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Home | Tag Archives: University of Texas at El Paso

Tag Archives: University of Texas at El Paso

UTEP Dean ends term as UT System Academy Chief

The University of Texas at El Paso’s Beth Brunk-Chavez, Ph.D., dean of Extended University, recently stepped down as president of The University of Texas System’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers. She led the organization for two years.

During those two years, Brunk-Chavez supervised several projects that would promote the innovative ideas of academy members. Many were tied to the popular “The Little Orange Book: Short Lessons on Excellent Teaching” that was published in 2015.

The former president, with the support of other distinguished teachers, started the Little Orange Blog in October 2018 on the academy’s website, created an electronic version of The Little Orange Book (eLOB) in spring 2019, and compiled and edited material for a second LOB focused on student essays about what makes good teaching.

The second book of a planned series also included essays from campus presidents, to include UTEP President Emerita Diana Natalicio, about their experiences as students and/or teachers. Tower Books will publish that book in spring 2020.

“It was my honor to serve as president of The University of Texas System Academy of Distinguished Teachers for the last two years,” Brunk-Chavez said. “It gave me the opportunity to share with and learn from many of the System’s excellent teachers. Although we come from very different campuses with diverse student bodies, academy members share a passion to teach and a deep desire to help students. I believe the work we have done in the last two years highlights those strengths for teachers across the System and the country.”

The UT System created the academy in 2012 to recognize outstanding educators who have made exceptional contributions to enhance teaching and learning. Brunk-Chavez, a professor of rhetoric and writing studies, was part of the inaugural class.

Rebecca Karoff, Ph.D., UT System associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, said Brunk-Chavez’s term was remarkable in many ways. She praised the UTEP administrator for her thoughtful leadership that combined force with humility, and her focus on student-centered innovation in university teaching, whether implicit or explicit.

“As president, her unwavering commitment to understanding the students we serve today, not those we served 10 or 20 years ago, was always on display,” said Karoff, who is the system’s liaison to the academy. “What Beth knows deeply – and what she made core to the work of the academy these past two years – is that quality student learning and student success are the reasons we care as higher educators about the quality of teaching in the UT System.”

UTEP ranked among Top Schools for Hispanics

The University of Texas at El Paso is ranked highly in four categories of a national publication’s list of top colleges and universities for Hispanics.

The Hispanic Outlook on Education, a monthly magazine that presents a Hispanic perspective on education news, published its annual Top 100 Colleges and Universities for Hispanics rankings August 26, 2019.

“Serving Latino students is central to all that we do as a regional university, and rankings such as these recently announced by the Hispanic Outlook on Education magazine give us great pride,” said Gary Edens, Ed.D., UTEP’s vice president for student affairs. “More importantly, they reaffirm our commitment to serving all students with a dream of pursuing a higher education.”

UTEP was ranked No. 5 for total Hispanic enrollment among four-year schools and No. 8 for total Hispanic graduate degrees granted.

The University also was ranked in the top 10 for the number of degrees awarded to Hispanic students in two majors: bilingual, multilingual or multicultural education (No. 1), and parks, recreation, leisure and fitness studies (No. 9).

Hispanic students made up 80 percent of UTEP’s enrollment in 2017, the year on which the rankings were based. Of the 25,078 students who enrolled at UTEP that year, 20,108 were Hispanic.

In December 2018, UTEP became one of two predominately Hispanic universities in the United States to receive the R1 designation by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

The Hispanic Outlook on Education rankings were based on 2017 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

“It’s wonderful to see the continuing growth in UTEP’s enrollment and academic excellence,” Edens said. “Our recent recognition as a top tier R1 university is strong validation that UTEP’s mission of access and excellence is working and can serve as a model for other institutions across the United States.”

Stephen Crites, Ph.D., dean of the UTEP Graduate School, said research illustrates that diversity is critical for making scientific, cultural and civic advances.

“Our integration and knowledge of the Latinx community in El Paso allows us to take a leading role in driving innovation as evident by our recognition as a top research university in the country according to the Carnegie Classification system,” he said. “More importantly, our close ties with the Latinx community help us to provide our students with the training and skills that will allow them to enter the workforce and make meaningful contributions to our region and society. The diversity and experiences that they take with them as graduates will be vital in helping to make important advances in the future.”

UTEP awarded 1,164 graduate degrees in 2017. Of those, 700 degrees, or 60 percent, went to Hispanic students.

UTEP Faculty Member contributes to Climate Change article in PNAS Journal

Jennie McLaren, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences at The University of Texas at El Paso, is a co-author of an article on climate change published in the official publication of the National Academy of Sciences.

