By Deanna Howes Spiro, Vice President of Communications, AJCU

Our twenty-eight colleges and universities take pride in academic excellence and collaboration: In this issue of Connections, we are highlighting ways that our faculty are working with students to help advance research on their campuses.

Faculty research advisors serve as valued mentors to their students, in addition to providing them with opportunities to develop hands-on experience in a lab or in the field. At Georgetown University, the John and Pat Figge Woodstock Undergraduate Student Research Fellowship pairs Catholic Studies students with advisors who encourage them to apply a reflective lens to their research.

At Saint Joseph’s University, sociology students are learning entrepreneurial skills, thanks to Professor Keith Brown’s work developing the SJ Brew fair-trade coffee initiative. And at the University of Detroit Mercy, Associate Biology Professor Victor Carmona helped one student to see how her research on Chagas disease in El Salvador could lead to community empowerment.

We are also excited to feature Marquette University’s work on “re-imagining” the humanities through the Midwestern Humanities Without Walls Consortium; a Rockhurst University professor, whose research on computational chemistry and materials design has been conducted with her students; and new interdisciplinary research projects at Creighton University.

We hope that this month’s issue of Connections may inspire you to find new paths toward collaboration, all in the Jesuit spirit of forming people for and with others!

By Emma Bradley, Georgetown University ’22

Photo courtesy of Emma Bradley
Photo courtesy of Emma Bradley

Coming into college, I hoped to be able to conduct research, but it was not something I imagined having the opportunity to do until later in my time at Georgetown University. Three years later, I am so glad to have been mistaken!

During my very first week at Georgetown, while struggling to register for a freshman Biblical literature class, my peer advisor noticed my enthusiasm for theology and recommended a unique research opportunity to me. The John and Pat Figge Woodstock Undergraduate Student Research Fellowship, coordinated through the Catholic Studies program at Georgetown, provides undergraduate students of any class year with the opportunity to explore and analyze current social issues through the lens of Jesuit theological reflection.

Each Fellow chooses a faculty advisor to serve as a mentor throughout the research project, which culminates in a 30-page research paper presented to faculty at the end of the spring semester. In addition to each Fellow’s chosen faculty mentor, the Figge Fellowship advisors, Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J. and Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, mentor the group and offer advice on projects, as well as a good dose of wisdom from their wealth of academic experience.

My project proposal was inspired by the story of Jesus and the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt from the oppression of King Herod in the Gospel of Matthew. By applying a theological lens on a contemporary issue, I read the story in a new light: Jesus and his parents were refugees. From this initial inspiration, I further explored Old Testament biblical ethics on welcoming the stranger, New Testament parables, and ways that faith-based actors incorporate theological and ethical frameworks in their responses to the current refugee crisis across the world.

I was incredibly blessed to have Rev. David Hollenbach, S.J. as a faculty mentor for my project: he is the Pedro Arrupe Distinguished Research Professor in the Walsh School of Foreign Service and a Senior Fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. I first got to know him as a professor by taking his course, “Human Rights, Humanitarian Crises & Refugees: Ethical & Religious Responses.”

Fr. Hollenbach’s expertise proved invaluable in guiding my research — in fact, I often referred to works and research he himself had conducted on religious ethics, and learned much from his personal experiences working with refugees. He also connected me to Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, through which I had the opportunity to interview Director of Operations Giulia McPherson, about the work that JRS/USA does in supporting refugee education, and how Jesuit values inform their mission, work and interaction with refugees.

I was particularly inspired by their focus on accompaniment, centering the agency of the displaced people they serve, and taking a holistic, interactive approach to empowering refugee communities. I learned about the importance of education for empowering refugees to integrate into their host societies, and rebuild their countries of origin if given the opportunity to return. My research emphasized a holistic Biblical ethic of humanitarian aid that centers accompanying and empowering displaced people, culminating in my final project: “Empowering Refugee Futures: A Biblical Christian Perspective and Human Theological Responses.”

The 2018-19 cohort of Georgetown Figge Fellows, student coordinator, and representatives from the Figge family at final presentations in May 2019 (Photo courtesy of Emma Bradley)
The 2018-19 cohort of Georgetown Figge Fellows, student coordinator, and representatives from the Figge family at final presentations in May 2019 (Photo courtesy of Emma Bradley)

Through the Figge Fellowship, my fellow students and I explored the theological reflection model in line with the Catholic Social Teaching of “See, Judge, Act”: observe a problem, understand and reflect on what needs to be done, and put that knowledge into action. One way that I put my research into action was participating in JRS/USA’s 2019 Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, along with other students from my class. We met with Congressional staff to advocate for policies that support the human dignity of refugees. In each meeting, I gladly emphasized our collective ask of Congress: signing onto a “Dear Colleague” letter on International Basic Education. Having learned from my research how integral education is in shaping the lives and affirming the human dignity of refugees, I was grateful for this opportunity to advocate in support of human rights for immigrants, refugees, and marginalized people.

