York Spreads Research Wings and Soars

April 15th wasn’t just “Tax Day. It was also Research Day -- at York College. York has joined the Council on Undergraduate Research, the premiere organization monitoring, studying and showcasing undergraduate research.

Provost Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith launched the program by establishing the Office of Undergraduate Research. He appointed Dr. Rishi Nath as director, and dozens of students and their faculty mentors showed off their research in the sciences, literature and the visual arts.

Even a casual glance at the parade of posters lining the hallways of the Academic Core Building was notification that indeed there is scholarship at work at York. 

Take for example, Benifer Gonzalez and Jody-Ann McLeggon, two seniors majoring in Biology. Gonzalez intends to study genetic counseling after graduating from York, while McLeggon wants to be a pediatrician.

They now prepare for those careers by studying at York and by engaging in undergraduate research with their mentor, Dr. Gerald McNeil and other outstanding faculty.

Their project, Characterization of Potential RNA Targets of the Drosophila RNA-Binding Protein LARK, guided by their mentor, Dr. McNeil; they describe LARK as an RNA binding protein that is maternally expressed during oogenesis.

“It has three RNA binding domains that are essential for its function during oogenesis,” says McLeggon. “[It’s] a microarray ribonomics approach to identify 37 potential in vivo RNA targets during oogenesis.”

The duo explain that the aim of their research project is to begin to evaluate the 37 candidate targets identified in order to fully understand how the protein LARK functions during oogenesis.

Meanwhile, Temitope Ajala-Agbo, an FDA Scholar interning at the Northeast Regional Facility on York’s campus took pride in her work. The lower senior presented on her research, “The Safety of Food Products, which demonstrates how food borne diseases such as salmonella. This can cause intestinal illnesses in humans and animals; her presentation shows some of the means by which they can be prevented.

And then there’s Ani Vigani, an Albanian-born Fine Arts major with a declared minor in Italian. His presentation was an eye-catching painting.  Entitled, “Abstract Fish,” the piece dominated its space.

 But more than just the painting, Vigani also presented smaller versions of a set of Pre-drawings, which depicts the process by which he arrived by the magnificent ready-for-the-wall end product. 

Vigani reveals that his faculty mentor, painting professor, Nina Buxenbaum, an influential painter, herself, told him that it is important not just to show the completed work, but as in math and science, to show how one arrived at the finished work.

Consequently, in addition to the early stages of the painting, he also presents in the secondary “frame,” photos of works by which he is influenced. A Picasso is among them.

Dr. Beth Rosenthal, professor of Social Welfare, mentored several students who presented their findings as well.

Sheena Bradshaw, Karima Jenkins and Ayishetu Rahaman studied the relationship between race/ethnicity and perceived racial discrimination among older adolescents.  Their data were collected from 725 ethnically diverse first-year York College students aged 18 to 20 by means of self-administered questionnaires.  They found that while there were statistically significant differences in perceived discrimination (African Americans, Latinos), these differences are very small – calling for a re-conceptualization of the African American adolescent experience in urban US today.

Tanisha Placide and Adrienne Vega studied the relationship between perceived discrimination and posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS).  Their data were collected from a sample of 725 first-year urban college students (ages 18-20) using self-administered questionnaires.  Results indicate that there is a statistically significant relationship between perceived discrimination and PTSS, i.e., the more an adolescent perceives s/he has been discriminated against, the higher his/her level of PTSS.  One implication of these findings is that in order to reduce PTSS, we need to reduce discrimination.

Nadia Kissoon, Jonathan Medina, Jessenia Pena and Iana Neil tested the hypothesis that among adolescents, those with adult emotional social support have more of a sense of self-efficacy than those without such support.  Their sample comprised over 1000 ethnically diverse adolescents; data were collected between 2006 and 2008 through the use of self-administered questionnaires.  Statistical analysis indicated that their hypothesis was supported; that is, the more an adolescent has emotional social support, the greater his/her sense of self-efficacy.   According to Rosenthal, one implication of these findings is the need to provide adult social support to adolescents lacking in self-efficacy through, e.g., mentoring programs.

Five of these students (Bradshaw, Jenkins, Placide, Rahaman, Vega) were members of (Rosenthal)’s Independent Study (SOC 390) course; four (Kissoon, Medina, Pena, Neil) are members of her research team.

The students span three disciplines: three (Bradshaw, Jenkins, Placide) are Sociology majors; five (Kissoon, Medina, Pena, Neil, Vega) are psychology majors; and one (Rahaman) is a social work major.

Dr. Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs explained that research can, and ought to be, across the disciplines, rather than being the exclusive province of the sciences.

Citing the author and anthropologist, Zora Neale Huston’s observation that, “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose,” Dr. Griffith notes in the program that “…There is a tendency among undergraduate students to associate research with the natural and applied sciences.”

“The reality is, he insists, “There is, and can be, research in every field, and our Undergraduate Research Program is intended to facilitate the pursuit of ‘formalized curiosity’ across the disciplines. It’s really the value you get from the courses you take.”

Dr. Nath, assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Studies and the director of Undergraduate Research, promises that this first Student Research Day is only the beginning.

“It will be held annually to reveal remarkable faculty-student collaborations,” says Nath, whose own scholarly expertise is in algebraic combinatorics; representations of finite groups, and partition theory. “The program of this Office is to promote and facilitate opportunities for faculty-led student-research both within and beyond the classroom.”

The keynote speaker for the day’s event was Dr. Kenneth G. Furton, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida International University (FIU).

“FIU would have a hard time pulling off as many posters as York College has and we’re known for research,” noted Furton, founder and now director emeritus of the International Forensic Research Institute (IFRI). 

Among the other students who rounded out the outstanding display of research outcomes, were Magid S. Mohamed and Daniel, L. Servino, who presented with the help of Dr. Shao-Ying Hua and Dr. Mande Holford. Their research was the Taxonomy and Phylogy of Venomous Marine Snails of the Terebridal.

Neema Lama and Christopher Wilson also showed off their work with mentoring from Dr Louis Levinger and Dr. Emanuel Chang.

The Department of Earth and Physical Sciences was also well-represented as students, along with mentors, Dr. Nazrul Khandaker and Dr. Stanley Schleifer showed off their field work.

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