Academic Research at St. Mary’s 

St. Mary’s University promotes transformational learning through research and creative scholarly activities for faculty and students at the graduate and undergraduate levels. 

Research enhances critical thinking skills and provides hands-on experience for students entering the job market or advanced degree programs. 

When involved in research and creative scholarly activities, students enjoy positive, life-affirming relationships with faculty mentors while exploring solutions to real-world challenges. 

Students at St. Mary’s can participate in purposeful undergraduate and graduate academic research that impacts the world. St. Mary’s University students are conducting cutting-edge research using critically emergent technology in bioengineering, biology, engineering, technology, and other science fields. The University also offers the chance to work with faculty scholars in advancing the fields of business, the humanities, social sciences, and law. 

While fostering this high level of research, St. Mary’s also focuses on the holistic well-being of its students so participants in research have their rights and welfare protected by our rigorous compliance process and high levels of professional integrity. 

Research Showcase 

Research Showcase is an annual event at St. Mary’s University that celebrates the research-based achievements of our undergraduates, graduates, faculty, and staff as part of National Research Week.  

Presenters at the Research Showcase display an assortment of projects including scientific investigations, analytical reviews or projects, innovations/inventions, honors theses, senior projects, and original works of art, media, poetry or writing. The event is open to everyone.  

The University Research Council, Sponsored Projects, Academic Research and Compliance (SPARC) Office and the Office of Student Research and Inquiry (OSRI) thank everyone involved for their continued engagement in and support of research, creative and scholarly activities 2024 Research Showcase.  

Upcoming Research Events

  • Faculty Researcher Spotlight

    Melissa Karlin, Ph.D. 

    Professor of Environmental Science and Director of the Office of Student Research and Inquiry


    About the Grant

    Five-year, $2.5 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to support underrepresented minority students in STEM majors at St. Mary’s University, Our Lady of the Lake University, University of the Incarnate Word and Trinity University. 

    Scope of Grant

    A: The National Science Foundation is the sponsor. The purpose of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program is to increase retention and persistence in underrepresented minority STEM students through graduation and to help to increase participation in research activities. I am the Principal Investigator and lead on the grant, and I am collaborating with a faculty co-PI from University of Incarnate Word, Our Lady of the Lake and Trinity University. Fall 2023 was our first cohort for the grant, and we brought in 61 first-time freshmen across the Alliance. Activities have included a shared First-Year Experience across the Alliance, in which LSAMP Scholars participate in shared speaker series and field trips. This semester we went to both USAA and Texas BioMed for field trips. The LSAMP Scholars are also paired with an upperclassmen Peer Coach who they meet with weekly in both an individual and group setting. These meetings help to identify any concerns or struggles the scholars are facing and help to build a sense of community in the cohort. Finally, students will have the opportunity to participate in faculty-led research each summer. 

    Q: Tell us about your recent grant program.

    A: I became interested in this type of research and grant program because of my work with undergraduates here at St. Mary’s, both in the classroom and in research. Our students have amazing potential and aspirations, but in the STEM field they are often faced with difficult classes, feelings of non-belonging, or imposter syndrome and feeling like they are not “good enough” to be in the sciences. Sadly, we lose a lot of students after their freshman or sophomore year, either from the University entirely or just from STEM. Programs like the LSAMP allow us to offer more targeted help for these students, through financial support but more importantly through structured coaching, mentoring and relationship building. We are only in our first year of the program, so it is too early to see the impact, but I am excited by the level of engagement by StMU students in this program so far, and I am really looking forward to this first summer of research opportunities for our scholars. From my experiences working with students during my 11 years at St. Mary’s, research is where connections can really take place between the faculty and students. The students are challenged, recognized as researchers with value to add to the project, and given so many opportunities to grow and increase their self-confidence. 

