Villanova Match Research Program for Freshmen

The Villanova Match Research program provides opportunities for motivated freshmen to pursue undergraduate research in the Spring 2015 semester. Freshmen applicants do not need substantial experience and will serve as research assistants to faculty mentors. If selected for the Match program, freshmen students will conduct research for 10 hours per week for 10 weeks for which they will receive a $1000 stipend for the Spring 2015 semester.


Application Instructions

 To apply for the Villanova Match program, 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 search here for more opportunities and/or contact Catherine Stecyk at for a meeting).

3.       Submit a resume, cover letter, and unofficial transcript directly to the Faculty Research Mentor via the e-mail address provided in the table by January 30, 2015.

  • Please include in your one page resume your first semester GPA, high school GPA, and SAT/ACT scores in addition to your academic, professional, and relevant experiences and skills.
  • 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 contact you to interview for the position in early February.




Project Title



Faculty Mentor




Digital Politics

The title of this study is Digital Politics. It analyzes websites promoting coercive and persuasive appeals from democratic and authoritarian regimes to see whether the incidence of persuasive vs coercive appeals differs between the two groups. This analysis is important due to the rise of social media. Digital Politics presents ways that digital information and communication technologies (ICTs) (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube), issue appeals for political action among nations, groups, and individuals to maintain, blunt, or nullify political power. Digital Politics stems from the work of Innis and McLuhan, who theorized about how spatio-temporal aspects of communication systems influence political behavior. In the 2000s, it is a commonplace that the distribution of ICTs is increasing. Several questions therefore emerge: Has the diffusion of ICTs to users decentralized political power? Have ICTs accelerated the pace of politics? Is ICT diffusion the same for authoritarian regimes and democracies? Is the political use of ICTs the same within nations that fit either of these two types? Asking how ICTs impact access to political power is another way of asking how political regimes impact access to ICTs. The goal of this research will be to provide approaches for answering these and related questions


The freshman research assistant will sample, download, and analyze website content for the incidence of persuasive and coercive appeals featured on websites of selected democratic vs authoritarian regimes. The research will use content analysis methodology to perform the analysis on the verbal and pictorial content present online for selected sources. The results will be tabulated and compared to determine if there are significant differences in the incidence of persuasive vs coercive appeals among the sources isolated for analysis.


Len Shyles



Desired and feared selves of formerly trafficked women: The role of workplace stigma in determining achieved selves


This project aims to better understand the ways in which victims of human trafficking may create desired and feared selves when imagining their future identity as employees in a traditional workplace environment. The previous literature on past, desired, feared and future selves does not measure whether or not individuals are able to successfully attain desired selves and/or if feared selves are successfully avoided. Specifically, potential employees with stigmatized identities (in this case, those with a history of involvement in commercial sex trade) may face serious challenges when entering the workforce based on others’ perceptions of their identity, which are outside of their control. The current study will examine the interplay of stigma, imagined selves, and achieved selves in determining workplace outcomes using a longitudinal, qualitative methodology within a sample of human trafficking victims in a year-long rehabilitation program. This paper will ultimately be published in a psychology (industrial/organizational) or management/business journal.


The research assistant will be primarily tasked with: 1) literature review and creation of article summaries for relevant articles as needed and 2) the transcription of interview data for study participants. With regard to the transcription, the research assistant will listen to recorded interviews and type the contents of the interviews into Word documents, so that they can be qualitatively coded and analyzed for thematic consistency at a later time. This skill is very marketable, given that graduate students working with faculty conducting qualitative research often need to effectively transcribe data prior to analysis. Further, working so closely with data of this nature, while also examining relevant literature linked to the gathered data, allows for a much deeper understanding of the topic area than providing other forms of assistance might. The overall goal is to provide a meaningful experience for the research assistant, which will result in increased knowledge and skills related to the research process. The student interested in this position should be comfortable in dealing with emotionally upsetting material. An interest in workplace psychology or management is also preferred.


Katina Sawyer




Bedlam & Parnassus: The Institutionalization of Midcentury American Poetry


My current research is focused on the completion of my book manuscript, Bedlam & Parnassus: The Institutionalization of Midcentury American Poetry. In it, I connect the institutional structuring of American poetry (its establishment within academic culture, for instance) at midcentury to the institutionalization and mental illness of a range of twentieth-century American poets (Ezra Pound, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton, among others) and argue that modernist and New Critical notions of impersonality underwrite the period’s autobiographical poems of mental breakdown. At present, I am approximately halfway through a major revision of the manuscript. The remaining work focuses on my third and fourth chapters. In the third, I look at the idea of the “body” in the work of Berryman and Weldon Kees, and argue that in their work we can recognize the poet’s body both as a marker of identity and as a record of the period’s containment culture. In the fourth, I investigate the popular idea of “finding one’s voice” as a metaphor for poetic authenticity and argue that while the voices we hear in Plath and Sexton’s poetry are indeed shockingly personal, they are also the products of institutional forms of discipline.