Following the completion of my project, I had the opportunity to serve in Lesvos, Greece, alongside a Christian organization, Teach Beyond Borders, which uses educational programming to accompany displaced children and their families. Inspired by my research, this in-person experience (from July to August 2019) sparked a passion for sustainable peacebuilding and the role of education in building cultures of peace to preempt refugee crises. This experience led me to direct my subsequent years at Georgetown toward diplomacy and sustainable peacebuilding.

It is difficult to fully express the impact of my student-faculty research experience under Fr. Hollenbach. Not only did this experience guide my studies at Georgetown, but it has also impacted my future aspirations. In the two years since my Figge Fellowship, I have returned as a student coordinator to help facilitate experiences for other students and connect them with faculty mentors who can help them analyze contemporary issues through theological reflection from a variety of religious traditions. Having experienced firsthand the power of student-faculty collaborations, especially on a topic I was so passionate about, it has been an honor to facilitate the experience for others.

Emma Bradley is a junior majoring in Culture and Politics in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She currently serves as a Government Relations intern at AJCU.

By Dave Pemberton, Web Content Specialist, University of Detroit Mercy

Joyce Choi (photo courtesy of the University of Detroit Mercy)
Joyce Choi (photo courtesy of the University of Detroit Mercy)

It took three years of work, but what has happened since Joyce Choi published a research paper on a disease she originally knew little about, could be life-changing — for Choi, and for people half a world away.

Choi’s paper on Chagas disease, a scourge of many rural areas in Latin America, was recently published in the journal BIOS, a science quarterly in circulation since 1930. The paper was the result of research directed by the University of Detroit Mercy College of Engineering and Science’s Director of Sustainability and Associate Professor of Biology, Victor Carmona, starting when Choi was a sophomore at Detroit Mercy. It finally appeared in print during her first year in graduate school.

It all started with a chance meeting three years ago. Choi came to Detroit Mercy with plans to attend dental school, but found she was more passionate about the environment, and looked into the Biology department to explore more options. She was told to seek out Carmona, who had recently been hired by the University.

“I think I just walked into the Biology office and said, ‘Hey, I want to do environmental research, what do I do?’ ” Choi said. “Dr. Carmona was literally unpacking boxes in his office and we had a two-hour conversation the first time we met. And I just jumped head first into the research.”

Carmona has been doing research on Chagas disease in El Salvador for years. Chagas disease is caused by a parasite that’s transmitted to humans by an insect found mainly in rural areas of Latin America.

“The protozoan parasite is native to the American tropics and is transmitted between mammal hosts via a Triatomine bug,” said Carmona. “The parasite likes to multiply inside your muscular cells. It especially likes the cells surrounding your heart, and eventually weakens the organ enough to bring on heart disease. Approximately 80% of Chagas cases will result in cardio-myopathy.”

The Ministry of Health in El Salvador has collected a substantial amount of data on Triatomine bugs, but it doesn’t have enough research scientists to analyze patterns in the field data. In El Salvador, which is about the size of New Jersey, only one university out of 33 in the country has a Biology Department. That’s where Carmona and his research students come in.

Choi was able to analyze patterns in a national data-set curated by El Salvador’s Ministry of Health and characterize significant links between poverty and land use change, which suggest broader participation is needed to mitigate neglected tropical diseases like Chagas in developing countries like El Salvador.

“Previous research that Dr. Carmona had done with partnering institutions found that the shape, color and outward appearance of Triatomine bugs responded to changes in elevation and land use, which was really cool,” Choi explained. “My paper’s focus was to explore how changes in poverty indices connected to changes in land use, like coffee plantations, sugarcane fields, forest cover, etc. We also looked at other demographic variables, such as male-to-female ratios across municipalities, with the idea of exploring both ecological and socio-demographic considerations. That’s where that multidisciplinary approach really comes through in our paper.”

