William Paterson University provides undergraduate students with a wide range of academic opportunities that challenge their intellectual growth, including participation in faculty-mentored research and other scholarly and creative activities.  These experiences can be life-changing for our students, preparing them for future success in their careers or graduate study. Undergraduate students have opportunities to make presentations and attend conferences with faculty, and many have earned national awards and recognition. 

Here are some highlights from the vast array of research projects and other experiential learning activities by University undergraduate students.

Doppelgängers in Horror Films

When senior honors student Kristen Bowe ’20, an exercise science major, began searching for a topic for her Honors thesis, she decided to explore her love of horror films. The result is her new thesis entitled, “My Evil Twin” in the Honors College humanities track, in which she explores the meaning of the “doppelgänger,” or evil self, from classic films, such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) through contemporary works like the 2019 blockbuster Us.

In a surprising twist, Kristen acknowledges she has her own real-life double. “I am an identical twin, and I didn’t even realize until after I chose my topic that it really relates to who I am and finding my own identity for myself,” she says.  Kristen’s twin sister, Corrine Bowe ’20, is also a WP student, majoring in athletic training and pursuing the Honors College cognitive science track. Both Kristen and Corrine are also standout players on the WP women’s soccer team.

As she explains, her research enabled her to relate her experiences as a twin to the universal human need to assert one’s individual identity: “Each film in my study speaks to the different fears and anxieties of its period. I want to highlight why this fear of losing yourself and identity has been resonating with humans for thousands of years,” says Kristen, who worked with history Professor Molly O’Donnell on her project.

After graduation, Kristen plans to study physical therapy at the graduate level.

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Mathematics of Cryptography

Education and mathematics major Natasha Lopes Cunha ’20 conducted research for her thesis in the Honors College independent track on the “Mathematics of Cryptography.” She became interested in cryptography—the practice of protecting data and network security in order to keep information secure from unauthorized users through the use of mathematical techniques—while working with math professor Jyoti Champanerkar.

“The purpose of my thesis is to explain the applications of mathematical concepts in methods of cryptography and introduce the importance of these methods for cyber security. We live in a society where technology and the virtual exchange of data is very prevalent, which heightened my interest in learning how mathematics plays a role in the secure exchange of data,” she says.

After graduation, Natasha plans to teach mathematics at the middle school or high school level.

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Congratulations to the WP student-researchers who each won an Outstanding Poster Award at this year’s @GSLsamp conference, in which 13 colleges and universities took part. There were 165 posters presented, and 25 won awards.

From left are: Dayana Wert (chemistry; mentor Dr. Jay Foley); Dara Buendia (biology, mentor Dr. Jeung Woon Lee), Rosemary Arrieta (biology, mentor Dr. Emily Monroe), Elika Moallem (biology, mentor Dr. Sonya Bierbower), Adriana Brandes (chemistry, mentor Dr. Yalan Xing), and Emalyn Flor (biology, mentor Dr. Jaishri Menon).

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Extinction of the Megatoothed Shark

Environmental science major Chelesia Clarke ’20 has been part of a research team working with environmental science professors Marty Becker and Mick Griffiths on a study of shark teeth to determine the reason for the extinction of Otodus megaladon, the largest and most iconic shark that has ever lived.  The research seeks to understand the megaladon’s thermoregulatory system and whether this played a role in the shark’s demise.

“The topic interested me because I have always had this curiosity for the apex predator of the sea. This amazing opportunity allowed me to slowly create pieces as to what led to the extinction of the Megalodon,” she says.

After graduation, Chelesia, who is secretary of the WP Green League, plans to continue environmental science research in graduate school.  

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The Effects of Urbanization on Bee Hives

Biology major Olivia Nakamura ’20 has been working with Professor David Gilley (biology) in the bee labs, studying trends in bee pollen collection to help understand how urbanization impacts hives and the ability of hives to adapt to environmental changes.

“The chance to have such an involved role doing research as an undergraduate is a rare opportunity and has motivated me to look into PhD programs in several areas of interest,” says Olivia, who plans to pursue a career in active research.  

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Ancient Fossils Found on Campus

Professor Martin Becker (environmental science) and undergraduate researchers, Christi Kline ’19 and Clint Mautz ’19, have unearthed 380-million-year-old fossils of ancient sea creatures right on campus, providing a glimpse of the earth’s changing climate.


