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Home | Tag Archives: National Science Foundation

Tag Archives: National Science Foundation

UTEP Mathe-musician’s project earns NSF accolade

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced that a team of researchers co-led by The University of Texas at El Paso’s Lawrence Lesser, Ph.D., professor of mathematical sciences, had won a grand prize at the NSF’s inaugural “We Are Mathematics” video competition.

Lesser’s video won the Mid/Advanced Career category. The festival, which drew about 20,000 people, screened the video.

“I was thrilled by every part of this experience,” said Lesser, who has won multiple awards as an educator and songwriter. “This project has been the most creative and fascinating interdisciplinary project of my career.”

The NSF presented the $3,000 award to Lesser and members of his team on May 3, 2019, at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., before the National Math Festival.

Lesser said several UTEP colleagues and students played a major role in the project. He specifically praised the Department of Music’s Dominic Dousa, D.A., associate professor of music theory, aural skills and composition, and Stephen Haddad, commercial music area coordinator.

The group’s NSF-funded Project SMILES (Student-Made Interactive Learning with Educational Songs) created and is assessing an online collection of 26 high-quality, interactive songs that span learning objectives of introductory statistics.

The competition’s goal was to bring mathematics to life and encourage the study of advanced mathematics and research in mathematical sciences.

Two UTEP students receive National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

A pair of students from The University of Texas at El Paso who will pursue research-based doctoral degrees earned fellowship offers from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

Isabel Barraza, a senior chemistry major, and Jaime E. Regis, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering, were selected for the program, which supports outstanding undergraduate and graduate students who are or will be pursuing full-time research-based doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education.

They will receive three years of support within a five-year fellowship period during their graduate education by proving they have “potential for significant research achievements.” The NSF estimates that 1,500 awards are made each year, with anticipated funding of $138,000 per award.

For Barraza, who will enter graduate school this fall at the University of California, Santa Barbara seeking her doctorate in chemistry, the fellowship presents the opportunity to be selective about her research endeavors.

The Eastlake High School graduate has a desire to pursue opportunities related to renewable energy research. She began undergraduate research as a freshman at UTEP as a member of the First Year Research Intensive Sequence (FYRIS) program, and she started volunteering in a formal research laboratory during her first semester.

Barraza was motivated to explore research experiences outside UTEP, which led her to a summer internship at Malawi Polytechnic in southeastern Africa developing water treatment technologies.

Back at UTEP, she earned a Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) scholarship, which allowed her to continue research focusing on energy conversion processes in the laboratory of Dino Villagrán, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry in UTEP’s College of Science.

Her interests in clean energy development led her to spend two summers at Stanford University and one semester at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, where she focused on studying catalysis and materials for energy conversion. She credits being able to take advantage of many of these opportunities to starting undergraduate research so early, something that she believes is unique and accessible at UTEP.

“For me, it’s such a great honor to be able to do this as a student from UTEP,” Barraza said. “That I was able to get this fellowship, which goes to the most competitive students across the nation, makes me happy. I am proud to represent UTEP as a Hispanic woman. The fact that I got it means I get to work with any professor I want. It frees me up from being a teaching assistant and it allows me to focus on my research and to further contribute to the community through outreach.”

For Regis, who will pursue his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at UTEP, the award is the continuation of a dream he once thought improbable. Regis described his desire to earn a college degree as a difficult task coming from modest means. But he persevered.

The Del Valle High School graduate, who was valedictorian of his class, arrived at UTEP with its Presidential Scholarship. He quickly found a passion for research through experiences with the Army High Performance Computing Research Center Summer Institute at Stanford University and with UTEP’s NASA MIRO Center for Space Exploration and Technology Research (cSETR).

Most recently, Regis has worked with a group led by Yirong Lin, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering, in the Functional and Energy Material Systems (FEMS) Lab, where he is developing functional composites fabricated through 3D printing.

