Research that Resonates Podcast

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Research that Resonates is a podcast from Villanova University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that takes listeners inside labs and classrooms to learn about important research our students are conducting alongside faculty mentors.

For our fourth miniseries, we're chatting with Villanova research teams who study language and literature by exploring the intricate nature of speech and language perception through cognitive research, unearthing and digitizing critical literary work, and discovering how children learn scientific concepts through literature. Through these fascinating projects, the teams aim to make important contributions in their respective fields and beyond.

Episode 1: Speech and Language Perception

Language is all around us as we communicate and take in information from our senses every day. Psychology graduate student Ryan Henderson '20 CLAS, '24 MS and Joe Toscano, PhD, associate professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences and director of the Cognitive Science Program, discuss their research on speech perception in the Word Recognition and Auditory Perception Lab. The researchers seek to address challenges with hearing loss and speech comprehension by deepening our understanding of language processing.

Episode 2: Taught by Literature

Following the legacy of African American writer and activist Alice Dunbar Nelson, researchers Trinity Rogers '24 CLAS, Matt Villanueva '24 MA, and Jean Lutes, PhD, professor of English and Luckow Family Endowed Chair in English Literature, aim to recenter the work of Black female intellectuals through the Taught by Literature project. From uncovering lost literature to transcription and video production, the researchers have grown the project into an outreach effort and collaborate with other scholars, schools and programs to makes these important stories available to a wider audience.

Episode 3: Learning Science Through Children's Literature

From toddlers to seniors, stories have an incredible impact on readers at any stage in life. But when it comes to children’s educational media, how do young audiences decipher reality and fiction? In the Scientific Thinking and Representation Lab, Katie Van Dusen '24 CLAS, Deena Weisberg, PhD, associate professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and their fellow researchers investigate children's understanding of scientific concepts from stories, with a long-term goal of providing best practices to media outlets. Katie's research specifically explores anthropomorphic characters effect on children's learning outcomes.

In this miniseries, we’re talking to research teams who study genetics—specifically how genes may impact behavior. Troy Shirangi, PhD, and his team are looking at innate mating behaviors in fruit flies, and Benjamin Sachs, PhD, along with his researchers, are studying serotonin deficiency in the brain and how that might have an impact on alcohol use disorders.

Episode 1: Understanding Instinctual Behavior

What makes a fruit fly fall in love? Biology Professor Troy Shirangi, PhD, and his student Julia Duckhorn explain the instinctual courting behaviors of a fruit fly and the role of a gene called the dissatisfaction gene. Julia graduated from Villanova with a bachelor’s degree in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience in May 2020 but was able to continue working in Dr. Shirangi’s lab for another year after her graduation.

Episode 2: Nature vs. Nurture and Alcohol Use

We know there is a genetic component to Alcohol Use Disorders, but the specifics of those genetics are still largely unknown. Psychological and Brain Sciences Professor Benjamin Sachs, PhD, and his students Elisabeth Dimitratos and Leah Waltrip explain correlations they have found between gender, stress and alcohol use. Leah graduated in May 2020 and began her career in research. Elisabeth graduated in 2021 and is pursuing graduate school to be a Physician Assistant.

In this miniseries, we’re talking to research teams who are exploring topics at the intersection of youth and identity. From researching psychological maturity to creating an intervention curriculum for first-gen college students, Villanova teams are taking on timely research projects.

Episode 1: Scholarship Takes Stage

Scholarship takes stage with Villanova’s “Youth”—a play about a young church community wrestling with issues of identity, sexuality and faith. Award-winning playwright James Ijames, MFA, associate professor of Theatre, worked with dramaturg Adrena Williams ’19 MA to put on Villanova Theatre’s recent production of the show. In this episode, Professor Ijames and Adrena explain the collaborative research and scholarship that went into writing, editing and producing this new play.


Episode 2: Students Speak Up

Activism is a powerful tool for people to elevate their concerns and spur systemic change, but it also has a personal impact on the activist. When activists come together to discuss their shared visions and strategies, they connect with their identities and gain a better understanding of other identities. In this episode, Jerusha Conner, PhD, associate professor, Education and Counseling, and Hwa Pyung Yoo ’19 CLAS talk about the research they did with self-identifying college student activists and the surprising results they found.


Episode 3: Strengths and Struggles: First-gen Students Persist

There is a lot of literature on the challenges of being a first-generation college student, but not as much on the strengths of first-gen students. Researchers Stacey Havlik, PhD, and Krista Malott, PhD, both assistant professors of Education and Counseling, created an eight-session counseling curriculum designed to better prepare first-gen students for college and piloted the study in a Philadelphia high school in 2017. In this episode, Dr. Havlik, Dr. Malott and Jose Diaz ’19 MS, a first-generation student himself, talk about facilitating the program and its potential as an evidence-based practice.


Episode 4: #Adulting: Understanding the Transition

#Adulting—it's a trending term among 20-somethings referencing their attempts to take on adult responsibilities. When asked, "do you think you are an adult?" most college students answered “yes and no," according to research from Dana Palmisano ’19 CLAS. Dana is interested in personality psychology and did research on the transition period between adolescence and adulthood under the guidance of her faculty mentor, John Kurtz, PhD, professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. In this episode, Dr. Kurtz and Dana talk about the results of Dana’s research and the possibility for further research on psychological maturity and understanding this critical developmental period.


For our first miniseries, we focused on sustainability. Villanova teams are researching some of the most critical issues affecting the planet today, including renewable energy, rising sea levels and climate change.

Episode 1: Alternative Fuel Sources

Photosynthesis seems to be a beautiful, natural process where plants harness the sun’s energy and make fuel. Jared Paul, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, is interested in understanding what’s happening at the chemical level during this process. In this episode, Dr. Paul and his students Claire Teahan '19 CLAS, Diane Isaacs '19 MS explain how their research could lead to developing alternative fuels sources.


Episode 2: Can Nature Adapt? The Phenomenon of Mangroves

Mangroves are forests that line the coasts, primarily in tropical climates like Florida. They provide flood protection and other important benefits to the environment, but as a result of the earth’s warming temperatures, these mangroves are moving northward. Seemingly, the mangroves are adapting to climate change. Samantha Chapman, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Biology, along with students Libby O’Brien '19 CLAS and Emily Geoghegan '19 MS explain the implications of this phenomenon.


Episode 3: Caring for Coastal Ecosystems

Coastal wetlands are sometimes called the kidneys of Earth’s ecosystems because of their ability to filter out pollutants, but increasingly they are coping with two major risk factors—rising sea levels and land use change. Nathaniel Weston, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Geography and the Environment, along with students Lloyd Willis ’20 CLAS and Kristen Jezycki ’19 MS talk about how coastal wetlands are responding to a changing world.