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Combined Research in Genetics and Organic Chemistry

When biology major Maria Katrina Holganza ‘19 came to William Paterson, she soon discovered a passion for both genetics and organic chemistry. During her time at WP, she conducted molecular biology research with Professor James Arnone and organic chemistry research with Professor Xalan Xing, resulting in both research publications and recognitions for her work. For her honors thesis, she combined both topics into one, entitled “Synthesis of Daumone Precursor and its Effect on Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.”

“Attending William Paterson provided me with experiences that I know I would not have had if I went to a larger university,” says Maria Katrina.  “I attended an American Chemical Society (ACS) Research Conference, and the post-docs and professors I met there from different parts of the world were so surprised that I was able to pioneer research projects such as the one I presented as an undergraduate. In addition, I was able to connect with professors on a personal level.”  Following graduation, she is attending medical school.

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Talking Heads

When searching for a thesis topic for the honors college humanities track, communication major Joe Saulenas ’19 turned to music for inspiration, choosing to analyze the work of David Byrne, the musician and artist best known for his band, Talking Heads. 

“David Byrne’s lyrics can be very abstract and complicated but I knew he was communicating a very important, very human message. My thesis explores themes across his career with a focus on human psychology, consumerism, isolation versus community, and America,” says Joe, who worked with Professor Krista O’Donnell on the project.  

During his years at WP, Joe worked as a video intern on Z100’s Elvis Duran and the Morning Show.  He also earned the Communication Department’s Maltese Award for his radio news skill, and produced his own short film, Keg Warmer, which also garnered awards.  Joe’s future plans include continuing his study of film in graduate school and a career in digital media.

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Telling Stories Through Comedy

For his thesis in the performing and literary arts track of the Honors College, CJ von Essen ’19 created A Collection of Comedic Sketches. CJ, who double majored in communication/theater and comedy and English, also wrote and produced a comedic sketch in collaboration with the TV Club titled, Breadstick, which won a finalist trophy in the Intercollegiate Broadcast System (IBS) awards in the Best Comedy category.

“I pursued theater, comedy, and writing all because I love to tell stories and make people laugh,” he says.

CJ served as president of Pioneer Players, the improv and theater appreciation club on campus.   In spring 2019, he played the lead role in the WP production of Pocatello.

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Youth Political Activism

Robert Spangler ’19, a nursing major in the humanities honors track, studied motivations for political activism in young people. For this study, he conducted oral history interviews with 1960s student and young adult activists, as well as examined memoirs, expert literature, and other historical accounts of this generation.

“Anecdotal accounts as well as statistical measures including voting rates suggest today’s young people are less effective politically than young people of previous generations, particularly the 1960s,” he says. “My research on youth activism of the 1960s provides understanding of youth political engagement and offers insights into the political lives of young people today. This may help us understand how to engage and mobilize young people, possibly encouraging more of them to invest in their communities and represent their own interests and opinions.” After graduation, Robert plans to work as an ICU nurse before seeking further education in nurse anesthesia.

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PTSD in First Responders

For her honors thesis in the clinical psychology and neuropsychology honors track, psychology major Kayla Huntington ’19 studied “Personality, Cognition, and Stress in First Responders.” The study examines how differences in personality, affect, and cognition in individuals may help explain why some people develop PTSD and stress-related disorders while others do not.  

“The hypothesis is that individuals with higher sensation seeking personalities and better executive function may be less vulnerable to stressors. We expect that those diagnosed with PTSD or stress-related disorders will exhibit distinct patterns of anxiety and sensation seeking, as well as differential performance on select cognitive tests,” says Kayla, who plans to attend graduate school to continue her study of neuropsychology.

Kayla’s study is part of a larger, ongoing research project that will be continued by her fellow co-investigator Rebecca Pavlick.

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Dendrochronology on Fire Island

Shared by Kaytlynn Knyfd ‘19 on Instagram:  “Weekend at Fire Island through the National Park Service coring Holly, Cedar, Pitch Pine, Sassafras and Oak for our senior research project on maritime forests and coastal storms. Such a unique experience out in the field with some radical individuals 🌲 #WPUEnvSci”

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A Tail of Wound Healing

Working on an interdisciplinary research project with Professors Jaishri Menon (biology), and Kevin Martus (physics), biology major Veronica Holganza ‘20 is investigating the effects of atmospheric pressure plasma on wound healing and regeneration in tadpoles. Atmospheric pressure plasma technology is increasingly finding applications in the field of medicine.