Regis also dedicated time to tutoring peers at the university’s Advancement Center for Engineering students. He conducted outreach to the area’s K-12 students as part of the NSF’s Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) program. He hopes to continue doing outreach.

“To me, the idea of going to college had not always seemed very realistic,” Regis said. “Seeing that someone in the family made it through college has motivated my younger siblings to want to become something more. It is my pride and joy to know that I have changed their lives in such a significant way, and I want to light the way to more people just as I did with my younger siblings. Ultimately, if I can reach my career goal and become a STEM professor, I will impact many more students in minority communities and develop a pipeline for the next-generation STEM workforce.”

UTEP Professor Elected President of American Chemical Society

A UTEP professor has been elected to the highest leadership position of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific organization.

Luis Echegoyen, Ph.D., a research professor and the Robert A. Welch Chair in The University of Texas at El Paso’s chemistry department, will begin a three-year term during which he will be responsible for the development of a set of goals with corresponding tasks and events while serving as the society’s primary representative.

“I am really honored by this election and look forward to implementing many new and ambitious programs to benefit the ACS and its many members,” Echegoyen said.

Echegoyen said he is elated at the opportunity to influence and improve the lives and careers of his fellow ACS members. He lists several priorities he hopes to work on while in the organization’s top role, including the promotion of inter- and multi-disciplinary education and research. Echegoyen also hopes to advocate for increases in research funding and establish closer ties between industry and academia. In addition, he hopes to increase international partnerships and collaborations.

Echegoyen arrived at UTEP in 2010 after a four-year stint as director of the chemistry division at the National Science Foundation. He was previously the director of UTEP’s Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) program. UTEP’s partner in the endeavor is the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). In 2017, the collaboration was recognized among the active PREMs in the United States with a Creativity Extension Award of $666,000 from the NSF.

Echegoyen was also instrumental in bringing Sir Fraser Stoddart, a Nobel laureate and professor of chemistry, to present a public lecture in February 2018 as part of the campus’ Centennial Lecture Series.

In addition, Echegoyen — along with Skye Fortier, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry — was recently awarded a $600,000 grant from the NSF to continue groundbreaking work with endohedral fullerene structures.

The pair’s fundamental research on using Buckminsterfullerenes, or buckyballs — cage-like fused-ring structures of carbon molecules that resemble soccer balls — to house single uranium atoms and uranium clusters, represents the opening salvo of knowledge acquisition in a curiosity driven area of science.

Along with his time at UTEP and the NSF, Echegoyen has more than 40 years of experience in academic institutions, three years in industry and five in government, including stops at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras Campus, Clemson University and the University of Miami.

$20M NSF Grant for SMART Grid Center Builds on NMSU Research

The National Science Foundation recently announced the five-year grant for New Mexico’s SMART Grid Center under its Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

The research program seeks to transform existing electricity distribution feeders into interconnected microgrids and will utilize multiple testbeds across New Mexico.

NMSU will receive $7.3 million of the EPSCoR grant.  The grant will expand this research to include scientists across the state.

“I’m super excited about this,” said Enrico Pontelli, NMSU Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who partnered with the College of Engineering to initiate smart grid research at NMSU in 2014 with a $5 million award from the NSF’s Center for Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST). “We are very passionate about research in this area. Five years of funding to expand this research at the state level is fantastic.”

The NSF EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track 1 grant will link researchers and students from NMSU, the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Tech and Santa Fe Community College with researchers and scientists at Sandia Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as other organizations in New Mexico such as the Microgrid Systems Laboratory and Explora Museum.

“The NM SMART Grid Center is a novel, interdisciplinary research center that will address pressing design, operational, data and security challenges of next-generation electric power management,” said William Michener, principal investigator for the award and state director of New Mexico EPSCoR. “Through this grant, we will not only advance research areas of national importance, but train a cadre of undergraduate and graduate students in New Mexico to join the STEM workforce.”

