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Home | Tag Archives: University of Texas at El Paso

Tag Archives: University of Texas at El Paso

UTEP wins International Award for Endowment Management System

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) recently awarded The University of Texas at El Paso a Circle of Excellence Grand Gold Award for its Endowment Management System (EMS).

“The EMS platform is unlike any I’ve seen in my more than 15 years in higher education advancement,” said Jake Logan, vice president for institutional advancement. “Not only are we better meeting UT System compliance standards, we are also better honoring donor intent. And, we are maximizing the time of our endowment signatories – our chairs, deans and administrators – because we want to be respectful of the many other roles they have on campus.”

Before the creation of the EMS platform, endowment-related information was scattered across multiple systems. Navigating each of those systems and connecting the dots related to the endowment was cumbersome and time-consuming.

The new EMS platform gathers endowment-related information from four existing systems into one central location. Using the University’s single sign-on feature, users can see account overview and financial data from The University of Texas Investment Management Company (UTIMCO), gift history from The Raiser’s Edge (database software), income and expense information from PeopleSoft (financial management software), and student award information from Banner (higher education administrative software).

Additional features include endowment management and communication tools and quick access to endowment compliance guidelines, announcements, Endowment Compliance Committee bylaws and membership listings, and annual reports.

Through collaboration with relevant personnel across campus, teams from Institutional Advancement and Creative Studios were able to create the platform using available resources. The only costs incurred were those related to existing staff and student salaries associated with the project.

Chelsea Lamego, director of operations for institutional advancement, spearheaded the project.

“UTEP is required to comply with UT System Board of Regents compliance standards, and the EMS is expected to significantly improve the University’s compliance rating,” she said. “We’ve been using the EMS for a less than a year, and we’ve heard from several faculty who have told us that the platform has drastically improved their ability to effectively and efficiently manage the endowments they oversee. I’m excited that we have been able to create a tool that benefits everyone tied to it – our donors, our campus partners and the UT System.”

CASE reported that 587 member institutions from 28 countries throughout the world submitted more than 2,700 entries in 100 different categories for its 2020 Circle of Excellence Awards.

UTEP was one of 26 institutions to earn the prestigious Grand Gold Award. This marks the second consecutive year that UTEP has received top honors for its work in Advancement.

Last year, the University was recognized with a gold-level award for the “Thank You for 30” campaign case statement.

Developed by the University’s office of Institutional Advancement and the Creative Studios department in Technology Support, the EMS provides the UTEP community with greatly improved management of the University’s more than 850 endowments.

CASE is a global association for professionals in the fields of alumni relations, communications, development, marketing and general advancement services.

Each year, their prestigious Circle of Excellence Awards recognize the industry’s most innovative, inspiring and creative ideas in institutional advancement. The Grand Gold award is reserved for institutions whose entry is a “game-changer” in its category.

UTEP’s Grand Gold Award was given in the category: Advancement Services Improvement.

Journal interviews UTEP Professor for series on Prominent Statistics Educators

The Journal of Statistics Education (JSE) interviewed The University of Texas at El Paso’s Larry Lesser, Ph.D., professor of mathematical sciences, in its spring 2020 issue as part of its series on prominent statistics educators.

Lesser, winner of a UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award and UTEP’s most recent recipient of the Minnie Stevens Piper Professor Award, is one of the first 25 people worldwide, and the first from a Texas institution, to be included in the series.

“I’ve been interviewed in various venues about specific projects, but it was very meaningful to have the most widely read journal in my field interview me extensively about the whole of my career,” said Lesser, who added that he loved mentioning that UTEP had achieved Carnegie R1 status and the planned launch in 2021 of a new doctoral program in data science.

Interviewer Allan Rossman said the series aims “to provide a glimpse into the mindset of individuals who have played important roles in the development of statistics education, to give a sense for what went on during important times in that development, and to allow for considering future directions that statistics education might take. Another goal … is to help JSE readers recognize what dedicated, wise, humble, often quite humorous, and generally terrific people have shaped this discipline.”

JSE is an international refereed open-access journal published by Taylor & Francis for the American Statistical Association, the world’s largest community of statisticians and the nation’s second-oldest continuously operating professional association of any field.

In addition to the 11-page interview, Lesser has published 11 articles in JSE since arriving at UTEP in 2004 and also has served six years as a JSE associate editor.

This interview’s release comes at a busy time for Lesser, who also holds the UTEP title of Distinguished Teaching Professor. He continues to offer virtual conference presentations and to work on his latest National Science Foundation grant that involves interactive statistics songs, on a book chapter on how English learners study statistics, and on his statistics poetry recently published in Radical Statistics and the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics

One of those poems will be part of a UTEP exhibit that will open in August 2020, “One Year Stronger: Remembering 8/3,” a commemoration of the mass shooting in El Paso on Aug. 3, 2019.

Author:  Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications

UTEP ranked No. 20 among Most Affordable Accounting Programs

The University of Texas of El Paso houses the nation’s No. 20 most affordable accounting program, according to Discover Accounting, a notable online information provider that offers career advice and education resources for students interested in accounting.

UTEP garnered a prominent position on Discover Accounting’s list of the 101 Most Affordable Accounting Colleges. Programs were included based on their favorable acceptance rates, online reviews, graduation rates, average salaries for graduates, available online programs, retention rates, and the cost of the education provided.