The article, titled “Global Change Effects on Plant Communities are Magnified by Time and the Number of Global Change Factors Imposed,” appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

The article combines data from 105 different studies on how plant communities throughout the world have responded to global changes.

The experiments have been running for between three and 30 years and examine many of the effects expected from global change, including temperature changes, increasing nutrients, and increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The study found that the effects multiply if you manipulate at least three global change factors simultaneously, which represents how the climate is changing in the real world.

McLaren collected her data during more than 30 years of research in Northern Canada in the southwest region of the Yukon Territory. Her findings have been sampled by UTEP undergraduate students since she began working at UTEP.

“The article highlights the importance of long-term research in ecology,” McLaren said. “Few communities responded until global change treatments had been applied for at least 10 years. For longer experiments, over 70 percent of communities showed changes in their composition.”

PNAS is a highly distinguished journal that has been publishing original research, scientific reviews, letters and commentaries since 1915. LTER Network Office, funded by the National Science Foundation, funded a working group which brought together more than 70 authors who collaborated on the article, led by Kimberly Komatsu, Ph.D., of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

The article synthesized results from experiments around the world on continents including Asia, North America and South America.

To read the full article, click here to visit the PNAS website.

UTEP Starts Fall 2019 with Miner Welcome Festivities

The University of Texas at El Paso is kicking off its Fall 2019 semester with Miner Welcome, five days of fun-filled activities planned by the Student Engagement and Leadership Center that begins Monday, August 26.

“Miner Welcome is UTEP’s official welcome to all new and returning students,” said Nicole Aguilar, Student Engagement and Leadership Center director. “When you pair interactive activities, student leaders, and engaging opportunities with live music, food, and giveaways, it makes for a celebration! We’re here to help students navigate their way across campus and enjoy all that UTEP has to offer.”

Events are planned from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday at Centennial Plaza.

The week will culminate with Minerpalooza from 6 to 11 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 30, at Glory Road and Sun Bowl Drive.

Street teams will also be also be at various locations around campus to welcome students, assist them with finding their classes, promoting Miner Welcome, Minerpalooza and more.

Here are a few highlights:

Monday, Aug. 26, Jump into the New Year: Students can enjoy free Starbucks samples, learn about the importance of recycling with the Pepsi Recycling Roadster and entertain themselves by sliding down inflatable slides and chairs.

Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 27-28, Discover the UTEP Edge: Students can discover the many UTEP Edge experiences on campus that will help them develop key skills that prepare them for leadership positions and lifelong success. Free pancakes will be provided. Learn more at

Thursday, Aug. 29, Orange Revival: UTEP’s Student Government Association will be present as students enjoy free papas locas, corn in a cup and funnel cake. Students can also showcase their skills at the inflatable soccer, football and basketball challenges.

Friday, Aug. 30, Minerpalooza: The 29th edition of Minerpalooza – UTEP’s most anticipated celebration – will feature live entertainment, interactive activities, food vendors, and Pete’s Playground, a dedicated children’s play area. A beer and wine garden will also be accessible to those ages 21 and older. Admission is free and open to the public.

Indie pop act lovelytheband will headline a lineup of world-renowned musical acts including Lemaitre, an electronic duo from Oslo, Norway, DJ James Kennedy, known from the hit Bravo reality show “Vanderpump Rules,” and El Paso’s own Jake C, who will open up the set starting at 6 p.m.

Learn more at

NIH Awards $2.7M Grant to UTEP Biology Professor to Study AIDS-associated Fungal Meningitis

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded a $2.7 million grant to Luis R. Martinez, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences at The University of Texas at El Paso, to study a potentially life-threatening fungus and suggest possible treatments.

Martinez will investigate the basis for Cryptococcus neoformans, a fungus that invades the central nervous system (CNS), which controls many body functions. If it infects the lungs, it could develop into pneumonia for patients with weakened immune systems. It is the most common cause of fungal meningitis amongst AIDS patients.

The UTEP professor said he became intrigued with this fungus as a doctoral student. He noted how the fungus led to tumor-like lesions on brain tissue of affected patients.

The fungus, which resides in animals, plants and bird excrement, could infect people who inhale the fungal spores. Cryptococcal meningitis starts with flu-like symptoms but can be fatal if not treated quickly. Findings could prolong and improve the life of those affected.

“If we understand the predilected route C. neoformans uses to enter the brain, we can develop therapeutics to block this process,” Martinez said. “Also, by understanding microglial function – the immune cells of the CNS – during C. neoformans brain infection, we can design therapeutics to stimulate these cells to combat fungal colonization of the CNS.”

