Allegheny College Receives National Science Foundation Grant in Support of Faculty Research

July 24, 2015 — Ivelitza Garcia, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Allegheny College, received a grant of $174,038 from the National Science Foundation in support of her project “Research in Undergraduate Institutions: Catalytic regulation of ribosome processing factors: Investigation of peripheral domain effects on the enzymatic capabilities of the DEAD-box protein Rok1p.”

The grant will provide funding for eight Allegheny students over four years to collaborate with Garcia to investigate how different structural elements within DEAD-box proteins can regulate the activity and initial structural state of a protein model. Understanding the regulation of DEAD-box proteins is of high medical interest since they are often over- or under-expressed in breast, cervical and prostate cancer as well as in T-cell and myeloid leukemia.

One hundred percent of the $174,038 cost of the project will be covered by federal funds through the NSF grant.

Photo: Winnie Wong at work in Ivelitza Garcia’s lab.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Six Students Present Research at the 249th National American Chemical Society Meeting

Six Chemistry and Biochemistry students presented research at the 249th National American Chemical Society meeting in Denver. Haley Englert ’15 presented a poster at the Biochemistry section poster session, “Biological analyses of ATP binding and hydrolysis in DEAD-box protein,” based on her research with Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Ivy Garcia. Sean Carney ’15 presented a poster at the Physical Chemistry section poster session, “Probing the mechanism of DNA duplex formation in sequences with consecutive versus alternating purines and pyrimidines using stopped flow kinetics experiments,” based on his research with Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Alice Deckert. Four students presented their work with Professor Deckert at the Undergraduate Research poster session. Emma Bean ’15 and Matt Gray ’16 presented the poster “Progress towards SERS sensor for PAH’s,” and Bridgette McCauley ’15 and Shawn Kennemuth ’16 presented the poster “Investigation of Surface Chemistry on P-Si to form Potential Biosensors/Drug Delivery Devices.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Professor provides first documentation of chemical interaction

In a journal article currently under review by the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Mark Ams, assistant professor of chemistry, explains an interaction that has never been documented before. The interaction demonstrates the strength of a chemical interaction that happens with molecules containing a fluorine group above a ring structure, which is six carbons attached to each other.

Ams’ lab is currently studying the weak interactions that occur within one molecule. In the structure they use, called a torsion balance system, a long chain of carbons in the molecule fold in such a way that the end of the end is able to fold over the ring structure.

This torsion balance system is required to isolate the specific molecular force that they wish to study, a force that is so weak it is typically not able to be measured, according to Rosey Sheridan, ’15, who has worked on this project.

Read more.

Amanda Spadaro is co-editor-in-chief for The Campus. Photo contributed by Rosey Sheridan.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Making homes healthier for children


Karina Sarver often finds herself poking around people’s homes.

The Allegheny College junior could be collecting dust samples from the floor. Looking at electric outlets on the wall. Or asking whether adults in the home smoke, how many pets they keep and how often the family burns wood in its fireplace.

Karina Sarver tests samples in a laboratory at Carr Hall.

Karina Sarver tests samples in a laboratory at Carr Hall.

She’s not just being nosey. It’s part of her work-study job.

What started as an idea for a class project almost 11 years ago has evolved into an Allegheny student-operated, nonprofit agency that helps safeguard the health of children throughout northwest Pennsylvania.

The Healthy Homes – Healthy Children program began in 2007 under the direction of Dr. Caryl Waggett, associate professor of environmental science, as a way to test older homes for lead paint residue that could cause cognitive and behavioral problems in children.

Fast-forward seven years and you’ll find three students, led by Sarver, who is the program coordinator, managing a free, in-home survey program in Crawford County. The students look for airborne health risks and nutritional and safety issues, too.

More than 1,750 homes have been tested since the program’s inception. Its scope has expanded to include educational outreach extending into the Erie area. The students also have become a resource for the region’s medical and social-service professionals.

“Personalized home visits are one of a suite of tools that we use to help families address these issues,” says Waggett.

Healthy Homes-Healthy Children was designed to:

  • provide targeted information to families and medical, educational, and social service providers;
  • address perceptions and attitudes that may be counteracting healthy outcomes;
  • support families hoping to make behavioral changes;
  • research and work toward better understanding of the key factors impacting children’s health in northwest Pennsylvania.