    Unrelated to this grant, my research focuses on examining the spatial ecology of canids, and most recently studying the levels of hybridization and diet of canids in south Texas. My Ph.D. work focused on the critically endangered red wolf, which is the most endangered wolf species in the world, and I looked at the habitat use, dispersal patterns, and intraspecific interactions of this species back in North Carolina. In 2018, roadkill samples from coyote carcasses in Galveston were found to have high levels of red wolf genes. Red wolves were removed from this area and Louisiana back in the 1970’s and entered into a captive breeding program, which is how the current wild population in North Carolina came to exist. But their genes have persisted in the wild coyote populations in Texas and Louisiana, so researchers are now looking at how widespread this may be, how many animals may have high levels of hybridization, and if any of these animals could be used in boosting genetic diversity metrics in the wild red wolf population. I was fortunate in 2021 to conduct sabbatical research at Michigan Technological University with one of the lead scientists of this larger study, and I learned techniques for DNA metabarcoding to determine prey species consumed by these canids in south Texas. I’m still learning these techniques for applying conservation genetics questions, and I am trying to conduct as much of this type of analysis here at StMU. I’ve had 8 undergraduate students help me with this project so far since 2019, both in the field collecting scat samples and analyzing trail camera pictures, and in the lab running DNA extractions and PCR. I hope to keep building on my knowledge and increasing opportunities for our students in this field and expanding it to environmental DNA (eDNA) applications with soil, water and air samples. So far, I have been fortunate to receive both internal and external grant funding to pursue this research interest as well. 

    Q: How did you become interested in the subject of your research? What is the most exciting part of your research on the grant?

    A: I am certainly hoping to achieve the shift in numbers, in terms of increasing persistence and retention through graduation and seeing our students enter the STEM career or graduate school fields. But just as important in the shorter-term, I am hoping that the LSAMP Scholars can feel and understand that they do belong in college, in STEM, and in this community of scientists and scholars. This research and program matter to me personally because as a female in STEM, I remember the feelings of non-belonging and like I wasn’t good enough to succeed when I was in college. But I also remember the faculty members that came alongside me and showed me that was not true; I am still in contact with those mentors from my undergraduate time, all these years later. I think all of us in academia hope we are making an impact on our students in that way, and that they will continue to pass on the hope and encouragement to each generation of students. 

    Q: What are you hoping to achieve through this project? Why does this research matter to you?

  • Student Researcher Highlight

    Alicia Virth

    Junior Psychology major

    This month we are highlighting Alicia Virthe, a Junior Psychology major who is a two-time recipient of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) grant. Along with her mentor, Heather Hill, Ph.D., Virthe was researching “The Assessment of Dolphin Responses to Human-Dolphin Interaction Programs in Managed Care.” The research project serves to assess the overall welfare of bottlenose dolphins in managed care involved in human-dolphin interaction sessions by observed behaviors before, during, and after sessions. Behavior in the social groups and when no guests or trainers (baseline) was also assessed. While Virthe has not presented the project at any conferences, she was a part of the 2023 Research Showcase at St. Mary’s University and plans to present at the 2024 Showcase and the Southwestern Psychological Association (SWPA).  

    Virthe says that her time with SURF “has strongly enhanced my confidence to conduct research and to make decisions when adaptations to the project or methodology need to be made. SURF also increased my confidence to be more present in meetings and discussions about the research. Overall, my knowledge of research methods and academic writing has greatly increased. I am much more confident and able to understand research articles, proposal writing, and explaining research constructs to peers. My oral presentation skills have improved, as well as my confidence in giving oral presentations. I feel much more capable as an individual and forever grateful for the opportunities SURF has given me. I learned a lot about myself through SURF.” This self-knowledge included a switch in academic focus from pursuing medical school to a focus on graduate school, and an eventual master’s in psychology. She attributes this change to “being a part of SURF and getting hands-on experience in the field and working with people” in the field.  

    After graduating from St. Mary’s University, Virthe plans to pursue a master’s or Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. She is particularly interested in internal/external consulting, behavior assessment and evaluation of employees, and analysis of animals within companies that use animals for research. 

Office of Sponsored Projects, Academic Research and Compliance (SPARC)

The Office of Sponsored Projects, Academic Research, and Compliance (SPARC) promotes transformational learning through its support of research, creative and scholarly activities at St. Mary’s University. The SPARC office works with the Office of Undergraduate Research to coordinate and administer a variety of opportunities for students to be involved in research, creative and scholarly activities. 

Office of Student Research and Inquiry (OSRI) 

The Office of Student Research and Inquiry (OSRI) provides multiple institutional programs and support for undergraduate and graduate research students and recognizes our outstanding faculty for their roles as research mentors. 

  • Learn More

    Irene Holguin 
    Director of the Office of Sponsored Projects, Academic Research and Compliance (SPARC) 


    Melissa Karlin, Ph.D. 
    Director of the Office of Student Research and Inquiry (OSRI) 

    Garni Science Hall, Room 203 

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