Martinez is the principal investigator of the five-year project. He uses high-resolution microscopy, mass spectrometry, histology, cell biology and immunological techniques at his UTEP research lab.

His UTEP collaborators are Igor Almeida, D.Sc., professor of biological sciences, and Arshad Khan, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences.

Other teammates include Michael Dores, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York; and Eliseo Eugenin, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience, Cell Biology and Anatomy at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

Homeless Shelter Offers Community of Learning for UTEP Social Work Students

After earning a bachelor’s degree in digital media, Rivyann Blount produced stories about social issues such as poverty and immigration that affected vulnerable populations. But rather than write about people’s unfortunate circumstances, Blount felt the need to help them turn their lives around.

That is why in 2019, Blount started the Master of Social Work program at The University of Texas at El Paso.

“A lot of my (media) work was focused on the community, so I decided to work in something that would help me give back to the community in the best way possible,” said Blount, who earned her bachelor’s degree in digital marketing at The University of Texas at Dallas. “I realized that (social work) is where my heart is and it’s what I want to do. … The (digital marketing degree) was a stepping-stone to get here.”

Eager to make a difference, Blount applied for a new Community of Learning (CoL) initiative at the Opportunity Center for the Homeless (OC).

With support from the Daughters of Charity Mission and Ministry Inc. and the UTEP College of Health Sciences, the CoL offers graduate social work students enhanced case management training that is focused on the homeless population in El Paso.

Blount, Alexandra Van Mier and Rosanna Camarena were selected to participate in the program in July. Daniela Guerra will start in September. As the CoL’s graduate research assistants, they work to identify service priorities for clients of the Opportunity Center’s emergency shelter, transitional and permanent housing programs.

“I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to us at UTEP,” said Camarena, who graduated from UTEP with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Her project involves documenting different homeless populations through video and photography. Blount is based at the Opportunity Center’s Magoffin Safe Haven facility for men and women with mental disabilities. Van Mier will work with aging and frail individuals experiencing homelessness, and Guerra, a student in the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Ph.D. program, will focus on research and grant writing opportunities.

“This is a great way to make connections and serve our community,” Camarena added. “At the OC, I want to engage with our community and see what the underserved go through and what they need. That will help me figure out what part of social work I want to go in.”

A Different Kind of Classroom

After cuts in federal funding led to a reduction in services at the Opportunity Center in 2014, the center partnered with UTEP’s Department of Social Work to provide educational opportunities to graduate students in the macro-level social work class. Students provide critical support to Opportunity Center staff while gaining hands-on experience in evidence-based practices used in homeless services.

In spring 2019, UTEP and the Opportunity Center launched the CoL to enable students to address homelessness through impactful practice, research and advocacy.

“The vision that we had is for the OC to become a teaching classroom for the students,” said John Martin, the center’s development director.

While researching grant opportunities, Martin said he has not found any other social work programs in the United States, aside from UTEP, that have incorporated a homeless shelter into their curriculum.

In addition to social work, students in UTEP’s Master of Rehabilitation Counseling program also provide job preparedness services to OC residents.

The Opportunity Center also accepts interns from El Paso Community College and from universities and colleges across the U.S.

UTEP students from nursing, pharmacy, social work, physical therapy, occupational therapy and clinical laboratory science also participate in the center’s H.O.P.E Health Fair organized by the University.

“This is much more intensive training,” Martin said. “The vast majority of our staff have experienced homelessness. We wanted the students to learn from them. However, we also wanted our staff to learn from our students. So it has always been intended to be a two-way experience.”

Putting Knowledge into Practice

Located in Downtown El Paso, the Opportunity Center is the largest homeless shelter system in West Texas and Southern New Mexico with two shelters – one for men and one for women – and seven residential centers for the elderly, mentally ill, veterans, families and other homeless populations.

In 2018, the center served more than 1,600 individuals experiencing homelessness.

Eva Moya, Ph.D., associate professor of social work, and the CoL’s co-principal investigator, said that Master of Social Work students are trained to provide emotional and mental health education and conduct psychoeducation activities to help clients understand the challenges of their mental health conditions. They also learn how to work with groups. All of these skills give students a better understanding of the services needed at the Opportunity Center.

During the spring semester, CoL graduate research assistants Perla Chaparro, Delia Dominguez and Leonardo Martinez worked with Opportunity Center case managers to identify what processes were working, what services were needed, and what community resources were available to help.

