Loyola University Chicago

The Graduate School

Research Mentoring Program Projects 2024

Below is a list of the 2024 Research Mentors, along with their discipline of study and a brief project topic. Please click on the mentor to access a full description of the project. You do not need to have prior experience in the discipline or subject area Strong interest is the only pre-requisite!

Anorexia nervosa has the highest lifetime mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders (Gibson et al., 2019). While evidence-based treatment approaches are promising, 20%-40% of treated individuals do not fully recover, and many never receive treatment in the first place (Dobrescu et al., 2020). Thus, efforts to enhance both the quality and quantity of treatment options are critical. Anorexia nervosa typically develops in adolescence or young adulthood (Stice et al., 2013). Despite the misconception that dysfunctional families cause eating disorders, current research highlights the capability for families to facilitate recovery from an eating disorder. As such, the first-line treatment recommendation for children and adolescents with eating disorders is Family- Based Treatment (FBT; Lock & Le Grange, 2015).

While evidence supports MFT’s ability to improve weight and core eating disorder symptomatology (Baudinet et al., 2021), this treatment is relatively novel, and the body of work testing its effectiveness remains in its infancy. Importantly, most MFT trials currently evaluate it when delivered as an adjunct treatment, making it hard to discern the benefits of MFT alone. The aims of the present research study are to understand if and when MFT should be recommended. Toward this end, the project will evaluate MFT as a standalone treatment for children and adolescents with restrictive eating disorders. Results will measure changes in weight and psychological symptoms over time. As a pilot study, we will look at indicators of both clinical and statistical significance. We will also compute and compare effect sizes to other well-established eating disorder interventions to determine the relative effectiveness of MFT. In addition to examining symptom change over time, the study will assess for baseline predictors of improvement. Overall, results of the current project could suggest new ways to develop more personalized treatment plans, with the ultimate goal of optimizing resources and improving outcomes for families affected by eating disorders.

Through this one-on-one mentoring relationship, the undergraduate student will get the opportunity to see a project through many phases of the research process. The student will start by reviewing a list of key articles I have selected in order to familiarize themselves with the research topic. Next, the undergraduate will be trained on how to prepare data for analysis, including data cleaning, coding, and manipulation. The undergraduate is encouraged to ask questions about the process of data analysis if desired, though the graduate student mentor will be responsible for conducting analyses. Finally, the undergraduate will help the graduate student collate results and present them visually for ease of interpretation. At the end of the program, the student will learn how to write about and discuss the project to an audience.

My dissertation contends that understanding how we present ourselves and our sense of style in everyday life is crucial for addressing social justice issues. Throughout history, social philosophers like Plato, J.-J. Rousseau, and Walter Benjamin have criticized the aesthetic realm, often associating it with negative values or dismissing it as morally insignificant. They argue that things like flashy clothing choices among lower-class men are merely superficial and lack moral importance. However, I argue that our everyday choices, like how we dress or present ourselves, actually convey moral messages.

In this project, I want to show how the aesthetic sphere, especially in everyday practices of self-presentation and style, is crucial for talking about social justice and uncovering social wrongs. I am basing my work on two main theoretical strands: German sociological thought from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century and contemporary Frankfurt School critical theory. By fostering the encounter of social philosophy with aesthetics, the project contributes to the growing “aesthetic turn” in social thought, pushing social philosophy towards a deeper engagement with matters of expression and sensibility.

The undergraduate student is tasked with contributing to the research for Chapter 4 of the dissertation, focusing on a case study that explores the culture of refined dressing among marginalized men. The objective for the undergraduate student is to produce a comprehensive report on a specific group (such as the cangaceiros in Brazil, the pachucos in the United States, or the sapeurs in the Congo and the Congolese diaspora in Western Europe—to be decided jointly by the mentor and the undergraduate student). This report aims to illuminate the intricate connections between style, self-presentation, and issues of social recognition in this specific group. The responsibilities include conducting a thorough review of existing literature and analyzing news pieces, documentaries, and other relevant reports on the subculture. The findings will be organized into a final written report.

Proteins are the building blocks of life. They are made from twenty different amino acids which differ in the side chain “R group”. The functional form of a protein is its tertiary and quaternary structures which are three-dimensional. But when it is formed, it is in a linear polypeptide chain (primary structure). Hydrogen bonds are formed in this polypeptide to give secondary structures. The R groups of the amino acids interact in the secondary structure to give tertiary structures. If a protein has more than one polypeptide chain, known as subunits, these subunits come together to give a quaternary structure. This process of formation of 3D protein structure from a linear sequence is called protein folding.

