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Summer Fellowships Support Critical Graduate Student Research

Environmental Science Master's students taking soil samples in Puerto Rico.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Office of Graduate Studies Supports Emerging Scholars’ Summer Work

Zachary Oxford-Romeike ’18 MS, a Master’s student in Psychology, is studying ways to fight addiction

VILLANOVA, Pa. – The Office of Graduate Studies in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is investing in some of its top graduate students, offering a $3,000 Graduate Summer Research Fellowship to each of 26 students from a variety of academic disciplines to engage in research critical to their academic journeys.

Students from the areas of Biology, Chemistry, Classical Studies, English, Environmental Science, History, Philosophy, Psychology and Theatre applied and received funding for equipment, supplies, travel and other expenses related to conducting research.

“In all of our disciplines, we emphasize experiential learning and original research,” says CLAS Graduate Studies Dean Christine Palus, PhD. “The Summer Research Fellowships help feed the intellectual passions of our students and provide funding for students to work independently or alongside faculty mentors. Summer is a great time for a graduate student to work on research related to a thesis or dissertation, explore a new area of study or delve more deeply into a potential career path. We are proud to be able to offer these resources to our students.”

Amber Carter ’18 MS is pursuing a Master of Science in Environmental Science. This summer, she used her Summer Research Fellowship to travel to Puerto Rico to study the degradation of a coral reef ecosystem near the Guanica watershed in the island’s southwest region. Manipulation of the landscape for farming has produced excess sediment pollution, and Carter is working with her thesis advisor, Steven Goldsmith, PhD, Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment, to collect and analyze sediment samples to figure out exactly where the excess sediment originates – a first step in determining the best way to remedy the problem.

“Receiving a summer research fellowship means a lot to me because it shows that people at Villanova believe in my research and are interested in my findings,” says Carter. “The support that I've received from the University throughout my graduate studies has been amazing.”

While Carter is participating in environmental field work in the Caribbean, Zachary Oxford-Romeike ’18 MS, a Master’s student in Psychology, is studying an issue that hits closer to home.

Oxford-Romeike is joining the growing battle against addiction. He notes that many treatment programs have been offering big rewards, such as free community college classes, to patients for not relapsing into drug use. His goal is to determine the potential for this strategy.

“My research is to examine if the brain can actually compare rewards effectively when it’s entering drug withdrawal, which could either support this treatment program or argue that we need to seek out alternative treatment strategies,” he says.

Oxford-Romeike, who is also the President of the College’s Graduate Student Council, plans to pursue a PhD in Psychology, and knows that self-directed research will help him gain admittance to top programs.

“Doctoral programs want to know that you ask important, meaningful questions; you can devise a feasible way to test them; and that you can generate funding outside your own department,” he says. “Winning this fellowship will make me much more competitive in this year’s doctoral applicant cycle.”

Emerging scientists are not the only ones who are benefitting from the Graduate Summer Research Fellowship. Alexandra King ’18 MA is pursuing a Master of Arts in Theatre and is using her funding to study how oral history can inform theatre for social change.

“Theatre for social change is a practice in which artist facilitators work within a community to foster space for dialogue and to strengthen the voice of those who are unheard within their community,” says King. “I will be looking specifically at best practices in encouraging community members to share their personal stories and how to foster attention to aesthetics and theatrics in this process. Ultimately, I hope my research can highlight some commonalities between the use of oral history in theatre for social change and the development of new works intended for a more general theatre audience.”

King worked with Department Chair and Associate Professor of Theatre Valerie Joyce, PhD, to establish her project’s theoretical framework, which will be "practice as research," an emerging field in which scholars make art in order to research art. King will be attending theatre workshops and will also be trained in trauma-informed artistic practice in order to serve as a volunteer drama facilitator with BuildaBridge International, a community arts intervention organization in Philadelphia. She will then use her research to create a playwriting or solo performance project either for her thesis or another special project. 

“Theatre for social change has so much in common with Villanova's Augustinian mission of seeking justice through education and research,” she says. “Receiving the fellowship feels like an endorsement of that mission in the theatre field. Given the dearth of theatre funding throughout the country at the moment, it was incredibly heartening that Grad Studies recognized the value of this work within the field of theatre and for communities at large.”

King gained some experience with practice as research this spring when she was cast as William Penn in Orbiter 3’s Peaceable Kingdom, a dark comedy about a mythical Quaker colony in Pennsylvania. Orbiter 3 is a playwright collective of which Villanova Assistant Professor James Ijames is a founding member.

“I am so grateful for all the lessons I was able to learn from the entire Peaceable Kingdom team,” King says. “I have the same objective for both acting and scholarship—to uncover a truth and to help someone else understand that truth better. Acting and scholarship work hand in hand toward this goal so I am grateful whenever I can engage in meaningful and engaging work either as a performer or a scholar.”

* StudentSummerResearch2017.pdf
See the full list of Graduate Summer Research Fellowship winners.
A scene from the play Peaceable Kingdom.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.