Collaboration and Learning Part of Summer Vacation at Scranton

09/19/11

Dammer St. Ignatius.JPG
For Harry Dammer, Ph.D., professor and chair of Sociology/Criminal Justice Department, the highlight of annual Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) seminar in Rome, Italy, was a tour of the rooms of St. Ignatius, where the Jesuit founder wrote and revised the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus.

            While many members of The University of Scranton community spent the past summer pursuing noteworthy internships, research, travel and other projects, a small sampling of such summer projects of students, faculty and staff includes a pair of internships, two international trips and a research project.

            Kelly Zaccheo, a senior biomathematics and philosophy major from Scranton, took part in the highly selective “Research Experience for Undergraduates” program at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), located at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. For eight weeks, Zaccheo worked with two other undergrads, a master’s degree student and three mentors – from microbiology and mathematics backgrounds – on a research project entitled “Mathematical Modeling of the Early Dynamics of the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV).”

             She explained that one of the problems with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is that once the retrovirus infects a cell, it goes undetected for two weeks, at which time an immune system response is too late. Based on the findings of several other researchers in the field, Zaccheo’s group developed about 100,000 mathematical models to investigate the early spread of a similar virus, SIV, and to investigate whether and how vaccines may reduce the probability of the spread of SIV in their hosts.

            “Our group worked extremely well together, and our faculty mentors were very helpful,” said Zaccheo. “We also had time to enjoy the city of Knoxville and explore its beautiful surroundings – hiking, kayaking and witnessing a rare wonder of nature, the synchronous fireflies of the Smoky Mountains (one of only two places on earth where fireflies seem to coordinate their blinking into a six-second flash).” More importantly, the experience reinforced Zaccheo’s commitment to pursue medical school, possibly after earning a master’s degree.

            Carol Coté, Ph.D., assistant professor of occupational therapy, ramped up her research into how people use vision to gather information. Appropriately titled “Research with Vision,” the study, conducted by Dr. Coté and a group of graduate students, is aimed at understanding how children with learning disabilities focus compared to other children and adults.

            She explained that test subjects looked at images on a computer screen to determine which images were similar and which were different. High-tech equipment obtained through a government grant recorded precisely where and how long each subject gazed. Not surprisingly, the results indicated that children with learning disabilities focus more on parts that attract their attention, rather than parts that are important in the discerning process. For example, each of five shapes contained a big smile; the learning-disabled students spent more time on the smile, rather than the differences in the shapes.

            “Without my teaching responsibilities, the summer enables me to fully attend to my research, and we have greater access to local school students,” said Dr. Coté. “With new technology in place, we will plan our strategy for further research during the academic year into next summer. The goal of the project is to help improve the learning and the lives of people with visual processing problems.”

            Over the summer, Kania School of Management (KSOM) seniors Mariel Messinetti of Lackawaxen, Nicole Linko of Lake Ariel, and Alison Gilroy of Endwell, N.Y., and junior Brianna Finnerty of Old Forge, interned with Donna Simpson, consultant manager with The University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

            The quartet of students worked in the Women’s Entrepreneurship Center (WEC), a collaboration between the KSOM and the SBDC, whose mission is to help women gain knowledge and competence in managing their small business. Simpson explained that after intensive training, the interns worked with directly with WEC clients — drafting marketing plans, performing financial analysis and researching their industry.

             Messinetti said she found this hands-on experience especially rewarding because it gave her the opportunity to apply her classroom knowledge and training to help clients. She said, “The WEC offers nonjudgmental support, a lifeline that helps these businesses survive. Seeing how much they put into their companies and feeling their pain motivated me to do my best. I now realize there are jobs out there that are helpful, rewarding and fun. I worked hard and always felt like part of the WEC team. They gave me responsibility and trusted me, and I can’t express how much I appreciate the opportunity.”

            Simpson credits Alan L. Brumagin, Ph.D., associate professor of management at the KSOM, with initiating The University’s entrepreneurship minor, which enables students to work with WEC clients.

           The University of Scranton was represented at the annual Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) seminar in Rome, Italy, titled “U.S. Catholic Higher Education in a Global Context.” For Harry Dammer, Ph.D., professor and chair of Sociology/Criminal Justice Department, the highlight of the trip was a tour of the rooms of St. Ignatius, where the Jesuit founder wrote and revised the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus – the fundamental document that defines the shape of Jesuit life. “Standing in the room where he lived and died was an experience I will never forget,” said Dr. Dammer.

             Several faculty members from the Department of Theology/Religious Studies visited many important Biblical sites for the first time. During their eight-day trip, the group took in Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Via Dolorosa, the Galilee, the Jordan River, the Golan Heights and Masada, among others. “Through funding by Judaic Studies Institute, the trip enabled our faculty to better understand what they teach and broaden the horizons of their students,” said Marc B. Shapiro, Ph.D., Weinberg Chair of Judaic Studies at The University.

            Joining Dr. Shapiro were assistant professors Patrick M. Clark, Ph.D.; Will T. Cohen, Ph.D.; Bradley C. Gregory, Ph.D.; Christian S. Krokus, Ph.D.; Nathan Lefler, Ph.D.; and Cyrus P. Olsen III, Ph.D.; and adjunct professor Glen Poggi Johnson.

             Dr. Krokus puts the value of the excursion in concrete terms. “While walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I had a visceral ominous feeling due directly to its geography,” he said. “These are living places, not museums, and we are very appreciative of the unusual opportunity we had. The fact that a Jewish rabbi at our Catholic university arranged for Christian theologians to visit Israel is an example of interreligious friendship and dedication to excellence in education.”

             Perhaps that final thought from Dr. Krokus speaks to the heart of what distinguishes Scranton’s students, our faculty and our institution.

            At The University of Scranton, collaboration and learning never take a vacation.


09-19-11
Related stories: University of Scranton Faculty Awarded Summer Grants
Nine University of Scranton Students Receive Summer Research Awards




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