They talked about improving the center’s intake process, expanding internship opportunities, and overcoming barriers to accessing transportation and mental health services. Students also developed self-care strategies to help case managers mitigate burnout.

“I was really surprised to see how much (OC staff) were doing with so little – to see how much personal commitment went into their work,”  said Martinez, who graduated from UTEP’s Master of Social Work program in May 2019. “This is the kind of experience that, as a graduate student, I expected to get out of the program: to take it out of the classroom and to be able to see how these organizations make things happened.”

Moya said CoL projects will be based on the Opportunity Center’s needs to improve the delivery of services to residents.

“This is a community environment where you learn, you practice, you have integration of assignments, you have direct services and you have engagement from multiple colleges, schools and community partners,” Moya said.

Amy Joyce Ponder, CoL’s project manager, said the Opportunity Center strives to provide students with the best learning experience possible.

“We want to have structure for the social work students,” Ponder said. “We want to ensure that they feel that they’re having a quality experience and to use all the knowledge that they’ve been gaining here and put it into practice.”


UTEP Professor Wins 2019 Great Minds in STEM Hispanic Engineer Award

Natalia Villanueva Rosales, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science at The University of Texas at El Paso, has been named a recipient of the 2019 Great Minds in STEM (GMiS) Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference (HENAAC) Education Award.

“I am extremely proud of Dr. Villanueva Rosales and her recognition as the GMiS Most Promising Engineer or Scientist,” said Ann Gates, Ph.D., chair of computer science in UTEP’s College of Engineering.

“She is truly an emerging leader in computer science and a role model for the Hispanic community. Her research portfolio, which is focused on knowledge representation, negotiation and integration, primarily addresses water sustainability challenges and applications for building smart and connected cities – areas that have societal impact. What is impressive is her multi-national collaborations, and her dedication to develop undergraduate and graduate student researchers who have a global perspective.”

Rosales’s work aims to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the discovery, integration, and trust of scientific data and models. Her work links human and machine knowledge to address problems in areas that require interdisciplinary research and international collaborations such as the sustainability of water resources and planning of smart cities.

Villanueva Rosales is passionate about encouraging and supporting women and Hispanics pursuing a career or education in science and engineering. This is the second national award she will receive this year.

On May 14, she was awarded the 2019 Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award from the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I am humbled and honored to receive this award that recognizes not only my work but the collective efforts at UTEP to provide excellence and access in research and education,” Villanueva Rosales said.

“Computer science can be used for transforming communities and improving people’s life. I believe that training the next generation of engineers to be data-savvy with a global perspective and local impact contributes to creating a more inclusive society. It is a privilege to serve as a professor and mentor at UTEP and be a role model for Hispanic students, particularly Latinas in STEM.”

GMiS has recognized the achievements of America’s top engineers and scientists within the Hispanic community during the HENAAC Conference for more than three decades.

“It is with extreme honor that Great Minds in STEM announces the selection of our 2019 HENAAC Award Winners,” said Anna Park, chief executive officer and board member of Great Minds in STEM. “The University of Texas at El Paso has so many outstanding role models. Professor Villanueva is a stellar honoree. These outstanding individuals are evidence that we, as a nation, have what it takes to keep America as the world’s technology leader.”

Villanueva Rosales joins 26 other scientists, engineers, educators and STEM professionals who will receive awards that recognize the achievements of the country’s top engineers and scientists within the Hispanic community during the 31st annual Great Minds in STEM Conference Sept. 25-28 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Virtual Reality Study explores health benefits of nature

Studies show that a walk in the park can relieve stress and boost a person’s mood. But for individuals who live in urban areas surrounded by desert, connecting with nature can be a challenge.

That is why a new research program at The University of Texas at El Paso’s School of Nursing (SON) is using immersive virtual reality (IVR) to test how natural environments affect health and well-being.

“We want to understand how nature effects people’s health by exposing them to nature via virtual reality,” said Hector Olvera, Ph.D., SON research director and the study’s principal investigator. “There’s good reason to believe that being exposed to nature in the real world or in a virtual environment will have a positive effect on your health.”

In May 2019, Olvera and his team in UTEP’s Biobehavioral Research Laboratory launched a pilot study to examine how exposure to natural environments via IVR might help reduce stress levels in 120 men. Specifically, the study looks at the effect of exposure to green space, or parks, and brown space, such as deserts, via virtual reality on stress reduction.

“A real setting may have a greater impact on health than a virtual setting, but it is still very valuable,” Olvera added. “Especially for people who live in El Paso where green environments are not readily accessible. That is why the virtual reality study here is even more relevant.”