Doing preliminary research into areas that I become interested in (e.g., paintings of Hart Crane for chapter three and recordings of Method acting performances for chapter four).


Finding and photocopying articles and book excerpts that are relevant to the new directions this revision is following.


Checking my citations to make sure—especially as I revise the older draft of the project—that my citations are accurate and consistently formatted.


Corresponding with archives and copyright holders to secure permissions and, in some cases, high-resolution images that I hope to include in my book.


Miscellaneous library errands and organizational tasks related to the completion of the book.


Kamran Javadizadeh




Mechanical Engineering

3D Medical Image Reconstruction of Lumbar Spine Geometry


Finite element (FE) modeling represents a widely adopted evaluation and analysis methodology in biomechanics.  FE models offer several advantages over contemporary in vivo and ex vivo testing techniques. They allow greater flexibility in the selection of loading modes and boundary conditions. Material properties and geometries are can be altered in order to more easily represent changes in tissue structure or degenerative grade. In addition, FE models typically allow for the quantification of internal stresses and strains that may be otherwise difficult or prohibitive to measure with current biomechanical testing techniques. Recently, there have been increased efforts by investigators to develop subject-specific computational models of tissues and joints. This allows for analyses that can be tailored to a specific patient or population, and has useful applications in fields such as orthopedic surgery.

The aim of this project is to develop a subject-specific finite element model of a healthy, adult lumbar spine segment. The geometry of the model will be developed from a series of radiological images taken of the cadaver specimen.


In this project, the student will be responsible for developing a three-dimensional medical image reconstruction of a lumbar vertebra, using μCT images that were previously obtained by the PI. The computational model will be built using the freeware InVesalius. This 3D image reconstruction will ultimately be imported into finite element analysis freeware FEBio, in order to create a subject-specific model.

The student will create a process standard operating procedure so that future student researchers can easily replicate this work. The student is expected to be able to work independently with only moderate supervision.


David Jamison



Civil and Environmental Engineering

Data Analysis to Establish Congestion Management Process 


Traffic congestion is getting progressively worse in the United States and transportation agencies are looking for ways to alleviate congestion. Extensive research has determined the need for using active transportation and demand management (ATDM), as opposed to the traditional technique of responding to congestion and traffic changes after the incident has occurred. To fully implement this new congestion management concept, it is imperative to conduct a study featuring a comprehensive database review that would identify congestion factors as well as estimate the likelihood of congestion occurrence. This paper introduces a pilot study that includes an analysis identifying congestion contribution factors by examining several traffic data sources obtained in the Greater Philadelphia area. The objective of this research is to identify congestion factors and to provide insights as well as to support the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) long term regional planning.


Most of the tasks to be performed will be data search and compiling for study sites – Interstate 476 and Interstate 95. More specifically, major tasks include, but not limited to:

1)         Study sites’ geometric feature extraction from GoogleEarth (e.g., lane number, ramp location, distance between ramps etc.)

2)         From Vehicle Probe Project website, extract traffic operational parameters for the above study sites. This includes: travel time, speed, planning index etc. The aggregation interval range from 1 minute to one hour

3)         Identify travel pattern of the study sites per month, time of the day, and day of week for the past two years (years 2013 and 2014)

4)         Write a report that summarizes the findings of travel pattern based on the data above


Seri Park




Learning Needs and Barriers to Prenatal Care and Prenatal Education among Low-Income High-Risk Minority Women


Prenatal care (PNC) and prenatal education (PNE) is described as a set of healthcare services tailored to meet the individual needs of a pregnant woman and her support person(s) (i.e. family members or friends).  Access and utilization of PNC and PNE have been proven to reduce adverse pregnancy outcomes and complications for the baby including: premature birth and low-birth weight of newborns.  Minority women however, are at greatest risk of adverse outcomes because they have the lowest rates of access and utilization of PNC and PNE. Minority women, particularly African American and Hispanic women, have the greatest rates of high-risk pregnancies specifically preterm birth (12.3%) and their infants are at greater risk of infant morbidity and mortality (7%) compared to Non-Hispanic White and Asian women. In Philadelphia and surrounding low-income communities (Chester, and Norristown), the rates of preterm birth and infant mortality are greater than those of developing countries.


The purpose of this research project is to evaluate the learning needs and to identify barriers to prenatal care and prenatal education among minority women residing in Philadelphia and surrounding low-income communities. Data collected and findings from this study will be used to seek larger funding for the development and implementation of appropriate tailored innovative community-based prenatal education interventions.

