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Wednesday , April 25 2018
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Tag Archives: Ph.D.

Heidi Taboada Named Engineering Associate Dean

Theresa A. Maldonado, Ph.D., dean of UTEP’s College of Engineering, has appointed Heidi A. Taboada, Ph.D., as the associate dean for research and graduate studies.

Taboada joined The University of Texas at El Paso in 2007.  She is currently an associate professor in the Department of Industrial, Manufacturing and Systems Engineering. She holds Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in industrial and systems engineering from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Her research interests intersect broad areas such as applied operations research, systems analysis and optimization, resiliency and sustainability, and metaheuristic and biologically inspired optimization. Her research contributions involve the development of multiple objective optimization models, reliability models, evolutionary game theory algorithms, and agricultural systems optimization models.

Taboada has expanded her research interests to include innovations in engineering education. She is particularly interested in research related to increasing the participation of minorities and women in engineering. She strongly believes that meaningful experiential learning experiences transform students’ lives.

Furthermore, her international work includes the development of and participation in different faculty-led study abroad programs in Latin America through funding received by the U.S. Department of State and the 100K Strong in the Americas Initiative.

“Dr. Taboada has demonstrated routinely the power of interdisciplinary collaborations toward achieving research outcomes that impact society,” Maldonado said. “She will be a tremendous addition to the Dean of Engineering Office, serving the college faculty and students.”

Taboada has been the principal or co-principal investigator of more than $10 million in funding from agencies such as the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and industry. Among her multiple research awards, Taboada was the recipient of the UTEP ORSP Millionaire Research award.

She has published more than 50 refereed manuscripts in technical journals, book chapters and conference proceedings. Her work has been published in IEEE Transactions on Reliability, Reliability Engineering and System Safety, IISE Transactions, and Quality Technology and Quantitative Management, among others.

UTEP Professor Receives Prestigious Hispanic Education Award

Great Minds in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) today announced its 2017 Class of HENAAC Award Winners. UTEP’s Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D., Dudley Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, professor of chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry, was selected in the education category.

“Dr. Gardea-Torresdey is an extraordinarily accomplished educator, mentor and researcher,” said UTEP President Diana Natalicio. “This prestigious national award celebrates his 25-year commitment to guiding our UTEP students toward exciting futures in STEM fields, where their success enhances UTEP’s reputation as a major contributor to a high-quality and diverse workforce.”

The organization created the education award to honor individuals involved in higher education across the U.S. Nominees are typically educators, administrators or distinguished professors who demonstrate a strong commitment to promoting STEM education. Gardea-Torresdey was selected from a long list of national nominees.

In his UTEP career, Gardea-Torresdey has mentored 33 Ph.D. students (26 in environmental science and engineering, six in chemistry and one in materials science), and 29 students have received their master’s degrees under his mentorship. He has mentored more than 39 undergraduate students in research.

He also helped establish two (environmental science and engineering, and chemistry) Ph.D. programs at the University.

Great Minds in STEM is a nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping America technologically strong by promoting STEM careers. Established in 1989 and based in the Los Angeles area, the organization’s nationwide programming focuses on STEM educational awareness from kindergarten through college, and on seeking out and documenting the world-class contributions of Hispanic professionals in STEM to serve as role models for the next generation of American engineers and scientists.

“I am very happy that my efforts to produce the future generation of environmental scientists and engineers and Ph.D. chemists is being recognized with this award,” Gardea-Torresdey said. “I am extremely proud that many of our first-generation Hispanic students are now professors at esteemed universities or work for national government agencies like the EPA.”

Gardea-Torresdey has authored more than 420 publications and holds five U.S. patents for environmental remediation. In 2016, he received the first Graduate Mentor Award in UTEP history. His research achievements are highlighted in the Lawrence Hall of Science of the University of California, Berkeley. Other accolades include the 2009 SACNAS Distinguished Scientist of the Year Award and the 2012 Piper Professor Award, which is one of the most prestigious honors conferred to a professor in the State of Texas.

He will be honored at the 29th Annual HENAAC Conference in Pasadena, California, Oct. 18-22, 2017. A full list of winners is available online.

