Saint Joseph's students talking with professor in Barbelin Hall

Academics with Impact

Life Rolls On

Members of Saint Joseph's physical therapy program guide an adaptive athlete into the ocean alongside other Life Rolls On volunteers

Members of Saint Joseph’s physical therapy program guide an adaptive athlete into the ocean alongside other Life Rolls On volunteers.

Members of Saint Joseph’s physical therapy program supported athletes with disabilities at the world’s largest adaptive surf event.

For one day in August, the ocean was an accessible oasis for people living with various disabilities. With the support of hundreds of volunteers, including students, faculty and alumni from Saint Joseph’s physical therapy program, surfers of all abilities had an extraordinary opportunity to catch some waves in Wildwood, New Jersey.

Lora Packel, PT, MSPT, PhD, associate dean of the School of Health Professions and former chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, led a group of 13 students participating in the annual Life Rolls On event, which brought together more than 750 volunteers and athletes to give individuals with disabilities the support to safely surf the open water. For the students who participated, the experience was a powerful reminder of the impact physical therapy has on so many lives. 

“When everything seems to go wrong, I want people to know it’s OK,” says Ally Short ’24 (DPT). “You’re still able to do things that you didn’t think you’d be able to do anymore.” 

Short was among the volunteers who helped athletes of all ages get from the parking lot into beach wheelchairs and then transferred onto adaptive surfboards adorned with children’s artwork and all the necessary supports for a safe ride. Teams of therapists and volunteers then went into the ocean to help the athletes make their way into the water, where experienced surfers helped them steer their way back to shore, only to begin the cycle again.

It gives [students] insight into the impact of an illness or an injury on someone’s mobility, but also the optimism and potential people can have.” 

- Lora Packel, PT, MSPT, PhD

Associate Dean of the School of Health Professions

For the athletes, it was the one exhilarating 30-minute window in the year when the ocean was adapted to their needs. For the volunteers, like Michael LaBrie ’24 (DPT), it was a glimpse into a rewarding new career path. After leaving his occupation in the automotive industry, LaBrie came to Saint Joseph’s in search of a more meaningful way to give back to his community. In Wildwood, he saw just how transformative his new physical therapy degree could be.

“One gentleman looked like he was upset,” LaBrie says, “but after he got off [the surfboard] I realized he was crying in true joy.” 

Life Rolls On was started by Jesse Billauer, a surfer who became quadriplegic after being injured just weeks prior to turning pro. He wanted others to be able “to feel the freedom he experienced on the water,” Packel says. Watching the adaptive athletes muster the bravery to get on a surfboard was inspiring for the students who participated, she says. 

“It gives them insight into the impact that physical therapy can have on people’s lives,” Packel says. “It gives them insight into the impact of an illness or an injury on someone’s mobility, but also the optimism and potential people can have even when they experience a serious injury like Jesse Billauer did.”

Undergrads Tackle Research To Change the Status Quo

From uncovering the root cause of medical bias to exploring potential breast cancer treatments, this year’s Summer Scholars set the research bar high.

Saint Joseph’s Summer Scholars have been working through the summer months on cutting-edge research since 1994. Focusing on a wide breadth of topics, these undergraduate students spend their off-season working with faculty mentors on topics that spark their interests — analyzing literature, studying fruit fly behaviors or creating data systems. This year’s Summer Scholars set the bar high, focusing on projects that aim to change industry standards.


Young girl speaking to behavioral specialist

Getting to the Root of Medical Bias for Patients with Autism

Samuel Vizzeswarapu ’23, a biology major minoring in autism behavioral studies, spent his summer researching medical bias toward individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the field of healthcare. 

Eighty percent of autistic adults reported difficulty visiting a general practitioner in part due to the waiting room environment, not feeling understood and difficulty communicating with a doctor. A large part of Vizzeswarapu’s research is to uncover why individuals with ASD experience these situations in a healthcare setting and how it affects their care.

 Together with his faculty mentor, Samantha Riggleman, PhD, BCBA, assistant professor of special education, Vizzeswarapu developed and deployed a survey to local health facilities, which will be used to propose a curriculum to help educate healthcare providers on ASD.

A scan of breast cancer cells

Putting Breast Cancer Under the Microscope

Caitlyn Ulmer ’24 spent her summer in the lab of Isabelle Mercier, PhD, chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, exploring the potential of repurposing drugs created for another use that could serve as unlikely weapons in the fight against breast cancer. With funding from the Janssen STEM Equity Research Summer Scholars program, which supports underrepresented students in STEM fields, she’s studying how and why some antipsychotic medicines inhibit or prevent the proliferation of cancer cells in the most aggressive forms of the disease. 

