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Home | Tag Archives: University of Texas at El Paso

Tag Archives: University of Texas at El Paso

UTEP Professor promotes peace at WWII Ceremony

At 91 years old, Z. Anthony Kruszewski has seen a lot and heard a lot – good and bad. As a young man, he battled the Nazis during World War II as a member of the Polish Underground. He spent some time as a prisoner of war, but managed to escape. By the end of the hostilities, he was so embittered that he claimed to have been allergic to the German language.

But that was a lifetime ago. Through the years, Kruszewski, Ph.D., professor emeritus of political science at The University of Texas at El Paso, came to terms with his dislike for all things German. As an educator, he would accept frequent invitations to lecture at the country’s universities and eventually became friends with his academic peers there.

Kruszewski, who continues to teach at UTEP despite officially retiring in 2015, recently participated in a pair of ceremonies in Berlin, Germany, to mark the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II on Sept. 1, 1939. The topic of his brief remarks for the first event was the effect of the conflict on his family, many who died horribly at the hands of the Nazis. At the second event, he spoke more about his participation as a Polish soldier and spy during the Warsaw Uprising 75 years ago.

Back in El Paso, he recalled his concern with how the mostly German audiences would react to his speeches that condemned nationalism and authoritarian activities that could lead to war. The native of Warsaw, Poland, said the crowds of several hundred at each event interrupted him numerous times … with applause and standing ovations.

“Their response was significant,” said Kruszewski, who said he kept his emotions in check during his presentations. “It was very moving for me. I did not expect it. I did not expect the Germans to invite me to speak in Berlin as a representative of veterans of World War II and, to a certain extent, a generation of people who fought for freedom. It made me feel satisfied and fulfilled.”

Kruszewski was the right person to deliver that message because he was of the generation that experienced the drama and tragedy of war, said Dieter Bingen, Ph.D., former director of the German-Poland Institute in Darmstadt, Germany. The two met at an academic conference in Cologne, Germany, in 1982 and have been colleagues and friends ever since. Bingen, whose research specialty was Poland, organized the Sept. 1 event in Berlin and invited his friend to be the keynote speaker.

Bingen, now retired, said he knew that Kruszewski would win over the crowd with a speech that demonstrated his intellect, temperament, morality and acceptance. That day’s audience included high-powered, nationally elected leaders from Germany and Poland.

“By his experiences, I knew his message would build bridges between nations and generations,” Bingen said in an email interview.

Bingen said that Kruszewski followed that up with an hour-long presentation the next day in Berlin’s city hall. The UTEP professor spoke of his work with the Polish Underground. The organizer said his friend’s words evoked strong emotions among the audience made up of children, young adults, academics and social activists.

Kruszewski called the German invasion of Poland the greatest tragedy in his home country’s history because of the level of destruction and loss of six million lives, or every fifth Polish resident. He called his own survival a miracle. He said his first war-related job was to report fires in the community. He went on to join the underground and serve in communication and reconnaissance.

Kruszewski, who spoke German, recalled his capture by an older German soldier. The man was Austrian and warned him that he had up to three days to escape otherwise the Nazis would execute him. He escaped during a convoy and continued to fight with the resistance through the end of the war.

After hostilities ended, he refused to return to Poland for 15 years because the Soviet Union controlled it. Instead, he went to England and then to study in the United States, which eventually led to his job at UTEP, where he has served with distinction for 50 years.

José D. Villalobos, Ph.D., associate professor of political science at UTEP, said he was familiar with Kruszewski’s life story and believes it is the reason he is such an unparalleled force on campus as a mentor who pushes colleagues and students to work hard and succeed through perseverance.

Villalobos, who serves on his department’s student scholarship committee, acknowledged that many graduate and undergraduate students have benefitted from the numerous scholarships tied to the Kruszewski family, as well as the pipeline he has created to recruit extremely talented students from Poland.

“In my experience at UTEP that has just surpassed a decade, I have experienced a slice of Dr. Kruszewski’s myriad contributions that are a testament to his legacy that is synonymous with our standards for access and excellence in political science and the Miner community more broadly,” Villalobos said.

Through the years, Kruszewski has supported Polish opposition to Communism and the now independent Poland as a member of the Polish-American congress. For the past 20 years, the UTEP professor has split time between El Paso and Warsaw, where he offers political science lectures to junior faculty from former republics of the Soviet Union at the University of Warsaw every summer. He teaches these instructors, who were taught under Communism, about elections, feminism, minority rights and European civilization.

