St. John’s Students Showcase Skills, Interests in Annual Research Conference

overhead shot of 2024 Student Research Conference
April 29, 2024

St. John’s University students showed off their research skills April 9–10 during the University’s annual Student Research Conference, which welcomed work from students in several Schools and Colleges and assorted academic fields.

From Communication Studies to Pharmaceutical Sciences, Library and Information Science, and more, undergraduate and graduate student projects explored thought-provoking questions under the guidance of faculty.

On April 9, students’ creativity was paramount as they were tasked with making a poster summarizing their research findings. The next day, researchers presented their papers and projects directly to an audience in the D’Angelo Center Ballroom.

Matt Nadel, a first-semester Ph.D. student in Multi-Sector Communication, was among the presenters. His project, “Analysis of Gossip Comfort on the Basis of Context,” sought to demystify gossip and show how gossip might have advantages, especially in a corporate setting.

“I wanted to study the taboo-ness of gossip and examine it more without the biases that we all have,” Matt said. “It has implications for interpersonal communication and organizational behavior.”

Matt explained that, despite social taboos that work against gossip, including “no gossiping at work” edicts, employees often look to create connections and friendships in otherwise intimidating settings by engaging in such conversations.

Several ambitious Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) projects tried to present new ways to examine health-care issues and even offer 21st-century solutions.

In their project, “Development of Whole Cell Biosensors for Early Detection of Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma,” Valeria Sanchez Estrada, Paola Kotemelo, Elizabeth Nazginov, and Alexandra Rutkowski showed their efforts to develop a device that can identify markers for a disease that kills more than 175,000 people globally each year.

“We are working to create a noninvasive machine that will harness the saliva in your mouth,” Valeria explained. “When interacting with the biomarker, it omits a readable signal.”

The early detection of oral cancer could save thousands of lives, the students said. “Imagine one day having a device your dentist puts in your mouth, and just based on saliva, he or she can say, ‘You have early signals of carcinoma,’” Paola said.

Several students examined the broader use of artificial intelligence (AI), including senior History student Victoria Villalobos, whose project “Exploring the Legalities of AI Music” studied how the technology can impact copyright and other potential litigation in the music industry.

Initially drawn to the subject because of its popular-culture appeal, Victoria, who is considering law school in the future, became fascinated by its potential to redefine the music industry.     

“Right now, there is no legal precedent for AI litigation,” Victoria said. “Prior to the development of AI, artists such as Mariah Carey and Gwen Stefani have been involved in copyright lawsuits. This is such an evolving technology; it will be interesting to see how the courts will navigate it.”

An awards reception in the D’Angelo Center Ballroom capped the event.

Parul Suri, a Ph.D. student in Pharmaceutical Sciences, won first prize. Her research targeted an epigenetic regulator as a potential approach to treating neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that starts in early nerve cells called neuroblasts.

The top prize in the oral-presentation session was awarded to another Ph.D. student in Pharmaceutical Sciences. Mimansa Goyal’s project studied drug repurposing as a potential treatment for pulmonary arterial hypertension, an incurable, but treatable, disease most common in women ages 30–60.

Through the conference, the University seeks to promote student creativity and research engagement. “St. John’s fosters an environment where scholarly research, imaginative methodology, global awareness, and a driven quest for truth are a foundation of our contribution to society at large,” said Marc E. Gillespie, Ph.D., Senior Vice Provost for Clinical Operations, Graduate Research, Assessment, Accreditation, and Institutional Analytics, Office of the Provost. “As an institution committed to our students, this research shapes an excellence in teaching and a development of lifelong learning in all it touches.”