UTEP’s accounting program falls within the Department of Accounting and Information Systems in the University’s College of Business Administration (COBA).

“This well-deserved recognition is a testament to our accounting program’s accomplishments in fulfilling the University’s mission of access and excellence,” said James Payne, Ph.D., dean of the College of Business Administration.

Students in the program can earn a variety of accounting degrees, including a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting, a Master of Accountancy, a certificate of accountancy, and a doctorate in business administration with a major in accounting. The program’s competitive academic offerings have spurred steady growth as evidenced by a record number of graduate students who enrolled in fall 2019.

“Within UTEP’s mission of access and excellence, the accounting programs continue to deliver a high-quality education to undergraduate and graduate students from the Paso del Norte region and beyond,” said Giorgio Gotti, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Accounting and Information Systems. “The number of enrolled students, undergraduate and graduate, the successful placement of our Ph.D. students, and the continuous collaboration with accounting professionals and stakeholders in the region are evidence of the quality of our programs and their positive impact on our community.”

Gotti added that more than a rise in enrollment, the program has drawn quality students who have earned more than $30,000 in scholarships during the past year. One of those students is Edgar Quiroga, a Master of Accountancy student, who was named a 2019-20 Public Company Accounting Oversight Board Scholar.

“The accounting program in COBA is filled with professors who are passionate about accounting and ready to help any student who may have questions,” Quiroga said. “Throughout my college career, I constantly had many challenging courses that would test my limits, but because I had the professors that I did, I was able to overcome them. This accounting program at UTEP is the reason why I know what I want to do with my life!”

To learn more about the College of Business Administration accounting programs, visit the college’s webpage.

Author: Darlene Barajas – UTEP Communications

Geological Sciences Doctoral Student awarded Diana Natalicio Fellowship

Since Amanda Labrado was a young girl, she has been passionate about rocks and the great outdoors.

When the time came to decide what she wanted to do in life, it was only natural that it would involve geological sciences.

“I collected rocks and loved the outdoors since I was a little kid, so when it came time to choose a major, geology simply made sense,” said Labrado, a doctoral candidate in The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Geological Sciences. “I remember taking my first intro geology class with Dr. Laura Serpa, and being in awe that I would study Earth and all its glory for my career. After I learned that field experiences were required to graduate, I was even more motivated to continue my education in the geosciences.”

Labrado recently was awarded the Diana Natalicio Dissertation Research Fellowship for 2020-21. Natalicio is President Emerita of UTEP. She led the campus as President from 1988 to 2019.

“When I first received the congratulatory email, I was very humbled and grateful,” she said. “Our University has many amazing women and men working toward completing their doctoral degrees, and I am so appreciative to be representing our University this year.”

Labrado is expected to complete her doctorate in May 2021. She received a B.S. in Environmental Science with a concentration in Geology from UTEP in December 2012 and an M.S. in Geosciences with a minor in Biogeochemistry from The Pennsylvania State University in May 2017.

“Amanda is a great role model for our UTEP community,” said Lin Ma, Ph.D., associate professor and graduate adviser for the Department of Geological Sciences. “The graduate committee in geological sciences is excited to nominate Amanda for her scholar achievements and her passions with science and education. Our department is so proud of having Amanda and many similarly great students who will make an impact on our society in many ways in the near future.”

The fellowship provides $10,000 to support a student for the last semester of dissertation work.

“Dr. Natalicio was UTEP’s first female president and helped shape UTEP into the amazing minority-serving, R1 research institution it is now,” Labrado said. “For me, it means being part of the legacy she left behind. I was able to shake her hand when I received my undergraduate degree, and although I will not be able to do so for my doctoral degree, I am so happy to graduate as a Natalicio fellow.”

Labrado is curious about the intersection between living and nonliving systems. Her dissertation will focus on how microbial life in the subsurface impacts carbonate caprock formation at the top of salt domes.

“After I graduate, my goal is to secure a postdoctoral position with NASA or a national lab,” she said. “I would like to conduct research and eventually work for an organization like the National Science Foundation to continue promoting diversity and inclusiveness in STEM fields.”

Labrado advises other doctoral students to know when to work, rest and look ahead.

“You may experience imposter syndrome, but know that you and your work are important,” she said. “Balance is required to complete the long and difficult journey, so learn how to take breaks without giving up. Lastly, minority women in STEM still need more representation, and as we stand on the shoulders of giants, we must continue the work to provide another set of shoulders for future generations to stand upon.”

Author: Victor R. Martinez – UTEP Communications

UTEP, EPCC Biology STEMGrow Program pushes ahead amid pandemic obstacles

The STEMGrow Program, a groundbreaking initiative between The University of Texas at El Paso and El Paso Community College (EPCC) that has successfully stewarded students between the two institutions, continues to bridge gaps between faculty and students forced to be physically distant this summer by the COVID-19 pandemic.

UTEP and EPPC have enjoyed a successful partnership through the STEMGrow Program throughout the past four years. The program was made possible by a $5.4 million grant from the Department of Education and was initially led by Peter Golding, Ph.D., professor of Engineering Education and Leadership at UTEP.

The program is currently in the fourth year of a five-year award period and its management team, along with Golding, are drafting proposals for future grants to foster continuation of the program.

One of the more successful components of the STEMGrow program is its summer biology bridge program, which has made adjustments due to the pandemic.