As the program leader, Sarver schedules the in-home tests with parents, coordinates the lab processing (part of which is done at Carr Hall) and shares results with the homeowners.

“I came to Allegheny as a pre-med student, but since joining this program, I’ve found that I want to make more of an impact on community-based health, not so much just individuals,” says Sarver, a biology major with minors in English and history.

Sarver and fellow students Jillian Gallatin ’16 and Katelyn Nicewander ’15 conduct the hour-long, in-home surveys. They do some of the laboratory testing of airborne samples themselves and send other samples to a Michigan laboratory to determine if, and how serious, mold-borne issues may be in clients’ houses. Pollutants, especially lead from paint in many of the Meadville-area homes built before 1978, can negatively impact development in children.

Mold spores from damp rooms, allergens from pets, secondhand smoke from parents, naturally occurring radon infiltration and home-heating units that burn gas, oil and wood can exacerbate asthma and pose other health problems in children.

Through the efforts of these Allegheny students, parents, community organizations, and professionals throughout Crawford County are learning about potential health threats in their homes and receiving practical suggestions for remediation.

The Healthy Homes – Healthy Children team gets its referrals in a variety of ways, but the students work closely with agencies such as Meadville Head Start, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Early Intervention and the Children’s Health Network of the Meadville Medical Center. In addition to the home surveys, the students conduct seminars at local schools and social-service agencies. They might discuss how to clean a home efficiently to reduce allergens and dust, and also suggest ways that children can adopt healthier lifestyles through proper nutrition and exercising regularly. They also staff a booth for a week distributing healthy-lifestyle educational materials at the annual Crawford County Fair.

Lorie Darcangelo, the Meadville WIC director, considers the Healthy Homes—Healthy Children program “a blessing” for the region.

“It is a wonderful service to offer to our community,” says Darcangelo.  “At WIC, we appreciate being able to make this referral to our participants.  Many live in older homes that do contain lead-based paint.  With limited income, and many are renters, the practical information provided to them by Health Homes—Healthy Children is invaluable.  We, at WIC, also appreciate the information and training that this program has provided to our staff so we are better prepared to make those referrals.”

“It’s really given me a greater appreciation for early intervention in children, to teach them healthy habits,” says Sarver. “It’s helped me to connect to Meadville in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. Right now, we’re reaching the people who are interested in changing their lifestyles, but there is a whole demographic that hasn’t reached that point.”

“Change is hard for all of us, and in many instances, families have so many financial and time pressures that it is hard to identify or prioritize key issues,” Waggett says.  “HHHC works with families and can link them to other services that help them focus on key issues.”

Sarver says it’s important to focus on healthy homes for children because:

  • More than 80 percent of the buildings in Crawford County were built before 1978, the year that lead paint was banned.
  • Children under age 6 are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning because their neurological systems are developing and they often put objects, like toys that have been exposed to lead-positive dust, in their mouths. High lead levels in children can cause irreversible cognitive deficits and both learning and behavioral challenges in the classroom.
  • Levels of air pollution in the home can be two to five times higher than outdoor levels. This isn’t good for asthmatic children and can lead to respiratory ailments.
  • The average home contains 60 chemical products that can taint the inside air.

Sarver suggests some ways to make a home more child-friendly:

    • Vacuuming often with a device that includes a HEPA filter.
    • Dusting furniture and window sills regularly with a damp cloth.
    • Making sure electric outlets have safety guards on them.
    • If possible, making sure carpeting in a child’s room is newer or cleaned regularly.
    • Not allowing pets to sleep in bed with children.
    • Keeping the home, especially basements, dry and well-ventilated. Run a dehumidifier. If you see mold on the walls, clean it immediately with diluted bleach or vinegar.