As excited as Choi was to be the lead author on her first research publication, even more rewarding was the fact that the Ministry of Health in El Salvador plans to use Choi’s conclusions to shape policy to help mitigate the disease. Choi said, “Dr. Carmona informed me that one of our Salvadoran co-authors forwarded our publication to a colleague at the Salvadoran Ministry of Health. They replied, ‘This is really interesting research, I want to bring this to my other colleagues and talk about addressing some of your findings in our future decisions.’

“That’s what’s really awesome to me. It really shows how integrative research can have a big impact outside of academia’s own bubble. I think integrative research can easily inform other industries and fields. A lot of people have been using integrative science as a way to improve decision-making, so to see it actually happening with our work is just so, so cool.”

But the publication in BIOS has been more than she could have ever thought. “It’s still so surreal,” Choi said. “I think it took a second for me to process that all at first. Knowing that my research paper isn’t just going to be on the shelf in the back of a university library, but actually out there, changing the way administrators are thinking about policy-making and decisions that affect the health of people who are living in a country that really wants to use science to improve its healthcare system, that’s just so surreal to me.”

Choi graduated from Detroit Mercy in 2019 with a degree in Biology and is currently working on her Master of Science degree in Ecosystem Science and Management in Conservation Ecology at the University of Michigan.

“I think that the year-long peer-review process just showcases how dedicated Joyce is in becoming a research scientist,” Carmona said. “She’s walking the talk, by learning how to test ideas and make contributions to science. She cultivated an opportunity to challenge old concepts and brave new mistakes. That’s a very important lesson for a scientist because we learn by improving on our most wonderful blunders.

“Showing Joyce that we were purposefully pushing boundaries and trying to learn by making mistakes, was integral to her formative experience,” Carmona continued. “By the time she finished her undergraduate degree, she could say, ‘I get it, you have to venture into the unknown and celebrate critique if you want to get better at it.’ It was great to see Joyce take that process and make it her own.”

Experience with the peer-review process has also helped Choi advance in her academic career.

“When she started her Master’s program, she told me that she was the only person who had a publication under their belt,” Carmona said. “It was very clear to Joyce, that the way she approached problem-solving was very different than her peers. Students who haven’t had that enriching research experience tend to play it safe, only to quickly discover that science favors innovation above memorization.”

Choi is thankful for her time at Detroit Mercy and for working with Carmona. “He always encouraged me to think about the bigger picture of what we were doing and how it could empower community partners,” Choi said. “He encouraged me to always look at the integrative impact of research rather than just thinking about getting a project published. It was a reminder to think about our research scope in light of environmental justice. That was a big thing for me because I don’t think I was exposed enough to that in my natural sciences curricula.”

Choi hopes to pursue a doctoral degree after she completes her Master’s degree and wants to use her formation as a research scientist to advance the common good.

“I think one of the key takeaways from my research experience at Detroit Mercy was realizing that you can use your science degree as a tool for social and environmental justice,” Choi said. “That’s really cool to me because normally people reduce community service to volunteerism, but charity is not justice. Being able to use your degree experience to empower undergraduate students, some from those marginalized communities where research is conducted, to cultivate real change through scientific inquiry and collaboration, is more than just transformative, it’s liberating.”

This article was originally published at and is featured in Connections with permission from the University of Detroit Mercy.

By Margaret Nettesheim Hoffmann, Director of the Career Diversity Initiative, Marquette University

Participants in Marquette’s first Graduate Student Career Development Bootcamp in 2019 (photo courtesy of Marquette University)
Participants in Marquette’s first Graduate Student Career Development Bootcamp in 2019 (photo courtesy of Marquette University)

In August 2020, Marquette University received an award of just over $1 million from the Humanities Without Walls Consortium (HWW). Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and headquartered at the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Consortium supports collaborative humanities-based research examining grand societal challenges. It also focuses on career diversity initiatives for doctoral students in the humanities.

Marquette is the 16th member of this Midwestern-based partnership and the only Jesuit university in the Consortium. It joins partner universities in the Big Ten Academic Alliance, University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Notre Dame.

Working in collaboration with HWW to model the ethos of “without walls,” the Consortium supports the design, construction, and implementation of HWW’s annual Predoctoral Career Diversity Summer Fellowship Workshop. Each summer, the workshop funds 20 fellowships for Ph.D. students in the humanities across the United States to discern personal career values, think through future professional pathways, and build community with one another as cohort members plan for their lives beyond graduate school.

