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Federal Support Grows for Faculty Research at St. John’s

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Reflecting the University’s commitment to promoting meaningful, cutting-edge research, St. John’s faculty and administrators were awarded more than $11.2 million in major grants during the 2017 fiscal year.

“St. John’s had a very productive fiscal year in terms of submitting proposals and securing grant awards,” said Jared Littman, Director, Office of Grants and Sponsored Research (OGSR). “We remain committed to the University’s efforts to empower diverse learners through innovative teaching, research, and service.”

Federal grant dollars in 2017 increased by 37 percent over fiscal year 2016. Highlighting faculty productivity at the University, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences submitted 40 grant proposals in fiscal year 2017, for a requested $6.6 million in funding; The School of Education generated 17 proposals seeking $18.4 million in support.

Seeking a Cure for a Devastating Illness

Wan Seok Yang, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences
Wan Seok Yang, Ph.D.

Wan Seok Yang, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, received a three-year, $492,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to research Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His project, “Determination of Cell Death Pathways Activated in ALS,” examines how preventing ferroptosis (a form of cell death) can help fight the progressive, neurodegenerative disease.

“ALS is caused by the selective cell death of motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord,” Dr. Yang explained. “Inhibiting cell death pathways sounded like a reasonable area to explore, and I am pleased that our work is being supported by NIH.”

Helping Local High School Students

As a Catholic and Vincentian University, St. John’s strives to make a positive difference in communities throughout the New York area and beyond. The University was recognized for this effort, receiving a $1.285 million grant from the US Department of Education for Upward Bound, a program that helps young people to graduate from secondary school and ultimately earn a college degree.

Through the program, St. John’s is partnering with John Adams High School in Ozone Park, Queens. Together, they will serve high school students from low-income families and those in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree. “The population of students that the Upward Bound program serves is one that our Vincentian Mission strongly supports,” said André McKenzie, Ed.D., Vice Provost for Academic Support Services and Faculty Development.

The initiative, which began on September 1, is designed to serve 60 students. Starting mid-October, they will come to the Queens campus for academic enrichment and college preparation services including counseling, field trips, and workshops.

Collaborating to Solve Global Problems

St. John’s secured funding to assist undergraduates through the National Science Foundation’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) Program.

The $650,000 S-STEM grant focuses on second-year students majoring in biology, chemistry, mathematics, or physics. It will provide scholarship aid and support for research and academic achievement, as well as cross-disciplinary opportunities to develop solutions for real-world problems.

“As scientists and mathematicians, we thought about how diverse groups solve problems better than groups composed of people of the same backgrounds,” said Alison G. Hyslop, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Chemistry and the program’s principal investigator. “Students will approach the problems from their own expertise, and together they will be able to come up with unique solutions.” 

Academic Research Enhancement Awards (AREA)

Student Research Opportunity Center in the D'Angelo Center

Ivana Vancurova, Ph.D., Professor, Biological Sciences, was awarded a $495,000 National Institutes of Health Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) for her proposal, “Targeting IKK and HDAC Mediated IL-8 Expression in Ovarian and Prostate Cancer.” The project seeks to pursue a better understanding of mechanisms that regulate the expression of pro-inflammatory and immunosuppressive genes, especially in relation to cancer.

Seeking to develop novel strategies for cancer treatment, Ales Vancura, Ph.D., Chair and Professor of Biological Sciences, also received a $495,000 AREA grant for his submission, “Transcriptional Regulation and Metabolism.” An NIH reviewer described it as “a well-planned, straightforward proposal expected to have a significant impact on several fields of biology and human disease.”

With several grants already secured for fiscal year 2018, Mr. Littman is confident that the University’s upward trajectory in earning grants will persist. In addition, OGSR continues to develop new ways to help students benefit from these efforts. The OGSR-managed Research Opportunity Center, an interactive station in St. John’s D’Angelo Center, provides students with up-to-date information about current research projects in which they may participate.

“We’re continuing to enhance St. John’s ever-growing, sponsored research culture,” Mr. Littman observed, “while helping to ensure student success.”