If you think you might have lead paint that can’t be immediately removed by a lead safety certified professional, it’s beneficial to give children in the home a calcium supplement, some health experts advise. As Sarver explains: “Lead fills in for calcium in the body. Lead is especially dangerous in the calcium-dependent synapses in the brain. In children who don’t have sufficient calcium in their diet, or who don’t have sufficient vitamin D which is necessary to absorb calcium, lead can be absorbed into places where calcium is normally needed in the body.  When lead replaces calcium in neurological system, it interrupts synaptic communication and induces symptoms of learning disabilities. Lead can also replace calcium in bones, so it is innately important to make sure young, growing bodies are getting enough calcium in their diets.  So, two children who both live in older homes with residual lead dust may absorb different levels of the lead, and have highly different outcomes.  These exposure differences and health disparities tend to fall along economic lines.  In regions like Meadville, where nearly 40 percent of our children are living in families under the poverty line, food insecurity is a common problem that can lead to more significant problems like increased susceptibility to lead poisoning.”

The Healthy Homes – Healthy Children program has brochures available for parents, educators and social-service representatives.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Kicking Off Allegheny’s Bicentennial on a High Note

For generations of Allegheny singers, 2015 means more than the Bicentennial.

It’s the 85th anniversary of the choir’s existence.

It’s the 50th anniversary of music program/choir director founder Morten “Luvy” Luvaas’ retirement.

And it’s a choir reunion year, meaning all past and present members of the Allegheny choirs are invited back for a special celebration during Reunion Weekend at the end of May. Historically, the triennial choir reunions have drawn the largest group of attendees among any reunion group.

For James Niblock ’97, assistant professor of music and director of choral activities, it’s certainly exciting.

“It’s very humbling to be in this position at such an exciting moment in Allegheny’s history,” he says. “We’re going to premier a wonderful commission; I already have chosen the music for the upcoming choir reunion. There’s so much to celebrate.”

A Kickoff to Remember
During the College’s initial Bicentennial planning, Niblock began thinking about how the music program could contribute to the celebration. That’s when he inquired about having a musical piece commissioned as part of the kickoff event.

“When the Bicentennial Committee approved the idea, one of the first people I thought of asking was alumnus Crawford Thoburn,” Niblock says. “His distinguished music career speaks for itself, and his family has a strong connection to Allegheny. It would be difficult to find someone who embodies that continuing connection to the institution as much as he does.”

Crawford Thoburn ’54

Crawford Thoburn ’54

During his time at the College, Crawford Thoburn ’54 studied theory, arranging, and conducting with Luvaas and sang with the mixed choral group called the Allegheny Singers. He is now emeritus professor of music at Wells College in Aurora, N.Y., where he served as Chair of the Arts Division and director of choral activities and taught voice, conducting, theory, composition, and music history.

Throughout the years, he has published more than 100 choral compositions, arrangements, and editions, including those that Allegheny choirs past and present have sung. He also is a recipient of Allegheny’s Gold Citation, in recognition and appreciation of the honor reflected upon the College by virtue of his professional achievements.

But Thoburn’s connection to the College goes beyond music; the Thoburn family legacy is a story all its own. More than 50 family members have attended Allegheny, starting with Thoburn’s great-grandfather, James Mills Thoburn, Class of 1857. Crawford Thoburn is among the fourth generation, and two of his daughters are part of the fifth. And, of course, generation after generation has sung in the choir.

So when Thoburn received the call from Niblock about commissioning the piece, he was touched.

“Although the Allegheny choirs have sung other choral works by me in the past, to be asked to write a piece celebrating the College’s Bicentennial is truly a special privilege and honor,” he says.

After the call, he immediately knew where he would draw his inspiration.

“Years ago I did a successful setting of a text titled ‘Wisdom Exalteth her Children’ for women’s voices, and more recently I had intended to compose a new version for mixed voices. When Professor Niblock called about the Bicentennial, I knew this was the text I wanted to use,” he says. “It’s always held a special place in my heart.”

“Wisdom Exalteth her Children”

Wisdom exalteth her children.

And gives help to those who seek her.

Whoever loves her loves life.

And those who seek her early will be filled with joy.

Whoever holds her fast will obtain glory.

And God will bless the place she enters.

-Wisdom of Sirach 4:11-13

After just a few months, Thoburn presented the composition to Niblock, who thought it would be appropriate for the College Choir to debut during a dinner celebrating the new Bicentennial Plaza in October.

