Villanova Research Opportunities

At Villanova Univeristy, students have the opportunity to conduct research under the mentorship and guidance of distinguished faculty. Below are research projects developed by faculty research mentors who are seeking research assistants. Applicants do not need substantial experience as they will serve as research assistants to faculty mentors.

Application Instructions

 To apply for a research assistantship, please complete the following steps:

1.       Review the research projects in the table below.

2.       Identify a research project that interests you.

*(If you do not find a project that matches your interest, please contact Jane Morris at for a meeting).

3.       Submit a resume and cover letter directly to the Faculty Research Mentor via the e-mail address provided in the table.

  • Please include in your one page resume your GPA in addition to your academic, professional, and relevant experiences and skills. If you are freshman, please include your high school GPA and SAT/ACT scores
  • Please include in your one page cover letter your motivations and qualifications for this research assistantship.

4.       The Faculty Research Mentor will review your application materials (resume and cover letter) and will respond to you.

Department & Faculty Research Mentor  Project Title & Description  Position Description


Michael Russell

Faire des trous oursins de forage dans les roches?

A key question about sea urchins raised by French naturalists in the early 19th century remains unanswered. These invertebrates are keystone species in marine habitats. Many occur in pits or cavities (on rock surfaces) that so precisely conform to their external morphology, it appears they carved out these niches in the rock. And therein lies the question – did the urchins excavate the pits? Or did the rock erode in such a way that the urchins just squatted in these cavities? The last summary of this debate was published in 1932 in the Biological Review. It traces the debate back to 1827 and a series of 14 papers from French journals, e.g., Annales des Sciences Naturelles. However, there are no data in these or subsequent publications to evaluate the “bio-erosion” hypothesis. We recently concluded a year-long experiment showing that purple urchins can excavate rock and I am preparing a manuscript. An undergraduate with an interest in marine biology that can translate the early French literature would complement this work nicely.

French-Speaking Student with an interest in Marine Biology (does not have to be a Biology major) The Russell Lab in Biology recently completed a long-term experiment - Faire des trous oursins de forage dans les roches? (or – Do sea urchins drill holes in rocks?). The literature concerning this question in marine biology dates back to 1827.  Much of the early literature is in French.

The responsibilities of the Freshman Match Program student would be two-fold:

1)      Translate the key elements of the early French literature into English.

2)      Become part of an active lab studying the evolutionary-ecology of marine invertebrates (e.g., participate in lab meetings and assist with maintaining seawater systems and marine animals)

Civil & Environmental Engineeing

Bridget Wadzuk

 Implementing and evaluating stormwater control measures in Philadelphia

Working with Professors John Komlos, Robert Traver, Bridget Wadzuk and Andrea Welker and the Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership, we will evaluate stormwater control measures on campus, currently under investigation, and will work with the Philadelphia Water Department on implementing, monitoring and analyzing performance of urban stormwater control measures as part of their Green Cities, Clean Waters Program. One method to mitigate negative impacts of stormwater pollution (flooding and poor water quality, especially associated with combined sewers (storm and waste sewers) is installing stormwater control measures within the watershed to provide source control before runoff during a rain event enters sewers and streams. There is concern over long-term performance and needed maintenance, especially the cost of operation and maintenance. Monitoring of systems will enable smart decision making about the best technology for an application.

We are seeking a student who can work well with other students, but also can work independently on data analysis. The student must have a basic working knowledge of Excel. There will be some field work, including collecting samples and installing and maintaining sensors and sites. We work when there is rain, and on dry days to maintain sites. Training in data analysis and field work will be provided. The student must be dedicated, hard-working, enthusiastic and not afraid to get their hands dirty.