HWW logo (photo courtesy of Marquette University)

HWW logo (photo courtesy of Marquette University)

HWW Predoctoral Career Diversity Fellowship Workshop in 2019 (photo courtesy of Marquette University)
HWW Predoctoral Career Diversity Fellowship Workshop in 2019 (photo courtesy of Marquette University)

A doctoral candidate in history, Margaret Nettesheim Hoffmann is one of the co-principal investigators on the grant and has played an essential role in Marquette becoming the newest Consortium member. “Our project and the mission of this grant prioritizes graduate student agency in the construction of their careers, while providing students with the tools necessary to develop meaningful professional lives after graduate school,” said Nettesheim Hoffmann. “Marquette’s inclusion within the Consortium highlights the importance of the Jesuit value of discernment in doctoral training, especially as we guide graduate students to understand the ways that meaning, reflection and purpose can influence the work they contribute to the world.”

Dr. Theresa Tobin, Associate Professor of Philosophy, and Dr. Timothy McMahon, Associate Professor of History, join Nettesheim Hoffmann as co-principal investigators of the HWW sub-award.

According to McMahon, HWW and the Consortium are at the forefront of reforming humanities graduate programming. He said, “We’re especially excited to be connected with a consortium of schools that is working so diligently on facing the challenges graduate students see today. Recognizing that the academic job market is a perpetual challenge, HWW has embraced the reality that humanists have valuable skills to offer to careers beyond the academy.”

Tobin also noted that HWW’s methods emphasizing reciprocal and redistributive models align with Marquette’s “Jesuit mission to reach beyond traditional academic boundaries and embrace new and collaborative methods of knowledge production for a more just world.”

McMahon emphasized, “The grant allows us to enhance the work we had already started. Most exciting to me is that both HWW and Marquette have benefited from the leadership of graduate students in this process. Their insights, their energy, and their creativity have been and will continue to be essential as we move ahead.”

Dr. Douglas Woods, Vice Provost for Graduate and Professional Education and Dean of the Graduate School, believes that Marquette’s involvement with HWW strengthens the University’s commitment to the humanities and prepares graduate students to heed St. Ignatius’ call to “go forth and set the world on fire,” with “one foot raised,” ready to greet the world’s challenges. Woods added, “Graduate work in the humanities, particularly from the Catholic, Jesuit tradition, has never been more important as society wrestles with understanding and thriving in today’s evolving landscapes.”

In addition to guiding the work of the annual HWW career diversity workshop, Marquette’s humanities faculty are invited to propose projects for HWW’s Grand Research Challenge grants. These $150,000 grants support interdisciplinary, community-based humanities research projects that address society’s most pressing issues through solutions rooted in humanities methodologies. Dr. Heidi Bostic, Dean of the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, said that the HWW grant opens a world of opportunity for Marquette’s humanities programs, encouraging graduate students to think creatively about the future and welcoming dynamic projects to help solve problems.

“Sometimes there is an assumption that various serious challenges we face in the world — the coronavirus pandemic, new technologies, racial disparities, or disruptions in the nitrogen or phosphorous cycle of the Earth — are simply technical or scientific issues,” said Bostic. “Yet, we know that at the heart of all of these challenges lie the basic questions of who we are and how we should live. For that reason, the humanities and broad liberal arts are crucial to addressing grand challenges.”

Dr. Antoinette Burton, Principal Investigator of the HWW grant, noted, “Over the last two years, Marquette has emerged as a regional and national leader in reimagining the purpose of humanities Ph.D. outcomes and in designing innovative career diversity programming. We look forward to working together as we continue to reimagine what the humanities should look like in the Midwest, the nation and the world in the 21st century.”

By Cindy Murphy McMahon, ’74, Associate Director of Communications, Creighton University

Juliane Strauss-Soukup, Ph.D. works in a Creighton science laboratory with 2020 graduates Spencer Thompson and Siddharth Venkatraman. Today, Thompson is pursuing an M.D.-Ph.D. at the University of Kansas and Venkatraman is a medical student at Johns Hopkins University. (Photo taken pre-pandemic; courtesy of Creighton University)
Juliane Strauss-Soukup, Ph.D. works in a Creighton science laboratory with 2020 graduates Spencer Thompson and Siddharth Venkatraman. Today, Thompson is pursuing an M.D.-Ph.D. at the University of Kansas and Venkatraman is a medical student at Johns Hopkins University. (Photo taken pre-pandemic; courtesy of Creighton University)

Creighton University prides itself on the opportunities it offers undergraduate students to work side-by-side on research with faculty. Professors like to say that it’s in Creighton’s DNA.

