BUILDing SCHOLARS

   THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT EL PASO

Congratulations to this year’s awardees and mentors. We thank the NIH for making these collaborative efforts possible.

This opportunity provides interested faculty members from UTEP and the BUILDing SCHOLARS Pipeline Partner institutions to collaborate with a host faculty member at one of 13 Research Partner institutions on health-related research.

The applicant spends 10 weeks working with his/her host on a research project, gaining new research skills and experiences. At end of the summer, the applicant must provide a collaboration plan, such as a plan for journal article submissions, grant proposals, etc., describing how their partnership with their host will proceed.







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Dr. Amy Reed-Sandoval is an Assistant Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Philosophy and Faculty Affiliate of the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies at The University of Texas at El Paso. Her primary research interests include the political philosophy of immigration, Latin American philosophy, philosophies of social identity and feminist bioethics. She is currently writing a book titled, “‘Illegal’ Identity: Race, Class and Immigration Justice.”

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Mentor Dr. Rameet Singh is an Associate Professor and Chief of Family Planning in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology in the School of Medicine at The University of New Mexico. Her research focuses on family planning. She recently co-authored a paper that explores the differences in post-partum contraceptive choices amongst women of different ethnic groups (including Hispanic/Latina women).

The team plans to continue studying how immigration status, particularly immigration-related experiences, influence contraceptive choices amongst ethnically diverse New Mexican women. This collaboration will connect to the broader theoretical concerns Dr. Reed-Sandoval is exploring in her research program, “Immigration and the ‘Female’ Body.”


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Dr. XiuJun (James) Li is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry & Biomedical Engineering in the Department of Chemistry at The University of Texas at El Paso. His research group strives to develop and apply innovative nano techniques and low-cost microfluidic platforms to help solve vital biomedical problems such as biomarker and pathogen detection and disease diagnosis. Their aim is to pioneer a microfluidic method for the early detection of ovarian cancer.

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Mentor Dr. Rolf Brekken is an Effie Marie Cain Research Scholar in Angiogenesis Research and is a principal investigator in the Hamon Center for Therapeutic Oncology Research at UT Southwestern Medical Center. For the past 15 years, his research interests have included the function and contribution of the tumor microenvironment to tumor progression and drug response. Dr. Brekken’s laboratory is particularly interested in the biology of therapy and how the tumor microenvironment affects therapeutic efficacy.

The team plans to design a new microfluidic biochip and a streamlined assay that could be used for clinical exploitation of the PS exosomes-based method for early detection of ovarian cancers.


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Dr. David Torres is Chair of the Department of Math & Physical Science at Northern New Mexico College. He has adapted his mathematical and computational skills and applied them to diverse fields including parallel computational fluid dynamics, an optimization scheme for maximizing profit of a coupled system of batteries and solar cells, an algorithm for modeling honeybee populations, and statistical techniques in health science.

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Mentor Dr. Judy Cannon is an Associate Professor in the Department of Pathology at The University of New Mexico School of Medicine. Her research centers on defining and understanding the mechanism that controls normal T cell and leukemic T cell migration in tissues such as lymph nodes, lungs and the brain.

This team first collaborated in 2015 through the BUILD Summer Sabbatical Program and plans to continue their study of the CNS in T-ALL disease, which has already resulted in two publications. They will use the tools published to create new gene sets associated with T-ALL CNS migration.


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Dr. Carina Heckert is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at The University of Texas at El Paso. Her research concentrates on how different types of policy, such as global health policy or U.S. immigration policy, impact people’s illness experiences and experiences seeking healthcare. Through various interdisciplinary projects, Dr. Heckert has acquired the skills needed to conduct ethnographic research on sensitive issues among vulnerable populations.

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Mentor Dr. Andrew Sussman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at The University of New Mexico School of Medicine. His research focuses on health care service delivery and patient-provider counseling dynamics among medically underserved populations in New Mexico. His research spans a range of topical areas including cancer prevention, substance use disorders, complementary and alternative medicine and obesity/diabetes prevention.

The team began collaborating in August 2016 as part of the BUILD Supermentor Program. This summer, their research project will focus on developing a conceptual model for applying the syndemics framework to border health research, specifically a research proposal examining the emotional experiences of reproductive healthcare access among immigrant women in the Texas-Mexico border region.


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Dr. Shiva Kumar Kyasa is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry in the Department of Natural Sciences at Western New Mexico University. His biomedical research expertise includes synthetic organic chemistry and medicinal chemistry. Dr. Kyasa has designed and synthesized new chemical entities for the treatment of metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity.

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Mentor Dr. Nancy C. Horton is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Science at the University of Arizona. Her research interests focus on how DNA binding proteins perform their various functions, such as sequence recognition, DNA cleavage, methylation, unwinding and related functions. [Her lab group is also interested in the evolution of function in DNA binding proteins and in the evolution of DNA repair pathways in eukaryotes.]

Their project will focus on the structure and mechanism of the sequence-specific DNA endonuclease SgrAI, and in particular, its highly unusual mechanism of activation via filament formation.


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Dr. Jeremy Slack is an Assistant Professor of Geography at The University of Texas at El Paso. With over a decade of research along the U.S.-Mexico border, he focuses on the impacts; experiences; and processes of migration and deportation during an era of heightened enforcement. Other research interests include political geography; drugs and illegality; state theory; borders; and Latin America.

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Mentor Dr. Luis H. Zayas is the Dean and the Robert Lee Sutherland Chair of Mental Health and Social Policy at the School of Work at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Zayas is one of the nation’s leading advocates for U.S.-born children of immigrant parents, as well as an expert on issues relating to child and adolescent mental health. During his 35-year career in social work, he has conducted research in diagnostic processes; suicide attempts of young Latinas; and adapting interventions for Latino children, youth and families.

The team is working together to integrate health questions into their research in order to better understand the unique type of trauma and complex harm that U.S.-born children and their parents face during deportation.