New Mexico is one of seven jurisdictions to receive one of these awards this year.

“We are very proud because this award is the result of a nice collaboration that involved the three research institutions in the state,” said Pontelli. “We worked together with the state director of the EPSCoR office and we built the proposal as a collaboration where we all come together and everything is integrated.”

EPSCoR is a program designed to fulfill the NSF’s mandate to promote scientific progress nationwide. Through this program NSF establishes regional partnerships with government, higher education and industry to develop research and development capacity.

“Our goal is to work together to build the research basis for the technology for the future electric grid,” Pontelli said. “New Mexico is the perfect state for this because we have access to any kind of energy source you can think of. We have access to oil and gas, we have access to wind, we have access to sun. We have everything in the entire spectrum and at the same time we have very diverse land configuration – we have mountains, we have desert. We have different types and sizes of communities. We need to cover all the aspects and meet the needs of the state.”

Part of the research includes cyber security along with research about the directional relationship between power plants and customers to predict when customers need electricity to create cheaper, sustainable energy use.

While training students and developing research will build up the infrastructure for smart grid technology, ultimately, the objective would be to work with New Mexico’s electric suppliers to translate the research into practice and take the technology statewide.

For Pontelli, the strength of the project is its integrated collaboration.

“Every university provides expertise for this project,” Pontelli said. “We organized the research in four objectives and for each one, we have researchers from the entire state. There was no single institution that could achieve the objectives alone. We come together, work together and we strengthen the state.

“My goal is if anyone wants to talk about research in smart grids they come to us,” Pontelli said. “We want to be the national leaders in smart grid technology.”

Author: Minerva Baumann – NMSU

NMSU Receives $3.9m Grant for NSF Scholarships in STEM Program

New Mexico State University has been awarded a $3.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to prepare students for careers in computing and provide scholarships for academically talented community college students in the computer science field who need financial help.

NMSU is the lead institution in partnership with New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and four community colleges to fund NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) program.

Huiping Cao, NMSU associate professor of computer science is the principal investigator for the project and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Enrico Pontelli, Dongwan Shin, associate professor and department chair of computer science at New Mexico Tech, and Sara Hug, a research associate with the Alliance for Technology, are co-principal investigators.

“The goal of the grant is to help the students not just with financial support but develop professional skills, particularly in the area of cyber security,” Pontelli said. “This is one of the most competitive and fastest growing fields in the area of computer science.”

NMSU has partnered with Doña Ana Community College, the NMSU Alamogordo campus, and the NMSU Grants campus, while Tech has partnered with Eastern New Mexico University’s campus in Ruidoso.

“An important aspect of this grant is to help students transition from community college to a four-year program,” Pontelli said. “So a lot of the scholarships are reserved for community college students with the understanding that, after one year in community college, they will transfer to a four-year program at either the NMSU main campus or the Tech main campus.”

Pontelli said he hopes the grant will make the students who apply for the scholarships more competitive in the job market.

“There will be a rubric by which the applicants will be scored and the top students will be selected to receive scholarships,” Pontelli said.

Students who are either heading into a community college program or who are heading for a four-year program are welcome to apply.

The grant is for five years and success will be based on how many scholarship recipients have completed their computer-science degrees and are entering the workforce in a related field.

Pontelli said he expects to award around 22 scholarships a year for three cohorts of students.

“So it’s not just a one-time thing,” Pontelli said. “Once they are selected, they won’t have to worry about getting a job while they work on their degrees.”

Pontelli said he hopes the results of the five-year grant will give evidence that the program works, encouraging companies in the computer science industry to fund more scholarships for computer science students and that other industries will do the same for students in different fields.

“I see this as creating an infrastructure that will grow over time once it is proven,” Pontelli said. “The good thing is NMSU has been investing a lot of effort in the area of cyber security, we have a lot of initiatives in place. A degree program in cyber security is going through the approval process now, which means people see the value of this degree program.”