“The piece is a great sentiment for celebrating the longevity of an institution like Allegheny that is all about the pursuit of wisdom and embracing that in a joyful way,” Niblock says.

According to Thoburn, “The text, written about 180 BCE by the Hebrew sage Joshua ben Sira, is highly appropriate for celebrating the longevity of an institution like Allegheny, where faculty and students have shared the academic quest for so many years. It joyfully and eloquently expresses the continuing role of this experience at Allegheny, extolling the cultivation and acquisition of wisdom (as opposed to knowledge), which I believe is the true purpose of a liberal arts education.”

When asked what certain lines of the piece mean to him, Niblock references the second line, “and gives help to those who seek her,” and says, “When you see students who have the light in their eyes to take on some new threshold in their discipline, to take on challenges, and they’re anxious for you to lay those challenges down before them, that’s a great example of what that line means.”

When he first shared the text with the Choir, Niblock was pleased with the members’ response. The students are equally excited about performing the piece as part of the Bicentennial kickoff.

“The group was immediately upbeat and positive about the piece,” Niblock says. “Something about the musical language is easy for them to speak.”

“The first day we sang the piece in rehearsal, I knew it was going to be great,” says Rosey Sheridan ’15, a choir member majoring in chemistry and minoring in music performance. “The year 2015 is my graduation year, so for me, the Bicentennial is something that has been talked about for four years. I feel very honored to be part of the event in this way.”

Having the opportunity to sing in front of Thoburn is special for the students as well.

“We are nervous,” admits Lauren Dominique ’16, a choir member who is double-majoring in English and women’s, gender and sexuality studies. “We sang one of Professor Thoburn’s pieces last year, and it was probably one of my favorites. To sing this piece in front of him, to meet him in person, and just to be there for this occasion will be an incredible experience.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

American Colors Inc. Prefers Blue and Gold

By Kathleen Prosperi ’11

Jim Wible ’71, co-founder and president of American Colors in Sandusky, Ohio, has long believed in the potential of Alleghenians. Not only does he advocate for students as a College trustee, he believes the Allegheny graduate to be a quality investment for his company, having recruited and hired Gators since the company’s inception in 1975.

“I know that the skills it takes to handle the pressure of getting a degree from Allegheny apply to the business world as well,” says Wible. His company provides high-quality liquid pigment systems and other products to the coatings, composites, plastics and allied industries. It serves customers from two manufacturing facilities, one in Sandusky, and the other in Lebanon, Tenn.

Finding committed, long-term employees has produced challenges, and a need for change has blossomed into what appears to be the next revolutionary idea in corporate recruitment.

Jim Fitch, assistant director of career education at Allegheny, explains: “Jim (Wible) came to me and proposed hiring a group of graduating seniors as a team, interviewing and hiring them as one unit … a unit with a variety of majors, skills and talents.”

The hope is to promote future success and satisfaction at American Colors through pre-existing, forged relationships while nurturing a critical mass of Allegheny alumni who contribute as employees.

Invited to apply as a group, Tyler Hogya ’14 (Economics/Computer Science), Jordan Encarnacion ’14 (Chemistry/Economics), John O’Donnell ’14 (Economics/Communication Arts), RC Kunig ’14 (Biology/Economics/Psychology), and Elliott Hasenkopf ’14 (Chemistry/Economics/Biology) were one of four cohorts to express interest.

“Over the past four years, we have become great friends through living, working and playing together,” said Hasenkopf.

“Being able to come right out of college and enter the real world with four of your best friends seemed surreal. I was extremely surprised to hear of this opportunity, mainly because I’ve never heard of such a strategy before. It was new to all of us,” O’Donnell added.

The idea was new to everyone involved, including the hiring team, which was comprised of Wible, Matt Kosior, chief operating officer, and Kayla Beatty ’12.

“We saw huge, exceptional talent,” says Wible. “This group, the one we chose, was the most enthusiastic and seemed to have a cohesiveness that I liked.”

The benefits will be twofold—for the graduates and for American Colors.

“Over the last few years, after we hired students from Allegheny, we noticed they would say, ‘I came here [to Sandusky, Ohio] and didn’t know anyone. I’m having trouble getting involved in the community and finding it tough to meet people,’” says Wible.