The University’s environment – 4,000-plus undergraduates; nine colleges and schools, including four professional schools; committed faculty – presents a culture that fosters undergraduate research opportunities.

According to Juliane Strauss-Soukup, Ph.D., Associate Vice Provost for Research and Scholarship, “The ‘DNA’ that creates such a vibrant research culture is the combination of our passionate, committed faculty and outstanding, dedicated undergraduates who are motivated to do research.”

Creighton faculty view undergraduate research as essential for students to fully engage in a topic and learn about a specific field, but they also recognize that research teaches students skills beyond the mastery of disciplinary knowledge. Strauss-Soukup adds, “It sharpens their critical-thinking skills, their writing skills, and their communication skills, all of which will benefit students no matter their long-term goals.”

The hub for Creighton’s undergraduate research efforts is the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, or CURAS, founded by Strauss-Soukup, who is also a Professor of Chemistry. She has served as Director of CURAS for the past eight years.

At least one-third of all Creighton undergraduate students participate in research before they graduate. In the College of Arts and Sciences, 54% of students are involved in research or scholarly projects. To place these percentages in context, a 2019 study by the National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE) found that nationally, 33% of undergraduates plan to do research, but only 22% actually complete a research project before graduation.

Other bragging points:

Teresa Kolars Ferlic and Randolph Ferlic, BS’58, M.D.’61, discuss student Clare Weber’s poster with her at the 2019 Ferlic Summer Research Poster Symposium. Weber, who graduated in 2020, is currently a medical student at the Mayo Clinic. (Photo taken pre-pandemic; courtesy of Creighton University)
Teresa Kolars Ferlic and Randolph Ferlic, BS’58, M.D.’61, discuss student Clare Weber’s poster with her at the 2019 Ferlic Summer Research Poster Symposium. Weber, who graduated in 2020, is currently a medical student at the Mayo Clinic. (Photo taken pre-pandemic; courtesy of Creighton University)

Attending and presenting at local, regional and national meetings and conferences is an opportunity that undergraduate students seek with enthusiasm. “They get to attend meetings, meet experts in their field, and present alongside graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty,” says Strauss-Soukup. “It’s a priceless opportunity.”

CURAS helps to fund student travel to ensure that students can have the experience of presenting their research on the national stage. Creighton students also have a significant track record of securing external travel awards to attend conferences, as well as presentation awards in recognition of their performances.

Though travel has been hindered by the pandemic, Strauss-Soukup says, “Our students have adapted and are continuing to share their research widely by taking advantage of virtual presentation opportunities, both on campus and beyond.”

The geographically dense nature of Creighton’s campus is another factor that fosters collaboration and interdisciplinary research projects. Strauss-Soukup explains, “There are dental faculty collaborating with chemists; law faculty collaborating with political scientists and sociologists; sustainability professors working with environmental science faculty…the list goes on and on. And undergraduates are involved in all of these projects.”

One example of a truly interdisciplinary team is the “Sandhills Group,” which involves collaboration among faculty in environmental science: Mary Ann Vinton, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology; Jay Leighter, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication Studies; and John O’Keefe, Ph.D., Professor of Theology. Their research is investigating the impact of, and adaptation to, environmental change in the North-Central High Plains region of Nebraska known as the Sandhills.

One of the students involved in the research is Caroline Adrian, a senior majoring in Environmental Science from Fort Collins, Colorado. Her project is called, “When Wells Rise: A Multidisciplinary Analysis of Extreme Weather Events in the Nebraska Sandhills.”

Adrian was part of the 2020 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows Program, a fellowship coordinated annually by CURAS for 40 fellows each summer. She is also a recipient of the Ferlic Fellowship: a program, supported by Creighton donors Randolph Ferlic, BS’58, M.D.’61, and his wife, Teresa Kolars Ferlic, that helps foster the talents and curiosities of students at Creighton.

Caroline Adrian, a senior in environmental science, is both a Ferlic Fellow and a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow at Creighton (photo courtesy of Creighton University)
Caroline Adrian, a senior in environmental science, is both a Ferlic Fellow and a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow at Creighton (photo courtesy of Creighton University)

Adrian found giving presentations on her research especially rewarding. “It’s interesting how you can present your work while continuing your research, so that each progressive presentation will look a little different than the last,” she says. “I appreciate the learning and growth that comes from the cycle of preparation, presenting and researching.”