Pontelli sees the NSF award as a major step in positioning NMSU as a leader in the state in the area of cyber security training and research.

“We have a track record of success and we have good people, Pontelli said. “All these initiatives together demonstrate that the NSF believes in NMSU, that this is an institution where we can make these initiatives successful.”

Author: Billy Huntsman – NMSU

TTUHSC El Paso Designated ‘Hispanic-Serving Institution’

The U.S. Department of Education has recognized Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso) as a Title V Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), making it the second Health-Related Institution in the nation to receive this designation and the only one located on the U.S.-Mexico border.

To qualify as an HSI, an institution must have an undergraduate enrollment of at least 25 percent Hispanic students, among other criteria. As of 2017, 41 percent of TTUHSC El Paso’s student body identified as Hispanic. Recognition as an HSI opens doors to new sources of grant funding through the Department of Education and other federal agencies.

Based on 2015 data used to make the HSI designation, 72 percent of TTUHSC El Paso’s undergraduate nursing students identified as Hispanic, compared to a state average of less than 30 percent. Twenty-three percent of TTUHSC El Paso’s medical students identified as Hispanic, while the state average is about 15 percent.

With Hispanics driving population growth in the state and nation, this means TTUHSC El Paso is ahead of the game in terms of Hispanic representation.

“Recognition as a Hispanic-Serving Institution is a catalyst for growth,” said TTUHSC El Paso President Richard Lange, M.D., M.B.A. “As a university created in a Hispanic-majority community, we have an opportunity to advocate for the nation’s fastest-growing demographic, which is still vastly underrepresented in health care. Being an HSI will give us the funding we need to close that gap.”

The HSI designation was established under Titles III and V of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to increase higher education accessibility for Hispanics. Grants for HSIs, which include the National Science Foundation’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic-Serving Institutions program, also enable HSI-designated institutions to grow and refine their programs.

“At TTUHSC El Paso, we see our diversity as one of our major strengths,” said Vice President for Outreach and Community Engagement Jose Manuel de la Rosa, M.D., M.Sc.

“Our university values cultural, socioeconomic and intellectual diversity because it enriches our lives and our community as a whole, promoting access, equity and excellence. We strive to create an environment of mutual respect, appreciation and inclusion of differing values, beliefs and backgrounds throughout all our programming. It is a major achievement for us to be recognized by the Department of Education as one of the few Health-Related Institutions in the country to be designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution. It reflects success in meeting our mission of serving our El Paso and border communities.”

TTUHSC El Paso’s HSI status went into effect in April 2018. As of August 2018, three TTU System institutions have been designated as Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Texas Tech University, Angelo State University and now, TTUHSC El Paso.

UTEP Assistant Professor Awarded $383k Grant for Study of Iron, Nitrogen

The National Science Foundation has awarded Skye Fortier, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, $383,000 over three years to take a closer look at the chemistry of iron and nitrogen.

Specifically, the project is developing new molecular architectures to access, trap, and study reactive iron-nitrogen molecules. The goals are to shed light on the steps of the nitrogen fixation cycle and to use lessons learned to develop important, new nitrogen compounds using earth-abundant iron.

In some soil bacteria, they possess an iron containing enzyme called nitrogenase which captures atmospheric nitrogen and converts it to a more reactive chemical form.  This bacterial process is impressive considering that the industrial transformation of dinitrogen into ammonia is an exceedingly energy intensive process.

Inspired by the role of iron in nature, in particular nitrogenase, the Fortier group has turned their sites to making new iron model compounds to learn more about the intermediates formed in the nitrogen fixation cycle.  They are targeting highly reactive iron-nitrogen compounds and using “super bulky” molecular scaffolds to capture these reactive molecules.

Their work will lead to new methods of iron mediated nitrogen transfer chemistry.

“The lessons that we learn will not only expand our fundamental knowledge of iron but will also give a peak into the chemistry that nature has done so well for so long,” explained Fortier.  “We are extremely thankful to the National Science Foundation for recognizing the importance of our work and providing crucial financial support for this project.”

