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June 26, 2020

If you are interested in applying to the Summer Research Academy, contact Emily Cunningham. The 2021 application has not been posted. Download descriptions of past research projects here to get a sense of the work in each discipline. 

Summer STEM Research Academy




Summer Research Academy

Each summer, faculty and students come together at Mercy College to work on authentic research projects in the Summer Research academy. This program is for STEM Scholars at WCC, but is also open to Mercy students who are interested in gaining research experience. Summer research has many benefits for students: gaining hands on experience in STEM fields will aid in success in graduate school and other career pathways. 

View the most recent research groups' presentations! You can review the Computer Science, Cybersecurity and Math presentations, which were given on the morning of June 19, 2020, and the Biology and Psychology presentations, given in the afternoon.  You can learn more about the individual projects from our STEM Peer Mentors who participated in the research and share about that experience in the articles below. 

Neurobiology Research

NEUROPROTECTION AND THE Nrf2 TRANSCRIPTON FACTOR 

-- Angie Jaramillo, Peer STEM Mentor 

            This summer I had the honor of being part of the Mercy College Summer Research Academy. As a biology major going into her junior year this upcoming semester, the Summer Research Academy was a great way to garner research experience that would not only serve for my knowledge but for my medical school resume also. Being able to participate in the task of researching, navigating through databases and reading scientific journals, not only have I expanded my own thought processes, but I can use these skills to help any academic endeavor I embark on. Not to mention, we get a $600 stipend for ourselves!

            I was part of Dr. Renee Haskew-Layton’s research group. Our overall group project was based on potential brain therapeutics involving the Nrf2 transcription factor (turn on transcription of genes) and the LRRC8 gene, with a specific focus on the subunit LRRC8A in the astrocytes and neurons (type of brain cells) of the brain. Nrf2 is a transcription factor that binds to the ARE (antioxidant response element) promoter region in the astrocyte’s nucleus in response to oxidative stress (cell has accumulation of ROS - reactive oxygen species - which can destroy cells by removing electrons). Our hypothesis is that Nrf2 regulates the transcription of LRRC8A and that LRRC8A is part of the antioxidant gene pathway.

         LRRC8A release glutamate in the neuron, a precursor of glutathione (GSH). Antioxidant genes are involved in the synthesis (using) of the antioxidant molecule GSH. Antioxidants can help combat oxidative stress from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, etc. If LRRC8A is regulated by Nrf2, it must contain the ARE and with this, we aim to learn more about the increasing antioxidant response of astrocytes in order to learn more about their role in protecting neurons, which can prove to be beneficial when studying treatments for brain disease.

            Due to the different elements encompassed in our research, we were split into different subgroups within our group. My group was tasked to compare the protein and nucleotide sequences of the LRRC8 gene and its subunits A, B, C, D and E for the human, mouse and chicken. The chicken is the organism we will use in our research due to ethics, availability and due to not having an animal facility on campus. The mouse is the model organism in which to do research off of, so we were to compare how close the chicken is to the human and mouse genome as the human and mouse have a lot of similarities. In order to compare the different type of sequences within the three organisms, we had to search through the databases available on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/. From here, we would navigate and find the comparisons for each subunit.

         I found that the chicken was 95% similar to the human in LRRC8A, 78% to the human in LRRC8B, 91% similar to the human in LRRC8C and 88% similar to the human in LRRC8D in the protein alignment, which is what I was tasked to do. My other research partner covered the nucleotide sequences. We also found that LRRC8E has not been sequenced in the chicken, yet. It would be interesting to do a research project on sequencing the LRRC8E chicken gene.

            With all the information garnered, we were able to make sure our presentation was a success and was accurate! Of course, as everyone else, I had the presentation day jitters. However, as future scientists or STEM academics, we will be continuing to present research and of course be ready to involve ourselves in academic arguments, so we might as well get used to presenting!

         I am grateful to my mentor Dr. Haskew-Layton for all the knowledge she has instilled in me this summer and for all my colleagues at TEAM STEM for informing me of this wonderful opportunity. I cannot wait to see what the future holds and what other opportunities will come my way!