Her research specifically focuses on the roles of calcium signaling and reactive oxygen species during wound healing and tail regeneration following exposure to plasma. “Being a part of Professor Menon’s research has not only enriched my education but has also provided me with multiple opportunities to learn sophisticated research techniques including confocal microscope, participate in research conferences, meet faculty members in the College of Science and Health, and being nominated as a student member for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology,” Veronica says.

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Tracking Oceanic Changes through Fossilized Shark Teeth

Student Allison Neumann ’19, led by environmental science professor Martin Becker, is studying both modern and ancient shark teeth, documenting changes in ocean chemistry and temperature over millions of years and studying how those changes have affected sharks.

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WP Student Team Competes in Final Round of Financial Planning Challenge 

Jonathan Hommes ‘19, Maria Velarde Ku ‘19, and Robert Wolfe ‘19 competed as a team in the Financial Planning Association’s 2018 Financial Planning Challenge in Chicago, IL. The students made up one of eight teams chosen from more than 20 university teams nationwide.  

Learn more: http://wpunj.us/SYFbwT

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GS-LSAMP Student Presentations

Shared by @JSpagna1

Biology professor Joe Spagna shares a group photo from a Garden State – Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (GS-LSAMP) event where 34 WP students presented research. GS-LSAMP is an alliance of universities dedicated to increasing the number of underrepresented minority STEM graduates.

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Communication Student Presents Mobile Phone Research Proposal at Industry Conference

Communication major Brian Jaeger ‘18 has been selected to present his research proposal, “Mobile Phones: A Revolution of Evolution” at the Joint Journalism and Communication History Conference at New York University.

Brian is one of very few undergraduates whose proposal was accepted at this conference, which attracts faculty and graduate students from around the world. “We live in the era of social media, where the news is here today, gone tomorrow. You could miss major events if you are not connected to the world around you. It is my belief that with further research, I can prove that staying connected on higher levels, such as social media, email, and internet use, is the reason for increased smartphone use,” Brian says.

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Making Chemical Processes Greener

Chemistry major Justin Domena ’18 is working with Professor Yalan Xing to optimize routes of halogenation on alkynes, a chemical reaction used in the creation of many commonly used medications. They are using green chemistry techniques that produce less waste, have fewer steps, and use less metals that are bad for the environment.  “The Chemistry Department fully trains you to use equipment that is relevant to the industry. Many other undergraduate programs do not offer this opportunity. When you get to work hands on, you learn the material more deeply,” Justin says.

They are currently collaborating to submit their manuscripts for this project, entitled “Highly Efficient Recyclable Sol Gel Polymer Catalyzed One Pot Difunctionalization of Alkynes,” to advanced catalysis publications.

Read the full article

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Resilience and Trauma in Children

Miranda Galambos ‘19, a history and early childhood education major, conducted a study entitled “Exploring Resilience and Posttraumatic Growth in Survivors of Childhood Trauma,” for her thesis in the Honors College social sciences track. Miranda worked with psychology professors Sumi Raghavan and Neil Kressel on this project.

“There is a growing body of work indicating that children can cope and even thrive in the face of trauma by displaying phenomena known as resilience and posttraumatic growth. Synthesizing findings from psychological and educational literature, my thesis provides an overview of the literature on resilience and posttraumatic growth, and concludes by providing recommendations for a strengths-based approach to recovery from trauma that may be useful for clinicians and educators working with this vulnerable population,” she says.

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The Effects of Laughter Therapy

Nursing major Celine-Ann Samaniego ’18 conducted a systematic review of research literature related to the effects of laughter therapy on patient outcomes. Celine-Ann, who is also a senior midfielder on the women’s soccer team, will present the results of her honors nursing thesis at the Northeast Regional Honors Conference. 

“[Laughter] can overall help a patient’s emotional state, especially in the geriatric population, which tends to be under more emotional distress,” she says. “I enjoy laughing until my stomach hurts; you’re just enjoying life in that moment, and laughter is something that can be done anywhere. I think passing on knowledge of alternative treatment methods, ones that don’t rely on medication, is a great thing.” Celine-Ann currently works at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson as a patient care assistant in the pre-op and post-op setting.

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