social Democrats become more moderate, or do they act the same and simply change their political label? This project, therefore, studies the EP as an institution that is in semi-perpetual motion. Every five years close to 15 percent of MEPs switch groups. My goal is to determine why this behavior happens so frequently and what significance it has on political competition within the European Parliament.

Undergraduate Work: To study party group switching is to engage with the European Parliament as a dynamic institution. A single MEP may affiliate with three or four different groups during his or her career. This instability leads to complexity, and it is difficult to grasp these movements by looking at static models. Creating clean data visualizations which provide viewers with a clear narrative at a single glance can cut through this complexity. The goal of this summer mentor research project is to take the vast amount of data already assembled and present it in such a way that it appears simple and informative. The primary goal is to create a timeline for each MEP that reflects when, and between which groups, a switch occurred.  By aggregating all of these timelines into a single map, the result will be a complete, graphic history of the EP as an institution in motion. Students with a background in computer science, statistics, or political science will be equal participants in this project, free to explore different visualization techniques. We will focus on working with Tableau, but other software can also be tested. At the conclusion of this program, the student will have learned how to manage large data sets, how to present data in an interesting way, and most importantly, how learning new techniques and innovative analytical methods is the key to becoming a successful student and social scientist.

Project Description: Cancer, expected to claim more than 500,000 American lives in 2015, is one of the most lethal diseases and a challenge for the medical community. One of the most promising approaches emerged over past decade to treat cancer is Cancer Immunotherapy, which utilizes patient’s immune system to recognize and kill the cancer cells. This approach, although a huge step forward in a fight against cancer, has limitations such as lower clinical response rate (~30%) and tumor recurrence. One major reason for these limitations is that cytotoxic T cell (CTL), which recognizes and kills the tumor cells, faces suppressive environment around the tumor due to the presence of inhibitory molecule-‘transforming growth factor-β’ (TGF-β). Thus, opposing the effects of TGF-β on cytotoxic T cells is a plausible approach to enhance and sustain the beneficial effects of ‘Cancer Immunotherapy’. Our laboratory studies a stimulatory receptor expressed on cytotoxic T cells named Natural killer group 2 member D (NKG2D), which enhances their proliferation, function and survival. My dissertation project proposes to investigate if engaging NKG2D receptor makes cytotoxic T cells resistant to the suppressive effects of TGF- β. Further, I propose to find out the molecular mechanism by which NKG2D receptor opposes TGF-β’s effects on cytotoxic T cells so that the findings from this study could be easily applied in clinics. Overall, this research will put on the table a novel therapeutic strategy to protect CTLs from TGF-β’s immunosuppressive effects and treat cancer patients more effectively.

Undergraduate Work: One of the most crucial parts of my dissertation project is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms by which NKG2D activation makes cytotoxic T cells (CTLs) resistant to suppressive effects of TGF-β. In preliminary experiments, I found that NKG2D activation increases the protein levels of regulator of G protein signaling 3 (RGS3), which inhibits the effects of TGF-β in CTLs. These findings suggest that NKG2D opposes the effects of TGF-β by up-regulating RGS3 in CTLs. My mentee will assist me in further investigating role of RGS3 in this phenomenon by working on two aspects. First, mentee will perform quantitative real time PCR (qRT-PCR) to determine if up-regulation of RGS3 in NKG2D activated CTLs is at the mRNA level. Second goal of the research will be to find out the signaling pathway responsible for elevating RGS3 levels. Typically, NKG2D exerts its effects on CTLs by activating two signaling pathways namely PI3-kinase (PI3K) and Grb2-SOS-Ras. My mentee will help me in identifying the pathway responsible for increasing RGS3 by carrying out western blot analysis. Upon completion of this program, mentee will get an exposure to the field of ‘Tumor Immunology’ and learn to perform key molecular biology techniques such as isolating mRNA and protein from live cells, qRT-PCR, and western-blotting. Mentee is expected to work from Monday-Friday for 6-8 hours every day at the Maywood campus. Length of this research program is 6-8 weeks.

