Research, Scholarship and Creative Achievement at UTSA


Mexico Center: A Platform for Research and Public Service

Harriet Romo
Dr. Harriet Romo

Since 2005, The University of Texas at San Antonio Mexico Center, under the direction of Dr. Harriett Romo, has been committed to the advancement of research regarding Mexico, providing funding for UTSA faculty and students for research in Mexico, collaborating with domestic and Mexican institutions to promote research developments, and public dialogues about U.S.-Mexico relations.

In addition to promoting research on U.S. and Mexico relations, the Center hosts cultural performers, academics, and professionals from Mexico or Mexicorelated organizations and institutions, wherein issues such as immigration policies and how they affect familial and communal entities are addressed.

The Center’s goal is to introduce the San Antonio community to not just Mexican scholars and writers, but to also highlight Mexico’s rich, creative culture.

Moreover, Romo, a professor in the Department of Sociology at UTSA, affirms that the Center’s primary goal is to encourage an academic, analytical, and bilateral discussion on public policy issues rather than a political and unilateral focus. Through research promulgation, instruction and public service engagements, the Mexico Center assists in transnational concerns regarding immigration, economic development, families and children, health, and education and how those issues affect both sides of the border.

Promulgating Research

Romo’s research foci involve Latino children and schooling, early childhood education, and immigrant families and children. Dr. Romo, as well as other university affiliates, are working on furthering research aimed at understanding the civic engagement of youth who are undocumented and living in the U.S.

“Our job as researchers is to tell the stories about what’s happening and explain what happens to these young people when they’re here and what’s going to happen to them in the future,” Romo stated.

The Mexico Center also collaborated with colleagues in Mexico and the United States in developing a special issue of a journal known as International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education which is focused on qualitative research on education in Mexico and Latin America.

Furthermore, in order to accomplish its goals, the Center also collaborates with organizations and institutions both in Mexico and the United States. Among them are the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara (UAG), the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Mexico (UAEM), and the Universidad Veracruzana.

Ensuring Practical Applications

According to Olivia Lopez, Program Coordinator at the Mexico Center, in addition to collaborative research, the Center provides grants to support research projects, is involved in community outreach, and engages students in courses related to Mexico and the border.

“So far, the Mexico Center has funded 28 small research projects from an array of disciplines ranging from Anthropology to Mechanical Engineering,” Lopez stated.

In the past, grant support has assisted students such as Cesar Lopez, an undergraduate International Business and Honors student, who collaborated with Dr. Viviana Rojas, an associate professor in the UTSA Communication Department, on Mexicans’ perception of U.S. retirees living in their communities.

Edith Lopez Estrada, a public policy graduate student and intern at the Center, conveys the encouragement she receives from the Mexico Center and the gratifying exposure she acquires.

“My experience has been great and I really love it here. I am challenged everyday which is always good. It gives me confidence in my field and in conducting research,” Estrada stated.

Recently, the Center reached out to a group of ten public schoolteachers from Mexico and organized a two-week English Language Learners Institute for them, to assist with implementing English within Mexico’s new bilingual curriculum.

Through collaboration with instructors from UTSA, school districts in San Antonio, and other early childhood education organizations, the visiting teachers were exposed to different strategies and classroom management for bilingual education and interactive English language instruction.

Public Services

Romo asserts that by sharing the stories of undocumented youth through the research at the UTSA Mexico Center, negative public perceptions regarding these young people will lack merit once the public hears the real stories about the youths’ academic achievements, how difficult their current status makes it to live in the U.S., and the need for immigration reform.

Such difficulties include minimal access to educational opportunities and the lack of opportunities to work. The Center also delves into studies regarding entrepreneurs who have come to San Antonio on investment visas and the social and economic contributions they have made to the regional economy. Such studies are made possible through funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

According to Romo, these migrants create jobs, enrich the Spanish language environment in their communities, and bring economic resources that add to the dynamic economy in Texas.

As a result of the Mexico Center’s explorations and achievements, the Center remains at the forefront of academic research, instruction, and public engagement while assisting scholars, students, and transnational communities in cultivating educational advancements and social change.

Anthropologist Joanna Lambert, recognized fellow of national science group

Joanna Lambert
Dr. Joanna Lambert

Joanna Lambert, professor in the UTSA Department of Anthropology, has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for her outstanding contributions in the field of primate feeding biology at evolutionary and ecological scales.

“I am very honored to be recognized at the national level by my scientific peers. The AAAS represents the largest scientific scholarly organization in the world,” said Lambert.

Lambert was one of 702 members worldwide selected for her scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science and its applications. She received an official certificate and a gold and blue rosette pin at a ceremony at the AAAS annual meeting in Boston.

For more than 20 years, Lambert has conducted research focused on the evolutionary and community ecology of primates, primarily in Kibale National Park in Uganda. Her studies have found that chimpanzees and an array of monkey species contribute an extremely high percentage of the seed dispersal in forests such as Kibale and elsewhere in equatorial Africa.