The Fortier Laboratory in the Department of Chemistry specializes in the synthesis of metal containing molecules.  While people are most familiar with metals in their elemental form, as in hard and shiny coins, metals actually play an important chemical and biological role.

In the human body, the iron containing molecule hemoglobin transports oxygen through our blood while the iron enzyme cytochrome P450 in our livers are important for drug metabolism.

UTEP, Canadian University Partner for Combustion Research

Researchers in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UTEP will collaborate with researchers at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, to study combustion of metals as recyclable zero-carbon fuels.

“The scientific goal of the program is to achieve a better understanding of processes occurring during combustion of powdered metals as energy carriers that provide a transformative solution of the energy storage problem, enabling a faster growth of the renewable energy sector in power generation and propulsion,” said Evgeny Shafirovich, Ph.D. associate professor in mechanical engineering and the lead on the project at UTEP.

The team was awarded nearly $250,000 from the National Science Foundation for use over three years. The work will be conducted through the MIRO Center for Space Exploration and Technology Research at UTEP.

Each summer of the three-year project period, four students from UTEP will spend 12 weeks at McGill, participating in fundamental research on combustion of metals as clean energy carriers. The students will be integrated into existing research groups, where they will use unique facilities and techniques under the mentorship of highly qualified Canadian researchers.

The project will help establish long-term, sustainable collaboration between UTEP and McGill, which will lead to new projects, student exchanges, and scientific publications in the area of combustion for clean energy applications.

In addition, the collaboration will inspire, recruit and retain students from the border region, including underrepresented minority individuals, pursuing careers in areas related to combustion, energy and the environment.

On a larger scale, a great impact on clean energy technologies is expected through creating a fundamental scientific basis for implementation of a new concept for chemical energy storage in power plants based on renewables.

Work on the grant is expected to start in the 2017 fall semester.

UTEP Education Researchers Awarded $456k NSF Grant

The College of Education at The University of Texas at El Paso has been awarded a $456,076 grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct research on persistence in and beyond undergraduate engineering studies among Latinx students.

Latinx is the gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina used by academics and activists.

Alberto Esquinca, Ph.D., associate professor of bilingual education, will lead the project with co-principal investigators Elsa Q. Villa, Ph.D., director of the Center for Education Research and Policy Studies; and Erika Mein, Ph.D., co-chair of the Department of Teacher Education.

They will examine the undergraduate education experiences of engineering students at UTEP to determine their trajectory through engineering studies and how they made their decision to enter the workforce or attend graduate school after completing their baccalaureate degree.

“This is a study of persistence in which we are to hone in on the transition between college and the workforce and/or graduate studies,” said Esquinca, the grant’s principal investigator. “This is innovative because prior studies of persistence limit the scope of their investigations to graduation, which is insufficient given that a large percentage of engineering students do not enter the engineering workforce.”

Researchers will study the persistence of mechanical engineering and computer science undergraduate students who are in their senior capstone course.

They plan to identify factors that contribute to these students’ successful trajectories beyond graduation as they seek professional positions in the workplace, and/or make decisions to continue on to graduate school during their last year of undergraduate studies.

NSF Awards UTEP $1.9 Million to Prepare New Generation in Computer Science

The National Science Foundation has awarded The University of Texas at El Paso $1.9 million to prepare more computer science professionals over the next five years.

The funds will be used to address a 2012 report on undergraduate education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) from President Barack Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The report cites “uninspiring” introductory courses and an unwelcoming atmosphere from faculty as major factors contributing to attrition of STEM students.

The project at UTEP aims to address the PCAST findings by re-imagining what it means to learn, whose knowledge counts, and what counts as knowledge in the context of computer science. The UTEP model transforms faculty into change agents and fosters the development of positive student identities early in the curriculum to impact students’ trajectories in computer science and beyond.