The biology bridge program sees contributions from various UTEP faculty members including Elizabeth Walsh, Ph.D.; Vanessa Lougheed, Ph.D.; Jerry Johnson, Ph.D.; and Douglas Watts, Ph.D., all professors in the Department of Biological Sciences, along with Kevin Floyd, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow.

The UTEP contingent oversees EPCC biology students who work as research interns in UTEP’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology labs. For eight weeks, students conduct rigorous hands-on biological research in both the lab and field. The summer culminates with a professional symposium where the students present their research posters alongside research students from throughout the state.

These experiences have been hindered by COVID-19. But even with social distancing measures in place, student interns are finding ways to carry out hands-on field data collection by sampling in their own backyards or going alone on field trips to local wetlands. While physically distant from faculty members, the students are never truly alone because they are in constant contact with their mentors throughout the process.

“We are finding that by having to meet virtually as a whole team every week, students are getting even more feedback and support from the entire STEMGrow team,” said Helen Geller, program manager for UTEP’S STEMGrow grant. “In prior years, students typically only got feedback regularly from their direct mentors and only occasionally from the whole team. It seems that this more repetitive meeting schedule is making the team ‘closer’ in some aspects even though it is remotely being carried out.”

Geller concedes that the current COVID-19 situation has made this year very different. Participants can no longer meet face-to-face in research laboratories or in the field for weekly field trips to area wetlands for specimen sampling and data collection. Instead, they undertake professional development and research at a distance using video conferencing to conduct daily meetings and mentoring. Graduate student mentors spend 20-plus hours a week working with students via video to carry out virtual lab tours; virtual field trips; video tutorials on statistical analysis, equipment use and sampling techniques; and research poster preparation. Student interns conduct weekly presentations on their tasks and the evolution of their posters through PowerPoint presentations to the whole group of interns, graduate student mentors and UTEP and EPCC faculty and staff. The interns then receive constructive feedback continually to keep growing as researchers.

“On May 31, 2020, I had no idea what the next two months would look like,” said Jaime Gutierrez Portillo, a current STEMGrow summer intern and sophomore from EPCC. “Now, almost four weeks later, it’s easy to say all my expectations have been exceeded so far. Experiencing a summer research program through a screen is probably the furthest it can be from the norm, but STEMGrow has adapted splendidly. That some equipment has been delivered to certain students so they can perform experiments is just an example of how it has been possible to overcome the lack of access to UTEP facilities this summer. The fact that all is done remotely is just a testament to the commitment of the program to help us be successful.”

Gutierrez Portillo adds that program organizers Geller and Paul Hotchkin of EPCC make students feel comfortable and give them the courage and foundation to present scientific research appropriately. Gutierrez Portillo calls that experience invaluable, regardless of the mode of teaching through which it is provided.

Before June, faculty members expressed doubt over whether the summer program would be a successful venture for the team and students. They worried that the lack of face-to-face instruction and field trips would be a detriment to the effectiveness of the student interns’ learning and research experiences. But, as the program passes its halfway point, they are seeing things very differently.

“Our student interns are definitely growing and learning as scientists through the continuous support and mentoring of the graduate students and the professional development offered to them,” Geller said. “This has included workshops on the value of attending professional scientific meetings and seminars, networking and building a professional portfolio, information on UTEP’s College of Science and the transfer process, financial aid and scholarship tips, and several scientific research presentation prep workshops.

EPCC sophomore and summer intern Queenie Trinh expressed gratitude that the STEMGrow summer program continued and allowed her to work in UTEP’s mosquito lab despite the changes presented by COVID-19.

“We don’t have access to the same equipment and facilities as previous years, so the interns won’t be doing any DNA sequencing, for example, and there is no longer the public outreach associated with the mosquito lab which decreases the amount of specimens we can collect,” Trinh said. “But this program has still been a great chance to gain research experience. People within the program have volunteered to participate in trapping mosquitos. My mentor and Paul Hotchkin have been delivering mosquitoes and equipment, and overall, there has been a lot of effort put in to provide the most educational and memorable experience possible. I have gotten to collect data, see presentations from graduate students and UTEP faculty, given weekly presentations to the other interns and mentors, and STEMGrow continues to connect us with further opportunities.”

Hotchkin, a biology instructor at EPCC, said that this summer’s edition of the STEMGrow program has been a study in a new realm of conducting research. He added that one of its unforeseen benefits has been a boon for the environment.

“Especially encouraging about this summer’s version of STEMGrow is our reduced carbon footprint,” Hotchkin said. “Limiting carbon emissions is key to turn around the environmental crisis on our planet. By having all faculty, staff and students complete their research duties from home, the cumulative carbon emissions of the STEMGrow program are much smaller than in previous years. Our program is proud that we are contributing to the scientific community, and to the development of our cohort member’s academic careers while pioneering a new, energy-efficient way of doing research.”

STEMGrow mentors have also reaped benefits from working remotely. Nikki Donegan, a UTEP biology graduate student who was a program intern in 2017, said she has enjoyed connecting with her fellow students, even from a distance.

“Mentoring virtually has been a challenge because you are not working side-by-side in the field,” Donegan said. “As a mentor, I do my best to explain the methods before the student tries to perform the steps alone in their own backyard or using their own computer. These students have a different challenge because, although we interact, the necessary physical distancing can cause confusion. In spite of the challenges that online mentoring poses, we are still connecting with our students and they are still learning the importance of observation in scientific investigations on a smaller scale.”