Although other Allegheny graduates were pleased with American Colors, assimilation in other areas of their lives proved to hamper their overall happiness. That won’t be the case with this group. “These graduates will now get to go into the real world with an immediate support system. We hope this will provide them with a smooth transition into the workplace with a sense of belonging,” Wible says.

The students also see the benefits: “When entering the professional workplace, it is essential, not only that you have many positive relationships, but that you continue to build upon them while continually adding new ones. Our pre-established relationship will also allow us to feel comfortable more quickly in our working environment,” says Kunig.

“We see this as a potential for longevity for the company, as well,” Wible adds. “We are hoping that all five of the new hires will like and form a long relationship with American Colors.”

“I believe our team chemistry will translate into a professional environment seamlessly. Not only are we able to achieve goals together, but we also challenge each other. I think the ability to bring in five new workers who already work well together will serve American Colors well, especially in project-oriented tasks,” says Hasenkopf.

American Colors wiblepic_web

At this point, the future of group recruitment can only be imagined. After all, it is not the norm. The benefits can be seen as huge, though, for all parties involved.

“We’re hoping that it can become a model … that other employers who can do this will think, ‘What a great idea. …Why don’t we do this too?’” says Fitch. “If we had 20 employers who did that, we would have huge diversity in the types of job opportunities we are providing to students.”

President James H. Mullen, Jr. adds: “Jim is a great Alleghenian who has long been committed to affording opportunities to our students. In hiring this very talented group of our graduates from diverse disciplines, he is at once implementing a very innovative business approach and reinforcing the strength of Allegheny’s liberal arts curriculum.”

No matter what comes from this unique hiring strategy, the future is bright for American Colors’ new team. The team began its first day at American Colors. Each person had their own job description: Encarnacion, Kunig and Hasenkopf are project chemist trainees and Hogya and O’Donnell are operations trainees. However, it should be pointed out that they will have the opportunity to work on a project together as a team, to exhibit abilities learned at Allegheny.

As graduation day approached in May, Hasenkopf reflected, “As graduation is upon us, everyone has started to say goodbye to Allegheny and the friends they have made here, but we have this amazing opportunity which will allow us to see our closest friends every day. We are all very excited to hit the ground running and apply our Allegheny College educations to our endeavors with American Colors.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

A Walk on the Wild(life) Side

From as far back as she can remember, Lee Ann Streshenkoff ’17 has wanted to be a veterinarian.

“I have always loved animals,” says Lee Ann, a chemistry major and psychology and Spanish minor.

Since her freshman year, Lee Ann, a Pittsburgh native, has been serving as a Bonner Scholar at Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Center in Saegertown, Pa. The center rehabilitates wildlife and returns it to the wild, as well as provides community education. Tamarack specializes in treating birds of prey of all ages, adult seed-eating songbirds, turtles, and opossums.

Bonner Scholars like Lee Ann work with a local agency like Tamarack for four years as part of the national AmeriCorps program. Students receive financial compensation for their commitment and participate in a leadership development training series.

“We’ve hosted Bonner students, as well as Allegheny work-study students, for as long as I can remember,” says licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator Carol Holmgren, Tamarack executive director. “Each student brings something unique.”

At Tamarack, Lee Ann assists with food and medication preparation, admissions exams, general care, and physical therapy. She also presents education programs at local schools and senior centers. She spends about 30 hours per week during the summer and 10 hours weekly during the school year at her site.

“Meric Islam ’17, another Bonner Scholar at Tamarack, and I did physical therapy on a red-tailed hawk this summer. It was so exciting to do hands-on work during my freshman year,” Lee Ann says.

Lee Ann provides community education.

Lee Ann provides community education.

“But my favorite part about this job is community education, where I go out and talk about wildlife and the environment,” she adds.

On these visits, staff members from Tamarack, including experienced Bonner students like Lee Ann, bring one of the center’s eight trained birds on a handler’s gloved hand to assist with education. These birds were originally admitted to the center with injuries, Holmgren says. Although they are now healthy, they each have a disability preventing them from being able to survive in the wild.