Project Description: Mentoring programs are increasingly popular interventions for promoting positive development in Black and Latino youth from high risk environments. Although effective when their relationships last, adult mentors have had difficulties maintaining their mentoring relationships due to other responsibilities and cultural disconnect. Due to their increased availability and the significant influence of peers among youth, older adolescents serving as cross age peer mentors have been recognized as a viable option to overcome the issues of adult mentoring relationships. Cross age peer mentoring refers to an older youth serving as a mentor for a younger mentee. Although not as widely studied as adult mentoring, this relationship has been found to have a beneficial effect for both the mentor and mentee. The current study seeks to better illuminate this bidirectional benefit by focusing on one half of the relationship; the experience of cross age peer mentoring by Black and Latino mentors from low income communities. This is an important untapped area of study as peer mentoring interventions have the potential to have an expansive impact affecting both older and younger youth. More information is now needed regarding the process of mentoring as it relates to mentors. The current study will examine how the helper therapy principle (a theory explaining the positive development experienced by individuals who take on a helping role) relates to mentors’ experience of the mentor-mentee bond. As the connection between mentor and mentee is considered the foundational component of a mentoring relationship that facilitates growth in key outcome areas, gaining a better understanding of the factors that contribute to or result from this bond can help interventions maximize the benefit for participating peer mentors.

Undergraduate Work: The undergraduate research will help with the maintenance and evaluation of 4 active mentoring programs involving Black and Latino youth on the South and West Sides of Chicago. During the summer, two of the four sites will need to have a 6 month data collection conducted. Weekly mentoring sessions during which mentors and mentees meet and build a relationship with each other will be ongoing. The undergraduate research assistant will be exposed to several aspects of intervention implementation as well as the general research process. The student will work with me to: 1) gather and identify relevant studies recently published on the experience of mentors and others in a helping role, 2) attend mentoring sessions and help provide support to mentoring matches, 3) learn preliminary data analysis with existing data, 4) assist in data collection procedures including the organization of data collection materials and/or the proctoring of survey administration, 5) accompany me on meetings with community collaborators to help plan supplemental programming including parent outreach and special events for mentors.  Furthermore, the student will help me to develop a poster for a professional conference based on the results of the preliminary research. The student will learn the basics of data analysis in a statistical program (e.g. SPSS) and will receive mentoring on creating a curriculum vitae and applying to graduate school programs. Hours will be flexible but will include weekly, 1.5 hour team meetings.

Project Description: This qualitative project seeks to examine what factors (societal and institutional), influence the leadership identity development of Women of Color (WOC; i.e., those who identify as women from racial (i.e., defined by physiological characteristics like skin color, phenotype, and hair) and ethnic (i.e., defined by cultural factors like language, nationality, and ancestry) minority groups in the United States) college students. Specifically, this project will explore how WOC collegians come to understand leadership and ultimately what factors inform their engagement or disengagement with leadership while in college.  This project is important because the struggle for gender and racial equity in our society, broadly and within the realm of leadership, remains an issue.  WOC have historically been disproportionately affected by systematic oppression rooted in racial, ethnic, and gender bias. Navigating these biases influence how WOC collegians engage with the college environment, and develop their academic, social, and leadership skills. As collegiate WOC enter the pipeline to professional fields, possessing a better understanding of how they lead and employing approaches to harness their leadership skills can positively shape the workforce and society in which we live.

Undergraduate Work: The undergraduate research student will provide assistance with preparation of the research protocol for first round interviews and focus groups. Contingent upon IRB approval, the student scholar will participate in collecting data alongside the researcher.  Serving in this capacity, the student scholar will be exposed to narrative inquiry and grounded theory methodological approaches.  The student scholar will learn how to conduct data analyses by performing preliminary data sorting and coding.  In addition to these duties, the student scholar may assist with additional literature reviews, based on preliminary findings from the first phase of the study, and help prepare for future rounds of interviews and focus groups.