Laura Valdez, an undergraduate biology student at UTEP is a current mentor who served as an intern in 2019, echoed Donegan’s sentiments.

Working with STEMGrow students allows me to see the progress they make toward their career in STEM,” Valdez said. “The program gives them a head start and insight into what it takes to be successful in this competitive field. The resourcefulness within the program enables the students with the possibility to be successful in their future endeavors. It is an honor to be a part of this future success.”

Author: Darlene Barajas – UTEP Communications

State Association taps UTEP Counseling Professor as Leader

Paul Carrola, Ph.D., associate professor and coordinator for The University of Texas at El Paso’s Mental Health Counseling program, will become the first president-elect of the Texas Association of Counselor Education and Supervision (TACES) from UTEP when his position becomes official July 1, 2020.

Carrola, a native of San Antonio who has taught at UTEP since 2013, will serve a one-year term as president-elect.

It is the start of a three-year commitment that also will include 12-month periods as president and past president of the organization, which is the second largest division of the Texas Counseling Association (TCA). TACES, which has about 500 members, works to enhance the practice of professional counseling through the promotion of effective counselor education, supervision and leadership.

The UTEP professor has served the organization as a senator since 2017. He said this assignment will be good for him, the University and the community because it will bring positive recognition from the rest of the state.

Among his main duties as president-elect will be to organize and host the group’s annual conference in February 2021 at a location to be determined. He already has some ideas on how he plans to implement programs, workshops and advocacy efforts to enhance counseling throughout the state during his time as a TACES leader.

“As president, I will provide an agenda and vision for the organization that can influence mental health services in the state through policy and legislative advocacy,” he said. He wants to connect resources and training for mental health services in the state and to involve geographically isolated communities such as El Paso in the legislative advocacy process as it relates to mental health services. “I think it is important to have someone from El Paso as president since we are often overlooked by the rest of the state.”

Michael Moyer, Ph.D., professor and associate department chair of counseling at Texas A&M University-San Antonio and TCA president, said he has known Carrola for about a decade and believes that the UTEP professor’s genuine interest in others and his ability to bring people and ideas together will make him a successful TACES leader.

Moyer recalled Carrola as a doctoral student at The University of Texas at San Antonio who stood out because of his diligence and interest in collaborations with faculty for research and service activities.

“(Carrola) has a unique ability to connect with others,” Moyer said. “His incredible work ethic and demeanor allow him to build trusting relationships, which are vital for someone in a leadership role.”

Richard Salcido, executive director of Family Service of El Paso, also is excited about Carrola’s appointment because it will give mental health representatives from the Paso del Norte region more of a voice in Austin.

“This is critical,” said Salcido, who earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1978 and a Master of Education degree eight years later, both from UTEP. “Paul is in the know of what is going on at the state level regarding proposed regulations that affect the mental health profession. He’ll make a great president for TACES.”

Salcido praised the UTEP professor for his efforts to connect the University and his department to the community, and said he will use the same methods to network with TACES members around the state to seek out collaborations for the greater good.

He recalled how Carrola did the same thing at the campus and community levels when he first arrived at UTEP. First, he began to make connections with other faculty in the departments of social work and psychology to create greater synergy. He then began to familiarize himself with the borderland’s mental health service agencies that were or could become internship sites for UTEP students. Since Carrola’s arrival, UTEP places about 10 student interns at Family Service of El Paso.

Karen I. Barraza, a third-year graduate student who expects to earn her Master of Science degree in mental health counseling this summer, lauded Carrola as a passionate educator who motivates his students to be active in their profession.

The El Paso native and first-generation college student said she has conducted research with Carrola, her adviser since 2017, and presented alongside him at this year’s TACES conference.

“Dr. Carrola is a leader inside and outside the classroom,” said Barraza, who earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UTEP in 2014. “He is knowledgeable about current issues relating to mental health in our community and has built relationships throughout his career to further develop educational programs for students who want to become licensed professional counselors in Texas.”

Author: Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications

UTEP Hybrid Program produces first Ed.D. Graduate

The first fruit was harvested this spring from an off-site doctoral program that The University of Texas at El Paso initiated three years ago in collaboration with El Paso Community College (EPCC) and the Socorro Independent School District (SISD).

Marianne Torales, Ed.D., an intervention coach at SISD’s Montwood High School, was the initial graduate of the program that UTEP created to assist with the professional development of fellow educators and administrators at the other academic entities.

The University sent faculty members from its Department of Educational Leadership and Foundations (EDLF) to facilities in the EPCC or SISD headquarters to offer weekly courses to cohorts of up to 15 students made up mostly of administrators and tenure-track teachers. This augmented their online instruction. Graduates earn a Doctor of Education degree in Administrative Leadership in one of three specialties: central office and school site leadership, leadership in higher education and other educational settings, and leadership in educational policy and evaluation.

Torales, a 22-year educator who has spent time with Region 19 and the area’s three largest school districts, lauded the program for its accessibility, camaraderie among students, faculty expertise and relevant subject matter that immediately helped her to become a better employee and instructor. She highly recommended it to those who want to learn more about leadership and how to affect change at a campus.