The protocols and changes brought about by the pandemic necessitated adaptations over the summer, but, according to Adrian, “Engaging in field research in the current circumstances challenged me to be flexible and open to approaching a question or problem in a new way. I’ve been surprised at how much we’ve been able to do with a bit of creative problem-solving.”

She plans on furthering her education with a Master’s in Education and then teaching at an elementary school. She says, “I love ecology and I love people, so I hope that I can be an advocate for both, wherever that takes me.”

To date, Creighton has awarded 201 Ferlic Fellowships to students who study in STEM fields. The postgraduate plans of that group are impressive: 33% have gone on to medical school, 16% to other health-related professional schools, and 30% to graduate school. The program’s undergraduate projects have allowed participating faculty to go on to obtain approximately $11.5 million of external grant funding.

The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program isn’t limited to supporting research in the sciences. Student researchers in the social sciences and humanities have achieved great success as well. Recent former fellows in these fields have gone on to Ph.D. programs in history and psychology, Fulbright teaching awards, and top law schools, to name just a few outcomes.

While Creighton’s strength in undergraduate research is especially attractive to prospective students, research by graduate and professional students with faculty mentors in the University’s graduate and professional schools is ongoing and equally robust. A recent expansion of Creighton’s academic research enterprise involves a partnership with Arizona State University (ASU). Under the agreement, ASU students receive priority consideration for enrollment in three Creighton health sciences doctoral programs, while students enrolled at the Creighton University Health Sciences – Phoenix Campus (set to open later this year) will have additional research opportunities at ASU facilities.

Creighton’s President, Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J., has described this as a “landmark partnership” – one that positions both universities for an “unprecedented and exciting future, full of promise and significance.”

By Erin O’Boyle, Communications Specialist, Saint Joseph’s University

SJ Brew embraces the Jesuit ideal of “for and with others.” “SJ can also serve as an acronym for social justice or Society of Jesus,” says Claire Fitzgerald ’21, student CEO. (Photo courtesy of Saint Joseph’s University)
SJ Brew embraces the Jesuit ideal of “for and with others.” “SJ can also serve as an acronym for social justice or Society of Jesus,” says Claire Fitzgerald ’21, student CEO. (Photo courtesy of Saint Joseph’s University)

Earlier this month, the first shipments of SJ Brew coffee arrived from Nicaragua to the campus marketplace at Saint Joseph’s University. It was a huge milestone for a student-run initiative that brings ethically procured coffee to campus.

“So much work has gone into this, and finally having it come to fruition in such a physical sense, that someone could pick it up and take it home – exciting would be the best word for it,” says Claire Fitzgerald ’21, a Spanish and Communications Studies double major, and the Student CEO of SJ Brew.

The coffee initiative is the brainchild of St. Joseph’s alumnus Richard Viebrock ’15. Though Viebrock has since graduated, current students have made his dream a reality under the direction of Keith Brown, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology, who has recruited students to run the initiative through his courses and study tours to Central America. The program is also run in collaboration with the University’s Fair Trade Club.

Fitzgerald first got involved in the program after attending a study tour to Costa Rica during her sophomore year, where her group met with coffee farmers and fair-trade producers. She says, “It’s different being able to see the process in person, and really see all the complicated steps that go into making a simple cup of coffee.”

SJ Brew’s coffee is fair trade, organic, and produced by Café Femenino, a program that provides direct compensation to female farmers, as well as the opportunity and resources for them to enact positive change in their communities. Fitzgerald, who is a member of the Fair Trade Club, says, “I’m really interested in sustainability and labor rights. Fair trade has such a perfect intersection of these two things.”

As Student CEO, Fitzgerald leads the general club meetings and serves as the point of contact for different University department heads and events. She also helps with copywriting and packaging, and developing a website that will eventually allow for online orders.

Sophia Dell’Arciprete ’22 initially came onto the SJ Brew team as a web developer and worked with Fitzgerald to build the site. She first heard about SJ Brew after taking Brown’s course on Ethical Consumption. “He was always mentioning the program, and how we could get involved,” Dell’Arciprete explains. She went to one of the SJ Brew meetings to learn how Saint Joseph’s could make its campus and products more sustainable.

A double major in Sociology and Art, with a background in photography, Dell’Arciprete helped design flyers and posters promoting the SJ Brew program. She says, “I wanted to offer my expertise on taking commercialized photos of products, to create content for our website and social media pages.”

Brown was able to help Dell’Arciprete turn her work with the SJ Brew program into an internship so that she could get credit for the work she puts in each week. “I work 10 hours a week with this internship,” she says. “I’m going to be writing a 10-page research paper pertaining to either ethical consumption, sustainability or environmental issues.”