“A very high percentage of ape and monkey diet is comprised of fruit, so they are eating and dispersing thousands of seeds a day throughout the forest,” Lambert said. “They are undoubtedly amongst the most important agents of forest regeneration in Kibale National Park and elsewhere in Africa.”

Additionally, Lambert has been recognized for her research looking at the impacts of climate shifts on primate feeding adaptations with a goal of shedding light on the evolution of human and primate diet.

Lambert’s love for Africa developed at an early age. She was eight years old when she read a book that described how leopards consume prey by pulling it into the trees to avoid conflicts with other larger carnivores.

The author of more than 100 books, journal articles and abstracts, Lambert is also the handling editor for the journal Oecologia, Academic Editor for PLoS ONE, and Associate Editor of the Journal of Tropical Conservation Science. Previously, she was Associate Editor of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and associate editor of the American Journal of Primatology.

In Washington, D.C., she was the Director of the National Science Foundation Biological Anthropology program. She is the co-founder of the Northwest Primate Conservation Society and was an adviser to the United Nations Environmental Program on Great Ape Conservation.

Lambert’s accolades include the Vilas Associate Professorship for Research at the University of Wisconsin. Madison, the R.A. Bray Faculty Fellowship for Excellence in Scholarship from the University of Oregon and the Emerald Professor of the Year, Oregon, in 2003.

She received her doctoral degree in biological anthropology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in biology and anthropology from Northern Illinois University.

Jessica Sherette receives competitive National Science Foundation grant

Sherette will participate in an NSF program in South Korea and work with an internationally known computer scientist this summer.

Jessica Sherette, a doctoral student in computer science within the College of Sciences, has been selected to receive a competitive U.S. National Science Foundation fellowship to participate in the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute this summer in South Korea.

“It was somewhat surprising to get this,” Sherette said. “There are a lot of nice universities who get this grant.”

Sherette will spend time refining an algorithm for computing similarity measures for complex surfaces and continuing research for her dissertation. She will work closely with Hee-Kap Ahn, associate professor of computer science, at the Pohang University of Science and Technology in Pohang, South Korea. Ahn heads the Geometric Algorithms Lab at Postech. Sherette will explore computational geometry, an area that melds theoretical computer science and geometry, while working with Ahn’s research group.

During her undergraduate years, Sherette learned that the theoretical and mathematical aspects of computer science intrigued her.

Sherette and her doctoral advisor Carola Wenk, associate professor of computer science at UTSA, have been examining how to create an algorithm that will compare polygonal surfaces. This could compare an object’s surface as drawn using computer-aided design to the object once it has been actually manufactured.

Sherette is exploring what may be a core problem in computing the similarity of surfaces. This problem, called the “flippy distance,” is loosely described for two curves in a two-dimensional plane, as determining the minimum distance needed to flip the curves over each other.

If the work can be refined, it could be used to study the manufacturing process of items. The algorithm would help determine points of dissimilarity, thus allowing for improvement in the manufacturing process.

UTSA scholar Christine Moseley takes educational excursion to Amazon

UTSA professor Christine Moseley in the College of Education and Human Development Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching will join more than 30 other educators from around the United States for the 2013 Educator Academy in Peru.

The academy, which runs from July 2 to July 16, is designed to teach educators from elementary level to the university level about the tropical environment of the Amazon rainforest and the high, mountainous environment of the Andes. It will include hands-on activities and discussions on topics that range from water sustainability practices and data collection to plant and animal adaptations.

During the workshop, which is co-sponsored by Arizona State University and EcoTeach, Moseley will facilitate the collection of data measurements from the rainforest floor and the canopy to analyze using the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program curriculum protocol. According to Moseley, these inquiry investigations and data collection methods are just some of the things she plans to bring back with her to UTSA, a national GLOBE partner school, and specifically, to the graduatelevel science methods course she is teaching this fall.

“I can bring back to the classroom the investigation [done] out in the field -- how you can collect data with kids no matter where you live,” said Moseley, a national GLOBE facilitator. “I think a lot of the discussions on the trip are going to be like that -- what do we do in our own environment that impacts the rainforest, climate, pollution. And, vice versa, if things happen over in the rainforest, how does that impact us?”

While in Peru, Moseley also will work with children at the Centro de Conocimiento Compartido public library, established by the Conservación de la Naturaleza Amazónica del Perú, A.C., or CONAPAC, a Peruvian non-profit organization. To continue the library’s literacy efforts, she collected fiction and non-fiction books in Spanish to take with her to Peru to give to children and adults.

“Personally and professionally, it’s like finally getting to see something that you’ve heard about and read about all your life but never really thought that I was going to get to experience it,” said Moseley. “When you do these types of things, it only makes you a better educator. Then I will have a better understanding and a bigger idea of the world, and I can only bring that back to the classroom,” Moseley continued.