“The fact that I have gained enough experience to hold a bird is mind-blowing to me,” Lee Ann says. Another highlight of Lee Ann’s first year at Tamarack was caring for an adult female screech owl that was admitted to the center from Allegheny’s campus.

“This patient was diagnosed with a concussion, so we spent several weeks caring for her,” she says. “We gave her anti-inflammatory and pain medication and assisted with feedings. In addition, she helped the center by fostering a set of owlets who were admitted to the center shortly after she arrived. She was a great mom to them.”

Once the owl was fully recovered, Lee Ann helped to release her on campus in August. “The release was very beautiful; she was so majestic,” Lee Ann explains. “Experiences like this make it all worth it, because sometimes there are some very sad times when we lose a patient. But when you can send an animal back into the wild, it’s amazing.”

In addition to her experience at Tamarack, Lee Ann also volunteers at Hog Heaven Rescue Farm in Cochranton, Pa., and is a member of the animal welfare and pre-vet clubs at Allegheny. She hopes to one day pursue her dream to become a veterinarian.

“Being a part of the Bonner program and having this experience at Tamarack has changed my life,” she says. “It has made me want to be more involved in my community and has expanded my veterinary interests. The College has already opened my eyes to so much.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Using Her Gifts

As published by

Allegheny backstroke specialist Joan Lange made big waves in 1976 when she became one of the first two women to win an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship – as a captain of the Gator men’s swim team, six years before the Association began sponsoring competition for women.

She and SMU diver Christine Loock each received a $1,500 scholarship, joining 862 men who had been honored in the then 12-year-old program.

Lange put the funds to good use, graduating with honors from the Dartmouth School of Medicine in 1979, and she eventually became a prominent consultant to companies and international travelers on threats posed around the world by outbreaks of diseases.

But Lange made her first splash athletically, when she capped her freshman year with a sixth-place finish in the 100-yard backstroke at the Presidents’ Athletic Conference championships – making her the first woman to score at the meet.

A year later, Allegheny began sponsoring a women’s swim team, but Lange opted to continue competing with the men. Through her career, she collected 14 first-place finishes in dual meets and placed in the PAC – the league in which the current North Coast Athletic Conference school competed at the time – all four seasons.

Alongside those athletics honors, she maintained a near-perfect grade-point average at Allegheny and was active in campus activities, including serving as Panhellenic vice president. Her classmates took notice, electing her homecoming queen. She was escorted at her coronation by teammate Marty Pfinsgraff, a Division III all-American swimmer and her future husband.


For the past five years, she has served as an independent medical consultant, describing herself in a biography as interested in “bringing innovative therapies to patients who have serious health problems and few therapeutic options.” She previously was director of health intelligence for iJet, where she helped clients cope with such travel health risks as SARS, avian influenza and H1N1 pandemic influenza.

The Pfinsgraffs remain prominent at their alma mater, supporting participation by Allegheny students in science internships.

Joan Pfinsgraff also remains active athletically at age 60, participating in U.S. Masters Swimming as a member of the Terrapin Masters Club. She swept backstroke events for her age group in March at the Carol Chidester Memorial Swim Meet in Maryland and again in April at the Colonies Zone Championships in Virginia.

Today, 87 women annually receive NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships, along with 87 men. The program seeks to identify “individuals whose dedication and effort are reflective of those characteristics necessary to succeed and thrive through postgraduate study in an accredited graduate degree program.”

There isn’t much doubt – after a career in intercollegiate athletics that remains noteworthy four decades later, as well as academic success and professional achievement – that the first woman scholarship recipient in Division III lived up to expectations.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Students, Faculty Published in Professional Journal

BiochemistryJournalAssociate Professor of Chemistry Alice Deckert and Professor of Chemistry Martin Serra—along with Brittany Rauzan ’13, Elizabeth McMichael ’12, Rachel Cave ’12, Lesley R. Sevcik ’09, Kara Ostrosky ’09, Elisabeth Whitman ’09, Rachel Stegemann ’14, and Audra L. Sinclair ’10—published a peer-reviewed article titled “Kinetics and Thermodynamics of DNA, RNA, and Hybrid Duplex Formation” in the February 5 issue of the journal Biochemistry (volume 52, pp. 765-772).

Source: Academics, Publications & Research