Geography & the Environment

Lisa Rodrigues

Seasonality and variability in coral physiology: A comparative biochemical assessment of one year of growth in three species

Underlying coral physiology can be an important predictor of how successfully a coral colony is able to survive under stressful environmental conditions, including increased seasurface temperature that can lead to coral bleaching.  There is often a wide range of variability between and within species that are impacted.   To better understand the natural background variability of coral physiology, coral colonies representing three coral species were tagged and monitored for a period of one year.  At 0, 3, 6, and 12 months during this monitoring period, small fragments were collected from each colony for analyses of physiological parameters to assess the health status of the coral host and of its symbiotic algae.  Together, these data will provide much-needed basic biological information on the seasonality of coral physiology across different species and an assessment of the natural variability within species.


Under the guidance of Dr. Rodrigues, the freshman research assistant will be responsible for:

-          Conducting basic laboratory methodologies from coral fragments collected at 3, 6, and 12 months of the study (fragments from 0 months have been previously analyzed), specifically for extracting lipids, carbohydrates, and protein in the coral host and chlorophyll in the symbiotic algae.

-          Graphing and analyzing data using statistical software

-          Having a willingness to learn laboratory and statistical techniques, a positive attitude, and a curiosity for scientific inquiry.  


Judith Giesberg

Have You Seen My Mother?  Finding Slavery’s Missing People

Between 1864-1870, former slaves took out more than four hundred “Information Wanted” advertisements in the Christian Recorder, a widely circulated black newspaper published in Philadelphia, hoping to locate loved ones lost in slavery. The ads reveal slavery’s profound disruption to black family life and the frenetic pace at which owners sold off and relocated individual members of families before and during the war.  Mothers looked for children, husbands looked for wives, and children looked for parents.  A preliminary examination of these ads makes it possible to draw a couple of conclusions.  First, freedwomen and men drew bright lines around their interior worlds of love and family shielding them from those outside who had sought to deny them those things.  And, second, writing the ads allowed freedwomen and men to articulate a sense of belonging.  Freed people actively and avidly reestablished relationships, formed new dependencies, and spun new webs of belonging. With the help of an undergraduate research fellow, I would like to begin to trace the authors—and perhaps those for whom they searched—through the online census available on  I would like to find those former slaves who found each other and to perhaps reunite some now who did not.

My freshman research assistant will be responsible for maintaining an excel database with information gleaned from postwar censuses, beginning with 1870.  S/he will complete a multi-census search on each of the want ads advertisers, and record the findings, including when and where they are found and with whom they are living.  If time allows, the research assistant will do the same for the names of those who went missing.  There are a few tricks to searching out former slaves in the census, including being keenly aware of how racial identity was often misidentified and misrepresented by enumerators.  Former slaves, some of them who had fled slavery, would have had little reason to correct an enumerator who identified them as white—and they might have even tried to hide their identity in other ways.  The project would require some sleuthing, but I know from experience that it is immensely rewarding to be able to solve history’s small mysteries.


Michael Brown

Exploring the Animal Mind

In my laboratory, we do experiments to examine fundamental psychological processes by studying simple behaviors in rats and bees.   These include learning, memory, spatial cognition and social cognition.   Currently our experiments with rats are focused on how information about where to find food is transferred socially between two rats searching and competing for the same hidden food.   Our experiments have shown that rats learning about the places where another rat is searching for food, remember those places, and use these social memories to search more efficiently for food.    Current and future experiments are designed to explore the details of social memory.    Our work with honey bees and bumblebees is also concerned with social and spatial memory, but also with the question of whether bees learn abstract concepts (in particular, the concept of “sameness”).   Bees are tested in behavioral experiments, in which they make choices based on visual displays that are identical or different.  Their choices reveal the extent to which they recognize the abstract properties of the displays.

Freshman research assistants would assist with conducting experimental procedures with rats and/or bees.   This would include observing animals and recording their behavior live and on video records.  In addition, assistants would attend weekly laboratory meetings with Professor Brown, graduate assistants and other undergraduate research assistants in the laboratory at which experiments are planned and the results from experiments are discussed.   Research assistants would have an opportunity to participate in the analysis, interpretation and dissemination of results from the experiments in which they participate.

(Note: participation in experiments with live animals requires completion of an institutional health form and online training program required of anyone who handles live research animals at Villanova)