Seeking a freshman student who is self-motivated, responsible, professional and detailed oriented to perform the following:

1.         Be able to work with pregnant or postpartum minority women who faces challenges and potential barriers to prenatal care and prenatal education. This student must understand the importance of confidentiality, integrity, and respect for the women.

2.         Be able to conduct literature reviews using the Villanova University library for a variety of databases (i.e. nursing, medical, psychological, and sociological literature).

Be able to assist in the preparation of presentations, papers and future grants.

Amy McKeever




Determining Readiness for Discharge from Skilled Home Health Services: a Mixed Methods Study


Medicare relies upon home health clinicians and physicians to evaluate patient needs and to decide to discharge from home health or recertify patients for additional care. However, there are no national, empirically derived decision support tools to assist in making these common and important decisions. Currently, these decisions are reliant on each individual clinician’s skill to determine readiness for discharge from home health services. Home health clinicians currently have no formal, evidence-based clinical criteria to assist them in determining an older adult’s readiness for discharge. Home health discharge decision support could play a key role in improving the care and health of these vulnerable older adults by developing a systematic, evidence-based mechanism to identify patients who are ready for discharge from home health services versus those who require an additional home health episode(s).

Based on these important considerations, the specific aims of this mixed methods study are to:

1: Identify the clinical, functional, service and socio-demographic factors associated with hospitalization among older adults within 30 days of completing at least one skilled home health episode.

2:  Explore the factors skilled home health patients and their family caregivers perceive as critical when determining readiness for discharge from skilled home health.


Seeking a highly-motivated freshman student who is detailed oriented with excellent time-management skills to perform the following duties with my assistance:  

·          Conduct a literature search

·          Manuscript preparation for publication

·          Prepare a Powerpoint presentation for a professional audience

·          Proofread a completed manuscript(s) for typos, presence of references


A working knowledge of Word, Powerpoint and Excel is preferred


Melissa O’Connor




Regulation of Argonaute-family proteinsimortant for fertility in a nematode germline


Survival of all organisms depends critically on faithful transmission of the genome – the DNA blueprint of life – to the next generation. In animals, transmission of the genetic material requires defense against mobile genetic elements and other molecular parasites that would damage the genome, and also proper development of the germ cells (sperm and egg) that will ultimately carry the genome. Astonishingly, both genome defense and germ cell development depend critically on the function of small noncoding RNA molecules associated with proteins of the Argonaute protein family. Studies in the last few years have begun to unravel the functions of these Argonaute/small RNA complexes, but to date we know very little about how expression of these critical regulators is controlled in germ cells. My lab uses genetics, molecular biology, and comparative genomics approaches to discover the regulatory sequences and molecules that control the timing and tissue specificity of Argonaute and small RNA expression in a model animal.


In this project, the student will use cutting edge techniques to generate fluorescent reporter genes for an Argonaute protein in the PIWI family, as PIWI proteins are particularly important for both genome defense and fertility in diverse animals, including humans. My lab uses the free-living soil nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as a model because of its well-established importance for small RNA biology and because of the excellent suite of genetic tools available. Specifically, the student will use Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and Gibson assembly, both of which are well established in my lab, to produce GFP reporters containing candidate PIWI regulatory sequences. (Time: 4 weeks) Using recently developed CRISPR-based genome engineering technology and germline microinjection, the student will then create transgenic strains of C. elegans carrying these reporter genes (Time: 4 weeks) and will characterize these strains using fluorescence microscopy (Time: 2 weeks).


Elaine Youngman




Root decomposition and productivity across a mangrove – salt marsh ecotone


As the climate warms, mangroves are encroaching into salt marsh ecosystems along the Florida coast. As long as root production is greater than root decomposition, coastal wetlands should accumulate organic matter and avoid submergence from sea level rise. We suspect that mangroves have greater root production than salt marsh grasses, and root productivity could increase coastal resilience to sea level rise. However, warming and the oxygenation of wetland soils by mangrove roots may increase decomposition.


We constructed a warming experiment across a mangrove – salt marsh ecotone within the confines of the Kennedy Space Center. In June 2014, we buried thirty-three 30cm deep peat cores and 154 decomposition bags to measure root productivity and decomposition. We use the peat cores to measure root productivity across one year, and the decomposition bags contain pre-weighed mangrove and salt marsh roots to measure mass loss across one year. We will use the data to parameterize a model that equates coastal elevation with root decomposition subtracted from root production and predict the fate of coastal wetlands under different sea level rise regimes. We will also perform lab analyses to determine the different chemical components of mangrove and salt marsh roots that may affect decomposition rates.