Researchers used a 360-degree camera to capture high-resolution images of Memorial Park, the Sunland Park desert and a UTEP office space. Rather than have participants view a screen in front of them, researchers combined the video with virtual reality (VR) to place the participants inside the experience.

“VR makes the environment feel more real,” said Ismael Beltran, a UTEP environmental engineering graduate student who helped to shoot and stitch the footage and install the IVR system. “When you see the green space you feel like you’re in the park, and when you see the brown space you feel like you’re in the desert. You’re more immersed and it becomes more real.”

Participants in the study volunteer for two sessions. They undergo a health assessment during the first session to check their overall health, which includes blood pressure, blood cholesterol and glucose tests.

They start the second session by taking a social stress test designed to increase their stress level, followed by a recovery period during which participants use a VR headset to watch a 10-minute 3D immersive video of Memorial Park or the Sunland Park desert. Individuals in the control group watch video of an office space.

Throughout the 90-minute session, researchers measure the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the participant’s saliva six times. Stress causes cortisol levels to rise, leading to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. But levels of the stress hormone decrease as the body begins to relax.

So far, more than 80 men have participated in the study. Researchers will analyze the data to determine if men exposed to the green space had sharper declines of cortisol levels compared with men exposed to the brown space.

“Our biggest interest would be to see their stress response and their recovery response,” said Diana Flores, the project manager. “Cortisol levels will vary depending on how you respond to the stress.”

Flores said the study focuses on men because studies show that males have a higher response to the stress test than females. Even so, she jumped at the opportunity to experience the IVR for herself.

“You certainly feel when you put on that headset that you’re no longer in that room and you’re someplace else,” Flores said. “That in itself is really great. I found that I felt more soothed being in the green space than in the desert. The desert just feels more hot and the green feels more fresh.”

According to Olvera, the study is part of a new wave of environmental health research that is investigating the positive effects of nature on human health.

Olvera and Gregory Bratman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of environmental and forest sciences at the University of Washington, have begun collaborating on projects involving environmental and social predictors of health.

Bratman said he is interested in working with Olvera in exploring the ways in which nature contact may play a role in potentially alleviating or buffering against some of the negative health impacts of these factors.

“An emerging field on nature contact and human health is beginning to show that in many cases some degree of nature experience may benefit people’s psychological well-being and cognitive function,” Bratman said. “There is much more work that remains to be done on the causal mechanisms behind these effects, and how/if they replicate given different types of nature interactions across different people and subpopulations.”

In the meantime, Olvera said that using VR as a tool to study the effects of nature on environmental health has created a pathway to develop new interventions in public health.

“We could bring natural environments to people who do not have access to them, such as patients in nursing homes and hospitals or to promote physical activity in schools and housing communities to reduce diabetes risk,” Olvera said.

Participants selected for the study receive a free health screening and $40. For the study’s eligibility requirements, contact or call 915-747-8324.

Author: Laura L. Acosta – UTEP Communications

UTEP Professor provides Crisis Training in Egypt

Rick Myer, Ph.D., chair and professor in The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Educational Psychology and Special Services, spent part of his summer in northeast Egypt to train about 100 religious volunteers about crisis intervention.

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria invited Myer, an international expert in crisis management, to instruct peer counselors on ways to help individuals and families who must deal with situations such as suicide, domestic violence, leaving the church, and family members who may consider marriage outside their faith.

“I just considered it an international version of community service,” said Myer, who has offered trainings on five continents. “One of my main messages to them was to stress that no long-term decisions should be made in time of crisis. The short-term goal should be to deal with the crisis.”

Myer said his work with the church, an Oriental Orthodox Christian faith, gave him a different cultural perspective that he can share when he promotes cultural sensitivity among his students. He said he already had shared parts of his experience with students in his extended hybrid “Crisis Intervention” course this summer.

“I challenge my students,” Myer said. “I tell them that they will have to deal with people who may not share their cultural norms.”

One of his former graduate students from the University of Pittsburgh translated his trainings from English to Arabic. The student, who works in Egypt, was instrumental in having the church invite Myer.

The UTEP professor said some of what he dealt with in Egypt could be part of his next book that will be about the ethical implications in crisis intervention.

College of Business Administration to offer Minor in Commercial Real Estate

In response to student interest, The University of Texas at El Paso’s College of Business Administration (COBA) will offer a new minor in commercial real estate for undergraduate students starting in the spring 2020 semester.

Input from commercial real estate and development companies including MIMCO, Inc., Stewart Title Co., CBRE Group and Hunt Companies has helped create the blueprint for the program.