Metalloproteins are proteins that have metals like calcium, magnesium, zinc, and so on in their active sites. We want to see how a protein folds in presence versus absence of its metal ions. This will help us understand the role of metals in protein folding. We will start this project with smaller zinc finger proteins (ZNFs). ZNFs are abundant and have a wide range of molecular functions including transcriptional regulation, DNA repair, and cell migration. The zinc ion in these proteins is known to stabilize its fold. We will be folding ZNFs, with its native zinc ion, without any metal ions, and with metal ions other than zinc. We will then be comparing the folds and see how each metal ion interacts with the amino acid residues in the protein. The project will then be continued to test protein folding in presence of intrinsic versus extrinsic water.

During the mentorship program, my mentee will learn the basics of the computational system used in our lab and by many labs in the world. They will start with learning commands in the UNIX operating system and learning how to edit a file with vi editor. Should the undergrad already have knowledge in this, they can directly move onto the next step. They will then run a few tutorials in Gaussian and AMBER programs as these will be used for the research. Gaussian is a general-purpose software for computational chemistry. AMBER is a group of force fields used for molecular dynamics simulations of biomolecules. At the same time, they will read papers to clearly understand the goal of our research. Once the basics have been established, they will move on to do the actual research. They will start by reproducing tutorials in protein folding. Moving onto our protein system, we will get a linear peptide sequence from NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) and create topology and coordinate files for this peptide using tleap program. This will be followed by molecular dynamic simulations specifically protein minimization, heating, and equilibration using AMBER software tools. They will repeat this process by adding different metal ions, one at a time. We will then compare the results for different metal ions.

My research mentee will learn and understand the basics of computational chemistry and learn transferrable skills like UNIX commands, vi editing, literature reading. This will be very helpful should the student decide to have a future in computational chemistry/biology or even bioinformatics. The importance for people to have computer skills is ever increasing. Whatever field the undergrad goes into in the future, they can still use the knowledge on computational tools they learned in our lab. This makes our lab unique in that it is the only fully computational lab (dry lab) in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Loyola.

My dissertation, “In Living Memory: Representing Jewish Life and the Holocaust at the Auschwitz Jewish Center and the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust,” focuses on the exhibition of the Holocaust and Jewish Life in Jewish Museums and Holocaust Museums. As heritage institutions, Jewish Museums combine history, memory, and identity to exhibit Jewish life before, during, and after the Holocaust. By emphasizing museums in Poland and the United States, the project demonstrates how despite the shared goals of humanizing history and storytelling, the historical and memorial contexts of museums influence the exhibits that they curate. The Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oswiecim, Poland is the only Jewish heritage institution in the town, which was predominantly Jewish before the Holocaust. It is also located in the town in which the most notorious Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was established. As a result of this history, the museum represents the Jewish heritage of the town in the absence of a local survivor community. The Museum of Jewish Heritage, and other Holocaust Museums in the United States, represent this history with the support of local survivor communities who share their stories, artifacts, and time with these institutions. As these museums begin curating their next Permanent Exhibitions, they will confront the challenge of narrating the Holocaust in a future without survivors. Using public history methods in exhibition analysis and oral history, this project interprets how Holocaust exhibits prepare to maintain their mission as sites of living memory and convey the history of the Holocaust and Jewish life to a new generation.

An undergraduate researcher would be engaged in the exhibit, object, and oral history analysis that is essential to the project, assisting the graduate researcher in the interpretation of historical materials. The graduate and undergraduate researchers will collaborate to examine the curatorial choices that museums make in order to humanize Jewish life during the Holocaust and its representation in museums. One of the core arguments of the dissertation focuses on the reality that museums and their exhibits are not created the same – the different motivations, anticipated audiences, and specific challenges influences the way in which exhibitions are created. Since the 1990s, Holocaust museums have emphasized the complexity of narrative exhibits that represent history through storytelling and personal experiences. The core objective of the project for the Student Research Mentors Program includes focusing on 1) identifying personal stories and experiences in Holocaust exhibits, 2) engaging object and oral history analysis to understand personal experiences within the museum’s Holocaust narrative, 3) interpreting how oral histories and artifacts within the specific exhibit contribute to an understanding of Jewish life during the Holocaust, and 4) design a presentation on the significance of personal storytelling in Holocaust exhibits. For the purpose of the Student Research Mentors Program, the summer project focuses specifically on the Holocaust exhibits at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie, Illinois.