As for his presentations in Berlin, he hoped that his contribution generated additional awareness to a different generation of the horrors of war.

“For me it’s an old story of 80 years ago,” Kruszewski said. “I’ve made peace with Germany. This generation that is alive now is not guilty. They are not guilty of the crimes of their fathers and grandfathers.”

Author – Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications

UTEP Researchers to Engage Hispanic Female Students in STEM Fields

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) recently awarded a three-year, $700,000 grant to a research team from The University of Texas at El Paso that will benefit Hispanic female students.

The project started in October 2019 and will continue through September 2022.

Diane Golding, Ed.D., is the principal investigator of “Yes, She Can: Closing the STEM Hispanic Gender Gap,” which she said is a project based on personal experience. She said she struggled with math in middle school due mainly to a lack of confidence.

Golding, an assistant professor of instruction in teacher education, said many female college students that she has spoken with report they shied away from STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) studies for the same reason.

Golding’s co-PIs are Ivonne Santiago, Ph.D., clinical professor of civil engineering; Alyse Hachey, Ph.D., associate professor of teacher education; and Mayra Ortiz Galarza, Ph.D., assistant professor of mathematics at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

This team decided to develop a way to introduce female students to STEM studies, and engage them through a strong, long-lasting and evidence-based program supported by like-minded peers and excellent mentors.

The researchers will introduce this student-led learning community to some of UTEP’s most innovative programs as well as community activities that involve many of the region’s women in STEM. Participants will build their confidence through projects and activities that also will involve female students from El Paso Community College and area school districts.

“I am so grateful to the DOE for this opportunity to support our talented students,” Golding said.

UTEP receives grant to support victims of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault in Rural Counties

The University of Texas at El Paso’s Minority AIDS Research Center (MARC) has received federal funding to collaborate with the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence (CASFV) on a program to support victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking in five West Texas rural counties.

MARC is a subrecipient of the $425,000 grant awarded to the CASFV from the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).

Additional partners include the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, Rio Grande Council of Governments and Aliviane, Inc. This is the only grant award for Texas in this funding cycle.

OVW’s Rural Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking Program (Rural Program) seeks to enhance the safety of rural victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking and support projects uniquely designed to address and prevent these crimes in rural areas.

According to Thenral Mangadu, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of public health sciences and MARC’s director, the project will follow a holistic community-engaged partnership model first established with CASFV in 2012 to provide prevention and response services in Hudspeth, Culberson, Presidio, Brewster and Jeff Davis counties, including assembling Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART) in service areas.

“This is MARC ‘s second federal subcontract for addressing rural health disparities this year,” Mangadu said. “MARC’s core partnership team is emerging as a leader in addressing rural health disparities in Texas-Mexico border communities.”

In July 2019, MARC was awarded federal funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Rural Communities Opioid Response Program.

Nomination process open for UTEP President’s Meritorious Service Awards.

The University of Texas at El Paso officials announced Monday the opening of nominations for The President’s Meritorious Service Awards.

The Awards are meant to recognize and honor outstanding achievement by staff and faculty members in the pursuit of UTEP’s mission and in service to students, colleagues and other University stakeholders.

Nominations may be submitted by students, faculty, staff, alumni, or other community members by selecting the links below.

President’s Meritorious Staff Service Award – honors a staff member who has performed outstanding service to students, colleagues, and/or other University stakeholders, transcending job expectations. All members of the classified, administrative, and professional staff are eligible.

The award is accompanied by a $1000 cash prize and a commemorative plaque.

President’s Meritorious Faculty Service Award – honors a faculty member who has performed outstanding institutional service to students, colleagues, and/or other University stakeholders, transcending job expectations. Faculty members who have completed, upon nomination, at least seven years of service in a faculty role at UTEP are eligible.

The award is accompanied by a $1000 cash prize and a commemorative plaque.

President’s Meritorious Team/Department Service Award – honors a collaborative effort involving faculty and/or staff (or a department) who have worked together toward a common goal or mission, and who have transcended their job expectations while serving students, colleagues, and/or other University stakeholders.

The award is accompanied by a $1000 prize that will be directed toward a campus program recommended by the winning team.

The awards will be presented by the President during the annual University Service Awards to be held at the end of February 2020.  Community members are asked to submit their nomination by November 29, 2019.