Computer science department Chair Ann Gates, Ph.D.
Computer science department Chair Ann Gates, Ph.D.

CAHSI was formed in 2004 as a grassroots effort to increase the number of Hispanic students who pursue and complete baccalaureate and advanced degrees in the computer and information sciences and engineering (CISE) and cybersecurity areas.“Computer science department Chair Dr. Ann Gates and her faculty are always looking for ways to make our students more globally competitive,” said UTEP Vice President for Research Roberto Osegueda, Ph.D.

He added, “This grant will make a significant contribution to UTEP’s mission of access and excellence. Both components of that mission are critical for our University’s population, especially in the growing computer science field where Hispanics are underrepresented. Computer science faculty have taken proactive steps to support and engage an increased number of students in this field with efforts including the formation of the Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (CAHSI).”

Throughout its history, CAHSI has produced large numbers of Hispanic undergraduates in computing. CAHSI’s graduation rates have consistently surpassed the national graduation rates, even during the decline in computing B.S. degree graduates. In 2013, CAHSI increased its graduation rate of women undergraduates by 19 percent.

The overarching goal of the new project is to cultivate socially conscious connectedness among students, faculty and industry.

This will beIMG_0018 accomplished by expanding a curriculum centered on heightened social interaction driven by an understanding and appreciation for the cultural contributions of diverse students to computer science in a globalized world.

Acquired skills and knowledge from the proposed effort are expected to transfer to other subjects in students’ studies, decrease students’ time to degree, and strengthen their preparedness for entry into the computing workforce.

Further, the development of inclusive environments with members who value multiple and diverse experiences and perspectives is needed to address global challenges and opportunities.

UTEP receives National Science Foundation Scholarship for Service Grant

A team of computer science faculty from The University of Texas at El Paso has been awarded a highly competitive $3.9 million Scholarship For Service (SFS) grant from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Homeland Security.

The funding will give scholarships to 28 bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. computer science students over the next five years.

The project’s goals are to increase the number of qualified students who complete advanced degrees with a specialization in cyber-security. Graduate students will enter the workforce with the ability to transfer state-of-the-art cyber-security techniques and approaches into practice.

“The project will open significant opportunities to UTEP students with an interest in software engineering and cyber-security, particularly in areas such as defense, energy, communication, transportation and manufacturing,” said UTEP Vice President for Research Roberto Osegueda, Ph.D.

The UTEP grant team, led by Associate Professor of Practice and Director of the Master of Science in Software Engineering Program Salamah I. Salamah, Ph.D., includes Ann Q. Gates, Ph.D., professor and department chair; Assistant Professor Christopher Kiekintveld, Ph.D.; and Associate Professor Luc Longpré, Ph.D.


Each student will be funded for up to three years and will receive a stipend of $34,000 (graduate students) and $22,500 (undergraduates), $4,000 for travel and professional development, $2,000 for books and supplies, and $3,000 for medical insurance. Tuition and fees also will be paid for these students.

Students will commit to work for two years in government positions that utilize their knowledge and capabilities in cyber-security.

 UTEP is one of six universities to be awarded an SFS grant in this funding cycle. It is now one of only 63 universities nationwide that are part of CyberCorps, which was established by the SFS program in 2000.

Pictured above are  John Robinson, acting senior cyber security advisor to the deputy under secretary for cyber security &  communications at the Department of Homeland Security National  Protection and Program Directorate (NPPD); Ann Q. Gates, Ph.D.,  professor and chair of the UTEP computer science department; Associate  Professor of Practice and Director of the Master of Science in Software  Engineering Program Salamah I. Salamah, Ph.D.; Joan Ferrini-Mundy,  Ph.D., assistant director, directorate for education and human  resources, National Science Foundation; Clifton N., Triplett, senior  cyber and information technology advisor, U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Photo courtesy of the National Science Foundation.

Author: UTEP

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