Science Research at Creighton: Pathways to Discovery

Science Research at Creighton: Pathways to Discovery

Haddix gift will impact generations of students in the College of Arts and Sciences

By Rick Davis, BA’88

George and Susan Haddix’s $10 million gift to the College of Arts and Sciences continues a legacy of giving to science research. In 2011, the Dr. George F. Haddix President’s Faculty Research Fund was established, providing seed-funding for promising Creighton researchers. For four consecutive years, Creighton has been honored by U.S. News & World Report for under­graduate research opportunities. Creighton magazine talked to a few Haddix grant recipients, and selected students, about their research and the recent $10 million gift.

Studying Lead Exposure in Children

Maya Khanna, PhD, professor and associate chair of psychology, received a Haddix grant in 2014 that funded a yearlong study on the effects of game-like online cognitive intervention programs in improving the cognitive performance and executive function in local children (ages 6-12) who had potentially been exposed to lead. Khanna and psychology colleague Amy Badura Brack, PhD, are currently among a group of researchers from Nebraska, New Mexico and Louisiana conducting a study involving state-of-the-art neuroimaging to examine the developing brains of children ages 9 to 15 through a four-year, $6 million National Science Foundation grant awarded in 2015. A subset of this research will be the first study of brain function and development in children exposed to lead, Khanna says. “This would help address the question: Does early lead exposure have detrimental effects early on, even when the exposure is happening, not just after the fact?”

Aziza Siddiqui, senior psychology and German major from San Jose, California, on working with a faculty mentor: “You see their passion, and it ignites your passion.” Siddiqui, whose father is from India and mother is from Germany, is currently working on a study with Dr. Khanna on cognition, memory, and word and color associations.

Krystal Hopkins, a senior nursing major from Council Bluffs, Iowa, on working with Khanna: “She has been wonderful. She’s always available for questions. She also is great at making sure we have other opportunities for research.” Hopkins is currently working on another study with Khanna, partially funded by NASA, in which psychology and exercise science students are collaborating with faculty members to study the relationship between exercise, cognition and verbal processing.

Khanna on the Haddix gift: “I think the benefit of this gift is in its trajectory, not just its immediate impact. In that, what will happen is Creighton will have more people conducting the initial seed-grant type of activities, getting pilot data. And then having that data, they will have the confidence to apply for larger national grants. So I think the impact of this gift will just grow.”

Snail Parasites as Environmental Barometers

The Rev. John Shea, SJ, assistant professor of biology, received a Haddix grant in 2015, along with Rebecca Gasper, PhD, assistant professor of mathematics, to study snail parasites as indicators of ecosystem health. “The idea is that these parasites have complicated life cycles that involve multiple hosts,” Fr. Shea says. “So a diverse assemblage of these particular parasites indicates a healthy functioning ecosystem.” The study was conducted on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and involved students from Creighton and Red Cloud High School.

Elizabeth Aulner, a senior biology major from Dimock, South Dakota (population, 125): “One of the great things about Creighton is there are a lot of undergraduate research opportunities. You can approach professors and ask them about their work. And if there is a research opening, you can often set that up directly through the professor.” Aulner, a first-generation college student whose mother is a mail carrier and father is a mechanic, entered Creighton after finishing high school in three years. Inspired by her involvement in Creighton’s ILAC program in the Dominican Republic, Aulner plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health and work in the southern United States or the Caribbean.

Fr. Shea on the Haddix gift: “I’m excited about the STEM corridor program. I think get­ting under­represented high school students involved in STEM research and programming is good not only for those students, but for Creighton and for furthering our Jesuit mission.”

Looking for a Quick Reaction

Kayode Oshin, PhD, assistant professor of inorganic chemistry, received a Haddix grant this past spring to study, with his students, new compounds (catalysts) that could be used to accelerate chemical reactions. “We make compounds that other chemists could use, and we try to make them more efficiently than other methods,” Oshin explains. “These compounds may be used, for example, for propellants or fire extinguishers.”

Oshin on the Haddix gift: “I think it’s a big deal. Really, from my perspective, we’re trying to see how we can get more students in the lab to participate in research, and this donation will allow us to do just that.”