UTEP Civil Engineering recognized by NASA for Reproducing Martian Soil

The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Civil Engineering received an award from NASA’s Johnson’s Space Center (JSC) to reproduce Martian soil for mechanical interactions.

The primary objective of the project is to mechanistically characterize the physical and mechanical properties of the JSC Mars-1 regolith to better understand the physical, mechanical, and physio-chemical properties of the Martian simulants.

JSC Mars-1 is a regolith simulant developed by NASA at the Johnson Space Center based on data collected by the Viking and Pathfinder landers.

Reza Ashtiani, Ph.D., associate professor of civil engineering at UTEP and the project lead, said any Martian mission, from establishment of habitats to rovers operating on planetary surfaces, require proper characterization of the native soils.

Ashtiani has worked diligently on this project with co-principal investigator Darren Cone, Ph.D., professor of practice and director of UTEP’s Center for the Advancement of Space Safety and Mission Assurance Research (CASSMAR).

Ashtiani’s research team developed and executed an experiment to simulate the densification of fragmental and unconsolidated rocks in the event of Marsquakes, meteorite impacts, and passage of Mars rovers.

“Three of our students worked diligently on this project since October 2018,” Ashtiani said. “Currently there are two official presentations lined up on the outcome of this project, one at the University of Piura in Peru in October 2019, and the other at the International Conference on Transportation Geotechnics (ICDG) in Chicago in November 2020.”

Undergraduate civil engineering students Jesus Baca, Alan Quinonez and German Gary were instrumental members of the regolith characterization team.

Baca describes his participation in the project as an excellent opportunity to reinforce his passion for experimental and computational geomechanics.

To learn about CASSMAR’s work, visit

UTEP, EPCC Presidents pledge to continue collaborating to promote student success

On Thursday, UTEP President Heather Wilson and EPCC President William Serrata renewed their institutions’ commitments to the creation of pathways to higher education for the area’s students.

Both institutions will continue to focus on “building on the successes of existing partnerships with local school districts, and eliminating barriers for transfer students and those who attend both UTEP and EPCC.”

“For nearly three decades, faculty and staff at both El Paso Community College and The University of Texas at El Paso have made a strong commitment to the residents of the Paso del Norte region, developing strategies to provide access to exceptional higher education along with raising the educational aspirations, degree attainment, and overall academic excellence of area students,” officials shared via a news release

EPCC UTEP Presidents Letter

UTEP President named recipient of Eisenhower Award

UTEP President Heather Wilson has been named a recipient of the Eisenhower Award, a recognition of prominent leadership given by the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress (CSPC).

“I am honored to be named a recipient of the Eisenhower Award,” President Wilson said. “I am especially pleased to share this award with Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, who has displayed a steadfast commitment to the fostering of technological advancements in space exploration.”

CSPC officials said President Wilson was recognized for her commitment to the American people and their security throughout her career as a U.S. Air Force officer, member of Congress and Secretary of the Air Force. During her tenure as Secretary of the Air Force, she positioned the force to adapt to the strategic challenges of the future, while remaining a tireless advocate for men and women in uniform.

The Eisenhower Award salutes enlightened leadership, strategic vision and character in the mold of the 34th President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as Supreme Allied Commander during World War II. President Wilson will receive the award along with Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, who is being recognized for her work in the aerospace industry.

President Wilson entered UTEP’s highest leadership role at the start of the 2019-20 academic year.

UTEP is in the top 5% of public research universities in the United States and has achieved this distinction while being a national model for accessible higher education in the fourth largest manufacturing region in North America.

President Wilson believes UTEP is a model for the 21st century public university that advances discovery of public value, provides broad access to students from all backgrounds, and has a positive social and economic impact on the region it serves.

President Wilson came to UTEP after serving as Secretary of the United States Air Force. She is the former president of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, an engineering and science research university in Rapid City, South Dakota, and represented New Mexico in the United States Congress for 10 years. She also has worked in the private sector, serving as a senior adviser to defense and scientific industry and as president of Keystone International, a company she founded that conducted business development and program planning work.

“I am proud that CSPC will honor these two visionary and strategic leaders with our Eisenhower Award,” said former U.S. Rep. Glenn Nye, CSPC president and CEO, and former representative for Virginia’s Second Congressional District. “The leadership that Ms. Shotwell and Secretary Wilson have demonstrated in national security and technological innovation has pushed new frontiers while also ensuring the safety and prosperity of the American people.”

President Wilson will receive the award Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, during the organization’s 52nd Annual Awards Dinner in Washington, D.C.

