Biology Success Stories

  • Biology Alumni Reaching Higher

    We are so proud of our alumni, students, faculty and staff! Here are a few of the success stories that we just had to share. How well does the Biology Department at Saint Francis University prepare the next generation of researchers, health care professionals, and educators? We'll let our recent graduates speak for us!

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    Mr. Zachary Rozansky - Class of 2014

    Zachary Rozansky is a senior biology major with concentrations in environmental science and marine biology. In addition to his coursework, he has traveled, engaged in a variety of campus activities, and has contributed a great deal of time and energy in service to the biology department. This year, for example, he is actively involved in the maintenance and upkeep of Science Center’s 1500 gallon aquarium system.

    While at Saint Francis, Zack traveled to Crystal River, Florida, for a class on the ecology of manatees and the Central Floridian ecosystem. He has also been to Saint Lucia to study coral reef ecology and, most recently, to the Galapagos Is-lands, Ecuador, for a natural history course.

    This past spring, Zack secured a position in an NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program through Samford University in Homewood, Alabama. After traveling to the Galapagos in May, he spent the rest of his summer completing an independent research project on sediment impacts from mountain biking trails on stream macroinvertebrates within Alabama’s largest state park, Oak Mountain.

    At Saint Francis, Zack also worked with his advisor, Dr. Lane Loya, and biology major Amanda Johnson on a research project involving the effects of acid mine drain-age on riparian arthropods because of changes in macroinvertebrate communities. This fall, the project is being built upon to learn more about the differences in the plant communities and predatory arthropods.

    Zack is treasurer of Scuba Club and is a member of Tri-Beta Biological Honor Society. After graduation, he is considering graduate school in an environmental sciences or marine biology program.


    Mr. Jessie Felts - Class of 2013

    Major: Biology, Pre-Professional

    Minor: Philosophy, Religious Studies

    Community. That’s the first word that comes to mind when I think of Saint Francis University. Since day one I was accepted by my fellow students there, and that freed me to accept and appreciate others who I had met over the past four years there. There was a closeness there that I couldn't quite imagine anywhere else. Everyone was in it together—both the joys of a beautiful, fun weekend and the struggles of tests and papers amidst the snow storms. We supported each other. There was a great deal of mutual respect for everyone’s personal interests, activities, and future aspirations. I was told to “dream big” by my mentors there, which fit right in with their “reach high and go far” motto. My college experience there was one of exciting discovery and personal revelation. All aspects of that community experience had contributed to my realization of my calling to become a medical doctor. Saint Francis University helped me discover the desire in my heart to serve “the least of my brothers” and to give back to my community wherever I am. Upper classmen and faculty mentors instilled in me the confidence to pursue my aspirations no matter how “high” or “far” they may have seemed. I have come to realize that these passions are a gift from God—a calling, if you will—and to follow one’s passion in serving humanity in one way or another is to live the good life. I want to thank everyone in the Saint Francis Community who made my journey there a memorable one. It truly is different up there. The Franciscan spirit of community, service, peace, joy, and love changed my life. I am eternally grateful.


    Ms. Amanda Zahumensky - Class of 2013

    I completed research with Dr. Irene Wolf at a local acid mine drainage site to determine chaperone protein levels in the cattails found in each of the ponds. We found that cattails sampled from ponds that were more severely impacted by acid mine drainage had lower titers of heat shock proteins. This indicated that the production of these proteins, which promote proper protein folding and integrity, were impaired under adverse conditions. This might have contributed to the overall smaller size and impaired development seen in those ponds. That research was such an amazing experience and I greatly suggest any science major to get into some sort of research while they are in undergrad.

    While my time at Saint Francis was a great experience, it was also challenging. Time management was a huge part of my four years, as I had to balance the time required for both my studies and volleyball. Although it was difficult, I graduated in May with honors and was so thrilled to have been able to accomplish this while I was balancing my commitments in athletics. This year, I am taking a short year off school before continuing into medical school and to become an anesthesiologist. I am very excited to start this next chapter in my life.


    Mr. Mark Steinmiller - Class of 2013

    Mark Steinmiller, a Biology graduate with a marine biology concentration, and a minor in Biological Diving, was researching the ability of Tridacna derasa clams to lower the potentially toxic nutrients, phosphate and nitrate, in aquarium settings. The simplest way to reduce these nutrients was to partially change the water in the aquarium. If T. derasa clams could significantly reduce these nutrients, it could have been possible to use T. derasa to reduce the number of water changes necessary to maintain an aquarium. Dr. Devonna Sue Morra advised the project, which constitutes his Honor’s Senior Thesis.

    Mark became quite the world traveler. He traveled to Australia for Dr. Morra’s Natural History of Australia class, Crystal River, Florida for Manatee Ecology, and St. Lucia for Research Diver Methods.

