Faculty and Students Blend Faith with Inquiry at Research Conference

Dr. Debra A. Schwinn Palm Beach Atlantic University President

As I prepare to join Palm Beach Atlantic University faculty and students at our annual Interdisciplinary Research Conference, I’m thankful that I lead a team of Christian educators who get excited about research. But sadly, some Christians are threatened by earnest, scholarly inquiry. For example, we hear of promising youngsters who avoid the sciences, fearful they’ll find something that challenges their faith. Such students would do well to sit in on a chemistry class taught by Dr. Vivian Fernand Narcisse. 

Research and Faith

“I work with my faith hand-in-hand with my research,” said Vivian. “I don’t see it as separate.” She’ll open her class with a five-minute devotion, then dive into the chemistry lecture. She’s thankful she has the freedom to share how the particles of the atom relate to her Lord, in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

She also tells students how God has helped her in research, and how He will help them. “Sometimes in research you get stopped ‘in a corner,’” she said. “You just don’t know what to do.” In such experiences, she asks God “to open my mind.” And often the result is a new thought springing forth, “an insight like never before,” she said. “God is so amazing!”

Vivian earned her Ph.D. at Louisiana State University and did post-doctoral studies at LSU and Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. Intrigued by plants traditionally used as medicine in her native country of Suriname, South America, she experimented with the molecule rhein, found in the Cassia alanda root. Her research showed rhein inhibited the growth of cancer cells, but did not affect the growth of normal cells. 

Two of her research papers have been highly cited by other scientists. That’s the great value in academic publications: sharing new knowledge so other researchers gain building blocks, working together toward a significant advancement like a cancer cure.

Now Vivian looks ahead for new research possibilities at PBA, where she has the resources of colleagues at the Lloyd L. Gregory School of Pharmacy and others at her own School of Arts and Sciences.


Students land spot in national conference

Chemistry professor Dr. Vivian Fernand Narcisse

Dr. Chris Hickey, a biologist, teaches a course on cancer. He and chemist Dr. Cidya Grant worked with three undergraduate students to publish research on the cancer-fighting properties of oregano-derived molecules. The students, Allison Cool, Amanda Calderon and Annie Hernandez, won the honor of presenting their research at the National Council on Undergraduate Research conference April 4-8. Their project also will be featured in the PBA Interdisciplinary Research Conference, which takes place March 22-23.

Here are samples of the wide variety of research to be presented at the Palm Beach Atlantic conference:

Dr. Tom Chesnes will discuss the link between the decline in seagrass and the mortality of manatees. 

Dr. David Horkott will present on what he calls “Kierkegaard’s baffling book,” Fear and Trembling.

Dr. Michael Kolta and Dr. Marsha Guntharp will demonstrate “Turning Colors into Music with Robotics.” It’s an interdisciplinary work involving visual arts, musical performance, computer science and robotics. It also represents research into pedagogy, showing a fun way to fill the classroom with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math).

Senior history major Caleb Bowman traveled to Ireland in the summer to participate in an archaeological investigation by the Irish Archaeology Field School. He’ll explain what he learned from the excavation of the first recorded Anglo-Norman fortification in Ireland. “The fort at Carrig marks the beginning of English military control of Ireland and is crucial for understanding the development of political tensions between these countries in the centuries to follow,” he said.


View the recorded conference on the web

Topics at our conference also include pharmacy, business, psychology, art and healthcare. I will report on my research about best practices and policies for community and academic physicians working together in integrated healthcare systems. Our conference takes place on campus in Vera Lea Rinker Hall. Presentations will be video recorded and made available for viewing on the web. 

The conference keynote is Dr. Thomas Parham, professor of communication and media studies, who will speak on “Secret Origins of a Research Mentor.” I’m eager to hear that, and it makes me recall gratefully my own mentors in research. 

What powerful concepts are mentoring and collaboration! They bring great benefits to any endeavor of service, and the benefits multiply exponentially in the context of Christian education. I thank God for communities of educators who work together, using the varied gifts and passions the Lord has given them. At Palm Beach Atlantic University, we consider it a privilege to contribute to the body of knowledge in our fields as we continue our mission here: Enlightening Minds, Enriching Souls, Extending Hands.


Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, a physician, researcher and innovator, is president of Palm Beach Atlantic University. (www.pba.edu)  For more articles by Dr. Schwinn, visit goodnewsfl.org/author/dr-debra-a-schwinn/


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