$1.5M grant to Physics Professor bolsters cancer-centered research at UTEP

The Department of Physics at The University of Texas at El Paso was recently awarded a $1.5 million grant to research kinesins as potential targets for cancer drug development.

Lin Li, Ph.D., assistant professor of computational biophysics, is the sole principal investigator of the four-year study, which will investigate important mechanisms for kinesins, a type of biological motor protein.

Li said learning more about the way kinesins move could help with the design of anti-mitotic drugs, which are meant to inhibit cancer cell division.

“Traditional anti-mitotic drugs face two significant issues: serious side effects and strong drug resistance for some types of cancers,” Li said. “Due to the unique features, Human kinesin-5s (Eg5) become promising alternative anti-mitotic drug targets.”

Li’s work adds to a growing body of cancer-focused research at UTEP anchored by a $19.2 million grant awarded to the University’s Border Biomedical Research Center (BBRC) by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The five-year grant will allow the BBRC to continue its quest to understand and identify the reasons for Hispanic cancer health disparities and their ultimate impact on the people of the Paso del Norte region.

The BBRC grant will provide significant research funding for UTEP cancer scientists to better understand the molecular mechanisms, and possibly environmental and lifestyle factors, that contribute to this multifaceted disease.

Funding will also be utilized to expand UTEP’s cancer tissue “bank” to study and identify possible new drugs that might prove useful in cancer treatment strategies in our primarily Mexican-American population.

While Li’s $1.5 million grant will support a four-year study, he said gaining a complete understanding of the mechanisms of all kinesin groupings will be a lengthy process.

Li will receive contributions to the project from Weihong Qiu, Ph.D., associate professor of physics and an expert on kinesins from Oregon State University.

At UTEP, three postdoctoral researchers as well as several graduate and undergraduate students will be involved.

UTEP Receives $19M to study Cancer affecting Mexican-Americans

The University of Texas at El Paso’s Border Biomedical Research Center (BBRC) will accelerate its quest to understand and identify the reasons for Hispanic cancer health disparities and its ultimate impact on the people of the Paso del Norte region thanks to a five-year, $19.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

This grant will provide significant research funds for UTEP cancer scientists to understand better the molecular mechanisms, and possible environmental and lifestyle factors that contribute to this multifaceted disease.

The researchers also will use those funds to expand UTEP’s cancer tissue “bank” that is used to study and identify possible new drugs that might prove useful in cancer treatment strategies in our primarily Mexican-American population.

“The BBRC active research faculty, staff and students continue to perform incredible work in this area to find the cause and novel solutions to this deadly disease, which is now a leading cause of death among Hispanics,” said Robert A. Kirken, Ph.D., BBRC director and dean of the College of Science.

“UTEP, in partnership with regional hospitals and institutions, is better positioned than ever before to fight these cancers through a combination of basic and clinical research studies, cutting-edge technologies, alongside healthcare providers, and community health workers.”

Kirken, the grant’s principal investigator, said the BBRC would utilize multiple approaches such as biomolecular research and behavioral and social science research to address this very critical issue. Through these efforts, UTEP is living up to its Carnegie R1 status as a University with very high research activity, he said.

“We are very excited about this type of research,” said Kirken, who added that the plan is to focus on certain cancers that are more prevalent, less responsive to treatment, and display higher relapse rates in our population. Those include breast, cervical, prostate, liver, and pediatric leukemia. “We are confident our work will provide new insight into the genetic causes and new treatment strategies to effectively reduce and/or eliminate these cancers.”

One of the program’s more specific objectives through the grant is to propose an innovative strategy that would better define Hispanic cancers.

“The absence of a comprehensive Cancer Tissue Biorepository that reflects the prominent Mexican-American and Mexican-Hispanic populations of the El Paso-Juárez borderplex is a profound barrier for understanding the complexity of Hispanic cancer health disparities and for developing targeted therapeutic interventions,” said Michael Kenney, Ph.D., associate dean for research and the BBRC’s core facilities deputy director.

A separate social behavioral project will explore the potential barriers and facilitators in the use of the vaccine for the human papillomavirus (HPV) in the Paso del Norte region. This information could lead to tailored interventions that would increase acceptance of the HPV vaccine.

With the new guidelines for HPV vaccinations, adults up to age 45 now can be vaccinated to protect themselves against multiple types of cancers.