    Mark was the president of the SCUBA club, and was a member of the Tri-Beta Biological Honors Society and the Saint Francis “Deep Friars” Ultimate Frisbee club. He also volunteered his time as a dive master, assisting Open Water SCUBA diving students in the pool and on their training dives.

    In the Summer of 2013, he interned at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium where he learned to work as an aquarist. He will be applying to the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society for their Rolex Scholarship. This scholarship grants the scholar one year of hands-on experience from the leaders in underwater fields across the United States, and potentially, around the world. Barring that, he will be seeking a job in a zoo or aquarium following graduation and looking at grad school after gaining real world experience.


    Ms. Erika Bendick - Class of 2012

    Erika Bendick, who was a Biology/Environmental Science major, researched the ecological interactions among predators, prey and plants. She and fellow biology senior Phillip Harchack focused on milkweed bugs, which store distasteful chemicals from milkweed seeds as a defense against predators. Erika and Phillip attempted to figure out if there was an advantage provided to bugs feeding on one milkweed species over another. Dr. Lane Loya, Associate Professor of Biology, advised the project. During her junior year, Erika also completed research as part of the Immersion Semester program at the Raystown Field Station. Erika and her team investigated the relationship between white-tailed deer populations and the water chemistry of five local natural springs.

    Outside of the classroom, Erika was also actively involved in the community. During the Summer of 2011, she interned at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center at Penn State, where she worked to educate the general public on a range of conservation issues. She also volunteered with the Raptor Center at Shaver's Creek to conduct programs that promoted the understanding and value of birds of prey. Following her time at SFU, Erika plans to continue her education in the field of Conservation Biology and has applied to graduate programs at schools such as University of Maine and the University of Montana. Erika is the daughter of Sheri and David Bendick of Port Matilda, PA.


    Mr. Thomas McWilliams - Class of 2012

    Thomas McWilliams researched the expression of heat shock proteins (HSPs) in both plants and animals found in acid mine drainage. HSPs are chaperone proteins that promote proper folding and stability of other proteins within cells. When cells are subjected to stress, they often produce more HSPs, like HSP70, to combat adverse cellular conditions. Therefore, HSP70 can serve as a biomarker to reveal stress in organisms found within acid mine drainages.

    Thomas is a Biology/pre-med graduate from Saint Francis University. He began his research in the summer of this year after taking Vertebrate Physiology, which was taught by his research mentor, Dr. Irene Wolf. Thomas was an international student from Gold Coast, Australia. Beyond his research activities, he played for the Red Flash Men’s Soccer team. He was also the Chair of Philanthropy for Sigma Chi.

    Dr. Wolf completed her Ph.D. at the University of Toledo Medical School. She then continued her work as a Post-doc at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Her dissertation exploring the role of stress proteins in hormone receptor activity was the driving force behind Thomas' research project. She and her students employed a variety of techniques in the lab, including protein extraction, protein assay using a new Bio-Rad microplate reader, SDS-PAGE and immunoblots. They expect the results of this research to be published in a peer reviewed journal.

    This research opportunity gave Thomas experience and insight into the life of a researcher and inspired him to pursue a combined M.D./Ph.D. degree and become a physician scientist.


    Ms. Melissa Heintz - Class of 2011

    Cryptocaryon irritans, a small parasitic protozoan that lives part of its life cycle under the scales or in the gill tissues of saltwater fish, can cause the complete destruction of a marine aquarium. Melissa Heintz was interested in breaking the life cycle of C. irritans without chemical treatment that kills all invertebrates pre-sent in the tank. Melissa spent most of her junior year confirming research completed by Lisa Morse: C. irritans will emerge out of its en-cysted stage and enter the free-swimming stage when water from an aquarium holding fish is added to the infected tank, even if no fish are present for the protozoan to infect. Having confirmed this, the question for Melissa became, “What is the substance released from fish that stimulates the protozoan to emerge from its encysted stage?” Melissa collected water from infected aquaria and completed spectrophotometric measurements on the water from infected aquaria to classify the substance. Once identified and purified, the substance has commercial possibilities. Melissa presented her Honors Thesis research in the Spring of 2011.

    Research was not the only activity filling Melissa’s college life. The Marine Biology graduate was involved in numerous organizations and had the opportunity to travel to many different places. As senior captain of the Red Flash Women’s Swim Team, she was proud to be a part of the 2010 Northeast Conference Championship team. Her main events were the 100, 200, and 500 yard freestyle. In addition to swimming, she was enrolled in the SFU Honors Program, was President of the Tri-Beta Biological Honor Society, and was the SAAC (Students Athletic Advisory Committee) representative for the swim team.

