CLAS Hosts Undergraduate Research Symposium

Kathryn Fair

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences invited undergraduate students that conducted research at Villanova over the summer to present their findings to other students, faculty and staff and members of the community on Friday, Nov. 12. These students were awarded grants through a rigorous application process that helped fund their research supplies and travel costs. 


These opportunities were sponsored by Villanova’s Center for Research and Fellowships (CRF), which offers various programs for undergraduate research on campus. The Villanova Undergraduate Research Fellows (VURF) Summer Program, the CRF Summer Housing Award and CRF Research and Travel Grant Recipients aided students in exploring their topic fully, and professors mentored the students throughout their investigation and writing process. 


Jason Mitala received both a CRF Housing Award and the McCullen Center’s Research Fellowship to fund his research. The monetary resources from these grants, alongside online academic journals and books from Falvey’s bookstacks, gave him ample access to all of the information he needed to conduct his exploration.


Mitala’s research surrounded the philosophy and psychology of love. His exploration culminated in a paper titled “Coalescent Love: A Philosophical and Psychological Exploration of the Phenomenon of Love.” 


I survey contemporary social psychology literature and consider philosophers such as Aristotle, Aquinas and Nygren in order to demonstrate my thesis, namely, that both self-love and altruism are key components of love,” Mitala explained.


Mitala explained that he dedicated months to researching, writing and editing his paper. When asked how he conducted his research, he replied, “I read… a ton. I would spend most days reading for a few hours, then transitioning to writing.”


Paul Camacho of Villanova’s Humanities Department introduced Mitala to the philosophy of love and mentored his research project. 


“Dr. Camacho assisted with the philosophy bibliography and I discovered the psychology theory, ‘Love as Mutual Communal Responsiveness’ on my own,” Mitala said. 


He plans to present his findings at conferences in the spring and shared some of his key takeaways.


Self-love is a good thing, don’t love people just because you like them and always love people, never statistics,” Mitala said. 


His paper is being published in “Veritas,” Villanova’s Undergraduate Research Journal.


Amanda Allender spent her summer researching in a biochemistry lab with Aimee Eggler. She has been investigating Nrf2, a transcription factor in cells that is integral in a cell’s response to oxidative stress. 


When Nrf2 accumulates in the nucleus, it binds to the antioxidant response element (ARE), which then regulates antioxidant and anti-inflammatory disease,” Allender explained. “Specifically, the research I presented at the symposium focused on how combinations of small molecule Nrf2 activating electrophiles and the molecule KI696 can affect the ARE response in cells, with specific combinations having a more than additive effect on the ARE (a phenomenon known as synergy) and other combinations having an antagonistic effect.


“Eggler has been a great research mentor and advisor to me. She is attentive to her research students and has given me great guidance and advice in my research experience. I met Dr. Eggler during my freshman year at Villanova and began to become involved with the Eggler Research Group during my sophomore year. My research has become such a key part of my identity at Villanova, and I am so thankful for the opportunities that she has given me in her lab, and for her continued guidance and support of my research and academic goals.” 


Allender’s days in the research lab varied each day.


Since my lab works with live cells, I like to joke that whenever I am running experiments, I am on ‘cell time’ because specific treatments and harvests need to happen at exact hour points (such as 18 or 30 hours),” Allender said.


Throughout the day, she would investigate results from her previous experiments, read publications about methods and pathways she was studying and sit with Eggler to discuss her recent findings and future directions.


Allender displayed a detailed poster at the CLAS Symposium and shared some of her key takeaways from her research. 


Specific combinations of small molecules can have a synergistic (and sometimes, antagonistic) effect on ARE response in cells,” Allender said. “Synergy is an important concept in the world of Nrf2 activators because not only does it give insight into potential other targets of small molecules in the pathways involved in antioxidant response but can also give insight for widening the therapeutic window of these small molecules, some of which are currently used in clinical trials or marketed as therapeutics.


Mitala and Allender’s research endeavors were just a fraction of all of the incredible undergraduates that participated in the CLAS Research Symposium. Each student at the event expressed passion for their research and a drive to continue to pursue their topics.