NSSI Awarded $136k Grant for Scholarship and Graduate Fellowship Fund

Larry Valero, Ph.D., director of UTEP’s National Security Studies Institute (NSSI), has been awarded $136,838 from the University of Texas System to establish an undergraduate scholarship and graduate fellowship program for students in UTEP’s Intelligence and National Security Studies (INSS) Program who have previously studied or plan to study a strategic language, including Arabic, Farsi, Mandarin, and Russian.

“The National Security Studies Institute and its INSS Program has a long history of placing outstanding multilingual students into significant positions of responsibility inside the U.S. intelligence community,” Valero said. “These merit awards will help identify some of our very best students—making them more competitive nationally with a significant scholarship or fellowship on their resume and language skills sets that are in high demand.”

Ten graduate fellowships and seven undergraduate scholarships will be awarded in the fall 2017 semester to highly talented and academically deserving INSS students who plan to pursue impactful careers in the United States intelligence community and the national security enterprise.

For more information about the NSSI, click here.

UTEP Math Professor Named to Land Board

Amy Wagler, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematical sciences, recently was named a member of the Board of Directors for the Frontera Land Alliance.

The nonprofit organization works to protect natural areas, working farms and ranches, water and wildlife. It began in 2005 when community members realized there was an urgent need to preserve some of the important remaining natural and working lands in the greater El Paso and southern New Mexico region.

“I am excited about working with Frontera Land Alliance to promote knowledge and appreciation of our natural environment,” Wagler said. “I am passionate about preservation of natural spaces, particularly in the border region.”

Though her professional expertise is not directly related to ecology and preservation, there is a connection to her research and teaching model.

She is a faculty fellow for UTEP’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) where she works to develop a faculty community of practice around community-engaged scholarship, service learning and community-based research.

In the classroom, the statistician has her Applied Regression Analysis students apply their statistics research projects and problem solving work to actual community issues. Wagler says utilizing applications learned inside the classroom helps students experience the impact of using statistics to address real-life situations.

The most recent project her class worked on involved research studies to understand how proximity to green or open space, like Castner Range (www.castner4ever.org), affects property value in El Paso.

UTEP Receives Grant to Increase Diversity in Computer Science

Ann Q. Gates, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science at The University of Texas at El Paso, has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for an initiative titled “Building Upon CAHSI’s Success to Establish a Networked Community for Broadening Participation of Hispanics in Graduate Studies.”

The grant of nearly $300,000 comes to UTEP as one of the first-ever from the NSF INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) program, a comprehensive initiative to enhance U.S. leadership in science and engineering by broadening participation in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“This award is strong recognition of the educational quality that UTEP provides to its mostly Hispanic student population, particularly when it comes to future-forward careers in computer systems, human-computer interaction, software engineering and high-performance computing,” said UTEP Vice President of Research Roberto Osegueda, Ph.D.

“It is an honor to be among the first 37 NSF INCLUDES grants awarded,” Gates said. “The shared purpose and vision of our effort is to achieve parity in the number of Hispanics who complete computation-based graduate studies. While there have been strategies for increasing graduate program completion rates for underrepresented minorities, little attention has been paid to the role of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and two-year colleges in reducing attrition. Our collective impact efforts through networked partnerships aim to change this.”

NSF INCLUDES aims to improve access to STEM education and career pathways on a national scale, making them more widely inclusive to underserved populations. Over the next decade, NSF will expand the program, with the goal of developing a science and engineering workforce that better reflects the diversity of U.S. society.

Gates launched the University’s Computing Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institutions, or CAHSI, in 2004 to increase the number of Hispanic students who pursue and complete bachelor’s and advanced degrees in computer and information sciences and engineering. The program will benefit from this award.

“For more than six decades, NSF has funded the development of STEM talent, with the goals of furthering scientific discovery and ensuring the nation’s security, economy and ability to innovate,” said NSF Director France Córdova. “NSF INCLUDES aims to broaden participation in STEM by reaching populations traditionally underserved in science and engineering. I’m gratified to see such a strong start to this program, which we hope will be an enduring investment in our nation’s future in scientific discovery and technological innovation.”

Learn more about NSF INCLUDES at https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/nsfincludes/index.jsp.