“It is a very challenging program that requires a dedicated student,” said Torales, a native of the Philippines who earned her Master of Education degree at UTEP in 2009. “It is worthwhile because you come out of it stronger and better prepared to serve and lead.”

The program’s first graduate is an outstanding example of a student who was motivated to expand her skills and knowledge to better serve others, especially her students, according to Penelope P. Espinoza, Ph.D., associate professor in EDLF and director of the college’s Ed.D. program.

Espinoza, who has led the program for two years, said that students have praised the program’s “cohort model” where they enter the program as a group, take the same courses and share common experiences as they navigate their doctoral journey together.

One of the program’s more important elements is the opportunity for students to share their research into unique issues faced by these institutions and develop thematic dissertations where they tackle a similar topic from a different academic perspective and provide practical policy recommendations.

Arturo Olivarez, Ph.D., professor and chair of EDLF, said this was important because many academic institutions compile data but do not study the material and “connect the dots” to understand how the information could benefit their institutions and their students. He referred to a current cohort member who is using data from EPCC and several area school districts to investigate how high school students do after they have received two types of formal coursework or tests that are supposed to prepare them for collegiate success.

Olivarez said his role is to guide the partnership so that it may continue to flourish and to mentor and advise some of the cohort students. The program’s second cohort has arrived at its dissertation stage and recruitment has started for a third cohort.

“This program is a signal from institutional leaders to their junior administrators and tenure-track faculty that they are interested in their professional growth,” he said.

Rodolfo Rincones, Ph.D., associate professor of educational leadership and one of the program’s key organizers three years ago, said the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board officially approved the program in February 2019, which ensures the program’s integrity.

“We’re talking curriculum, professors, student selection, advising, everything,” Rincones said. “The coordinating board wants to certify that all students in the program have access to similar resources as those who attend the same classes at UTEP.”

Torales said her immediate plans are to continue to make positive contributions at her school and with SISD as an administrator, but she also is ready for any new challenges that her new degree could generate.

While program leaders always seek ways to enhance the experience, Espinoza said the only possible change this fall may be additional online courses due to COVID-19.

“Since most of our students are teachers and administrators, we will need to listen closely to them about how the pandemic has affected their students and environments, and what additional supports they need from us,” she said.

To learn more about this program, contact Espinoza at or Olivarez at

Author: Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications

UTEP Researchers uncover new brain mechanisms in Fruit Flies that may impact future learning, memory research

A research team from The University of Texas at El Paso has made strides in understanding how memories are formed through the brain mechanisms of fruit flies, findings that could enhance our understanding of brain disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance addiction, according to an article published in the highly renowned Journal of Neuroscience.

The article, titled “Concerted Actions of Octopamine and Dopamine Receptors Drive Olfactory Learning,” focuses on flexible behavioral choices that are shaped by experiences and cognitive memory processes of fruit flies in a laboratory setting.

The study was led by Kyung-An Han, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences and director of the Master of Arts in Teaching Science (MATS) program at UTEP; brothers John Martin Sabandal, a UTEP graduate who is currently a doctoral student at Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida, and Paul Rafael Sabandal, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in Han’s laboratory.

Martin Sabandal was an undergraduate student in Han’s research lab when he performed research that contributed to the study. A former postdoctoral associate, Youngcho Kim, Ph.D., who is currently a faculty member at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, is also a co-author of the study.

The research team identified the actions of the neurotransmitters octopamine and dopamine as a key neural mechanism for associative learning in fruit flies. This is vital for animals to appropriately respond to the cues predicting benefit or harm. If animals cannot promptly learn and remember the cues, they would not be able to survive or have a decent quality of life.

“I am beyond thrilled about this work getting published,” John Martin Sabandal said. “We expanded our knowledge about the importance of aminergic signaling for olfactory learning in fruit flies. This represents a significant finding in the invertebrate field since octopamine was previously shown to be only important for positively-reinforced learning. This publication was a culmination of the hard work spent during my undergraduate years at UTEP.”

Paul Sabandal said olfactory conditioning in fruit flies has greatly contributed to overall understanding about the mechanisms underlying associative learning and memory. Historically, in fruit flies, dopamine is implicated in both punishment- and reward-based learning while octopamine is widely considered to be essential only for reward.

“This pioneering work serves as an essential framework for future studies to delineate the signals and circuits that shape appropriate behavioral choices important for fitness and survival,” he said. “We strongly believe that our study advanced not only the learning and memory field, but may have implications on related disciplines including dementia and addiction.”

Han said the study may help enhance our understanding of the brain disorders with anomalous memories such as PTSD (augmented memory on traumatic events), addiction (intensified memory on drug-associated cues) or learning disabilities (impaired memory).

“Many aspects of our behaviors are the representations of our memories that are formed by associating information or stimuli that we experience,” Han said. “For example, celebrities are often featured in commercial advertisements, which is because we tend to associate their social status or star power with product values. This is a typical case of classical conditioning for associative learning and memory. Our study tackles the key question of how the association is occurring in the brain using the genetic model Drosophila melanogaster, or fruit flies.”

Kim added that fruit flies provided an excellent primer for the research team to uncover their findings.

“Associative learning is a fundamental form of behavioral plasticity,” Kim said. “Drosophila provides a powerful system to uncover the mechanisms for learning and memory.”

