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Student Research Projects Showcased in Ninth Annual Summer Research Program Symposium

WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. — Students and faculty members from across the scientific spectrum came together to present the results of their nine-week-long research in the Monmouth University School of Science Ninth Annual Summer Research Program (SRP) Symposium, held on Aug. 10, 2017 in Erlanger Gardens on the university campus.

A total of 42 research projects were presented in biology, chemistry and physics, computer science and software engineering, mathematics, and from the university’s Urban Coast Institute.

Many of the project teams took advantage of the university’s unique location less than a mile from the Atlantic coast to study sharks and rays, the effects of salt water on area trees, developing assessments of coastal lakes, beach-nesting birds, and even the development of a 3D hurricane escape simulation mobile application using actual New Jersey evacuation routes.

Rising sophomore Stephanie Okereke took a less regional path as she explored ways for people across the country to access laws that could impact their lives. Okereke, who hopes to study computer science and mathematics, is developing an application, searchable by keyword, that would allow users to see both summaries and the full text of laws.

As she explained, “A person can go on the app and type in a keyword, such as ‘water,’ and it will pull up the most popular and relevant laws associated with water, so the user can actually access [the law], read it, and apply it to their life.”

She said that the impetus behind her idea was the media coverage of the lead-contamination crisis in the Flint, Mich., public water supply. Okereke said she believed that if people had known more about the law, perhaps more could have been done to possibly avert the crisis.

Okereke’s research mentor, William F. Tepfenhart, Ph.D., said that while many students ask what projects they can work on, “Stephanie, while still a first-year, came to us with an idea and wanted to know who would work with her to pursue it. That’s rare. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with her over the summer.”

Tepfenhart says he plans to continue working with Okereke to see the project through to completion.

Rising senior Angela Rella worked with fellow student Justin L. Badamo on the project “Use of Pomegranate Juice Extract and Apple Extract to Treat and to Inhibit Inflammation in Cancers of the Oral Cavity and Glioblastomas.”

Since the association between inflammation and cancer has been widely studied, Rella explained, her team wanted to see if pomegranate juice extract or apple extract could selectively inhibit the inflammation of or kill off the cells that they were using in the experiment.

Rella and Badamo’s faculty mentor, Jeffrey H. Weisburg, Ph.D., who has done extensive research in inhibiting inflammation using nutraceuticals — products derived from food sources that have additional health benefits — said that while he wasn’t surprised by the results of the research, the team did discover that the pomegranate extract was more toxic to the cancer cells than was the apple extract.

The findings of this research project, “laid down the foundation for us to do future experiments,” said Weisburg, calling the research, “vitally important” for developing subsequent experiments.

Rella, a Medical Laboratory Science major, will be spending her senior year completing an internship at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in preparation for a career as a medical technologist. Students majoring in Medical Laboratory Science complete 96 credits of collegiate work at Monmouth University, prescribed by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS), followed by a 12-month internship in an affiliated NAACLS-approved hospital.

A transfer student, Rella has high praise for the university and its faculty.

“I have a personal relationship with basically every professor that I’ve ever had here,” she noted, saying that she has been much happier here than at her previous institution. “The [School of Science] really cares about what you’re doing and where you’re going and how you’re doing in a specific class. So, this research experience has been the same: a very positive experience.”

Some summer research projects are open to both Monmouth students and high-achieving high school students, as was the case for the project mentored by Cui Yu, Ph.D., an associate professor of computer science and software engineering. Clark Wang and Kevin Yan, both rising seniors at High Technology High School in Lincroft, N.J., joined Andrew Parise, a rising Monmouth senior computer science major in the development of a goal tracking application aimed at children and teenagers.

The application, called Planbook, streamlines task management and rewards allocation between parents and children and teachers and students, explained Parise. “It allows them to create different tasks and push them out with different deadlines and sets a point value that can be redeemed for certain incentives.”

The idea for the application came about, said Yu, because of an increasing amount of time children and teens are spending on video games and social media.

“We wanted this project to be innovative, solve a real-world problem and positively impact the community,” Yu explained. “On top of that, I wanted the students to be proactive at identifying problems around them that could be alleviated or solved using computer science and technology.”

Both high school students wanted to join Monmouth’s summer program to get more hands-on experience with coding and connecting databases to actual websites in development. Wang said that working on research at the college level was a “really new experience. This was the first time that I’ve worked on a big project like this. It’s been very rewarding.”

Both Parise, who has professional industry experience, and Yu, had plenty of praise for the high schoolers.

“I must say that these two high school students did extraordinary work on completing this project,” said Yu. “Some skills were picked up from scratch. Many challenges were addressed. I just can’t be more impressed.”

Parise said that “these guys are really intelligent people and they learned very fast. I’m very proud of the work that they’ve done. So, we hit it head on!”

Yu hopes to continue to refine the application, develop a group of testers and, ultimately, make it available for use in the future.

Weisburg said that he sees the SRP as “a wonderful way of getting students to do cutting-edge and meaningful research. In the summer, students work one-on-one with faculty members, an experience that cannot be had in any classroom or laboratory section [during the academic year.

“The SRP is also a terrific experience for me,” he continued, “as I get to watch my students not only gain knowledge in the subject that we’re researching, but also gain confidence in themselves. This all culminates in the symposium where students finally realize that they are experts in this field and are able to handle questions” about their research projects.

SRP 2017 - Stephanie

Rising sophomore Stephanie Okereke explains the Sum(s) Law mobile application she developed as a part of Monmouth University’s Summer Research Program.