UT System Regents Honor 7 UTEP Faculty with Outstanding Teaching Award

The University of Texas System Board of Regents will recognize seven University of Texas at El Paso faculty members for their extraordinary classroom performance and innovative instruction in the classroom with the highly prestigious 2016 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award (ROTA).

This year’s UTEP recipients include: Joyce Asing Cashman, Ph.D., assistant professor of practice for STEM education; José de Piérola, Ph.D., associate professor of creative writing; Jorge Lopez, Ph.D., Rho Sigma Tau-Robert L. Schumaker Professor of Physics; Maria Morales, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology and anthropology; Aurelia Murga, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology and anthropology; Germán Rosas-Acosta, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences; and W. Shane Walker, Ph.D., assistant professor of civil engineering.

“I’m delighted that the UT System Board of Regents has once again honored several UTEP faculty members for their excellent teaching,” said Howard C. Daudistel, Ph.D., interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. “The Regents’ recognition validates our faculty’s hard work and dedication to student learning and achievement. Our award-winning faculty not only excel in the classroom, they are outstanding scholars, researchers and writers. These outstanding teachers were selected for this honor through a rigorous, extremely competitive and demanding review process. I congratulate each one of them for their success and thank them for their commitment to maintaining UTEP’s stature as a leader in higher education.”

The ROTA was established in 2008 to recognize faculty from the system’s 15 academic and health campuses who demonstrate excellence in classroom expertise, curricula quality, course development and student learning outcomes in undergraduate teaching. Each recipient is awarded $25,000. Since the program’s inception, 65 UTEP faculty have received the award.

“UT educators provide invaluable mentorship and deliver high-quality instruction and innovation while enhancing the minds of the nation’s next leaders,” Board of Regents Chairman Paul L. Foster said. “Their deep commitment to outstanding education ensures student success across the System. The Board of Regents is honored to recognize our dedicated faculty members through the ROTA program.”

UTEP honorees, along with all Regents’ Award recipients, throughout Texas will be recognized Aug. 24 during the Board of Regents meeting in Austin.

TTUHSC Faculty Develops Policy Recommendations to Support Women in Medicine

Women in medicine often make less money and hold fewer leadership positions than men in medicine.

“The situation is even worse in emergency medicine programs,” says Sue Watts, Ph.D., an associate professor of emergency medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso). “Just one-third of emergency medicine faculty are women and nearly 75 percent of them have the lowest academic ranks.”

Studies have shown that female faculty members in emergency medicine make 10 to 13 percent less than their male counterparts, and a 2006 report found that only 7.5 percent of emergency medicine departments were chaired by women.

To address these barriers, Watts recently teamed up with a group of women who hold leadership positions in emergency medicine across the country to promote workplace environments that support women. The group created specific guidelines for organizations and institutions to consider implementing in their emergency medicine departments.

Their recommendations, published this month in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine, are as follows:

  • “Employers should implement policies and practices aimed at ensuring unbiased recruitment and hiring and parity in advancement and compensation among employees.
  • Employers should promote and support networking and mentorship opportunities for their women physicians.
  • Employers should strive to implement family-supportive practices that further the professional advancement and retention of employees who have childcare and other dependent care responsibilities.
  • Employers should seek to create a culture in which family-supportive policies are visible and easily accessible, and are used without fear of penalty or stigma. This culture should be evident at the time of recruitment.
  • Employers should adopt policies to support physicians during significant life events (e.g., pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and major medical illness).
  • The needs of pregnant and postpartum women should be supported with flexible scheduling options and adequate lactation facilities.”

The team’s recommendations have been met with considerable endorsement thus far. The policies were quickly adopted by the boards of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) and the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).

“Even though these guidelines focus on emergency medicine, the best practices could be applied to any other specialty, or adopted as institutional policies,” Watts says.

She hopes the recommendations will impact the medical community and improve the recruitment, retention and advancement of women in medicine throughout the U.S.

UTEP Economics Professor to Officiate 2nd U.S. Olympic Swim Trials

Jim Holcomb, Ph.D., associate professor of economics, will help officiate at the U.S. Olympic swim trials June 25 through July 3, 2016, in Omaha, Nebraska.

