RWU Marine Scientists to Collaborate on $3 Million NSF Grant Investigating Aquatic Viruses

By UD and RWU Public Affairs Staffs

BRISTOL, R.I. – Roger Williams University’s Marcia Marston and Koty Sharp are joining a research team from four universities that has received a $3 million grant to probe how viruses impact microbes critical to our lives, from producing oxygen to growing food.

K. Eric Wommack, deputy dean in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Delaware, will lead the team of marine scientists, which includes researchers from Roger Williams, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the University of Hawaii-Manoa.

The four-year project was announced by the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) on August 2. This collaboration is among eight projects across the U.S., totaling $41.7 million, that aim to build U.S. research capacity in understanding the relationship in organisms between their genes and their physical characteristics. Uncovering this genotype-to-phenotype relationship holds potential for improved crop yields, better prediction of human disease risk, and new drug therapies.

“Over the past several decades, scientists and engineers have made massive strides in decoding, amassing and storing genomic data,” said Denise Barnes, NSF EPSCoR head. “But understanding how genomics influence phenotype remains one of the more profound challenges in science. These awards lay the groundwork for closing some of the biggest gaps in biological knowledge and developing interdisciplinary teams needed to address the challenges.”

From water and soil to the human gut, you’ll find single-celled microbes – and viruses right alongside them. A virus will infect a microbe, hijack its machinery and begin replicating, eventually killing the host. But how these processes work within complex microbial communities is still largely a mystery.

RWU’s Marston and Sharp, along with their collaborators in Delaware, Nebraska and Hawaii, will focus research on viruses that infect phytoplankton – microscopic organisms that live in the salty ocean to freshwater lakes and conduct photosynthesis. Each researcher on the multi-institution team will examine a marine or aquatic virus that infects a different type of phytoplankton and from all types of bodies of water.

Drawing upon her 20-year collection of marine viruses sampled from Narragansett Bay, Marston’s research will analyze the genetic connection between marine viruses from local waters and their cyanobacteria hosts, called Synechococcus. Meanwhile, Sharp will train a spotlight on how viruses influence Astrangia poculata, a temperate species also known as Northern Star Coral that inhabit waters from Florida to Massachusetts.

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RWU Criminal Justice Alumnus Developing a National Framework for School Policing

BRISTOL, R.I. – One of the fastest growing areas of law enforcement today is happening on the campus of the nation’s K-12 schools, reflecting the steadily increased presence and expanding roles of school-based law enforcement programs in recent decades. Although police have been present in schools since the 1950s, researchers are just now beginning to uncover issues ranging from undefined, changing roles to the lack of adequate training for school-based officers. Among those researchers is Roger Williams University alumnus Joseph McKenna ’11, who is helping to frame a first-of-its-kind national model on how to best implement school-based law enforcement programs to aid school communities.

As associate director of research and evaluation for the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University – where he earned his master’s and doctorate in criminal Justice – McKenna is part of a team conducting research examining the use of law enforcement in K-12 schools in order to put together a nationwide framework for educators and school-based officers to use.

The study and framework is being funded by a four-year $4.3 million grant by the National Institute of Justice. Taking other research as well as their own, the researchers at the center created the framework as a flexible template schools around the nation can adopt based on their own community. To determine if the framework is effective, McKenna and the researchers at Texas School Safety Center are conducting a randomized controlled trial with over two dozen Texas K-12 schools. Half of the participating schools are being guided by the research-based framework for implementing their school-based law enforcement program that McKenna and the team of researchers helped developed.

“It’s really become a specialized type of policing” which requires specialized training, said McKenna, who was a criminal justice and psychology double major at RWU.

In his research, he’s seen the predominant role of school-based officers change since they were first introduced in the 1950s. He has seen focus shift from safety and security during the school day to include educating students on a variety of topics related to crime and law and then to officers serving as mentors and role models. Today, officers play hybrid roles that very much depends on the school campus they are on, McKenna said. They act as mentors, counselors, surrogate parents – giving advice, emotional support and even material items like clothes – along with serving as educators and, when necessary, law enforcers.

What McKenna and many researchers are trying to do is define a shared set of roles and training that communities nationwide can adopt for their school-based law enforcement program to encompass and define the various roles officers play now. The framework involves setting custom goals that are agreed upon by all stakeholders, training for officers and school staff, and using data-driven decision making to make program adjustments and solve problems.

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Six Students to Enter RWU with Feinstein Leadership Scholarships

Six high school graduates from Rhode Island will enter Roger Williams University this fall with Feinstein Leadership Scholarships, following in the footsteps of a recent RWU graduate who helped others by working in soup kitchens and rebuilding homes.

The six students – who come from Bristol, Central Falls, Cumberland, East Providence and Portsmouth – are Feinstein Junior Scholars, student leaders who pledge to do good deeds while in elementary and/or middle school.

Earlier this year, Rhode Island philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein committed $500,000 to help fund scholarships for more Feinstein Junior Scholars to attend RWU. The Feinstein Foundation is providing $50,000 per year for 10 successive years to help send those students to Roger Williams.

That generous gift built on Feinstein’s significant past contributions to RWU, including a previous gift to the Feinstein Leadership Scholarship Fund, which supported 11 RWU students during the 2016-2017 academic year.