This project will introduce and further explore public history methods to the undergraduate researcher. To engage in exhibit and oral history analysis, part of the mentoring process includes training and discussions on these forms of analysis and how they apply in museum spaces. To accomplish each of the objectives, undergraduate researchers will visit the museum to identify a few of the personal stories that emerge and continue throughout the exhibit, deciding with the graduate researcher on which of these to explore during the program. The undergraduate researcher will then listen to and analyze oral histories, historical artifacts, and other Holocaust resources in the exhibit, with the support of the graduate researcher. The undergraduate researcher will interpret how those stories are exhibited throughout the exhibit, which requires the undergraduate student to revisit the museum toward the end of the program in order to interpret how these forms of personal storytelling humanizes Jewish life and resists dehumanizing Jewish life in museum representations. The final objective of the project is the synthesis of this research in a presentation on the power of personal experiences in exhibition narratives.

I position this dissertation at the intersection of modern/contemporary literature, queer/feminist theory, and ancient Greek classics in the hopes of better understanding the spaces in which they meet, engaging with writers from the late modernist era to the present in order to highlight the connections between theories, themes, and practices of queerness from the modernists forward. Using the work of H.D. and writers following in her footsteps, I argue that exploring adaptations of Greek classics written primarily by female and gender-variant authors from the modernist era forward illuminates the extent to which the classics enables writers to “think queerly,” considering critical inquiry and experience to interrogate questions of gender and sexuality. I queer motherhood by seeing it as a method of literary inheritance and following a literary genealogy backward to ancient women ancestors and forward to future descendants who follow the same patterns that their foremothers have set for them. Both queer views of motherhood enable rethinking the masculinist use of Greek allusion and focus on the inheritance of a literary tradition that is otherwise passed on through the line of the father. I argue instead for a model of lineage that follows women and mothers in order to queer the discourse with a subverted perspective and focus. Using queer theory as a mode of inquiry, I propose that re-telling ancient myths to queer ideas of matrilineage, both forward- and backward-looking, enables authors to decenter the masculinist perspective in favor of a non-male perspective of cyclical counter-history.

My priority for this summer project is demonstrating to the undergraduate student what graduate research looks like, especially in a field where “research” is not as clearly defined or imagined as in others. The exact timeline and workload will, of course, depend on the student’s availability and interests. I can imagine three main tasks for a research mentee during this final summer: A. Researching H.D.’s work to understand who she is and how her myth-making has influenced later readers. This will be essential in understanding the what and why of this project’s interventions. B. Reading chapters of critical research or articles having to do with queer theory and queer temporality. This will enable the student to participate in discussion of theory and to share their own interpretations of the articles presented. C. Acting as a beta reader. As the student will be working with me through the final stretch of this dissertation, I aim to ask them to read the chapters I have written and ask me questions about things they do not understand. This will help me to strengthen weak points in my arguments as well as to prepare for questions during my defense. I anticipate meeting weekly in advance of the summer semester, schedules permitting, and giving the student small tasks to complete as they conduct their regular work for the semester. These tasks would include reading chapters or poems that I am using for my project, to help gradually introduce them to my arguments instead of simply throwing them in to a fully-developed dissertation. Together we will develop a specific research plan, complete with a weekly schedule, to which we will both adhere throughout the summer. Once the summer begins, my mentee and I will meet weekly to collaborate and discuss our thoughts and findings as I finish my final chapters of my dissertation. I plan to invite the student to my defense, as well, to give them a view into what a dissertation defense looks like.

Guatemala is a developing country affected by significant social problems including widespread poverty, fragile political institutions, and high levels of crime and violence. These problems are, among several reasons, the result of the U.S. intervention in Guatemala in previous decades. Moreover, Guatemala is a sending country. Many Guatemalans emigrate because they are trying to escape from poverty and violence. I explore the impact of fear of victimization on the use and occupation of public spaces by gender, trust in local law enforcement agencies by ethno-racial characteristics, and the security measures that Guatemalans take to curb the likelihood of victimization. Debates on violence in the region commonly focus on homicide rates but fail to consider fear of crime as a central indicator of indirect victimization, and as a social measure of psychological distress. I examine differences in habit changes, use of security measures, and institutional trust in Guatemala. I use the first national crime victimization survey in Guatemala, the Encuesta Nacional de Percepción de Seguridad Pública y Victimización (National Survey of Public Safety Perception and Victimization); an official survey available at the Instituto Nacional de Estadística (National Institute of Statistics). This survey includes a variety of measures of fear of victimization as well as measures of the strategies that individuals develop to curb the likelihood of victimization. Preliminary analyses suggest differences in habit changes, use of security measures, and institutional trust by prior victimization, fear of victimization, age, ethno-racial background, marital status, neighborhood disorder, institutional efficacy, among others.