Researchers from The University of Texas at El Paso have made strides in understanding how memories are formed through the brain mechanisms of fruit flies, findings that could enhance our understanding of brain disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance addiction. Their work was recently published in the highly renowned Journal of Neuroscience April 2020 edition. Displayed in this photo are researchers and brothers Paul Rafael Sabandal, Ph.D. graduate, John Martin Sabandal, BS graduate and Kyung-An Han, Ph.D. at the 2017 May UTEP Commencement Ceremony.

UTEP Professor helps identify how Coronavirus transmits from animals to humans

Chuan Xiao, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at The University of Texas at El Paso, is contributing his expertise to research on the transmission of the novel coronavirus from animals to humans.

Xiao collaborated with Feng Gao, M.D., Ph.D., professor at Duke University Medical Center and previously a member of the External Advisory Committee for UTEP’s Border Biomedical Research Center (BBRC), to publish a paper refuting the conclusions of an unreviewed study suggesting that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was generated by obtaining four HIV sequences that allow it to infect humans.

In their paper, published in the journal Emerging Microbes & Infections, Xiao, Gao, and other co-authors have shown these four HIV short sequences are very common in nature, and using those sequences to make the virus infect humans has no scientific basis at all. Many studies have since confirmed that no intentional modification of the virus’s genetic sequences has been observed.

As more cases became available for analysis, Xiao participated in an extension of the study performed at Duke University that sought to study the genetic fragmentations of SARS-CoV-2 that allowed it to infect humans, aiding in the understanding of its origin and evolutionary path in order to mitigate any outbreaks in the future.

“As a structural virologist, what I have done for the paper is look at the interface between the spike protein and human ACE2,” Xiao said. ACE2 is a cell surface molecule that serves as an entry point into human cells for SARS-CoV-2.

The team analyzed the genetic structure that is crucial in understanding the transmission of the disease from animals to humans.

“We try to understand what alterations of sequence allowed animal, such as the bat and pangolin, coronaviruses to attack humans. My contribution is just providing structural analyses that support the conclusions,” Xiao said of the final results published in Science Advances. “However, as a UTEP researcher, I am proud that I have contributed to the COVID-19 research.”

Xiao has close to three decades of experience in molecular biology, with more than 20 years dedicated to the study of biological macromolecules and viruses through a combination of X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy. The research he conducts through these methods primarily concern biochemical structures, specifically giant viruses, common cold viruses and the mammalian circadian system.

Xiao’s research contributions are one example of how UTEP is part of the solution to the COVID-19 crisis. Xiao’s work continues in earnest, as he has published two papers related to COVID-19 himself, reviewed four others, and has served as associate editor of eight others.

Author:  Julian Herrera – UTEP Communications

UTEP to Offer Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program in Fall 2020

A new nurse practitioner program in psychiatric mental health at The University of Texas at El Paso’s School of Nursing will help to address the sharp increase in mental health problems and psychological distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is an urgent need for mental health providers in Texas and across the United States,” said School of Nursing Dean Leslie K. Robbins, Ph.D., a certified adult psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner, and an adult psychiatric and mental health clinical nurse specialist.

“We provide a full range of mental health services to patients needing psychiatric care. Graduates from our program will improve access to a shortage of mental health services, which have been disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis.”

Applications are currently being accepted for UTEP’s Master of Science in Nursing program for Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNP), which will start in fall 2020.

Courses will be offered in a hybrid format that combines online and face-to-face instruction.

The two-year program is designed to prepare advanced practice nurses to provide a full spectrum of mental health services across the lifespan in community, acute care and telemental health settings.

PMHNPs provide mental health assessments, diagnosis, medication management and therapy.

According to the Texas Board of Nurses, El Paso County had 33 psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners in 2019. There were no psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners listed in the surrounding West Texas counties of Brewster, Lovington, Culberson, Presidio, Reeves, and Jeff Davis.

A recent survey by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that anxiety and depression has tripled in U.S. adults to 13.6% in April 2020 from 3.9% in 2018. In the April 2020 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, the authors warn of a “pandemic” of behavioral problems and mental illness as a consequence of COVID-19.

“Now, more than ever, our community needs access to clinicians who promote mental health and stand ready to provide assessment and treatment of various mental health-related conditions,” said Amy Field, UTEP’s PMHNP program director. “Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners combine biological, psychological, social and spiritual components to treat the whole person using various therapies, including talk therapy and the prescription of medication.”

For information about the PMHNP program, contact Amy Field at

Applications are being accepted through the UTEP Graduate School.

UTEP, UT Austin to study enhanced asphalt production processes for longer lasting roads

A trio of researchers from The University of Texas at El Paso’s Center for Transportation Infrastructure Systems (CTIS) will partner with The University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Transportation Research on a $494,000 award from the Texas Department of Transportation to create realistic conditions for assessment of asphalt mixtures in an effort to enhance their durability.

Leading the CTIS team is Soheil Nazarian, Ph.D., professor of civil engineering, the project’s principal investigator. Nazarian; Imad Abdallah, Ph.D., research associate professor of civil engineering and executive director of CTIS; and Victor Garcia, CTIS research associate, will oversee staff and civil engineering students who will support the project’s research efforts.

“We appreciate the trust and support of TxDOT in such a multifaceted and challenging project,” Nazarian said.