This year, RWU will rename its day of service for all incoming freshman as Feinstein Community Connections Day. That event, set for Aug. 28, will recognize the multi-layered partnership that the University has built with the Feinstein Foundation over several decades.

“Our mission at RWU is ‘to strengthen society,’ and Mr. Feinstein’s most recent gift allows us to support an additional group of students with a demonstrated commitment to the public good,” RWU President Donald J. Farish said. “We are delighted to have the opportunity to expand our relationship with Mr. Feinstein and his philanthropic commitment to the people of Rhode Island.”

One Feinstein scholarship recipient, Hannah Augustyn, just graduated from RWU with a degree in architecture plus a double minor in construction management and art & architectural history.

Augustyn, who went to East Providence High School, became a Feinstein Junior Scholar in elementary school. Her pledge to do good deeds brought her to Philadelphia to serve hot meals in soup kitchens and to Colorado to rebuild a public playground. At RWU, she discovered the many service opportunities available to students, once foregoing a spring break vacation to join RWU Habitat for Humanity in rehabilitating a disadvantaged family’s home in West Virginia. Her commitment to community will continue in her new job in construction management at Shawmut Construction, where she’ll take part in regularly held employee service days in local communities. And as a woman working in a male-dominated field, she’ll inspire the young female generation to keep cracking the glass ceiling.

The six Feinstein Leadership Scholars following in Augustyn’s footsteps are:

  • Maia Costa, of Bristol, who graduated from Mount Hope High School and became a Feinstein Junior Scholar at Colt Andrews Elementary School. She plans to study engineering at RWU. “From a young age, I have been taught that giving back to the community when possible is an important aspect of life,” she wrote in her scholarship essay. “I have chosen to instill this mindset in my life thus far by giving back to the community frequently and effectively.”
  • Karissa Piros, of East Providence, who graduated from East Providence High School and was a Feinstein Junior Scholar at Waddington Elementary School and Riverside Middle School. She plans to study architecture at RWU. “During the past two years, I have had the opportunity to take care of an autistic boy,” she wrote. “Also, volunteering for the Special Olympics was a highlight…I enjoy giving back and will continue to do so.”
  • Stephanie Aldana, of Central Falls, graduated from Central Falls High School and became a Feinstein Junior Scholar at the Alan Shawn Feinstein School. She plans to study biology. “My community service started when I was very young, seeing my mom give food to local kids in the summer and clothes to shelters in the winter,” she wrote. “I have taught science through a program called the Need Project at Calcutt Middle School…I later mentored and coached a youth track team called F.A.S.T. Track.”
  • Haylee Pacheco, of Bristol, graduated from Mount Hope High School and became a Feinstein Junior Scholar at Colt Andrews Elementary School. She plans to study marketing at RWU. “When I became a (soccer) referee at 13, I realized that the reason why I fell in love with becoming a referee is because I wanted to give back,” she wrote. “I wanted to give back to the game that had given so much to me over the years. I wanted to give the coaches who volunteer their time a fair and honest game.”
  • Jocelyn Nogueira, of Portsmouth, graduated from Portsmouth High School and was a Feinstein Junior Scholar at Elmhurst Elementary School and Portsmouth Middle School. She plans to study marketing at RWU. “I first volunteered at a soup kitchen at the Salvation Army near my home in 2016,” she wrote. “It was gratifying to know that I was helping a famished person have a wholesome home-cooked meal. As Mr. Feinstein stated, ‘Helping to better the lives of others is the greatest of all achievements.’ ”
  • Brianna Valcourt, of Cumberland, graduated from Cumberland High School and became a Feinstein Junior Scholar at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Academy. She plans to study architecture. “It has always been instilled in me to reach out to help others and teach others the importance of caring,” she wrote. “Caring for others consists of compassion and brotherhood.”

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Faculty and Staff Writing Retreat Sees Record Participation

Roger Williams University’s latest Faculty and Staff Writing Retreat drew record participation on May 23-24, bringing 28 people together at the University Library to devote two full days to uninterrupted writing and editing.

Robert E. Shea, RWU’s Associate Provost for the Advancement of Teaching & Learning, said this marked the fourth retreat in which RWU faculty and staff have worked from early in the morning until late at night on book projects, research papers and other writing projects. The retreats take place in January and May.

In all, participants dedicate more than 20 hours to their writing tasks, benefitting from research assistance by two librarians, taking advantage of feedback from RWU Writing Center writing consultants and pausing to refuel with coffee and food in the Mary Tefft White Cultural Center.

“The things they like the most are the time, the pampering and the consultation on demand,” Shea said.

This time around, the participants included Nicole Dyszlewski, a Research/Access Services Librarian at the RWU School of Law, who was working on a section of a book titled “LGBTQ and the Law: An Annotated Bibliography.”

“It’s nice that the institution supports our scholarly research,” she said.

Deborah Johnson, the law school’s Director of Diversity and Outreach Coordinator of International Programs, sat nearby, working on an article about cybersecurity insurance and the law that she plans to submit to a law journal.

Johnson said she was glad to have time to focus on the project. “On a day-to-day basis, I just don’t have the time,” she said.

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