University of Texas at El Paso
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NOVA Summer 2008

UTEP sets pace for Hispanic student success

UTEP graduate
The University of Texas at El Paso has been identified in a new report by the Washington, D.C.-based higher education policy group Excelencia in Education as a trendsetter in practices that improve access, retention and academic success for Hispanic students.

The report, titled “Modeling Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Campus Practices that Work for Latino Students,” states that it is no accident that some institutions have high Hispanic enrollments and degree production.

“To be an HSI is to be at the forefront of change in higher education because of the shift in U.S. demographics,” says UTEP President Diana Natalicio, who has led the
UTEP President Diana Natalicio
university for 20 years. “We are pleased that models that we have created are being adopted by other universities as their student demographics have begun to change.”

Six public universities and six community colleges in Texas, California and New York were included in the study. The report and the case studies from which it is drawn were supported by Lumina Foundation for Education.

The Excelencia report states UTEP and the other cited campuses have worked deliberately to implement broad-scale changes. The report addresses five main areas to improve Hispanic student success: community outreach, academic support, data use, faculty development and transfer paths.   N

GEAR UP awarded $13 million

The University of Texas at El Paso has been awarded more than $12.9 million from the Department of Education GEAR UP Program to help more than 3,000 area middle school students prepare for college.

Now in its fourth year at UTEP, the program is expected to receive $2.15 million each year during the next six years.

The award will fund UTEP’s Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP) where students from 11 Ysleta Independent School District middle schools are enrolled.

GEAR UP is a federal program that helps youth from low-income communities obtain a postsecondary education through tutoring programs, standardized testing preparation and other programs. The course was enacted as a result of Congress’ passage of the Higher Education Amendment of 1998 where students in grades 6-12 are encouraged to stay in school and apply for college.   N

$1 million grant to help minorities earn doctorates

The University of Texas at El Paso has been awarded nearly $1 million from the National Science Foundation to help students earn doctorates in science, technology, engineering or mathematics in an effort to bolster the number of minorities with graduate degrees in these disciplines.

Benjamin Flores


The award will fund UTEP’s Bridge to the Doctorate program, which is part of The University of Texas System Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. The award will support 12 students pursuing graduate degrees. Under the program, students will each receive a $30,000 stipend a year for two years plus funding to help cover tuition and related cost-of-education expenses.

“Nationwide, the number of underrepresented minorities pursuing STEM doctoral degrees is extremely low. The grant gives UTEP a great opportunity to make a significant contribution in this area,” says Benjamin Flores, professor of electrical and computer engineering. Flores is the grant’s primary investigator. “Right now, UTEP graduates one of every five Hispanic Ph.D.s in STEM disciplines in The University of Texas System. Our goal is to double this statistic.”

UTEP has participated in the Bridge to the Doctorate program since 2002. It has provided 22 students with the financial support needed to earn their graduate degrees. This year’s 12 students will comprise the third group to pursue doctoral degrees at UTEP under the program.

“This grant allows us to support some of the students we worked with as undergraduates,” Flores says. “It helps us continue that pipeline of Hispanic and African American Ph.D.s.”   N

Mission Possible II

UTEP graduate John “Danny” Olivas will live his dream twice: He has been assigned to his second mission into space.

“What we do is a result of not one person, but tens of thousands of people who dare to dream big,” Olivas says.
John “Danny” Olivas

Olivas is scheduled to be part of the STS-128 crew set to launch to the International Space Station in July 2009 aboard space shuttle Atlantis. The crew will carry science and storage racks to the station.

Olivas became a hometown hero when he made his first flight into space aboard the shuttle Atlantis as part of mission STS-117 in June 2007. During the 14-day mission, Olivas performed two space walks and repaired a torn thermal blanket on the shuttle’s exterior.

A graduate of Burges High School in El Paso, he earned his bachelor’s degree from UTEP and master’s from the University of Houston, both in mechanical engineering. He also earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering and materials science from Rice University.

Olivas worked for Dow Chemical Co. and later served as a senior research engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He was named to NASA’s astronaut program in 1998.

Olivas was a recipient of UTEP’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2006, the university’s highest honor for achievements and contributions to the community.

“Anyone who knew me when I was a kid in El Paso would never have picked me to be in this position,” Olivas has commented. “With hard work and determination you can accomplish anything you want to accomplish.”   N

Engineers use technology to construct next generation lunar rover

UTEP engineering students have built a model of the new lunar rover that will be used for a planned mission to the moon in 2020. They used state-of-the-art rapid prototyping.

The scale model provides a realistic 3-D mock-up to visualize the proposed lunar rover.
Model lunar rover

Dubbed the Chariot by the Johnson Space Center design team, the rover will make it easier for astronauts to explore the moon.

The 12-foot long Chariot is a truck with no doors, windows or seats. The six wheels have independent steering and the pilot’s perch, from where the driver steers, can rotate 360 degrees.

Under contract with a large aerospace company, UTEP engineering students transformed NASA CAD (computer aided design) files into a solid prototype of the Chariot using technologies from the W.M. Keck Center for 3-D Innovation.

Rapid prototyping allows the center to provide the quality of prototyping needed for complex projects like this one.

The $2 million contract was secured earlier this year by the Institute for Manufacturing and Materials Management at UTEP. The institute, which recently was renamed the Research Institute for Manufacturing and Engineering Systems (RIMES), has broadened its mission to include a systems engineering approach to research and industry.   N

Biology gets $1.2 million boost

UTEP educators and researchers are ready to tackle ways to incorporate more math and related quantitative fields into the biology curriculum – and the federal government has approved around $1.2 million to help them.
UTEP student in laboratory

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, has awarded the university around $250,000 per year for the next five years to develop ways to incorporate math, computer science, and chemistry into the study of biology.

This is a supplemental grant to the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program at UTEP that has funded undergraduate scholarships and research opportunities for more than 20 years.

The program’s goal is to identify and nurture undergraduates in research career fields that are not well represented among minorities – chemistry, biology, physics, math and psychology – and ease their entry into biomedical related Ph.D. programs.

The MARC program has been present on campus for more than 20 years and more than 100 UTEP students have benefitted from the research and scholarship program. Of those, around 40 have obtained or are obtaining their doctorates.   N