Holcomb, chairman of the USA Swimming National Officials Committee, will serve as a deck referee and video replay referee at the meet that determines which swimmers represent the United States at the summer Olympics in August 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

This is the second time the El Paso native has officiated at the nation’s Olympic swim trials. His first experience was 2012 when he served as a deck official.

Holcomb, a three-sport athlete at El Paso’s Eastwood High School, earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from UTEP in 1979, and his master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from Texas Tech and Texas A&M universities, respectively.

He has been a swimming official since 1999 and has officiated at national meets for 14 years.

UTEP Professor Recognized as 2016 State Bar of Texas Inventor of the Year

Marc Cox, Ph.D., associate professor in The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Biological Sciences, has been selected as the 2016 Texas Inventor of the Year for his treatments for breast and prostate cancer developed at UTEP.

Cox was chosen as the top inventor in Texas by the Intellectual Property Committee of the State Bar of Texas, who selected the researcher from a highly competitive field of nominees. He is the first awardee from a university and will be recognized at the Annual Meeting of the State Bar of Texas in Fort Worth on June 17, 2016.

Prostate and breast cancer growth is frequently driven in response to the body’s own hormones. As a result, many current therapies include hormone-blocking agents.

However, a significant number of cancers develop the ability to grow even in the absence of hormones because their hormone sensors become stuck in an “on” state that normally only occurs in response to hormones, making them resistant to hormone blocking treatments. Such treatment-resistant cancers account for a significant proportion of prostate cancer deaths and also lead to many breast cancer deaths.

“Dr. Cox’s research has resulted in an entirely new class of drugs that bypasses the hormone sensors all together and instead block internal messages within cancer cells, so the cancer acts as if its hormone sensors are ‘off’ and does not grow. Without a constant message to grow, the cancer may die partially on its own or become much easier to kill with combination treatment,” said Michelle Lecointe, chair of last year’s Inventor of the Year committee.

MarcCox3D“I am both excited and honored to have been named the 2016 Inventor of the Year,” Cox said. “As a scientist, nothing would satisfy me more than to see my work directly contribute to increasing patient quality of life, and my efforts in technology development and commercialization are necessary steps towards that ultimate goal. Recognitions such as this provide strong validation of my technology development efforts, and of the great strides that UTEP has made toward fostering and supporting highly competitive research.”

Cox developed drug candidates that target a critical protein for androgen receptor signaling, which is a process that these cancers are dependent on for growth. Pharmaceutical compounds developed by Cox will help pave the way for the development of similar technologies that have less undesirable side effects than current treatments, thereby improving the quality of life of patients.

Preliminary findings suggest that Cox’s therapeutic strategy will lead to more potent and effective drugs. These drugs will likely demonstrate efficacy toward the treatment of breast and prostate cancers, either alone or in combination with existing therapeutics.

“Dr. Cox is adding new weapons to the clinicians’ arsenal of treatments that will provide greater options for the design of individualized and/or combination therapies, and significantly contribute to the reduction of death from prostate or breast cancer,” said Roberto Osegueda, Ph.D., vice president for research at UTEP.

Cox is currently working with scientists from the National Institutes of Health, Texas Southern University, Clark Atlanta University and the University of Colorado to conduct pre-clinical studies, and is in discussion with collaborators to design the initial clinical testing of the compounds.

Novel technologies and new goods are at the heart of economic progress and the major long-term economic benefits of novel drug technologies include increased longevity of patients, reduced limitations on patient activities including working, and reduced medical expenditures.

Six patents related to Cox’s breast and prostate cancer treatments are currently pending and issued.

“These novel drug technologies and their development toward commercialization attract funding that benefits the University, the University of Texas System and the regional economy through increased research expenditures and the creation of jobs,” said Melissa Silverstein, director of UTEP’s Office of Technology Commercialization.

To date, these technologies have attracted close to $2.3 million in research funding and created at least five new jobs within the academic research sector in Cox’s lab at UTEP.

Provost Names 2016-17 Faculty Fellows for Civic Engagement

The Office of the Provost has named Mark Lusk, Ed.D., professor of social work, and Amy Wagler, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematical sciences, as The University of Texas at El Paso’s 2016-17 Faculty Fellows for the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE).

Lusk and Wagler will collaborate with the CCE in continuing to develop a faculty community of practice around community-engaged scholarship, service learning and community-based research.