BBRC scientists hope that their work will lead to new approaches and therapeutic strategies to address questions about cancers that afflict Hispanics, a population typically not included in clinical trials and research programs. This huge undertaking will require the community’s participation and the collaborations of local hospitals and physicians.

UTEP Pharmacy Student Awarded National LGBTQ Scholarship

UTEP student-pharmacist William Campillo Terrazas has been awarded a scholarship from the Point Foundation (Point), the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students.

Terrazas was one of 16 students chosen to be Point Scholars in 2019 out of 2,100 applicants.

In the 2019-20 academic year, 85 LGBTQ students will receive financial assistance and programmatic support from Point as they pursue their associate, bachelor’s or advanced degrees.

A native of Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, Terrazas and his family immigrated to the United States in 1998. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of New Mexico in 2014.

Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Terrazas started the UTEP School of Pharmacy’s Pharm.D. program with the inaugural class in fall 2017.

Terrazas is involved with the MFactor, an HIV prevention program in El Paso. He was one of 10 outstanding, young leaders chosen for the 2017 cohort of Human Rights Campaign HIV 360° Fellowship Program.

In 2015, Terrazas co-founded Latinxs Revolucion LGBTQ, a queer- and trans-led, community-based organization in Little Rock, Arkansas, that focuses on the health and well-being of Latinx immigrants.

Point Foundation empowers promising LGBTQ students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential – despite the obstacles often put before them – to make a significant impact on society.

Since 2002, Point has awarded more than 400 scholarships, making it the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBTQ students of merit. Point Foundation promotes change through scholarship funding, mentorship, leadership development and community service training

Franklin principal named Outstanding Ex by UTEP Communication Department

Homecoming celebrations for Franklin were extended by another weekend, albeit this time around it was on the campus of the University of Texas at El Paso.

The UTEP Department of Communication awarded Franklin Principal Shawn Mena the Hicks-Middaugh Outstanding Alumni Award during Miner homecoming celebrations this weekend.  Mena received the award during a ceremony at UTEP’s Cotton Memorial Building on Saturday.

“Ms. Mena’s influence as an educator and communication practitioner has already had a lasting influence on so many students from your early teaching and coaching career to your return to El Paso as principal at Franklin High School,” said Dr. Richard Pineda, the chair of UTEP’s Department of Communication and a former student of Mena.

“At every level of education – from high school to community college and the university – you have been a shining example of the power of communication, the value of debate and discourse and the impact of communication education at the University of Texas at El Paso,” he added.

UTEP officials said they awarded Mena the award in recognition of her commitment as an educator and communication scholar as an undergraduate student at the school, an intercollegiate debate that represented UTEP, and an alumna of the department’s master’s degree in communication studies.

By Gustavo Reveles  |  Photos by UTEP

New UTEP Alumni Association President, Laura Biggs, talks about goals, challenges

Laura E. Biggs, a retired civil employee of the Department of Defense, began her term as president of The University of Texas at El Paso Alumni Association on September 1, 2019.

Biggs earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from UTEP in 1996. She was first named to the UTEP Alumni Association Board of Directors in 2011.

In that time, she has held many positions on the board including Vice President for Chapters and Networks, treasurer and chair of the 2019 Top Ten Seniors Selection Committee.

In her new role, Biggs vows to work with UTEP President Heather Wilson to engage UTEP’s alumni base throughout the world.

Q: You’re taking the helm of the UTEP Alumni Association at a time of transition for UTEP, with a new president. How do you plan on working with the new administration to accomplish your shared goals?

A: The Alumni Association will continue to support and align its goals with those of the mission and vision of the University. We plan to collaborate with Dr. Wilson and her initiatives to further define the role of the UTEP Alumni Association. Alumni engagement will continue to be a high priority as it paves the way to stronger connections and embraces the shared passion for our UTEP education and our community.

Q: You’ve been on the alumni board for almost 10 years. In that time, you must have met with thousands of alums. What are some of the things alumni most frequently discuss with you about UTEP?

A: Topics of discussion have evolved over the years. Most have been on the ever-expanding University and its tremendous growth. Other topics have been on (UTEP President Emerita) Dr. (Diana) Natalicio’s successes, such as gaining greater access for an economically disadvantaged population and achieving the coveted R1 designation by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.   The University has seen several significant construction and renovation projects to include the Foster Stevens Basketball Center and the public art displays, such as “Mining Minds,” created by Michael Clapper, and the “Esfera Cuántica Tlahtolli” by Mexican artist Sebastián, and the opening of the Bhutanese Lhakhang.