The freshman research assistant will assist with the processing of root cores and decomposition bags that will be collected in March. The 33 root cores must be sieved and the live roots collected, dried and weighed. Afterwards, chemical analyses will be performed to determine the carbon:nitrogen ratio and the amount of phenolics in the root samples, which are indicators of resistance to decomposition. The 54 decomposition bags contain root samples that were placed at the field site in June 2014, and these samples must also be dried, weighed, and analyzed for carbon:nitrogen ratio and phenolics. Additionally, the assistant will help with field preparation, including the construction of new root cores that will be placed at the field site in early March. If their schedule permits, the research assistant will attend weekly lab meetings with other undergraduate and graduate students and Dr. Chapman and Dr. Adam Langley. The research assistant will learn about the ecological theories and methodologies essential to ecosystem ecology research and, more broadly, observe and carry out the scientific process from inception and data collection to dissemination.


Samantha Chapman




Characterization of  b-Hydroxybutyrate Dehydrogenase from Trypanosome Parasites


Trypanosomes are parasitic organisms responsible for global disease, including Chagas Disease and African Sleeping Sickness.   These ancient single-celled eukaryotes are brimming with unusual biochemical features.   Among these, our lab is investigating the parasite protein -hydroxybutyrate dehydrogenase (HBDH).  Only a handful of single-celled eukaryotes have a version of HBDH.  The role of the protein in the parasite is not known, but it is known that HBDH is required for trypanosome survival in certain stages of its lifecycle.

We work with HBDH  from Trypanosoma brucei (causative agent of Sleeping Sickness),  Trypanosoma cruzi (causative agent of Chagas Disease), and bacteria.   Part of our work centers upon how the chemistry is carried out using a small cofactor molecule. The T. brucei enzyme uses cofactors NADH and NADPH, the bacterial HBDH utilizes only NADH, and T. cruzi HBDH has even different specificity.    We are working to define the determinants of cofactor specificity and generate proteins with altered specificity.  

Long-term goal:  Parasite HBDH is both essential and very different from that of the human host; thus, HBDH may ultimately serve as a therapeutic target.  Our work seeks to understand the physiological role of the parasite protein and to understand basic structure-function properties of the protein.


In the portion of the project examining cofactor specificity, students should expect to learn how to express protein in bacteria, purify the protein using chromatography, and then carry out kinetic studies of HBDH using UV-Vis spectroscopy.   Research students will also carry out data analysis, determining several kinetic constants from the data they generate.   If time permits, the chance to learn site directed mutagenesis (i.e. altering bases in the DNA encoding HBDH so that new amino acids are encoded) will be available. 

Ambitious students will also have the opportunity to generate a construct encoding a tagged version of HBDH, which will be expressed in the parasite and used to identify HBDH-interacting proteins.  In this stage of the project, students will learn such skills as PCR, gel electrophoresis, and parasite cell culture.


Jennifer Palenchar





Business Improvement Districts (BID) in Pennsylvania


This project will analyze4 communities in the local 4 county area. 2 municipalities will be analyzed that have implemented Business Improvement Districts and 2 municipalities will be analyzed without the BID, or the traditional Main Street Program. The outcome is to see if a BID increases the value of the municipality in the following areas over a four year period:

1)         Number of businesses

2)         Employment

3)         Assessed value of commercial and residential real estate

4)         Number of events

5)         Grants and other funding received


The candidate will call upon the municipalities and the State of Pennsylvania to obtain information about the Business Improvement District and the Main Street Program. Data and statistics will be gathered and formulated into an Excel spreadsheet and a Word document summary to visualize if my hypothesis is correct: Implementing a BID reps rewards greater than just the traditional Main Street Program. The rewards are listed in 5 points detailed in the Project Description.


David Fiorenza




CEO Pay and Pay Disclosure


In recent years, firms have significantly increased disclosure on executive compensation due to intense public interest and a series of regulatory mandates. In this paper, we propose to study the relation between CEO pay and firms’ compensation disclosure from 2006 to 2013. We aim to first document how disclosure practices have changed since 2006 in terms of the amount of information disclosed and how the information is disclosed. We then propose to study how the changes have impacted CEO pay level, pay structure, and subsequently, firm performance. 


The responsibilities include collecting data on CEO pay disclosure by manually inspecting thousands of SEC public documents related to compensation disclosures.  After inspecting each document (for thousands of companies over several years), the student would be required to then enter data into a database for the researchers to use for further statistical analysis.


Michael Pagano




CEO Pay and Pay Disclosure


In recent years, firms have significantly increased disclosure on executive compensation due to intense public interest and a series of regulatory mandates. In this paper, we propose to study the relation between CEO pay and firms’ compensation disclosure from 2006 to 2013. We aim to first document how disclosure practices have changed since 2006 in terms of the amount of information disclosed and how the information is disclosed. We then propose to study how the changes have impacted CEO pay level, pay structure, and subsequently, firm performance. 


The responsibilities include collecting data on CEO pay disclosure


Tina Yang