Summer Undergraduate Research Thrives at NCAS

Lawrence Lerner

Undergraduate research has been an essential part of the NCAS experience for many years, and is one of the things that sets Rutgers-Newark apart from peer institutions in the area. Ask any NCAS student who has completed an undergraduate research project, and they’ll tell you that the chance to work side by side with a renowned scholar on primary research is a life-changing experience.

But funding for this important work had been limited to fall and spring semesters.That changed in 2011 with the establishment of the William F. Singletary Undergraduate Research Fund, the first privately funded effort focused on undergraduate research in NCAS’ history.

The gift, a $25,000 commitment over five years, has since been matched by additional sources. Taken together, they are funding summer-research stipends, travel and other costs for full-time NCAS undergraduates from across the academic spectrum.

The initiative, a priority for NCAS, is helping the college create a bridge between fall- and spring-semester research for its undergraduates, enabling them to continue to focus on their research, uninterrupted over the summer, without the distraction of part-time jobs.

Summer 2012 saw the inaugural class of summer undergraduate research fellows.
Below, we introduce this year’s crop of outstanding students, fresh off their 2013 summer-fellowship experience.


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Mayyadah Yusuf
Hometown: Jersey City, NJ
Year: Senior
Major: Chemistry (Mathematics minor)
Advisor: Professor Frieder Jaekle

A research assistant in Professor Jaekle’s lab since January 2013, Yusuf worked on the formation of a new type of Lewis acid catalyst. Having accomplished this, in the summer she set about two tasks: using the catalyst in several common organic transformations to examine the results and come away with a publishable study, and working on a targeted luminescent borenium cation species that would be beneficial for many electronic devices.

In the process, she learned how to handle air-sensitive compounds in an inert-atmosphere environment, how to purify products using column chromatography techniques, and how to use multinuclear NMR spectroscopy to analyze those products. Yusuf plans to apply to graduate programs in chemistry. She cites her summer research experience as having helped position and prepare her for graduate-level work.


Steve Cuello
Hometown: Paterson, NJ
Year: Senior
Major: Psychology
Advisor: Professor Luis Rivera

An aspiring clinical psychologist, Cuello joined Professor Rivera’s lab in spring 2013, and the two designed an experiment on the relation between self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. Their emphasis was on tracking student subjects’ “implicit social cognition” (ISC) when given negative feedback about their intelligence. ISC refers to non-conscious beliefs, or beliefs that subjects minimize when self-reporting in order to appear more socially desirable.

Cuello spent the summer writing a comprehensive literature review on the topic, which he and Professor Rivera will submit to a peer-reviewed journal; Cuello will get a co-author credit on the paper. He also completed a statistical analysis on the data collected from the experiment. The research is part of Cuello’s honors senior thesis, which he’ll complete by December 2013. He plans on pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, focusing on suicide from a social psychology perspective.


Michele Illmensee
Hometown: Manasquan, NJ
Year: Senior
Major: Anthropology (Geology minor)
Advisor: Professor Gary Farney

A student in NCAS’s Honors College, Illmensee helped Farney and his team excavate a site in Italy this summer as part of Professor Farney’s Upper Sabina Tiberina Archaeological Field School. She was trained in excavation and recording techniques, preparing and analyzing small finds, and assisting with the geophysical survey. In the fall, Illmensee will do further analysis of the geophysical survey, attempting to synthesize the data for her honor’s thesis and, in the process, contributing to the team’s future publications on the project.


Casey McGuffy
Hometown: Byram, NJ
Year: Senior
Major: Geology (Psychology minor)
Advisor: Professor Lee Slater

McGuffy worked with United States Geological Survey (USGS) scientists, along with academics and other undergraduate and graduate students, to examine the geophysical responses to microbial activity at an oil-contamination site in northern Minnesota. While acquiring samples from the site, she saw first-hand how her coursework in hydrogeology and geophysics is applied in the field. In the fall, she will analyze the data gathered during the summer and complete a technical research paper. She will also present her findings at the 2014 Rutgers-Newark Undergraduate Research Day.


Alberto Batarseh
Hometown: Little Falls, NJ
Year: Senior
Major: Chemistry
Advisor: Professor Elena Galoppini

A research assistant in Professor Galppini’s lab since summer 2012, Batarseh has been working on a project that may impact the field of emerging photovoltaics: He has gained invaluable experience by synthesizing a new class of chromophores with built-in dipoles, and by helping Galoppini’s team look at different methods to better bind molecules to a semiconductor surface by modifying that surface.

Batarseh presented his work at the Laboratory for Surface Modification (LSM) 27th Annual Symposium in spring 2013. He plans on attending medical school and credits his undergraduate research experience for helping him better understand organic chemistry, lab procedures, and scientific literature, all of which will help him in his career as a physician.


Karen Wang
Hometown: Palisades Park, NJ
Year: Senior
Major: Biology
Advisor: Professor Daniel Bunker

A research assistant in Professor Bunker’s lab for more than a year, Wang has been studying the impact of climate change and invasive species on plant-pollinator interactions. Specifically, she’s been helping Bunker’s team sample the pollen from artificial nests set up at Morristown National Historic Park, as well as from local plant species, to determine the pollination activity of two bee species in the park: a new species recently discovered there, and an older species native to the area. The goal: to understand what plants the two species of bees are pollinating, and whether their pollination activity is complimentary or redundant.

Wang will produce a full scientific report of her findings, which may lead to publishable work, given how little is known about the new non-native bee species found at the Park. She’ll also present her findings at the Entomological Society of America’s annual conference in November.


Dana Migliaccio
Hometown: Montclair, NJ
Year: Senior
Major: Social Work
Advisor: Professor Jason Bird

Migliaccio has been working with Professor Bird on a qualitative study he conducted with HIV-positive African-American Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM). The objective: to understand the role of HIV- and sexual-orientation-related stigma on HIV disclosure to family, friends, community members, and sexual partners.

Migliaccio has been focusing on the role that trust has played in this process, and the strategies these men used in determining whether they could trust sexual partners with HIV-status information. She has worked as a secondary coder on the qualitative research data, analyzed emergent themes from interviews, completed an in-depth review of the literature on the aforementioned issues (HIV disclosure, stigma, and trust in the context of these sexual relationships), and will be writing the introduction to a publishable scholarly article. Migliaccio plans on pursuing graduate work in the field and becoming a social worker in the criminal justice system.