Twelve faculty members from UTEP and BUILDing SCHOLARS partner institutions were selected for the 2016 BUILDing SCHOLARS Supermentor Program—a competitive 11-month program that serves to strengthen ties between BUILD partner institutions, advance faculty’s research skills and competitiveness for external funding, and enhance student mentoring skills.

Each selected mentee is paired with a Research Partner faculty member who has experience with mentoring students from underrepresented backgrounds, gaining extramural funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and producing co-authored papers and presentations.

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


Dr Ulises RicoyMentee Dr. Ulises Ricoy is Chair and Associate Professor of Biology at Northern New Mexico College (NNMC). He is trained in Neurobiology, has a solid background in STEM education, is bilingual in Spanish and English, and has vast experience working with underserved populations. Dr. Ricoy built the Science Undergraduate Program at NNMC, which values basic science research as an integral component of the learning journey.

Dr Fernando ValenzuelaSupermentor Dr. Fernando Valenzuela is a Scientific and Associate Director in the Department of Neurosciences at The University of New Mexico (UNM). Research in Dr. Valenzuela’s lab has focused on the modulation of developing and mature neuronal circuits by alcohol (ethanol), with the long-term goal of contributing to a better understanding of the neurobiology of alcoholism and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).

Dr. Ricoy’s goal as a mentee is twofold, 1) to receive mentorship on grant proposals to increment neuroscience research infrastructure at NNMC; and 2) to find funding for collaboration in future semesters, such as visiting a mentor’s lab during the summer to enrich student and faculty research capacity at NNMC.


Jamie Desjardins photo 000Mentee Dr. Jaime Desjardins is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Speech Pathology at The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). She has a strong background in auditory research, with specific training and expertise in speech perception, hearing loss and cognitive aging. Dr. Desjardins’ research includes the relationship between cognition and speech perception in older adults.

Dr William YostSupermentor Dr. William Yost is a Research Professor and Chair of Speech and Hearing Science at Arizona State University (ASU). Research in his lab focuses on auditory perception and psychoacoustics in areas of pitch perception; sound localization including localizing sounds in reverberant environments and virtual auditory environments; processing sounds with modulated waveforms; sound source determination and segregation; and computational modeling with respect to time-based neural models of complex sounds.

Dr. Desjardins is preparing to submit an NIH/NIDCD RO3 grant proposal during the 2015 application cycle. This proposal examines the effect of cognition and hearing loss on the perception of acoustically degraded speech in older bilinguals. By participating in the Supermentor program, she looks forward to receiving feedback on her R03 proposal application from a senior researcher.


Dr Karina CastilloMentee Dr. Karina Castillo is an Assistant Chemistry Professor at the El Paso Community College (EPCC). She is interested in research projects involving environmental issues in the community—particularly metal nanoparticles and their effect on living organisms. Dr. Castillo is responsible for forming the Chemistry Club at EPCC, as she enjoys working with students and providing them with hands-on science experience. She also participates as a research mentor for undergraduate students as part of the UTEP RISE program and BUILDing SCHOLARS Center.

Dr Mark PagelSupermentor Dr. Mark “Marty” Pagel is an Associate Professor in Biomedical Imaging and Director of the Contrast Agent Molecular Engineering Laboratory (CAMEL) in the Cancer Center at The University of Arizona (U of A). Dr. Pagel’s research focuses on the measurement of tumor acidosis using non-invasive MRI. Using “acidoCEST MRI,” a technique that his research program has refined, acidosis can be measured in a variety of tumor models to study cancer biology and the effects of anti-cancer therapies.

Dr. Castillo is interested in the correlation between disease and the contaminants that radiate from the refinery in El Paso, Texas. Dr. Pagel will assist her with writing an NIH grant proposal to fund her project.


Dr Jennifer SanchezMentee Dr. Jennifer Sanchez is an Assistant Professor and Clinical Practicum at The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) Department of Rehabilitation Sciences. Her research interests include community integration/participation and quality of life (QOL) of adults with severe and persistent mental illness; legal issues; evidence-based practice in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of culturally diverse individuals with disabilities; psychosocial adjustment to chronic illness; and disability across the lifespan.

Dr Louis BrownSupermentor Dr. Louis D. Brown is an Assistant Professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Department of Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences. His research interests are community coalitions, self-help and mutual support, substance abuse prevention, delinquency prevention, parenting, mental illness, implementation science, and program engagement.

Dr. Sanchez is looking forward to the opportunity of being mentored by someone who has been successful in receiving NIH funding, as well as someone who will help her grow professionally and achieve tenure. Her goal is to seek a grant for her research in maximizing the recovery process for individuals with psychiatric disorders.


Dr Carolina ChianelliMentee Dr. Carolina Chianelli is an Assistant Biology Professor at the El Paso Community College (EPCC) and one of two co-PIs for the EPCC component of the BUILDing SCHOLARS grant. Her own research has centered in areas relevant to environmental health. She has performed heavy metal ion binding studies using Synchrotron radiation for determination of metal binding sites and has also investigated the in vivo effects of a xenoestrogen on tumor formation in transgenic mice.

Dr Kristina MenaSupermentor Dr. Kristina Mena is an Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Human Genetics & Environmental Sciences, and the Program Head and EOHS Acting Dean of the El Paso Regional Campus of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). Dr. Mena’s research concentrates on quantitative microbial risk assessment, water quality and food safety.

Dr. Chianelli’s goal as a mentee is to increase the research capabilities at EPCC–to include the ability to detect viruses such as norovirus, hepatitis A and hepatitis E–by means of a grant proposal that justifies financing a Real-Time PCR system. This opportunity would allow more students at EPCC to perform scientific research in hopes that they will pursue higher education in the biomedical fields.


Dr Brenda LinnellMentee Dr. Brenda Linnell is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Northern New Mexico College (NNMC). Dr. Linnell’s research interest is directly related to isolation and characterization of organic molecules (e.g., anti-oxidants, antiseptic and pesticides) in local water, food resources and traditional remedies.

Dr Cato T Laurencin Supermentor Dr. Cato T. Laurencin is a Professor at the University of Connecticut (UConn); Chief Executive Officer at Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translational Science (CICATS); Director of the Institute for Regenerative Engineering; Endowed Chair Professor, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, UConn Health; and tenured Professor at the School of Engineering at UConn. Dr. Laurencin’s basic science research includes biomaterials, tissue engineering, nanotechnology and stem cell technology. His clinical research involves repair and regeneration of shoulder and knee tissue musculoskeletal regeneration.

Given that the indigenous and Hispanic populations in northern New Mexico often suffer from different forms of cancer in multiple generations, Dr. Linell is interested in receiving mentorship to develop a project that addresses this problem. One possibility is to isolate and characterize carcinogens from the water sources (acequias) and food supplies (family orchards) in the most incident areas and design a chemical monitor to alert the accumulation or presence of these toxic molecules. This project will not only address a local problem, but it will also attract students from the region to pursue higher education and research.