Ulmer, who is a pharmacology and toxicology major, is working to better understand how the antipsychotic drug pimozide inhibits the STAT3 protein that encourages the spread of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) cells; these cells lack the three receptors typically targeted by available cancer treatments, which leads to lower survival rates than other forms of the disease.

a photo of medical transplant technology

ECMO: A Bridge to Transplant or a Bridge to Nowhere

Joseph Kelly ’24, a biology major minoring in health care ethics and theology, is working to demystify the risks associated with patients consenting to ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

ECMO allows a patient’s blood to be pumped outside of the body to a heart-lung machine that removes carbon dioxide, sends oxygen-filled blood back to the tissues and allows the heart and/or lungs to heal. While this procedure can save lives, only 43% of adult ECMO patients survived to discharge between January 2009 and July 2014.

Kelly and Peter Clark, S.J., PhD ’75, professor of medical ethics, director of the Institute of Clinical Bioethics and McShain Ethics Chair, are creating a video resource that would quickly and thoroughly educate families on the risks and benefits of ECMO to support them in their decision to either consent to or decline the procedure.

An Inside Look at Grant-Funded Projects

This year, Saint Joseph’s faculty members received grant funding to support transformative research in the areas of business, education, healthcare and more.


photo of ambulance at night


  PROJECT: Pennsylvania First Responders Opioid Training

  GRANTING AGENCY: Pennsylvania Department of Health

  PRIMARY INVESTIGATOR (PI): Stephen Forzato | director of the Center for Addiction and Recovery Education

Through a partnership with the PA Department of Health and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Saint Joseph’s Center for Addiction and Recovery Education (CARE) is providing educational opportunities and training programs on how to approach and connect with those in need of treatment for substance use disorder. The training team includes first responders and attorneys, some of whom are in recovery themselves. Over the last three years, CARE has implemented 350 training sessions, trained 5,317 first responders and criminal justice professionals, and distributed 2,467 naloxone units.

photo of warehouse


  PROJECT: A Framework for Resilience in Supply Chain via Composition of Trust: Prototyping and Documentation

  GRANTING AGENCY: : National Institute of Standards and Technology

  PRIMARY INVESTIGATOR (PI): Marcello Balduccini, PhD | associate professor of decision and system sciences

During the rise of the pandemic, supply chains became sensitive to sudden and extreme changes in demand. This study investigates the use of artificial intelligence for making supply chains more resilient by enabling a more accurate evaluation and restoration of their operations.

photo of an ultrasound


  PROJECT: Developing Positive Allosteric Modulators of Formyl Peptide Receptor 2 for the Treatment of Heart Disease

  GRANTING AGENCY: W.W. Smith Charitable Trust

  PRIMARY INVESTIGATOR (PI): Zhijun Li, PhD | professor of chemistry

Li’s research explores whether targeting a membrane protein involved in heart function (formyl peptide receptor 2, or FPR2) could safely and effectively treat heart disease. With the challenge of creating a drug that targets the protein’s natural binding site, Li has proposed the development of a molecule that binds to a different site on the protein. The molecule, Li explains, can be further developed into a drug for the treatment of heart disease.

photo of an ultrasound


  PROJECT:  Newborn Bedtime Routines: Longitudinal Outcomes and Efficacy

  GRANTING AGENCY: Johnson & Johnson

  PRIMARY INVESTIGATOR (PI): Jodi Mindell, PhD | professor of psychology

A consistent bedtime routine is associated with better sleep and well-being in infants and toddlers, but little is known about sleep routines for newborns. Mindell’s study will assess the acceptability and feasibility of implementing a bedtime routine for newborns, as well as its impact on sleep and developmental outcomes in newborns, parent sleep and mood, and parent-infant bonding.

photo of wooden staircase


  PROJECT: An Integrated Exercise and Bladder Training Intervention to Reduce Falls in Older Women with Urinary Incontinence

  GRANTING AGENCY: National Institutes of Health (UPenn)

  CO-PRIMARY INVESTIGATOR (PI): Wendy Walsh, PhD, OTR/L | chair and associate professor of occupational therapy

Walsh’s research is part of a joint venture with University of Pennsylvania on an NIH-funded, three-year randomized control trial study that looks at methods for reducing the number of falls that occur in women aged 70 and older through education, exercise and other interventions. With a focus on occupational therapy techniques, Walsh addresses home environment modification, personal safety and bladder control management as ways to manage incontinence, which is an important factor in elder falls. Preliminary data indicates that the experimental protocol correlates with reduced falls in the participants.

photo of DNA strand


  GRANTING AGENCY:  National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute (NIH)

  PRIMARY INVESTIGATORS (PI): Isabelle Mercier, PhD | associate professor and chair of pharmaceutical sciences; Jean-Francois Jasmin, PhD | associate professor and associate provost for research and graduate administration and policy

Mercier and Jasmin’s research focuses on the discovery and validation of new biomarkers and therapeutic targets for cancer treatment. This grant will allow them, along with their undergraduate and graduate students, to shed light on the role of a protein called CAPER in the development and progression of triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of breast cancer with limited treatment options.