Through this mentorship, my mentee would have the opportunity to learn valuable skills that will add to their analytical tool kits. Our summer work would consist of expanding two core skills: statistical analysis and literary analysis. The student will learn how to complete annotated bibliographies in social science research. Moreover, how to incorporate annotated bibliographies into larger pieces of written work. As such, we will spend some time conducting a literature review beginning with my research project and ending with the student’s own research interests. The student will also be introduced to statistical analysis software (Stata) that they will use to conduct basic data analysis and aid in more inferential based data analysis. Lastly, I would aid my mentee in preparing a formal presentation showcasing their analysis and literary skills based on the work we completed together.

Social media has revolutionized communication, enabling individuals and groups from around the globe to communicate instantaneously. Unfortunately, this means harassment has transcended from face-to-face bullying into cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is defined as the use of electronic communication to bully or harass an individual, e.g. posting harmful information online about someone. A growing amount of research indicates that social media use is correlated with depression, anxiety, and suicide. Thus, computationally focused researchers have begun developing machine learning models, a type of algorithm that can learn a task through data, to detect cyberbullying. While displaying promise, these efforts have various limitations. These methods rely on a one-size-fits-all approach which results in inherited systemic bias and a lack of subtlety when analyzing online interactions. There is also a lack of insight into how these methods can help foster greater inclusivity and positive engagement. In conjunction with these issues, researchers have established a troublesome correlation between participation in a LGBTQ+ community and experiencing harassment online. The goal of this phase of the dissertation development is to study techniques that result in a more inclusive social media by developing models that accurately identify harassment against marginalized groups, while amplifying the voices of users who stand against said harassment. Toward this end, we plan to propose predictive modeling mechanisms aimed at meeting the needs of LGBTQ+ communities and produce models that can learn the dynamics of anti-bullying, i.e., interactions that promote inclusivity, the support and defense of cyberbullying victims, and the promotion of interactions that add important supporting context in online communications. These techniques aim to mitigate the typical harassment, minimization, and context collapse common to online platforms.

By Summer of 2024, the project will be close to completion on phase 2: developing the LBGTQ+ aware cyberbullying detection model, thus the task list will likely follow: Literature review: Crash course on the proposed research plus educating a mentee on important topics and relevant papers that helped shape the research. Code Review: Spend time with mentee on getting up to speed on the existing code base. There are multiple different technologies involved in this project, and expecting a mentee to review it on their own is unrealistic. Finalizing Experiments and Manuscript Writing: Since model development will likely be close to completion and model evaluation tests undergoing, the bulk of the remaining work will be (1) finalizing the experiments to assess and compare the performance of the proposed model and (2) preparing a manuscript presenting the results of our work. Activities include: (1) adapt the evaluation scripts to continue the model evaluation process, (2) perform the remining model evaluation tests, (3) generate graphs representing the obtained results, (4) writing sections of the paper, (5) conducting analyses of model experimental results, and (6) preparing tables and figures for the final publication. An undergraduate will likely not have much prior experience developing an academic paper, so there will be several cycles of editing and providing feedback. Poster Preparation: The final week will be dedicated to preparing a poster that will be displayed at the Undergraduate Research and Engagement Symposium and Graduate Research Symposium.

Please note that research for this project will take place on site on our Health Sciences Campus in Maywood, IL. 

Once a woman is pregnant, arteries in the placenta remodel to provide optimal nutrients to the growing baby. If the arteries do not remodel, this can result in a reproductive disorder called preeclampsia. Preeclampsia causes the pregnant woman to have high blood pressure and can cause heart problems later in life. Studies have shown that natural killer (NK) cells help remodel the arteries. Mice without NK cells have less remodeled arteries, and their pups are born small. However, little is known about how NK cells remodel the arteries in the placenta. NK cells got their name because they kill tumor cells. However, not all NK cells are the same. There are NK cells that circulate the body looking for transformed cells, such as tumor cells, and there are NK cells that live in organs, such as the placenta and uterus. These NK cells that live in the organs are called tissue-resident NK cells. Very little is known about what they do in the organ. During pregnancy NK cells in the placenta are exposed to hormones and expand making up ~70% of the immune cells. We think these hormones may change the role of the NK cells from “killing” to “helping” in remodeling the arteries during pregnancy. My thesis project is to figure out how the pregnancy hormone progesterone changes the action of the tissue-resident NK cells in the uterus. We have studies showing that hormones influence how NK cells behave. We found that tissue-resident NK cells show up in the uterus when the mouse reaches puberty. If the mouse lacks the hormones, the tissue-resident NK cells disappear. But if we give progesterone back, the tissue-resident NK cells show up in the uterus again. Early in pregnancy, women have a lot of progesterone, tissue-resident NK cells expand, and the arteries remodel. To study this, we will use pregnant and non-pregnant mice that have NK cells that do not respond to progesterone. We will histologically examine the placentas to determine the extent of artery remodeling and the growth of the pups. We will study if tissue-resident NK cells that do not respond to progesterone have defects in their function. We expect if progesterone acts on the function of tissue-resident NK cells then we will find poorly remodeled arteries and small pups. Our findings will help develop better treatments for women who suffer from reproductive disorders such as preeclampsia.