After Dr. Natalicio announced her retirement, the biggest topic of discussion has centered on Dr. Wilson’s vision for UTEP and how will she continue and reinforce the progress established to access and excellence at UTEP.

Q: What is your favorite thing about being a Miner?

A:  My favorite thing about being a Miner is the sense of pride, goodwill, bonding and shared beliefs we have about the University. If you are old enough, you can remember the 1966 NCAA men’s basketball championship title; Coach Mike Price leading the Miners to an 8-4 record in his first season as head football coach in 2004 and becoming the second Miner coach to take UTEP to three bowl games. Then, there is the excitement of seeing accomplished alumni leading public and private industries, thrusting UTEP’s name into national headlines.

These accomplishments have brought status and prestige to the University and to El Paso and make me proud to bleed orange and blue.

Q: What do you want all alumni to know about the UTEP Alumni Association?

A: The UTEP Alumni Association is a platform for all alumni to showcase their pride for the University. The association is the avenue to stay informed, engaged, and give back to UTEP.

Q: What kind of legacy do you want to leave as president of the UTEP Alumni Association?

A: I want my legacy to be about giving back to an institution that provided me a great education. I believe that everyone can give back to their University. It doesn’t merely mean giving financial resources, but giving of one’s expertise, talent, experience and passion.  I believe that we all want to leave the world a better place.

Q: Tell us about the board members for this next year.

A: We currently have 23 board members. Our board members represent a broad spectrum of careers and expertise. They represent most of the academic colleges and demographics.

We have lawyers, a retired dean, retired photojournalist, and a retired educator.  We also have a chief operating officer of a medical center and a director of systems technology for a major international financial services group along with a franchisee owner.

This group of individuals brings diversity, passion for UTEP, eagerness to collaborate with the new leadership. The members also represent the age spectrum of what makes up the Alumni Association.

I am extremely grateful to be able to serve with them this coming year. As board president, I am modeling this year with Dr. Wayne W. Dyer’s quote: “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change. Perspective is everything and when we find a way to look at things differently, we will see endless possibilities.”

 Q: Tell us about your family and how they’ve supported your passion for the Alumni Association.

A:  My late husband, James Biggs, was instrumental with my involvement with the Alumni Association. He invigorated my love for the University by accompanying me and becoming a season-ticket holder for sporting events, even though he wasn’t much of a sports enthusiast.  That led to my involvement with the UTEP Fan Club, then the El Paso Alumni Association Chapter. My family urged me to submit my application for a position on the Alumni Association Board, and here I am, 10 years later, as the President.

I had the honor of having my mother who is 93 years old witness the passing of the gavel from Bonny Schulenberg to me. I am eternally blessed.

NIH Awards $15.2M Grant to UTEP for Biomedical Training

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded The University of Texas at El Paso BUILDing SCHOLARS program a $15.2 million grant to train the next generation of biomedical researchers in the U.S. Southwest and to enhance the diversity of the biomedical research workforce.

BUILDing SCHOLARS, which stands for Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity: Southwest Consortium of Health-Oriented Education Leaders and Research Scholars, is currently in Phase II of three linked awards for a total of $15.2 million since the program started in 2014. Some of the areas of focus include cancer, addiction, environmental health, health disparities, infectious disease, translational biomedicine, and degenerative and chronic diseases. Its visionary approach addresses individual, psychosocial and institutional-level needs by synergistically enhancing institutional, faculty and student development.

The program has 58 undergraduate scholars enrolled in the fall 2019 semester. Program participants receive a monthly stipend and 60% of their tuition costs covered, which allows students to immerse themselves in their UTEP research.

UTEP’s BUILDing SCHOLARS is one of the nation’s 10 BUILD sites that train the next generation of scientists who will increase diversity in the biomedical research workforce. The program also offers faculty training opportunities to improve as mentors and grant writers so they can share those skills with their students. It also provides research opportunities throughout the academic year for students, to include freshman.

Research experiences within the first two years are critically important to student success, said Lourdes Echegoyen, Ph.D., the program’s principal investigator and director of the Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives (COURI). Students’ research participation can start at the freshmen level through Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs), which help retain students as they become excited about their professional future with hands-on experiences in their field.

“Evaluation results from Phase I of the program are showing that an early research experience allows students to feel part of a community of researchers and learners, which instills in them an early sense of belonging to the University and their profession,” Echegoyen said.