The minor in commercial real estate will consist of four courses that will meet primarily in the evening. Program lecturers Carleen Barth, CCIM and Jonathan Robertson, CCIM are local industry experts who each hold real estate certifications in addition to their MBAs. Their firsthand knowledge and industry experience will give UTEP students critical insight into real-world, professional applications.

Erik Devos, Ph.D., associate dean for faculty development at COBA, said the Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) Institute, which serves as the leading standard in commercial real estate certifications worldwide, has provided substantial input for th new program.

“Our curriculum mirrors the industry standard and will give students a competitive edge in a field with many promising career opportunities locally and nationally,” Devos said.

In a survey of UTEP business students conducted in fall 2018, approximately 20 percent of respondents said they were already working in real estate or had plans to work in the field.

Through this new curricular offering, COBA is preparing students to respond to the needs of a dynamic, growing industry in El Paso and the surrounding community.

Students and industry partners interested in this opportunity may contact Juan M. Bolaños at or 915-747-7754.

Summer Dance ‘Intensive’ Embodies Improvisation

A half dozen or so pairs of bodies set in a circle moved in tandem though almost never in sync during impromptu conversations that ranged from the silly to the mundane to the flirtatious.

The goal of this dance exercise at The University of Texas at El Paso was to weave a person’s reason, instincts and imagination.

The actions conducted in a Fox Fine Arts Center studio was part of an intensive six-day workshop about “Embodiology,” an improvisation-as-performance method that incorporates West African principles of dance and dynamic rhythms.

S. Ama Wray, Ph.D., associate professor of dance at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), taught the course that ended July 20, 2019, with a free performance in UTEP’s Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts.

The participants – male and female, younger to older adults, undergraduates to college professors, white-collar professionals and individuals from Spain, Italy and Colombia – learned different skills during their meetings that lasted at least eight hours per day.

Beyond the breathing techniques and rhythmic movements, Wray stressed that their immersive class was a research lab where the dancers tested themselves and learned concepts that could help them professionally and in everyday life.

Daniel Molina, a sophomore dance major, said that the class was enjoyable and exhausting. The native of Juárez, Mexico, smiled as he described how he planned to incorporate what he learned to enhance Kuos, the dance company that he formed in his hometown with several friends.

The company combines contemporary and folklorico genres. He said the workshop, called an “intensive,” helped his creativity.

“This is all new to me,” he said of Embodiology after a morning session that involved a lot of movement and stream of consciousness dialogue. “I wasn’t prepared for this, but I’m here. I am learning about freedom of ideas. It’s a weird mix, but I’m trying.”

Wray first visited UTEP as a keynote speaker and performer during the World Dance Alliance Conference in February 2019. She said that led to an invitation from the University to offer this intensive – where participants develop their bodies, techniques and artistry – so students, teachers and others could elevate their capabilities.

The professor, who trademarked Embodiology, said that her summer students have absorbed many of her basic principles. Their next task will be to implement what they learned to enhance their artistry, curiosity and creative capacity. She said the class provided foundational knowledge from which they can ask their own questions.

“There is no one right answer,” Wray said during a break. “Life isn’t like that and this is a version of life. They’ll have to press the boundaries of their own limitations and there’s joy in that. It’ll be difficult, but it generates its own energy.”

Among the other students who enrolled in the course was Tracey Bonner, assistant professor of dance and BFA dance coordinator at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky. She had trained previously with Wray as a UCI graduate student and was thrilled to participate in the UTEP intensive. She said Wray’s workshop was a great opportunity for her to be a student again.

“Usually I’m in her position,” said Bonner, who has an extensive background in musical theater at the national level. “I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the authenticity of movement and where it comes from as an artist. I hope to take some of these details back to my students.”

Cristina Goletti, chair and associate professor in UTEP’s Department of Theatre and Dance, said she hoped that Wray’s intensive would bring attention to the University.

“This event has brought together an international, high-caliber group who will push the research of dance and of the body,” Goletti said. “It is an example of UTEP being a motor for the arts. It serves as a way to connect the excellence of different artists.”

Goletti said UTEP’s decision to host this event enabled several of the department’s dance students to attend. They often cannot travel to similar intensives conducted around the country due to lack of funds and family or work obligations.

The UTEP professor, who organized this event, said she wants it to become an annual summer residency program that could attract renowned international guest artists.

