UTEP Receives $22.6 Million to Build Southwest Biomedical Training & Research Consortium
October 22, 2014 | UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
Members of the UTEP BUILD team include, from left, Stephen Aley, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences; Osvaldo Morera, Ph.D., professor of psychology; Renato Aguilera, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences; Thomas Boland, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering; Sara Grineski, Ph.D., and Tim Collins, Ph.D., associate professors of sociology and anthropology; Lourdes Echegoyen, Ph.D., director of the Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives; Homer Nazeran, Ph.D., professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Guadalupe Corral, Ph.D.
Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service
The University of Texas at El Paso has successfully secured a five-year, $22.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
The funds will lead to the creation of BUILDing SCHOLARS (Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity: Southwest Consortium of Health-Oriented Education Leaders and Research Scholars), a consortium made up of 19 institutions with UTEP at the helm. The center's aim is to diversify the workforce by training the next generation of underserved and underrepresented biomedical and socio-behavioral scientists and engineers.
"This major investment by the National Institutes of Health reflects its confidence in The University of Texas at El Paso to inspire, train and support underserved and underrepresented scientists and engineers," UTEP President Diana Natalicio said. "With this grant, UTEP is poised to make the vital contribution of diversifying the nation's next generation of innovative researchers who may go on to conduct their own groundbreaking biomedical studies that will find solutions for human health issues."
BUILDing SCHOLARS will recruit regional high school seniors who are interested in biomedical or socio-behavioral sciences and engineering, encouraging them to apply for the competitive program. If accepted, students will receive BUILD scholarships that cover all four years of tuition at UTEP, plus a stipend. Immediately after graduating from high school, students will begin their involvement in BUILDing SCHOLARS by participating in an intensive, pre-college boot camp to hone fundamental academic skills.
During their four years at UTEP, BUILD scholars will take special research-intensive courses and also participate in mentored research projects. They will be required to conduct summer research at a research partner institution with opportunities available at the following locations: The University of Texas at Austin, Baylor College of Medicine, UT Southwestern, Rice University, UT Houston School of Public Health, UT Arlington, the University of New Mexico, the University of New Mexico Health Science Center, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Clemson University, the University of Connecticut, and the pharmaceutical company Novartis.
By the time they graduate, students will have developed several close-knit relationships with mentors who conduct their own research, inspiring them to pursue doctoral degrees in the biomedical sciences and engineering.
"UTEP has had a strong commitment to and track record of providing undergraduate research experiences – a high impact practice for student success," said UTEP Provost Junius Gonzales. "This exciting initiative confirms the dedication of our faculty and others as research mentors and teachers, and this effort will be a model for other universities across the country. I congratulate the interdisciplinary lead team members and look forward to having more undergraduates involved in scientific training."
The 18 partner institutions that make up BUILDing SCHOLARS are either research or pipeline partners. Research partners will provide research opportunities for BUILD scholars; faculty at UTEP and pipeline institutions will also be able to collaborate with these research partners. Pipeline partners will feed students to UTEP. For instance, sophomores and juniors that transfer from El Paso Community College or the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute will have the opportunity to receive BUILD scholarships. Students attending Texas Southern University, Western New Mexico University or Northern New Mexico College — four-year pipeline institutions — will have the chance to conduct summer research at UTEP and at research partner institutions.
Faculty development in research, mentoring and teaching is also a key aspect of BUILDing SCHOLARS. A new innovation space that is specially designed for SCALE-UP (Student Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs) will be constructed to establish a highly collaborative, hands-on, technology-rich environment for BUILD related, large-enrollment courses. It will provide a platform to train UTEP faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows on the use of discipline-based education research approaches for effective teaching. Partner institutions will be able to host virtual workshops for our BUILD students using this space, and UTEP will hold workshops that students at other institutions with similar capabilities can attend.
"Our program will train students who will eventually become research scholars," said Lourdes Echegoyen, Ph.D., one of eight principal investigators at UTEP who helped develop the center's concept. "Beginning the summer before their freshman year, students will start developing a professional identity and begin to think of themselves as research scientists and engineers."
Echegoyen thinks that BUILDing SCHOLARs will be successful at generating future scientists and engineers because of the focus on early recruitment and innovation in teaching and learning methodologies.
"By engaging students as early as incoming freshmen and helping them develop their learning and research skills from day one, they will identify themselves as scholars from the onset," she said.
The UTEP team that developed the award-winning plan consists of seven additional investigators: Renato Aguilera, Ph.D., and Stephen Aley, Ph.D., professors of biological sciences; Thomas Boland, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering; Tim Collins, Ph.D., and Sara Grineski, Ph.D., associate professors of sociology and anthropology; Osvaldo Morera, Ph.D., professor of psychology; and Homer Nazeran, Ph.D., professor of electrical and computer engineering. Guadalupe Corral, Ph.D., also assisted with the project by developing an evaluation plan for BUILding SCHOLARS. Staff from UTEP's Center for Institutional Evaluation Research and Planning (CIERP) also assisted.
The NIH is investing approximately $31 million for the fiscal year of 2014 in institutions across the U.S. to develop new approaches to engage researchers, including those from backgrounds underrepresented in biomedical sciences. Only 10 grants were given across the U.S. for institutions to carry out BUILD initiatives. Awardees will each establish national consortiums to develop, implement and evaluate approaches to encourage individuals to start and stay in biomedical research careers.
"The biomedical research enterprise must engage all sectors of the population in order to solve the most complex biological problems and discover innovative news ways to improve human health," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. "While past efforts to diversify our workforce have had significant impact on individuals, we have not made substantial progress in supporting diversity. This program will test new models of training and mentoring so that we can ultimately attract the best minds from all groups to biomedical research."