They bring to their positions broad knowledge and experience in community-engaged scholarship and have already demonstrated leadership in expanding the awareness, knowledge and engaged practices of their staff and faculty colleagues on campus.

The Provost’s Administrative Faculty Fellow positions are intended to provide faculty members with leadership and administrative experience, while offering faculty perspective, guidance and vision to the administrative offices they serve.

Faculty fellows work closely with program directors on projects that help those units address UTEP’s mission and goals.

The mission of UTEP’s Center for Civic Engagement is to engage faculty and students in the community through community-based teaching and learning in order to enhance student learning, promote civic engagement and actively improve the El Paso-Juárez region.

UTEP Professor Earns Prestigious Award at Bilingual Conference

The Government of Mexico recognized UTEP’s Josefina V. “Josie” Tinajero, Ph.D., with its Regional Ohtli Award on March 4, 2016, during the 45th annual National Association for Bilingual Education conference in Chicago, Illinois.

The Ohtli, which means “road” in the Aztec Nahuatl language, is one of the most prestigious honors awarded to leaders in their professions outside of Mexico who have distinguished themselves professionally to secure the well-being of Mexicans abroad and to enhance the quality of life of migrant populations. The award is given annually. Past recipients have been artists, actors, politicians and community leaders.

“I am honored beyond words,” Tinajero said. She is a professor of bilingual education and special adviser to The University of Texas at El Paso’s vice president for research. “I am extremely excited and feel so blessed. This is a very special honor since it is being awarded by the government of my native country.”

Tinajero, who learned English as an elementary school student in El Paso, said she decided early on that she would pursue a teaching career to help others, especially children, who needed help adapting to a new language and culture. She did not want them to experience what she experienced in school.

During her 40-year career, she has become an acknowledged international expert in the field of bilingual education. She has dedicated her professional life to shaping public policy in the U.S. to help English as a Second Language children and their families.

Miguel Basáñez Ebergenyi, Ph.D., Mexican ambassador to the United States, said in a Feb. 9, 2016, letter to Tinajero that the decision to honor her was based on her extensive work to promote gender equity, cultural diversity and access to higher education in the Hispanic community.

“Education and opportunities have definitely been improved not only in Texas but in the United States, thanks to the scholarship and funding programs where you have participated as well as in the projects oriented to improve teaching training,” he wrote. “As is well known, education is one of the most important resources for any nation and also, one of the most valuable tools required to integrate and empower migrant communities.”

Howard Daudistel, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs and interim provost, said the University was delighted with Tinajero’s latest acknowledgement because it highlighted her contributions to bilingual education and UTEP’s role in broadening the educational pathways for people of this region.

“This recognition of Dr. Tinajero reflects positively on the University’s continuing desire to serve students of all backgrounds who come to us hoping to fulfill their dreams and aspirations.​”

Tinajero said she was especially grateful to her deceased parents – Reveriano Alfonso Villamil, a Mexican national, and Maria Rosa Villamil, a Mexican-American – for the tremendous respect and admiration they shared with her for the Mexican culture, history and native language. They played a significant role in encouraging their nine children to go to college.

“I decided to do the things I did in my life because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of Latinos at a national level,” she said. “(My parents) would be very proud of me because I’m helping others reach their potential.”

The award, established in 1996, includes a gold medal, a rosette and a certificate.

Plant Extract Shows Promise in Treating Pancreatic Cancer

A natural extract derived from India’s neem tree could potentially be used to treat pancreatic cancer, according to a new study in the journal Scientific Reports.

Biomedical scientists at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso) tested nimbolide, a compound found in neem leaves, against pancreatic cancer in cell lines and

mice. The results revealed that nimbolide can stop pancreatic cancer’s growth and metastasis without harming normal, healthy cells.

“The promise nimbolide has shown is amazing, and the specificity of the treatment towards cancer cells over normal cells is very intriguing,” says Rajkumar Lakshmanaswamy, Ph.D., an associate professor in TTUHSC El Paso’s Center of Emphasis in Cancer.

Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all cancers with 94 percent of patients dying within five years of diagnosis. The cancer grows quickly and there are currently no effective treatments available, underscoring the importance of finding new therapies.