    In an unforgettable experience, Melissa became a certified SCUBA diver and dove in the Galapagos Islands while traveling with the Saint Francis Field Biology class in 2009. She lived on a boat for a week, visited many of the islands, and learned much about the unique flora and fauna on the land and waters of the Galapagos.

    Upon graduation from Saint Francis, Melissa plans to continue her studies in graduate school in pursuit of a Masters Degree in Marine Science. She has applied at several schools including Virginia Institute of Marine Science, University of North Carolina Wilmington, College of Charleston, and the University of South Florida. She has particular interest in continuing research on marine parasites.


    Mr. Tyler Gillmen - Class of 2011

    Living relics of the Apollo 14 lunar mission of 1971 can be found in our area and Biology Pre-professional Senior Tyler Gillmen, who also plays football for Saint Francis, wanted to know more about them. Astronaut Stuart Roosa, a former US Forest Service "smoke jumper," piloted the Apollo 14 orbiter and took the seeds of several species of tree in his PPKs, or Personal Preference Kits. These seeds were germinated and planted by the Forest Service and distributed around the country and world, especially as the country’s bicentennial of 1976 was celebrated.

    Two such trees, sycamores (Platanus sp.), are found at the Cambria County Courthouse in Ebensburg and Highland Hall in Hollidaysburg. Many others are listed on the NASA site. Everyone wanted a Moon Tree in 1976, but unfortunately few records were kept and rumors abound about trees that died and were replaced or their location lost. Modern genetic analysis may solve these problems and identify legitimate moon trees. Tyler used PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to analyze the DNA extracted from sample leaves sent to him from around the country and collected locally. According to Tyler, “The ultimate goal of the experiment was to observe non-Mendelian genetics of Sycamore Moon Trees in an attempt to understand possible changes that occurred from their trip to outer space.”

    Ms. Angela Mazzei - Class of 2007

    I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at Saint Francis University, both academically and socially. The biology program adequately prepared me for pharmacy school at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM). The biology department at SFU is highly devoted to their profession and to helping students succeed beyond their stay at SFU. The faculty was always very supportive, and they helped me in choosing a career that best fit my goals and aspirations. The biology program at SFU provided me with an educational foundation necessary to be successful in pharmacy school.

    Mr. Matthew Stephens - Class of 2007

    Saint Francis provided me with a fantastic education, both scholastically and personally, which contributed to my acceptance into and success in medical school (MD program at the Penn State College of Medicine). The preparation was extremely personalized and provided by faculty who were truly interested in my success. Given the choice to go to any undergraduate university in the country, I would choose Saint Francis again in a heartbeat.

    Mr. Eric Echard - Class of 2006

    Saint Francis University is truly a first-rate, hidden gem as far as a collegiate educational experience is concerned. My personal dream was to become a dentist, and I can tell you that Saint Francis University provides the perfect learning environment for the dedicated student. I spent my freshman year of college and subsequent summer at two large universities before attending Saint Francis. This first difficult year of school really helped me to recognize just how special Saint Francis University is for a person who dreams of someday getting into a professional program. The professors at Saint Francis are teachers first-and-foremost; they are not researchers looking to advance their own personal careers like the majority of professors at larger universities. This, coupled with the fact that it is a small school, means that each student receives a higher degree of personal attention. The Biology department at Saint Francis is simply wonderful. They are kind, friendly and willing to do whatever they can to help a student reach his or her ultimate goal.

    Ms. Holly Nadorlik - Class of 2005

    Some undergraduates may come to college with plans to attend medical school, but in my case, I made the decision while I was a student at Saint Francis. Fortunately, I was at a university with an excellent academic reputation and a strong science curriculum. I can honestly say that my background as a biology major prepared me well for the rigors of medical school (Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine), and my basic science background from Saint Francis was an excellent foundation for the first two years of medical school. I can remember several occasions where I worked with faculty in their offices one-on-one to go over lab reports or classroom concepts. The faculty attention you'll receive as part of your education at Saint Francis is really second to none, and whatever your career aspirations may be, you will definitely leave Saint Francis prepared for any path you choose.

    Dr. Jennifer Yonker - Class of 2004

    I received a great education at St. Francis University. The small class sizes were wonderful for really getting to know my professors. The biology faculty were more than willing to help in any way. Their support and mentoring were invaluable for my being accepted to veterinary school at Ohio State University.

    Dr. Matthew Mastrine - Class of 2004

    My educational experience at Saint Francis University prepared me immeasurably on a personal, academic, and professional level for my continuation in the optometry profession. Saint Francis gave me the confidence and support to seek a fulfilling career in optometry. My coursework was an excellent preparation and foundation for graduate school. My advisors and professors were among the best I have ever had. I am extremely grateful for the education, exceptional opportunities, and encouragement. I have no doubt that I would not be the person that I am today both personally and professionally without the education I received at Saint Francis University.

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