Rylan Domingues ’22 is another student whose involvement with the SJ Brew program turned into an internship course. A Business Intelligence and Finance Major, Domingues first heard about the program through Brown’s Intro to Sociology course. Brown then reached out to Domingues personally to see if he wanted to get involved. “I focus on the business end of operations,” says Domingues. “I’m just taking a lot of what I’ve learned in my finance classes and general business courses to help out wherever I can.”

Domingues provides financial forecasts and analysis of how SJ Brew should price their products. “Initially, people were just throwing out what competitors’ prices were,” he says, explaining how they decided to price their products. “We needed to take into consideration all of our expenses and wholesale prices, like what packaging and distribution costs would look like. We needed to come up with our own price point, which was a cool experience.”

Domingues also provides marketing and business strategies, such as figuring out the logistics of a potential partnership with a coffee subscription service run by a St. Joseph’s alumnus. It has given him great experience and insight into fair trade and small businesses. He says, “It’s a really unique opportunity to blend both what I’ve learned in my course sequence in the business school, as well as passions for things like social justice and sustainability initiatives.”

Brown hopes that the students in this program realize that they can make a difference. “I also hope they understand the challenges of putting a mission-driven business into practice,” he says. “They have these great ideas, but what happens when a program has to remain sustainable and profitable? How do you grow a business that’s designed to have such a strong mission-driven component?”

Proceeds from the SJ Brew coffee sales will go toward the Shreiner Fund, which will fund study abroad scholarships for students who want to travel to Central America.

“I think this is a really cool way to build relationships between our own community, and those communities in Latin America,” says Domingues. “It would be cool to send students to see the communities we receive our coffee beans from, and come full circle.”

This article was originally published at and is featured in Connections with permission from Saint Joseph’s University.

By Tim Linn, Assistant Director of University Relations, Rockhurst University

Lilian Odom, ’20, Petia Bobadova, Ph.D., & David Barbosa, ’20, work together on a computer model of a molecule (photo courtesy of Rockhurst University)
Lilian Odom, ’20, Petia Bobadova, Ph.D., & David Barbosa, ’20, work together on a computer model of a molecule (photo courtesy of Rockhurst University)

In a literal sense, the term trailblazer refers to the person who first clears a new path, thereby making the journey a little easier for those who follow.

There’s a reason the term is also used to describe those who are the first in their professions — their journeys are often difficult, but help break down barriers for those who come after them.

It’s a concept that Petia Bobadova, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry at Rockhurst University, knows from her own family’s history: one that she honors in her own work and the enthusiasm with which she offers research opportunities to her undergraduate students.

Asked about how she became a chemist, Bobadova goes back – way back, to her grandmother, the first female chemical engineer in the history of Bulgaria. Born in 1918, her grandmother was sent by her father to study in the Czech Republic. It was a difficult time — not only was she studying in a male-dominated field, but Germany would invade the Czech Republic during her freshman year of university.

“I can’t imagine how hard that was,” Bobadova said. “I have a lot of respect for her because of that — she managed, she graduated, even with all of that going on.”

Bobadova’s mother followed the same path, making sure to then pass on a love of chemistry to her daughter. Following in those footsteps came naturally because of that influence. Bobadova said, “I got my first chemistry set when I was six years old. I think that kind of speaks for itself.”

And even when she burned a spot on her desk with said chemistry set, her mother encouraged her to keep going. By 14, Bobadova said she was committed to becoming a chemist and was placed in a gifted program in her native Bulgaria. She fully intended, like her grandmother and mother, to work in a laboratory or an industrial setting. But in 1989, everything changed.

“When I graduated in Bulgaria, it was exactly the time that the system changed,” Bobadova said of the country’s turn away from Communism. “All the factories closed, and there were no jobs for scientists at all.”

To continue her studies, Bobadova moved to the United States. As much as chemistry was part of her family legacy, teaching was not. But after spending a few years in a chemistry lab, Bobadova said she ultimately decided to become an instructor of the subject, rather than pursue a career in the industry.

Since joining Rockhurst in 2008, Bobadova has published eleven peer-reviewed papers and presentations in the areas of computational chemistry and materials design – essentially the creation of new molecules using computer modeling. Her most recent work has centered on molecules known as BODIPYs — organic compounds with fluorescent qualities. For many of these projects, she’s had co-authors, including faculty at other institutions and, importantly, her undergraduate students at Rockhurst.

