MAY 2018
Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

AHA Educator & Student Will Train for Waksman Program

Demarest, NJ: Starting in September, a team of science students at the Academy of the Holy Angels will conduct a DNA sequence analysis of duckweed as part of Rutgers University’s Waksman Student Scholars Program. In preparation for this venture, AHA biology teacher Brittany West and her student, Julia Malnak of Montvale, will attend a three-week training course over the summer. When the new academic year begins, Malnak will be the project leader as the study begins at AHA.

“I am very excited to learn molecular biology techniques and to research the genomic sequences of the duckweed plant,” said Malnak, a member of the AHA Class of 2019. She explained that she has been interested in science since she was a middle school student at Lacordaire Academy in Montclair.

“I don’t think I had an attachment to a particular subject until eighth grade, when my biology teacher told my class about current research being done in the field of genetic engineering,” she added. Malnak decided to dig deeper into her interest in genetics by creating a science fair project concerning hereditary patterns in fingerprints.

“I came to the Academy of the Holy Angels because I knew I wanted to be involved in a strong science program where I could learn as much as possible about topics such as molecular biology and genetics,” she stated. While she enjoys all of her science courses, Malnak said she is particularly interested in chemistry and biology.

WSSP focuses on duckweed as this quick-growing, high-starch aquatic plant is a potential source of biofuel. In addition, duckweed may be used for bioremediation since the plants add oxygen to water while they extract, sequester, and degrade contaminants. (Source:

West was instrumental in bringing the Waksman Student Scholar Program to Holy Angels.

“As a former research scientist, I always wanted to incorporate my research experience with my teaching of biology in order to enhance student learning,” West explained, adding that she is always searching for hands-on research opportunities for her students. WSSP will allow the students to conduct their own research and publish their findings.

West discovered WSSP last year. While she was attending the October 2017 New Jersey Teachers’ Science Convention, she met an educator who was already involved with the WSSP and decided to learn more. She then approached AHA Principal Jean Mullooly and AHA Science Department Chair Nancy Brizzolara for approval to apply. West handled the application process, and recently received official notification that AHA had been accepted.

“The program runs for a full school year in conjunction with Rutgers and 40 other high schools with a poster session presenting the research in May or June of next year, but new teachers need to be trained at the Waksman Institute at Rutgers University (Piscataway campus) the summer prior to the year-long course,” West explained. “I believe that molecular bioinformatics is a booming field of research right now, and any exposure I can provide the students to get involved is fantastic. The field is always advancing, and can be hard to understand abstractly but, hands on, it provides so much clarity into the world of different species' genomes.”

This summer, the Angels U program will allow girls entering grades six through nine an opportunity to participate in similar forms of project-based learning. Participants will select “majors” that range from science and math, engineering and technology, and leadership skill building to performing arts, fine arts, and dance. Angels U will be held from July 9th through 20th on the AHA campus in Demarest. Visit for details.

Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.


Academy of the Holy Angels

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