Summer Symposium Showcases Emerging Researchers, Scholars and Artists
Last Updated on August 09, 2018 at 12:00 AM
Originally published August 09, 2018
By Victor H. Arreola
Among the general public, scientific research is not typically thought of as a team activity. Most of us can rattle off names such as Darwin, Einstein and Hawking, but it takes a more thorough knowledge to be able to recite the names of any of these icons’ collaborators. After this year’s UTEP Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives (COURI) Summer Symposium, however, it appears the days of the ‘lone scientist’ myth are numbered.
On Aug. 4, 2018, more than 160 students gathered in a packed Undergraduate Learning Center to present the findings from team research projects to an audience that included a set of judges, the public, their peers and their families.
There was definitely a buzz in the air. Young children tugged impatiently at their parents’ limbs as people of all ages engaged in conversations, or walked along rows and rows of posters displaying projects as diverse as the people looking at them. It was clear, however, that the student presenters were on a mission.
“It’s very gratifying to see how well they are prepared,” said COURI Director Lourdes Echegoyen, Ph.D.“This is when they present all the work they conducted over the summer – some of them the work that they conducted during the year. To me this is one of the best experiences of the year.”
With projects in fields such as science, engineering and liberal arts, the event brought together student researchers not only from nearly every college on the UTEP campus, but also from places like Puerto Rico, Colombia and beyond.
“You get to learn about everyone’s background, where they come from,” said Lizet Martinez, a senior at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. She worked with a group of students from China on a project that sought to add to the medical world’s understanding of antiviral therapeutic drugs. “I got to learn about their culture. It was very different, but at the same time it was fun.”
COURI’s stated goal is to enrich students’ undergraduate experience by facilitating, enhancing and showcasing their research training. Nataly Delgado, a junior majoring in biological sciences, says she has definitely been enriched by her COURI experience.
“It allowed me to grow as a student and as a presenter,” said Delgado, who worked on a project that looked at how exposure to ethanol, commonly referred to as alcohol, affected the brain functions and the behavior of certain fruit flies. Delgado and her team received an honorable mention in the Life Science category in this year’s summer symposium. She said one of the most useful parts of the COURI experience was having to discuss her team’s work with the general public. “We are able to familiarize ourselves with our project even more by explaining it to others who may or may not be in our field of research, and helping them understand the relevance of the work.”
Miguel Velez-Reyes, Ph.D., professor and chair of electrical and computer engineering, was one of the judges with the difficult task of selecting this year’s awardees. But he had a very clear idea of what he was looking for.
“For me, a good project should have a component of having good elements of technology: it should be something that addresses a state-of-the-art problem,” Velez-Reyes said. However, with so much high-caliber work to choose from, Velez-Reyes said, it often comes down to heart. “Certainly, I’m looking more for the passion that the student shows in terms of what he or she is doing. And, certainly, how well structured is the presentation, how well they went through the process of figuring out why this is an important thing to do.”
For the students who work with COURI, that process is guided by mentors who are members of the UTEP faculty. Those who are familiar with the kind of work and preparation that goes into an event like the COURI symposia agree that the mentors’ commitment to the academic development of the students under their tutelage is one of the main reasons why the symposia keep getting bigger and better every year.
“The COURI Symposium is an event where UTEP faculty exemplify their commitment to access and excellence through undergraduate research experiences,” Roberto Osegueda, Ph.D., vice president for research, said. “I always am impressed by the quality of the research done by the students and high level of engagement by our faculty.”
2018 COURI Symposium Awardees:
Engineering, Computer & Applied Sciences
Best Poster Sebastián E Torres Pacheco (Mentor: Jose Banuelos)
Honorable Mention Samuel E Hall (Mentor: Yirong Lin)
Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences
Best Poster David Esparza (Mentor: Erin L. Dolan)
Best Poster Brandon F. De La Rosa (Mentor: Charlotte Vines)
Honorable Mention Nataly M. Delgado (Mentor: Kyung-An Han)
Honorable Mention Haley R. Rhodes (Mentor: Bruce Cushing)
Best Poster Ran Yang (Mentor: Chuan Xiao)
Honorable Mention Oscar A. Hernandez (Mentor: Dino Villagran)