Funding will help students with full-time demands of doctoral training
By Christi Fish
Associate Director of Media Relations
The UTSA South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases (STCEID) has awarded its annual $21,500 STCEID doctoral scholarships to Sai Lakshmi Raj Karna and Sarah Hardison who are working toward their doctoral degrees in Cellular and Molecular Biology through the UTSA College of Sciences’ Department of Biology. The funding will help Karna and Hardison complete their doctoral research.
Sai Lakshmi Raj Karna is researching Lyme disease under the direction of Janakiram Seshu, UTSA associate professor of bacterial pathogenesis. Lyme disease is a re-emerging infectious disease and is becoming increasingly prevalent in the U.S. Specifically, Karna is investigating the molecular mechanisms that lead to the onset of the disease. He expects his research to contribute to the development of new strategies to prevent the disease in humans and domestic animals. After Karna graduates in fall 2013, he will continue his research career with a postdoctoral fellowship and hopes to become a microbiology and infectious diseases researcher at a top-tier research institution.
“This scholarship provides ideal opportunities to accentuate my training in cutting-edge methodologies and develop testable concepts in microbiology and infectious diseases that will aid my long-term career development plans,” said Karna.
Under the direction of Floyd Wormley, UTSA associate professor of microbiology and immunology, Hardison is studying the protective immune response to Cryptococcus neoformans, the fungus that causes the disease cryptococcosis and is the leading fungal cause of mortality in AIDS patients. Hardison’s research will contribute to new immunotherapies for cryptococcosis. She has already accepted a post-doctoral position, which she will begin after she graduates from UTSA.
“I am very thankful to the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases for this award, and for the years of support I have received from the members of the Center through collegial feedback and collaboration,” said Hardison.
This is the third year UTSA’s infectious disease center has awarded its scholarships to promising doctoral students.
“Doctoral training in microbiology is extremely time-intensive,” said Karl Klose, professor of microbiology and STCEID director. “To become proficient, students must dedicate themselves to their research full-time. By awarding these doctoral scholarships, the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases hopes to alleviate the financial burdens associated with doctoral education so our students can focus on the training they came here to receive. Mr. Karna and Ms. Hardison are well-deserving of this award, and represent the next generation of scientists who will conquer infectious diseases and protect mankind.”
By Christi Fish
Associate Director of Media Relations
Over the next five years, The University of Texas at San Antonio is slated to receive $2.4 million in funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to continue its MARC research training program, which supports underrepresented and disadvantaged UTSA undergraduates majoring in biology, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, statistics or engineering. UTSA will use the funding to partially support 12 students each year through 2016.
The MARC program, also known as Minority Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training for Academic Research or MARC-U*STAR, is an honors program that allows underrepresented and disadvantaged students to thoroughly prepare for admission into competitive graduate science programs. UTSA MARC students receive research and professional skills training, $2,080 per semester toward tuition, a $931 monthly stipend and funding to travel to two conferences. In addition, the program provides the undergraduates with leadership training, mentoring and other skills critical to building a successful career as a research scientist.
UTSA has offered the MARC program for 31 years. During that time, the program has supported 231 students with more than $10.1 million in support from the National Institutes of Health. Some of the program’s alums have completed doctoral research programs and now teach at the university level. Others have pursued health sciences training and earned their professional degrees.
"In recent years, most of our MARC students have enrolled in graduate programs," said Edwin Barea-Rodriguez, MARC director and chair of the UTSA Department of Biology. “During that same time frame, all of the students who participated in the MARC program and applied to graduate school were admitted. Our recent graduates are now at Stanford, Harvard, the University of Michigan, the University of Iowa and the University of Washington, Seattle.”
The MARC program is one of a dozen training programs housed in UTSA’s Center for Research and Training in the Sciences, a center within the UTSA College of Sciences.
To learn more about MARC, visit their website.
Geology students work to revive Gulf Coast wildlife refuge
By Amanda Beck
Senior Communications Specialist
Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer season. For many it means an extra day off from work, grilled hot dogs and fireworks. For five UTSA geology majors it meant looking out for alligators while wading through six inches of sludge in the nation’s largest urban wildlife refuge.
The Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge sits just 16 miles from the French Quarter in the New Orleans suburb of Slidell. At 23,000 acres, it is home to thousands of animals including endangered and threatened species like the brown pelican and American alligator.
UTSA junior Velita Cardenas developed an interest in the ecology of the Gulf Coast shortly after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010. She wanted to help. She signed up to receive volunteer opportunities from The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, but her schedule prevented her from participating until Memorial Day weekend of this year.
Cardenas enlisted the help of four of her friends and fellow geology majors. After a nine-hour car trip across Texas and Louisiana and an airboat ride through the wetlands, Cardenas and classmates Sebastian Cardona, Laurel Galm, Naiomi Patterson and Emily Winter gained plenty of hands-on experience as field geologists in the muddy habitat.
While her own research interests lay in water and the environment, Cardenas believes “[Geologists] need to be active in restoring the environment and take responsibility for the oil industry.”
Patterson agrees. She has developed a greater understanding of the effects humans can have on habitats and wildlife since the trip. “As a science student I think it’s important to be aware of all environmental interactions regardless of which field you are studying,” she said.
The hope is that the Student Geological Society will work closely with a UTSA student chapter of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, which Cardona is working to establish. His research interests are in oil and gas exploration in South Texas and new energy resources like geothermal energy.
The work at the refuge was simple—plant native marsh grass. But the result is tremendous—the prevention of erosion and preservation of nesting and breeding grounds for animals. The students crawled on their hands and knees to prevent themselves from sinking in the loose mud while they planted tufts of grass. “I literally was covered in mud up to my chin,” said Cardenas. But being dirty was worth it.
For Cardona, an international student from Colombia, the best moment was seeing the result of their hard work. “When we started, the area was totally empty of any plants,” he said. “When we finished, the difference was outstanding—we planted quite a lot of grass.”
After a hard day of working, they were given a private tour by the refuge manager. This visit was Cardenas’ first experience in New Orleans, and she was able to experience something many locals don’t. Winter, a New Orleans native, had never even heard of the refuge and was surprised by its proximity to the city.
As president of the Student Geological Society for the 2011-2012 academic year, Cardenas hopes to plan more experiences like this for students. She is inviting professional scientists to give talks on campus, and has received positive response; industry contacts are eager to talk with UTSA students. “Geologists are just great people,” she said.
That’s her sentiment toward the Department of Geological Sciences, too. It feels like a home to her. And she’s happy to have a home in a place that offers so many opportunities. “I could’ve gone anywhere [for school],” she said, “but UTSA is going places.”