In the study, Lakshmanaswamy and his lab observed that nimbolide was able to reduce the migration and invasion capabilities of pancreatic cancer cells by 70 percent; meaning the cancerous cells did not become aggressive and spread. And that’s promising, the researchers say. In humans, this migration and invasion (metastasis) of pancreatic cancer to other regions of the body is the chief cause of mortality.

Nimbolide treatments also induced cancer cell death, causing the size and number of pancreatic cancer cell colonies to drop by 80 percent. “Nimbolide seems to attack pancreatic cancer from all angles,” Lakshmanaswamy says.

The TTUHSC El Paso researchers stress that one of the most important findings is that nimbolide did not harm healthy cells in both the in vitro and in vivo experiments.

AutophagyLead author and postdoctoral researcher Ramadevi Subramani, Ph.D., explains, “Many people in India actually eat neem and it doesn’t have harmful side effects, which suggests that using nimbolide for pancreatic cancer will not cause adverse effects like chemotherapy and radiation typically do.”

While the results are promising, Lakshmanaswamy says there’s still a long way to go before nimbolide can be used to treat pancreatic cancer in humans.

The TTUHSC El Paso team plans to continue researching the anticancer mechanisms behind the plant extract. They’ll also study various ways to administer nimbolide to maintain its potency against pancreatic cancer.

Additional TTUHSC El Paso collaborators who participated in the study were postdoctoral researchers Arunkumar Arumugam, Ph.D., Sushmita Nandy, Ph.D., and graduate students Fernando Camacho, Elizabeth Gonzalez, and Joshua Medel.

Time Lapse Video Nimbolide vs. Control

UTEP Professor shows hearing aids improve memory, speech

A recent study by Jamie Desjardins, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Speech-Language Pathology Program at The University of Texas at El Paso, found that hearing aids improve brain function in persons with hearing loss.

Hearing loss, if left untreated, can lead to serious emotional and social consequences, reduced job performance and diminished quality of life. Untreated hearing loss also can interfere with cognitive abilities because so much effort is put toward understanding speech.

“If you have some hearing impairment and you’re not using hearing aids, maybe you can figure out what the person has said, but that comes with a cost,” Desjardins explained. “You may actually be using the majority of your cognitive resources – your brain power – in order to figure out that message.”

As people age, basic cognitive skills – working memory, the ability to pay attention to a speaker in a noisy environment, or the ability to process information quickly – begin to decline.

Desjardins studied a group of individuals in their 50s and 60s with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss who had previously never used hearing aids.

They took cognitive tests to measure their working memory, selective attention and processing speed abilities prior to and after using the hearing aids.

After two weeks of hearing aid use, tests revealed an increase in percent scores for recalling words in working memory and selective attention tests, and the processing speed at which participants selected the correct response was faster.

By the end of the study, participants had exhibited significant improvement in their cognitive function.

“Most people will experience hearing loss in their lifetime,” said Desjardins, who joined UTEP in 2013. “Think about somebody who is still working and they’re not wearing hearing aids and they are spending so much of their brainpower just trying to focus on listening. They may not be able to perform their job as well. Or if they can, they’re exhausted because they are working so much harder. They are more tired at the end of the day and it’s a lot more taxing. It affects their quality of life.”

Hearing loss affects more than 9 million Americans over the age of 65 and 10 million Americans ages 45 to 64, but only about 20 percent of people who actually need hearing aids wear them, Desjardins said.

Desjardins’ new study focuses on the use of hearing aids by Hispanics. Research shows that only five percent of Mexican-Americans wear hearing aids. She has developed a survey to investigate their attitudes toward hearing loss. The survey will be conducted at health fairs in the community, including the Mexican Consulate in El Paso, Texas.

Desjardins also will begin work on another study that will look at older bilingual people and their ability to understand speech.

Desjardins earned both a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in audiology from Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York.

Author: UTEP

UTEP Computer Science Department develops award-winning interactive Agent System

University of Texas at El Paso Professor of Computer Science David Novick, Ph.D., and his students have developed a system for virtual agents and an immersive interactive application titled “Survival on Jungle Island.”