Computer modeling allows Bobadova’s research groups to fine tune the attributes of these molecules, from fluorescence to stability to solubility, that make them useful for specific applications. The fluorescent attributes of BODIPY molecules give them potential uses in diagnostic imaging and as part of cancer treatments, providing immediate applications of the work.

For students, it is a unique opportunity — this is work that will not only bolster their resumes and graduate school applications, but also could lead to new treatments and techniques to save lives. David Barbosa, ’20, a chemistry and physics of medicine major who worked with Bobadova alongside Lilian Odom, ’20, said that the project opened his eyes not just to the important ways that chemistry is employed in our everyday lives, but to a deeper understanding of science itself.

“My biggest takeaway from this experience as a student is a change in my perception of scientific inquiry. In school, knowing the right answer to a question is rewarded with an A on the exam,” he explained. “In research, no one knows the right answer; that is why it is being studied. I liked working on this project so much because it encouraged genuine curiosity.”

Being able to be a part of an ongoing project that could improve people’s lives was an incredible opportunity, Barbosa said. “This concrete application certainly made learning the content more interesting and it gave my studying an added layer of purpose and drive.”

Bobadova recalls her mother taking the time to explain chemistry to her when she was stuck on certain concepts. Something about her explanations made the subject click: she hopes that through teaching and offering research opportunities, she can do the same for others. And it’s not only the students at Rockhurst — Bobadova said she even volunteers at the STEM nights at her daughter’s school, bringing chemistry equipment in for young students to try out. In the process, she might just be securing another generation of family chemists.

Bobadova said, “My daughter currently writes ‘chemist’ in the yearbook, when her teachers ask what the students want to do.”

By Jenny Smulson, Vice President of Government Relations, AJCU

One of President Biden’s first commitments made to the nation after his inauguration, was to ensure passage of a $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that would provide relief and support for people and sectors hard hit by the pandemic. In a speech on January 26, he said, “….We now have a national strategy to beat Covid-19. It’s comprehensive. It’s based on science, not politics. It’s based on truth, not denial. And it is detailed. It’s going to require Congress to pass the American Rescue Plan to provide funding to administer the vaccines, to ramp up testing, to help schools and businesses reopen, and to deliver immediate economic relief to Americans who are badly in need of it through no fault of their own.”

With the support of Democrats in the House and Senate, the President delivered on his promise. On March 11, President Biden signed H.R. 1319, The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, into law. This bill provides $40 billion for students and institutions of higher education, in addition to resources for K-12 education and other sectors that are still suffering from the impact of Covid. It directs federal dollars to the CDC for vaccination efforts; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Covid testing and tracing; state and local governments for pandemic response; and provides direct payments to individuals.

This third coronavirus relief package raises the total direct support provided to higher education to $76.5 billion (additional funds for higher education came from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security [CARES] Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act [CRRSAA]). AJCU is deeply grateful for this federal assistance; these appropriations represent a significant investment in our students and schools. Yet they still fall short of the conservative estimates of $120 billion in losses that higher education has realized since the pandemic began in March 2020.

The American Rescue Plan uses the same formula to distribute funds to colleges and universities as in the previous legislation for CRRSAA. Of the money made available to institutions of higher education, 50% is reserved for students. Student funds can be used for anything that falls under the cost of attendance, or for emergency needs related to the coronavirus, including: tuition, food, housing, and health care (including mental health support or childcare). Institutions will be able to use the other 50% of funds to defray Covid-related expenses and losses, including lost revenue and reimbursement for expense; technology costs related to transitions to distance learning; faculty and staff trainings; payroll; or providing additional support to students. This new investment will go a long way to help stabilize colleges and universities, and provide needed support for students to continue their education.

Covid relief has been an advocacy priority for AJCU, both in terms of requesting financial support from Congress, and in raising awareness about specific populations negatively impacted by the pandemic. We have called on Congress to address reciprocity of state licensure and telehealth during the declared state of emergency; educated Congress and the Administration about the challenges that international students continue to face in coming to the United States for post-secondary study; and sought protections for student veterans whose benefits were impacted by the transition to virtual learning.

There is ongoing discussion about additional federal economic recovery efforts, which will continue to be a focus for AJCU. In addition, we are beginning to turn our attention to the regular order of business, such as the FY 2022 appropriations process, and continued advocacy for increased investments in federal student financial aid, including a doubling of the Pell Grant to $13,000. For more information about AJCU’s advocacy, please visit the Policy Corner of our website.