 

Image: Mouse gene, Apo-LRRC8A in MSP2N2 nanodisc constricted state

Psychology Research

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN EPISTEMIC PERSPECTIVES, SOCIAL MEDIA USE, AND ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE

-- Emmett Warmbrand, Peer STEM Mentor

The Summer Research Academy for the year 2020 started on the off foot. Covid-19 in full swing meant that many things needed to be amended for the program to simply work. Thanks to the efforts of everyone on the STEM team it was a great success with a record turnout. That being said one of the caveats of this year's SRA was that it was held online and it was very apparent that it was lacking for a number of reasons.

Don’t get me wrong this year was absolutely comparable but sadly comparable doesn't necessarily mean the same. The pace and intensity of the research felt the same to me, yet having our interactions online kept us from improvising and sharing work properly. In the years prior I could swing around in my chair and share progress and ideas with my peers and that was lost this time. This combined with the stifling atmosphere of zoom meetings resulted in the cooperative part of the research being lost for me. As the academy came to  a close when it came time to present our work the zoom meeting format wasn’t conducive to questions from our peers or the audience and might have left some people in the dark about our individual projects. Thankfully I have the chance now to talk about the experience I had and hopefully answer some of the possible lingering questions. 

We had two research questions; Do epistemic perspectives moderate the relationship between social media use and academic performance and does social media use moderate the relationship between identity development and anxiety among emerging adults? I worked on the former and this is what we needed to cover in order to have an understanding of the research question.

 Epistemology is the field of psychology where we strive to understand people’s relationship with knowledge. Some examples of what is discussed in this field of study are; How someone knows information, what the truth value of said information is and why do they believe this information in the first place? In early research it was believed that someone's higher level thinking was developed over time as they aged. In this context a person would start with objective binary thinking like whether something is right/wrong or true/false, eventually moving to subjective interpretations like matters of opinion and then finally to the ability to critically evaluate information on a spectrum. Many researchers have come up with a new interpretation where instead of progressive levels, these different aspects are actually perspectives. This concept allows more fluidity. 

With all this in mind my group looked at the intersection between these epistemic perspectives, social media use and academic performance. Our reason for thinking this was that if someone has a certain perception of incoming information, it might affect their reasoning when deciphering that information. If the person who is viewing the news only perceives the information as either right or wrong then what happens if the newscaster and or media outlet tells outright lies or omits pieces of the story? That logical pitfall might affect a person's  academic performance. 

Using established measures for epistemic perspective and surveys for social media use and GPA we ran statistical analysis and did not find much that was definitive. There were very small positive correlations found between people who scored high as a multiplist and higher usage of social media in general and for news. There was also a small negative correlation between people who scored high as an absolutist and academic performance. These results slightly imply that multiplists use social media a bunch and absolutists are less good at school but we cannot take any of this at face value. Because the results were so small we need a much larger population to see if this is an actual trend or anomaly. Same thing goes for the statistical regressions we ran, they indicated something was up with absolutists moderating social media use and GPA but with only a hundred people there is no responsible way to call it conclusive. 

The only way to proceed with these findings is to keep expanding the participants to see if what we had was only a flash in the pan. With research that involves human participants there will always be a level of unpredictability and the only way to account for that is to keep trying. Covid-19 also added to that unpredictability this year because it changed the internet usage habits of everyone involved. If I were to continue this research into a PhD dissertation I would need to add more intricate questions to the surveys we had to try and account for some vagaries we had. Other than that I might need to change the statistical analysis used to view the data from more angles. Adding to the body of research is just as valuable as coming up with anything conclusive on the matter.   

 

Computer Science Research

Summer 2017 Research Project:
"Big Data: An Analysis of NYPD Motor Vehicle Collisions - July 2012 to June 2017"

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Narasim Banavara

Research Skills:

  • Utilize statistical techniques to understand and process big data
  • Make predictions for the future
  • Software development
  • Study and utilize R