The CTIS research team will work with UTEP graduate and undergraduate students to develop, deploy and spur rapid adoption of new laboratory protocols to simulate the hardening of asphalt mixture due to exposure to the diverse environmental conditions presented throughout Texas. This work has the potential to improve current practices through a better understanding of the long-term aging potential of asphalt mixtures.

“The challenges from this project will provide a great opportunity for students to hone their innovative and creative engineering skills,” Garcia said.

“I look forward to collaborating with our partners at UT Austin,” Abdallah said. “It is an excellent opportunity for students from both universities to work together.”

The center’s unique laboratory facilities and expertise will enable the research team to perform innovative tests that will be key to achieving the research grant’s objectives.

To learn more about the Center for Transportation Infrastructure Systems, click here.

Author: Darlene Barajas – UTEP Communications

UTEP RISE Program fostering scientific potential

The Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) Program at The University of Texas at El Paso Department of Biological Sciences is at the helm of biomedical and behavioral research on the border, utilizing 21st century technology to promote biomedical research that includes anti-cancer drug discovery, vaccine development against infectious agents, drug addiction, health disparities, and other basic research.

For over 16 years, RISE has provided financial support and mentorship to the next generation of aspiring scientists, many of whom are first-generation college students. Qualifying students receive stipends to conduct undergraduate research in biological sciences and other STEM fields during the academic year.

The RISE Program provides undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to engage in hands-on research training to prepare them for academic and other scientific careers.

RISE is funded by a grant from the National Institute of General Sciences which administers research training programs aimed at increasing the number of biomedical and behavioral scientists from institutions that serve historically underrepresented individuals in the field of science.

Most RISE students are mentored by faculty of the Border Biomedical Research Center (BBRC) Program at UTEP. Thus, much of their research addresses the biomedical and health needs of the bicultural population of the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez region of the Texas-Mexico border.

Leading the program is Renato Aguilera, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences and director of the Biology Graduate Program, and deputy director of the Border Biomedical Research Center. He and his co-investigators, Elizabeth Walsh, Ph.D., and Wen Yee-Lee, Ph.D., provide mentoring and professional development activities to undergraduate and graduate RISE scholars from departments across the campus.

“The program was intentionally designed to give students opportunities to develop critical skills for successful careers in science,” Aguilera said.

“From a humble beginning with 25 participants, the program has served over 250 trainees over the past 16 years. It is impressive that over 90% of the trainees obtained their B.S. degrees while completing their research projects. Of those who completed their undergraduate degrees, 72 have completed master’s or Ph.D. degrees.”

The program is currently funded until 2022, and by then it is anticipated that more than 350 students will have received RISE support. Upon successful renewal of the program, it would be funded for an additional 5 years.

Aguilera wants to ensure students at UTEP are aware of the program and take full advantage of all it has to offer.

There are currently 12 Ph.D. trainees that are fully funded by the RISE Graduate Scholars Program, funding that includes tuition and fees. Up to now, 19 Ph.D.s have been awarded to RISE graduate students and the vast majority are currently pursuing postdoctoral research at prestigious institutions.

With opportunities for academic training, research and conference travel, students who participate in the program are better prepared for the challenges they will face in the field of science. Students complete the program with a comprehensive understanding of their research field and experience in the use of advanced technological equipment.

Many go on to careers as researchers at prestigious universities such as Princeton and Harvard, government research facilities, or biotech companies.

Stephanie Medina, an undergraduate student majoring in cellular and molecular biochemistry, has found the RISE Program particularly beneficial, supporting her financially and providing guidance through the process of applying for graduate school. Motivated by her peers and mentors, Medina intends to pursue a Ph.D. in cancer biology upon graduation.

“I believe that programs like RISE are very beneficial to the scientific community and to individuals attending university in a border city like ours,” Medina said. “These programs provide students with the opportunity to gain research experience, network with other students in the scientific community, and connect us with valuable mentors.”

Author:  Julian Herrera – UTEP Communications

Department of Defense names UTEP winner of 2019 Mentor-Protégé Nunn-Perry Award

The University of Texas at El Paso was awarded the 2019 Mentor-Protégé Nunn-Perry Award by the Department of Defense (DoD) and Office of Small Business Programs through its industry collaboration with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and Marvin Engineering Corporation.

The agreement between Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and Marvin Engineering was one of six Mentor-Protégé teams chosen to win the award.

The DoD Mentor-Protégé Program (MPP) was established in 1990 after DoD contractors raised concerns about their inability to meet Small Disadvantaged Business (SBD) subcontracting goals. The award is named for the contributions of Sen. Sam Nunn and former Secretary of Defense William Perry, who both played critical roles in the implementation of the DoD Mentor Protégé Program.

“The Department of Defense and the American economy succeed because of the innovations borne from small companies like those in the DoD Mentor Protégé Program,” said Shannon Jackson, deputy director of the Office of Small Business Programs within the Office of Industrial Policy.

“Within the defense industrial base these companies work to deliver cutting edge technologies and services that challenge the status quo and have the capacity to shape the future of their respective industries. In order to create these capabilities to support the warfighter, their companies have to deliver more than technology or services.

In March 2017, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics was awarded more than $1 million to participate in the MPP with Marvin Engineering and UTEP. The collaboration has resulted in the successful transfer of critical technology and capabilities to Marvin Engineering.