Author:  Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications

New UTEP Research Center to target Opioid Abuse on the Texas-Mexico Border

A road trip through West Texas’ border counties last summer exposed Thenral Mangadu, M.D., Ph.D., to the challenges that rural communities face to combat opioid use disorder (OUD).

As opioid-related deaths rise across the United States, rural areas have been hit especially hard. According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, the rate of drug overdose deaths in rural areas surpassed the rate in urban areas in 2015. Drug overdose deaths also increased 325 percent in rural counties between 1999 and 2015.

“I went to these communities because I needed to see what is going on,” Mangadu, associate professor of public health sciences at The University of Texas at El Paso, said about her two-day fact-finding trip to Hudspeth, Culberson, Presidio, Brewster and Jeff Davis counties with a collaborator from the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Office of Border Public Health (OBPH).

In Presidio, Mangadu also met with local stakeholders from the border town of Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Mexico, and learned about the health professional shortages and health disparities in the border rural counties.

“The consensus in these areas is that we need more treatment and prevention services, a bigger health care workforce, more research and more coordinated care,” she said.

Mangadu’s fact-finding mission was the basis for a new project funded by a $200,000 grant awarded to Aliviane Inc. from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (RCORP). UTEP’s new Minority AIDS Research Center (MARC) is one of the grant’s subrecipients.

The RCORP is a multi-year opioid-focused initiative supported by HRSA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, aimed at reducing the morbidity and mortality of substance use disorder, including opioid use disorder, in high-risk rural communities.

In May 2019, HRSA awarded $24 million in RCORP grants to rural organizations across 40 states to combat the opioid crisis in the U.S.

The Aliviane grant established a multi-sector consortium focused on developing strategies for preventing and treating substance use and opioid use disorder in high-risk rural communities along the Texas-Mexico border.

The consortium, which involves Aliviane, MARC, OBPH and the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence (CASFV), will develop a plan for opioid use disorder response in Hudspeth, Culberson, Presidio, Brewster and Jeff Davis counties.

“The proximity of these counties to the Mexico border is a high risk for opioid use,” said Guillermo Valenzuela, Aliviane’s chief corporate officer. “Mexico remains the primary source of heroin available in the United States, according to all available sources of intelligence, including law enforcement investigations and scientific data.”

The consortium is one of six projects underway by UTEP’s MARC. Founded in 2019 by Mangadu and Nate Robinson, UTEP assistant vice president for facility security in the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects, the center aims to advance research and treatment for minority populations relative to HIV/AIDS, with complementary work in substance abuse.

Projects address AIDS-related health disparities such as substance abuse, mental health, and exposure to violence in vulnerable populations locally and worldwide.

In addition to working with community partners such as Aliviane, a nonprofit drug treatment center in El Paso, MARC also has established international partnerships in Eastern and Southern Africa through its Global Alliance for Healthier Populations (GAHP).

“The consortium is among UTEP’s many efforts toward improving our border community and the levels of community engagement,” said Robinson, MARC’s deputy director. “The goal for MARC is to support our partners, like Aliviane, the grant’s lead recipient, in building greater capacity and reach and its formal bringing together of a public private partnership to address disparities.”

Over the course of one year, the consortium will lead the efforts to conduct a regional needs assessment and workforce development plan in Texas Health Service Region 10, which includes the five West Texas rural counties.

According to Aliviane, these counties are vulnerable to substance use and opioid use disorder because of low socioeconomic status, lack of access to care, transportation barriers, immigration policy-related barriers, proximity to violence, access to drugs, health professional shortages, and low health literacy.

“These counties have more availability to high-purity, low-cost heroin, and Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, which are now the most lethal category of opioids used in the U.S.,” Valenzuela said. “Synthetic opioids are primarily sourced from China and Mexico.”

The consortium’s researchers will conduct a SWOT analysis – strength, weakness, opportunity, threat – to identify opportunities and gaps in OUD prevention, treatment, and/or recovery services within the five counties. Data will be used to develop workforce, service delivery, and sustainability plans that focus on prevention, treatment and recovery.

“We’re going to be looking at many things like social determinants of health, the gaps in treatment services, health professional preparation and workforce development,” Mangadu said. “Each of the community partners in this consortium has a vested interest because this is what we’ve been doing for many years – substance use disorder and HIV-related action research. This HRSA grant is an opportunity for us to come together to make an impact in opioid use disorder in Texas’ rural areas.”

Author: Laura L. Acosta – UTEP Communications

UTEP Plays Host to NEH Border History Institute

The National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) awarded a $132,000 grant to a faculty member from The University of Texas at El Paso to conduct a two-week course about aspects of the border for 25 secondary education teachers from around the country.