The overarching goal of the summer project: Determine if tissue-resident natural killer (NK) cells without progesterone receptors behave differently in the uterus.

Questions to be answered by the student:

  1. Are tissue-resident NK cells that are deficient in progesterone receptors cytotoxic?
  2. Do tissue-resident NK cells that are deficient in progesterone receptors proliferate?

To carry out these experiments the student will learn how to perform mouse dissections, tissue preparation, tissue culture, flow cytometry.

Industrial companies have been an imperative part of Chicago’s economy. Specific areas of land have served as industrial use for over 150 years. In 1990, these areas were designated as industrial corridors in order to protect land for industrial usage. Chicago contains 24 industrial corridors which align with railroads, waterways, highways, and streets. This not only provides easy access for transportation, but ideally creates a boundary between industrial and residential areas. However, concerns have grown on the pollution these industrial corridors produce and their impacts on the surrounding environment.

Heavy metal pollution is another concern since industrial companies which produce a large quantity of heavy metals release them into the environment (e.g., metal processing, pesticides, batteries, paint). Most of the heavy metals have a certain threshold concentration to be considered as toxic to organisms. For cadmium and lead this threshold is very low and only minute amounts are already considered detrimental to health. To better understand the heavy metal pollution in the industrial corridors, plant samples from various locations within the Pilsen, Little Village and Calumet corridors will be collected and analyzed. Microwave digestion will be utilized for sample preparation and atomic absorption spectrometry (AAS) will be used for identification and quantification of heavy metals present in these samples.

By summer of 2024, I plan to be collecting more plant samples from Pilsen, Little Village, and Calumet corridors. Most of this project involves sample preparation: collected plants will need to be washed, dried, and crushed. Plants then can be digested and analyzed via AAS to determine area pollution as well as changes in the environment within one year. Additionally, previously collected samples remaining will also need to be digested and analyzed.

Please note that research for this project will take place on site on our Health Sciences Campus in Maywood, IL. 

Women account for approximately 2/3 of all diagnosed Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) patients, with higher diagnosed rates than men across all ages and a greater decline of cognition and impairment. This evidence, along with the link of AD to early onset menopause, makes for compelling evidence that there are biological factors that contribute to this sex bias seen in AD. Previous research has shown a time specific effect of estrogen whereby when administered close to menopause it is able to decrease the risk of AD but becomes detrimental when administered much later. The predominant receptor responsible for estrogen signaling in the brain is Estrogen Receptor Beta (ERβ), where it is able to act as a transcription factor and control the expression of genes. I propose there is an age–related switch of ERβ signaling that predisposes women to AD, through the loss of ERβ mediated repression at certain genes that have been implicated in AD progression and severity. Furthermore, our lab previously has shown ERβ to target specific microRNAs (miRNAs), a subset of RNAs that are able to control gene expression. I also propose that certain miRNAs which are regulated by ERβ signaling are also responsible for regulating the expression of specific genes implicated in AD.

I intend to teach the undergraduate student core skills in cellular and molecular biology that will be beneficial for their future projects and research goals. The undergraduate student will first start with basic cell culture techniques including how to grow and maintain neuronal cell lines, make different media depending on experimental conditions and work under sterile conditions. Once this has been taught, I intend to move on to transfections, a key skill in cellular biology to introduce plasmids into cell lines to express specific proteins of interest, such as ERβ. We will then move on to other key molecular biology techniques such as RNA isolation, cDNA synthesis and qPCR. The aim of these experiments will be to see any potential differences in specific miRNA expression within various experimental conditions. If we have enough time, these experiments will be repeated in order to obtain multiple biological replicates and can be featured as part of a figure in a future publication. These skills are heavily transferable for any future research or lab the student wishes to pursue in their academic career.