UTEP Undergraduates Shine at State Capitol

Undergraduate researchers Lauren Chacon, a junior kinesiology major, and Gilbert Carranza, a senior electrical engineering major, represented UTEP at the 2017 Texas Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol.

The event, held on March 28, brought approximately 70 outstanding undergraduate students from Texas universities to the State Capitol in Austin, where they presented the results of their research to state senators, state representatives and the general public.

“Students get the opportunity to go to conferences and talk to other researchers, but the opportunity to talk to legislators and people who are deciding how to allocate tax dollars is very important because it brings to the attention of these representatives that the tax dollars they are putting into research are actually producing results that are advancing our knowledge,” said Laura Diaz-Martinez, Ph.D., associate director for the Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives.

Preventing Heart Disease in Hispanics

Chacon’s project focused on identifying preventable risks for heart disease among Hispanics. She said Hispanics are predisposed to ailments like hypertension and obesity, and both contribute to cardiovascular disease – the leading cause of death in America.

“Not only is there a lack of research on Hispanic disparities, there’s not a lot of research on Hispanics on the border,” Chacon said. “If you look at a Hispanic population in Illinois or somewhere up north, it’s going to be different than if you look at us on the border.”

The young researcher said many people in her family are impacted by obesity and high blood pressure. She wants to help prevent it in future generations, not only in her family, but in the whole community.

“I hope that what I’m presenting will help guide other people to different research projects that look more at the Hispanic border population,” she said.

As part of her research, Chacon interviewed 501 Hispanics in El Paso, developing a health record based off a mini health screening and questionnaire that included questions on demographics and socioeconomic status. The results were surprising.

“Our findings were novel in that increased acculturation correlated with decreased cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, compared to other studies suggesting that increased acculturation levels correlated to increased CVD risk,” Chacon explained. “Such findings could possibly be due to the unique Hispanic border population of our study. Further, our research proposed that perceived stress was not significantly correlated to CVD risk. This is interesting because typically stress has an influence on hypertension (high blood pressure) and obesity; however, in this case no significant relationship was computed between perceived stress and CVD risk.”

Chacon is an awardee of the BUILDing SCHOLARS program funded by the National Institutes of Health. She conducted her research under the mentoring of Louis Brown, Ph.D., assistant professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, El Paso campus.

Developing 3-D Printed Electronics

Gilbert Carranza is conducting research under the mentorship of Raymond Rumpf, Ph.D., Schellenger Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UTEP. The goal of his project is to develop the tools needed to construct 3-dimensional electrical circuits that could be 3-D printed.

“We want to evolve electronics into three dimensions,” Carranza said. “They could be lighter, they could be smaller, and they could be more adaptable to a variety of applications.”

His work has entailed an extensive amount of computer-based coding. He is building a software tool to layout and route circuit components in three dimensions.

“I’m working with a graphics editing software to build and connect these component models in 3-D space,” Carranza said. “I’m making it so that I can orient these components in any way, and then route them with wires or other types of transmission lines as efficiently as possible for that specific design.”

The invention may result in more efficient, custom-made devices for a variety of industries, but also every day applications like a 3-D printed cell phone.

The future engineer is an awardee of the MERITUS program funded by UTEP-COURI and the VPSA On-Campus Student Employment Opportunities (OCSEP).

“I’m really amazed every day to be able to interact with these super talented students who are doing research at this level,” Diaz-Martinez said. “I conducted research when I was an undergrad, but not to the level that these students are doing it. It’s really a testament to UTEP’s commitment and role in helping these students develop as professionals conducting high-level research.”

Texas Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol is organized every other year by the Council of Public University Presidents and Chancellors (CPUPC), the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas, Inc. (ICUT) and the Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC). The goal is to highlight the many ways in which undergraduate research positively impacts Texas and Texans, from better preparing students for the challenges of the 21st century to transforming the lives of all Texans via discoveries made by working alongside talented faculty mentors.

Both Chacon and Carranza were excited about their recent opportunity and have big plans for their future.

Chacon aspires to obtain her Ph.D. and become a physical therapist.

Grad school after graduation is also in Carranza’s plan. He wants to work in research and development in a national laboratory.

Student participants, campus liaisons and faculty advisers also had the opportunity to tour the Capitol, attend committee hearings and attend the daily meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives during Texas Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol. Student participants were encouraged to work with their institution to schedule meetings with their respective legislators.

Diaz-Martinez said the opportunity puts El Paso and UTEP on the map as a place where research and breakthroughs are happening.

“UTEP undergraduates are very fortunate that we have a very strong research community that engages them into the research process,” Diaz-Martinez said. “Not only are they engaged in their discipline, but they are conducting research under the mentoring of our faculty, who are world leaders in research. It is really a unique opportunity for our students, since research is something that usually begins in graduate school, and shows the commitment that UTEP has to provide great opportunities for our undergraduates.”

More information about undergraduate research at UTEP, click HERE.

Author:  Lauren Macias-Cervantes – UTEP Communications