The UTEP-TMAC team involved in the Mentor Protégé project consisted of Ivan Renteria, Benito Flores, Jason Farley, and Amit Lopes.

“The Mentor-Protégé program is an extremely valuable program,” said Amit Lopes, Ph.D., assistant professor of industrial manufacturing and systems engineering at UTEP. “It enables important small business protégés to significantly reduce the learning curves for implementing required technological and operational changes to fulfill the ever-changing needs of the DoD mission.”

The partnership between Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, UTEP and Marvin Engineering focused on protégé growth, infrastructure development, technical development, and program management. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics provided guidance in:

  • Robotic paint-spraying capabilities
  • Lean manufacturing techniques supporting F-35 final assembly work cells
  • Strategic planning and ethics training
  • Project management training
  • Training within industry methodologies
  • Foreign object damage (FOD) prevention awareness training
  • Truth in Negotiations Act compliance training for Marvin Engineering and its international partners
  • Supply chain procurement dashboard capabilities

“The program allows a prime contractor, such as Lockheed Martin, to help strengthen our supply base and enhance the protégé capabilities that support our programs/platforms as well as the warfighter,” said Lockheed Martin Aeronautics MPP lead Chantay White-Taylor.

“It has been my honor to have led such a talented team of individuals and give back to the small business community. The relationships built with USAF OSBP, MEC and UTEP is an experience I will cherish for years to come.”

UTEP Career Center offering Virtual Resources to help students, graduates

When it became clear that the spring 2020 semester would deviate from its traditional conclusion, the staff at The University of Texas at El Paso’s University Career Center acted quickly to shift their valuable services to a virtual format after UTEP transitioned to distance learning in March.

The staff launched the Virtual Career Center, which includes links to resume and cover letter virtual reviews, virtual interview tips, links to job postings, and video tutorials.

Faculty members can find information on professional development workshops and links to academic college liaisons, while employers can post jobs and internships.

“In the midst of this global pandemic, we want to ensure that we do everything we can to help our talented and motivated students reach their goals,” said Louie Rodriguez, associate vice president for divisional operations and strategic initiatives, who oversees the University Career Center staff.

“We are working to help our students navigate these unprecedented circumstances and feel empowered with the knowledge and skills they gained during their time at UTEP.”

University Career Center Director Betsy Castro-Duarte said the consultations they provide students on virtual interviews is not that much of a departure from their other programming throughout the year, such as their Dinner Etiquette events.

“We teach you the mechanics so that you can tell your story to an employer,” she said. “Same thing with technology. You need to be able to be at ease and have an idea of what you’re going to say with some of those common interview questions.”

After a consultation with her college liaison, senior marketing major Evelyn Lopez was accepted into AmeriCorps’ BRACE Play, Learn, Grow Summer Camp in Pensacola, Florida.

“[The advisor] was super helpful and professional, and not too long after our meeting, I was selected as a summer associate for the camp,” Lopez said.

Staff members have also been busy this spring creating college-specific guides titled “Graduating in the Time of COVID-19,” which detail how students can plan for long-term success, proactively search for a job and build their skill sets in this context.

Students, including those who have earned their degrees, have an opportunity to join more virtual events, including a virtual career fair June 16. Staff will continue to assist students throughout the summer, and they are posting regular updates on their FacebookTwitter and Instagram accounts.

Castro-Duarte emphasized the importance of students taking advantage of the resources and guidance available to them at the Career Center, which can help give them the agency to be proactive in a volatile market.

“Students need to realize that this is something that’s not within their control, but what they can control is what they do with this time,” she said.

Gallery+Story: UTEP welcomes 2020 Terry Scholars via virtual ceremony

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak and social distancing guidelines, UTEP hosted a virtual event Friday, May 15, 2020, to recognize the newest recipients of the Terry Foundation Scholarship.

“We are so happy to welcome the 2020 cohort of Terry Scholars to the UTEP family,” said Gary Edens, Ed.D., vice president for student affairs.

“This fantastic group of students represents the very best of this years graduating high school senior class. Their academic excellence and extracurricular achievements are impressive and will be put to good use as they start classes this fall and become engaged leaders on the UTEP campus.”

The interactive meeting featured questions addressed to the nine Terry Scholars from the El Paso area. It also welcomed parents, school administrators and peers to partake in this remote, yet collective, experience by offering a few words of praise to the students for their accomplishment.

The Terry Foundation serves 13 public institutions throughout Texas and has partnered with UTEP since 2015.

The foundation provides a full-ride scholarship to individuals who exhibit qualities of leadership, community engagement and academic merit.

“These nine high school seniors are outstanding representatives of their schools, their communities, and their city in every way,” said Annet Rodriguez, UTEP Terry Scholars coordinator.

“I look forward to working with them and seeing their professional and academic growth as they pursue their degrees from The University of Texas at El Paso.”

To learn more about the Terry Scholarship program, click here.

The 2020 Terry Scholars are:

o   Bryan Arriaga – Horizon High School

o   Ania Fierro – Jefferson High School

o   Ana Garcia – El Paso High School

o   Eric Gardea – Horizon High School

o   Matthew Gardea – Horizon High School

o   Emiru Ishikawa – J.M. Hanks High School

o   Alberto Villegas – J.M. Hanks High School

o   Yesenia Juarez – Maxine Silva Health Magnet School

o   Diana Lopez-Valdez – Loretto Academy

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