The UTEP AGENT system was created to study understanding between embodied conversational agents (ECAs) and humans, with emphasis on the effects of paralinguistic behaviors on engagement and rapport. Paralinguistics includes behaviors such as gesture, intonation and rhythm in speech, gaze and turn taking. The team’s research includes work on personality traits of humans and agents.

In “Survival on Jungle Island,” the ECA and a human interact, using speech and gesture, in a 40-60 minute adventure composed of 23 scenes. A study conducted with the adventure showed that rapport increases when the ECA asks the human to perform task-related gestures and then perceives a human performing these gestures.

In the jungle adventure, the system simulates a survival scenario in which the player interacts with the ECA, Adriana. In order to survive, both human and ECA must collaborate, cooperate and build a relationship.

The game begins with a cinematic sequence of a stormy shipwreck, providing background information as to how the person ended up in the survival situation. This scene is followed by another two scenes, which serve as an inconspicuous tutorial to avoid breaking the impression of an immersive reality.

The first scene contains personal questions that let the player and the ECA get to know each other, giving the impression that Adriana is processing what she hears. The second scene moves the story forward by providing an explanation as to how the ECA Adriana has survived in the jungle so far, and shows that she reacts to the player’s responses.

At the end of the scene, the story continues to develop depending on the player’s choice of what to do next.

Novick created the system with the help of his Advanced aGent ENgagement Team (AGENT), comprising postdoctoral fellow Ivan Gris; UTEP undergraduate and graduate students Adriana Camacho, Alex Rayon, Joel Quintana, Anuar Jauregui, Timothy Gonzales, Alfonso Peralta, Victoria Bravo, Jacqueline Brixey, Yahaira Reyes and Paola Gallardo; French Air Force Academy cadets Guillaume Adoneth and David Manuel; and El Paso high school students Brynne Blaugrund and Nick Farber.

To enable the interaction between humans and ECAs, the team combined the use of Unity 4, an animation software; a Microsoft Kinect motion sensing device; and the Windows Speech SDK software. The team also built “middleware,” which enabled more rapid development of applications including the jungle adventure.

The UTEP AGENT system recently received the award for Outstanding Demonstration at the 17th ACM International Conference on Multimodal Interaction held in November in Seattle, Washington.

“UTEP’s virtual-agent team now ranks among the best in the world,” Novick said. “We are both building exciting new virtual-agent technology and learning how to make agents more adaptable to humans.”

Author: UTEP

El Paso Pediatric Researcher’s cartoons are a hit on YouTube

A faculty member at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso) has a popular YouTube channel that’s garnered more than 12 million views.

Pediatric researcher Marie Leiner, Ph.D., uses YouTube to share cartoons she creates for children. The cartoons, however, are not just for entertainment — they’re educational and specifically designed to solve social problems in children to instill good behavior.

“I started creating these cartoons because I was worried about how to reduce aggression among children,” Leiner says. “I wanted to create a way to help teachers and parents with behavioral problems.”

Each of Leiner’s episodes feature a little girl named Didi or a boy named Pepin that turn into superheroes when they see children behaving badly, like bullying, lying or stealing. The cartoons apply the social learning and moral disengagement theory to teach good behavior. They work by having children observe a particular behavior and its subsequent rewards or punishments.

Featured online in English and Spanish, the cartoons are most popular in countries like Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Peru. They are also very popular in the United States in Spanish. Children seem to be big fans of Didi and Pepin, Leiner says, and frequently contact her on YouTube with comments like “We want more cartoons! Please post more.”

Leiner has conducted presentations around the world to share her educational cartoons and books with elementary school teachers, too. Teachers are encouraged to play the episodes in class and then hold a class discussion about what was learned.

After using Leiner’s cartoons, many teachers contact Leiner to let her know how the lessons went. Comments include, “This is very good material. Thank you for posting.” And, “It’s a pleasure to use your videos in the classroom. They have helped us a lot and are very useful for educators.”

Leiner’s efforts have earned her more than 20,000 YouTube subscribers so far. The pediatric researcher serves as the cartoon’s producer, scriptwriter and voice of several characters, but receives assistance with the animation. The videos are part of a larger project that’s testing the effectiveness of a model of communication for children using a story format.

The videos were made possible with grants from Kohl’s and Workforce Solutions of the Upper Rio Grande.

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