The program also includes partnerships with pipeline collaborators – other institutions that send their students to UTEP and other research partner institutions for summer research and may participate in other programs designed for faculty development. Pipeline partners include El Paso Community College, Northern New Mexico College, Western New Mexico University, Texas Southern University and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute.

Research partner institutions host UTEP students over the summer to broaden their research training. UTEP’s research partner institutions include Clemson University (South Carolina), The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Arizona, the University of Utah, Arizona State University, the University of Connecticut, Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

“UTEP’s partnership with these R1 (top tier research) institutions provides excellent opportunities for students to network and gain entrance into top Ph.D. programs in biomedical fields in the nation, as well as for faculty to engage in or continue existing research collaborations,” Echegoyen said.

Marc Cox, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, deputy director of the BUILDing SCHOLARS’ program and director of the Center for Faculty Leadership and Development at UTEP, said the program’s ultimate goal is to increase the diversity of the biomedical research workforce in the U.S.

“We know as faculty, as scientists, as educators and as educational institutions that these opportunities in research labs are high-impact practices for our students,” Cox said. “Students who participate in federally funded research go on to do so much better in the future. We are providing training opportunities for our faculty to better themselves for the benefit of our students. If our faculty are successful as scientists at getting research funding and running top-notch research labs, then they are providing more opportunities and higher quality opportunities for our students.”

The faculty cohort consists of 63 members who include research mentors and instructors for the Freshmen Year Research Intensive Sequence Program. In addition to 58 undergraduate scholars, the 2019-20 student cohort includes six graduate research assistants.

Support for students in the program includes personalized advisers and peer mentors. Participation in mentored research is a requirement, and students submit periodic research reports in preparation for a senior thesis.

Aiyana Ponce, a senior cellular and molecular biochemistry major, said the BUILD grant gave her many research opportunities at UTEP and other campuses. She has been involved in research-driven courses since she was a freshman.

“We get the foundations of how to conduct research and they really train and start giving us these skills,” Ponce said. “At the time I thought that was normal. I thought all science students were doing that. But as I kept going through the curriculum, I realized that I really did have opportunities that many students didn’t have and I’m very thankful for that.”

Ponce said she was able to go to different places in the country for 10 weeks of summer undergraduate research during her participation in the program.

“This experience really opened my eyes to how amazing UTEP is because we are really competitive in research compared to other institutions that I’ve had a chance to visit,” Ponce said. “Last year we were designated as an R1 institution.

Undergraduate students may work with researchers in the lab, an uncommon practice in many other institutions.

“If you walk into any of the (UTEP) science buildings, you will see many students working in labs,” Ponce said. “That kind of experience is preparing them to go to graduate or medical schools, or programs they wish to be a part of when they graduate.”

One of the program’s cornerstones for participants is an early intervention approach that aims to address multiple predictors of success, such as first- and second-year retention, perceptions of social integration and university fit, and research self-efficacy and science identity, all of which directly align with the NIH Diversity Program Consortium Hallmarks of Success.

“Ultimately the BUILDing SCHOLARS program is designed to transition our students into Ph.D. programs and research careers,” Cox said.

In addition to Cox and Echegoyen, who co-direct the BUILDing SCHOLARS Center and the program’s administrative core, six other faculty members have leadership roles. Stephen Aley, Ph.D., professor of biology and bioinformatics and associate vice president for research, and Lawrence Cohn, Ph.D., professor of psychology, co-direct the institutional development core. Thomas Boland, Ph.D., professor and director of bioengineering, and Osvaldo Morera, Ph.D., professor of psychology, co-direct the training core. Amy Wagler, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematical sciences, and Danielle (Xiaodan) Morales, Ph.D., professor of sociology, co-direct the research enrichment core. Guadalupe Corral, Ph.D., is the program’s lead evaluator.

Author: Darlene Barajas – UTEP Communications

UTEP Ph.D. Students earn Stanford University Honor

UTEP doctoral students Juan Aguilera, M.D., and Amy R. Nava were selected for Stanford University’s PRISM (Postdoctoral Recruitment Initiative in Sciences and Medicine) postdoctoral interview opportunity.

Aguilera and Nava, both Ph.D. candidates in UTEP’s Interdisciplinary Health Sciences (IHS) program, were awarded an expenses-paid trip to visit Stanford University Oct. 9-12.

They will tour the campus, meet with current Stanford postdoctoral fellows and potential faculty mentors and interview for postdoctoral positions at the university.