Ignacio Martinez, Ph.D., assistant professor of history and the project’s principal investigator, co-directs the NEH Institute “Tales from the Chihuahuan Desert: Narratives about Identity and Binationalism” that concludes on July 28, 2019.

The course focuses on the history, literature, immigration and identity of this multicultural region. The program provides teachers with material that publishers often leave out of textbooks, but is significant to American history and literature.

At the institute, UTEP experts and visiting scholars will lead inquiry-based classroom activities and take participants on regional field trips to see archives, historical sites and cultural venues.

The goal is to provide a truthful perspective of the U.S.-Mexico border and its residents. Organizers hope the teachers will share that information with their students as skilled storytellers.

The institute’s other co-director is former UTEP faculty member R. Joseph Rodriguez, Ph.D., assistant professor of literacy, multilingual and multicultural education at the California State University, Fresno’s Kremen School of Education and Human Development.

This is the second NEH border history institute at UTEP. The previous one was in 2017.

UTEP introduces ‘PayDirt Promise,’ Covers tuition for students whose families earn $40k or less

The number of students able to attend The University of Texas at El Paso without worrying about the cost of tuition is poised to grow significantly.

UTEP’s comprehensive array of funding sources in support of its students is getting a major enhancement with the introduction of the PayDirt Promise, which covers tuition and mandatory fees for students whose families make $40,000 per year or less.

“The conviction that talent is everywhere has been a guiding principle on our campus for more than 30 years,” said UTEP President Diana Natalicio.

“I am therefore extremely pleased that, with the introduction of PayDirt Promise, UTEP is now in a position to offer more students from the Paso del Norte region affordable access to a top-tier education, comparable to that offered by prestigious colleges and universities across the U.S. We know that many of our students’ families face major financial challenges. This program will enable us to provide innovative and strategic financial support, minimize the burden of student debt and achieve UTEP’s goal of fostering social mobility.”

The new program is an expansion of an already existing financial aid opportunity known as the UTEP Promise, which covered tuition and mandatory fees for students whose families made $30,000 or less annually.

The PayDirt Promise comes at a time when the model of access and excellence pioneered by UTEP increasingly takes hold across the world of higher education.

The PayDirt Promise is available for undergraduate students who are Texas residents, and who plan to attend UTEP full time (at least 12 credit hours per semester) starting in the fall of 2019. It adds to the broad range of options that already allows more than half of all UTEP students on financial aid to attend the University without having to pay out-of-pocket for the cost of tuition and mandatory fees.

“The PayDirt Promise is a decisive step forward in our commitment to the success of students in our region,” said Gary Edens, Ed.D., Vice President for Student Affairs. “It is also a recognition by the University that there are many students for whom a top-tier higher education can be within reach with just a little more financial support.”

UTEP’s enrollment continues to grow and reached a record 25,151 students in fall 2018. Admissions and financial aid applications are still being accepted for fall 2019.

Gilman Scholarship to support UTEP Students abroad

A group of UTEP undergraduate students have been given greater access to study abroad opportunities for the Summer and Fall 2019 semesters through the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program.

UTEP students are receiving support for their semesters abroad in Spain, Italy, France and the United Kingdom. Three students are participating in the summer program, and three others will participate in the fall.

“Students enter UTEP with many talents, skills and abilities, further developing their assets by engaging in experiences such as study abroad that equip students with a competitive edge in the workforce or in graduate school,” said Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Catie McCorry-Andalis, Ed.D.

“The Gilman Scholarship not only recognizes our students’ tremendous strengths, but also is instrumental in their ability to access international experiences that heighten knowledge, increase confidence and enhance professional skills. We are immensely proud of UTEP’s Gilman Scholars who demonstrate that the boundaries of education are not limited to the UTEP campus and can be found worldwide.”

The summer interns are painting major Eber Sanchez, who is studying in Italy; and linguistics major Jennifer Young and electrical engineering major Ashley Delgado, who are studying in Spain.

The fall interns are industrial engineering major Arat Fraga, who is studying in the United Kingdom; psychology major Veronica Martinez, who is studying in Spain; and finance major Destiny Rodriguez De San Miguel, who is studying in France.

UTEP students have received a combined $20,000 in scholarships. This year has seen the greatest participation of Gilman Scholars at UTEP since 2016.

The Gilman Scholarship Program is open to undergraduate students who are receiving Federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college or university.

According to the Gilman Scholarship Program data from 2017-18, 47% of the program’s participants are first-generation college students, 24% are Hispanic and 18% attend a minority-serving institution.

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