Recognizing Academic Excellence

Saint Joseph’s students received prestigious fellowships and awards in fields ranging from teaching to STEM and language study.


two Saint Joseph's students in lab

Alexa Mihaita ’24 (left) working in the lab alongside April Pivonka ’22 (right).

Alexa Mihaita’s research focus at Saint Joseph’s may be microscopic, but its impact is anything but small. The senior chemical biology major is studying how gene regulation allows Enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC) and E. albertii bacteria to cause diseases such as infantile diarrhea — a leading cause of childhood mortality in developing countries according to the National Library of Medicine. 

Mihaita’s work — conducted alongside Associate Professor of Biology Shantanu Bhatt, PhD — not only marries her passion for biology and public health, but it also earned her the highly competitive Barry M. Goldwater STEM Research Scholarship. It’s an award that will allow her to further her academic pursuits in graduate school and beyond. 

“On the one hand, the award helped fund the final year of my undergraduate studies at Saint Joseph’s, which has given me the tools, training and expertise I need to step into graduate school,” says Mihaita, “but it’s also given me the confidence that this is something I can do — that I’m on the right path.”

Mihaita is one of eight Saint Joseph’s students whose academic excellence has been recognized by prestigious fellowships or awards this year. While her current focus has been combatting EPEC infections by identifying new targets for therapeutic strategies, she wants to broaden her scope in graduate school.

 “I’m primarily interested in emerging pathogens whose disease mechanisms are cryptic or under-studied,” she says, “especially those that may have impacts in developing countries or in areas where accessibility to required therapies may be scarce.”

 Her ultimate goal is to become a biomedical research scientist and serve as a faculty member of an academic institution. 

“Before college, I didn’t realize there were avenues besides medical school that would enable me to contribute to public health while also allowing me to explore my curiosity as a scientific researcher,” she says. “Without St. Joe’s and Dr. Bhatt encouraging me to apply for things like the Goldwater, I wouldn’t have discovered my passion.”


Barry M. Goldwater STEM Research Scholarship 

  • Alexa Mihaita ’24 | Chemical Biology

Critical Language Scholarship 

  • Caren Teague ’23 | English 

DAAD-RISE Professional Summer STEM Fellowship 

  • Kayla Flanders ’23 | Chemical Biology

Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) 

  • Raeghan Smith ’21, ’22 (MS) | International Relations (BS) and Public Policy (MS) (Bosnia-Herzegovina Semifinalist) 

Future Nobel Laureate Scholarship 

  • Maddie DeMarco ’22, ’23 (MS) | Political Science (BS) and Public Policy (MS)

 Meddeas Language Assistant Program 

  • Ashley Damaia ’23 | Elementary Education (Pre K-4)

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship 

  • Kara Moulton ’23 | Chemistry 

Teaching Assistant Program in France 

  • Claire Dragwa ’23 | Secondary Education and French


University Named Top U.S. Fulbright Producer

Graphic on white and red background that reads "U.S. student program top producer 2022-2023 Fulbright Program"

Saint Joseph’s is also the only Philadelphia university to have been recognized in the master’s institutions category. 

For the third time in University history, Saint Joseph’s has been named a Top Producing Institution of U.S. Fulbright Students by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This recognition is given to the U.S. colleges and universities that had the highest number of applicants selected for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

“The education we offer is designed to foster an appreciation for the larger world and kindle a desire to make a positive impact,” says Saint Joseph’s President Cheryl A. McConnell, PhD. “The Fulbright Program is one critical avenue to launch our graduates into that world.” 

The education we offer is designed to foster an appreciation for the larger world and kindle a desire to make a positive impact. The Fulbright Program is one critical avenue to launch our graduates into that world.”

- Cheryl A. McConnell, PhD


Since its inception in 1946, more than 400,000 people have participated in the Fulbright Program. One of those awardees is alumna Elkanah Linder USP ’15, USP ’21 (PharmD), who returned to campus this fall to talk about her experience in Sweden.

“Fulbright introduced me to life in a new country, a new culture and a new language. At the same time, it has led to opportunities to continue working with research and educational initiatives relating to the environmental impact of pharmaceuticals in both Swedish and international settings,” says Linder.