Stanford PRISM enables late-stage graduate students from diverse backgrounds who are planning their postdoctoral training the opportunity to see firsthand if a postdoctoral position at Stanford University would be a good match for them.

Aguilera is a Ph.D. research associate in UTEP’s Institute for Healthy Living and an instructor for the Department of Public Health Sciences. He earned a medical degree from the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez in 2009 and a Master of Public Health degree from UTEP in 2016. He was awarded the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation Fellowship in 2015 and served as a graduate research fellow at the Institute for Healthy Living for two years.

Aguilera’s research is focused on the relationship between physical activity, cardiorespiratory health outcomes, and impact of air quality in at-risk populations. In 2019, he published two manuscripts and presented at several conferences.

Through a collaboration between the Institute for Healthy Living and the Department of Civil Engineering at UTEP, Aguilera has secured a grant from the Center for Advancing Research in Transportation, Emissions, Energy, and Health to fund his dissertation work.

Nava has served as a graduate teaching assistant at both New Mexico State University and UTEP’s Department of Biological Sciences. She is currently a biology lecturer at El Paso Community College and a teaching assistant in UTEP’s Interdisciplinary Health Sciences department.

She earned a Bachelor of Science in bicrobiology and a Master of Science in biology from NMSU.

Her research is focused on investigating the role of calcium ions in cell signaling and regulation of genetic expression of the multidrug resistant mechanism, efflux in S. aureus and clinically isolated MRSA. Delfina Dominguez, Ph.D., clinical lab science professor, and Nava are also collaborating with other scientists to develop a microfluidic platform for bacterial single cell analysis.

Nava was an author on two publications recently published in the journal of Environmental Technology and Innovation (2019) and one publication in Botany (2017). She has also presented research at several local and national conferences.

UTEP honored for supporting minorities in Computer Science

The University of Texas at El Paso has been named the third recipient of the University Award given by the Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in Information Technology.

“UTEP produces more Hispanic master’s and doctoral graduates in engineering than any other university in America,” said UTEP President Heather Wilson. “Our retention programs for underserved undergraduates in computer science are very strong and we appreciate this recognition.”

“CMD-IT is pleased to award The University of Texas El Paso with the CMD-IT University Award,” said Valerie Taylor, CMD-IT president and CEO. “Their commitment to the retention of underrepresented minorities and people with disabilities through the implementation of innovative and effective programs is having a measurable impact.”

Leaders said the decision to recognize UTEP with the University Award was based on the campus’ impressive quantitative reported results, which reflect high retention and graduation rates, and qualitative reporting on various retention programs.

“We are thrilled and honored for our Computer Science Department to be recognized with this University Award,” said Theresa A. Maldonado, dean of the College of Engineering.

“Having this award presented to our department chair, Dr. Ann Gates, at the ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing is particularly special. I have worked with Dr. Tapia for many years, and he is an absolute star and champion for diversity and inclusion. Dr. Gates has sustained very impactful initiatives and programs in our Computer Science Department that have also had impact on the College of Engineering and at other institutions across the country.”

Several of UTEP’s initiatives were highlighted as directly impacting retention, including:

• UTEP leads the Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions, a consortium of over 40 institutions with a focus on the recruitment, retention, and advancement of Hispanics in computing.

• Microsoft named El Paso a TechSpark City. TechSpark is a national program aimed at fostering greater economic opportunity and job creation in computer science and related skills.

• Implementation of a set of cooperative-learning practices, which have been shown to increase student achievement.

• Peer-Led Team Learning is a model of instruction for introductory STEM courses that introduces a peer-led workshop as an integral part of the course. In it, a student who was previously successful in the course is recruited to lead students in weekly workshops to problem solve and discuss course content. This approach helps minority students succeed.

• The Computer Science Department’s NSF-funded Revolutionizing Engineering and Computer Science Departments bolsters equity and inclusion, student professional development, and career pathways.

“We want to express our immense gratitude at being named the recipient of this award,” said Ann Gates, Ph.D., professor and chair of UTEP’s Computer Science Department. “At UTEP, we have long recognized the importance of inclusion and equity as a means of advancing discovery. The unique perspectives of our 21st century student demographic and faculty are vital contributions to research and innovation. We look forward to collaborating with CMD-IT and other partners to continue to create pathways for diverse approaches in computing.”

The award recognizes U.S. universities that have retained students from underrepresented groups in computer science programs. It was presented Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in San Diego, California.

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