Student and Faculty Research Celebrated at St. John’s

April 11, 2023

“Research, no matter in what field, is what drives society forward.”

With those words, Simon G. Møller, Ph.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, University Distinguished Professor, and Provost Endowed Chair, opened St. John’s University’s 34th annual Grants Reception and Awards Ceremony.

The Grants Reception, held on March 23 in the D’Angelo Center on the Queens, NY, campus, served as the concluding event for the two-day Student Research Conference, an annual celebration of the breadth of innovative and groundbreaking research conducted by St. John’s faculty and students.

On March 22, the Student Poster Session was held in Taffner Field House, showcasing student research projects across all disciplines. The events were cosponsored by the Office of the Provost and the Office of Grants and Specialized Research (OGSR).

Dr. Møller explained, “We’re constantly exploring the unknown and challenging what is known. For students to be involved in that activity is amazing.”

He added that they focus their attention on real problems. “We just don’t dream it up. They work with faculty members to see what it’s really about.”

Discovery, Dr. Møller stressed, does not always happen in a laboratory. It can happen when reading a text or a manuscript or looking at artifacts.

Dr. Møller explained that research at St. John’s is not secondary. “Research is as important as teaching and service,” he said. “The University is made up of many elements and activities. Research is so important. When I look at the breadth of research done at St. John’s, I would put it up against any institution.”

During her remarks, Elenora Levin, M.B.A., CRA, Director, Office of Grants and Sponsored Research, and Manager, Institutional Review Board (IRB), noted that during 2023 the OGSR surpassed the prior year in terms of both submissions and funding.

During the poster session, several students discussed their research, its practical applications, and the overall importance to their academic experience at St. John’s. Maxine Frianela and Gillian Katoanga, both sophomore Biomedical Sciences majors, studied how researchers dramatically undervalued minorities in assembling clinical trial audiences for cancer patients.

“We know that one’s ability to survive cancer is tied to factors including socioeconomics and race. This gave us a glimpse into the research culture—where they seem to value numbers over the quality of the study,” said Maxine.

Gillian added, “Researchers have prioritized generating data at minimal cost, rather than reaching for the broadest, most diverse study they could have. You have to recruit minorities for these to be the best research studies.”

Litika Sharma, a graduate student in Psychology, studied how pets improve the mental health of the pet owner but also produce their own set of stressors. She surveyed St. John’s undergraduates for the foundation of her study.

“Pets can be bonding agents for everyone, and the data supports a mutually beneficial relationship between people and pets,” she explained. “Just look back to the pandemic shutdowns and remember how many people sought out pets because they were unable to associate with other people. There is a strong human-animal bond.”

“However, they can create stressors for people,” she said. “If you are traveling, you have to consider where to leave or board your pet. The veterinary bills alone can be stressful for some people.”    

Actuarial Science major Samit Alam, a first-year student from Cumilla, Bangladesh, decided to study the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence after the 1939 World’s Fair. He was inspired to do so after taking the University’s Discover New York (DNY) course.

“I was immediately drawn to New York City after taking DNY,” he said. “I learned that the first humanoid robot, named Elektro, debuted at the 1939 World’s Fair. And now with ChatGPT and AI, you think about how essential automation is to the modern world. This is where the journey began. Robotics has applications in medicine, business, and just about every industry.”   

Elias Barcenal, a sophomore Legal Studies major, examined the issues involved in the trademark infringement case between VIP Products LLC, the country’s second-largest dog toy manufacturer, and Jack Daniel’s Whiskey.

“Depending on how the court rules, this could change intellectual property litigation for all time. Jack Daniel’s claims it is a dilution of its brand—that from afar, people will assume it’s a Jack Daniel’s bottle in toy form. VIP says it’s a First Amendment issue, that freedom of speech implies the freedom to parody. It could be a game changer in the legal field.”