UTSA physics professor Miguel José Yacaman awarded for international influence

Miguel Jose Yacaman
Dr. Miguel José Yacaman

Miguel José Yacaman, UTSA professor of physics and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, has received the John Wheatley Award. The award is presented by the American Physical Society with support from the Forum on International Physics, and recognized Yacaman for his work in the field of physics throughout Latin American countries.

The award is presented every other year at the general meeting of the American Physical Society and recognizes a physicist who has made an outstanding contribution to the development of physics in a developing country by working with local physicists in research or teaching.

For seven years, Yacaman has directed the International Center for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (ICNAM), which promotes partnerships between scientists and engineers in Mexico and the University of Texas System. Yacaman’s laboratory has hosted numerous graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from Mexico and other Latin American countries, and he believes the experience benefits all parties involved.

“Scientists from abroad can learn a lot about the American entrepreneurial spirit,” said Yacaman, who grew up in Mexico. “Also, practicing science abroad strengthens a number of skill sets including language and cultural understanding.”

At UTSA, a Hispanic-serving institution at which total Hispanic enrollment constitutes a minimum of 25 percent of the total enrollment, interactions with scientists from Latin America provide great value. Students working with international scientists here or abroad can develop a new perspective of how successful Hispanic scientists can be.

Hard work is important, Yacaman said, but higher education opens doors that hard work alone cannot. During the 1950s and 1960s, attaining higher education was a guarantee for a better life for people in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Yacaman believes it is important to students in Texas and hopes to instill that value in his students at UTSA.

UTSA College of Sciences Dean George Perry agrees. “Real examples of successful Hispanic scientists will help our students visualize themselves as succeeding,” he said. “Miguel is doing a great job of connecting people and making stronger bonds throughout Latin America.”

In addition to receiving the award at the American Physical Society’s meeting in Anaheim, California, Yacaman gave a talk, “Picometer Resolution Electron Microscopy: A New Tool to Tailor Materials at the Atomic Scale,” in which he discussed his research and connections to Latin America.

Fostering U.S.-Saudi Arabia relations through the IRES program

Hatim Sharif
Dr. Hatim Sharif

Accompanied by four U.S. undergraduate and graduate students, Dr. Hatim Sharif organized and conducted a three year International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program in the arid-semiarid region of Asir in Saudi Arabia.

“The experience gave students the confidence to explore the scientific value of the research in arid and semi-arid areas and get involved in a gratifying way,” Sharif stated.

“Some of the students had never left the country so it was different for the American students because they were exposed to a different culture and language,” Sharif continued.

In collaboration with a Saudi team from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, which included four undergraduate and graduate students and one faculty member, IRES aims to increase underrepresented minority student participation and help UTSA’s Tier One doctorate/research extensive university strategy.

The IRES program was sectioned into three major activities which included: (1) Summer training of undergraduate students on field and research methods in hydrometeorology, (2) a field program in the Asir region that includes instrument deployment and data collection and analysis and modeling, and (3) two-way mentoring where students are mentored by faculty and are required to mentor their peers and pre-freshman students.

Asir faces the problem of maintaining sustainable water resources which is a result of the high levels of population growth, changes in the use of land, increasing water demand, and climate variability.

According to Sharif, the study represents the first of its size in the chosen area of study and one of few in the region due to the lack of available long-term data needed to properly examine precipitation changes.

Albeit the program provided further insight into hydrometeorology and a pragmatic international experience for students, a longer period of record is needed to properly examine long-term changes in precipitation intensity over the study area.

Study abroad in Spain inspires public policy research

While touring a courthouse on a recent study abroad to Spain, Richard Hartley, associate professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice, wondered if it might be possible to do a comparative analysis of Spain’s court system and the guideline-based sentencing system in the U.S.

“Although in most European countries, drugs are not considered as serious a social issue as in the U.S., drug use and drug trafficking in some areas is on the rise,” Hartley stated.

“Because of these increases in organized trafficking, Spanish authorities have increasingly undertaken efforts to interdict supply chains and reduce the amount of drugs that land on their shores,” Hartley continued.

With the blessing of the chief judge of the Provincial Court of Alicante and research space provided by the College of Law at Universidad de Miguel Hernandez, Hartley traveled to Spain in the 2013 spring semester to collect data on narcotics trafficking cases prosecuted in 2012.

narcotics trafficking cases prosecuted in 2012. Hartley affirms that the majority of defendants were male (75.6 percent) and native born (78.9 percent). Non-citizen defendants, included persons born in 23 foreign countries such as neighboring Germany, France and Morocco but also Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina. Most prosecutions were for cocaine (almost 70 percent), marijuana, heroin, and meth.

Roughly 70 percent of defendants were sent to prison with average sentence lengths of just over two years, which is a lot lower than in the U.S. Moreover, the determinants of sentence length was the amount of narcotics and the type of drug in the case. For example convicts of heroin trafficking received the longest sentences averaging 50 months.

“These findings might in part be explained by the fact that males were charged with larger amounts of drugs and females were less likely to have prior convictions,” Hartley states.

Regarding citizenship, a higher percentage of native born defendants were sent to prison (74.3 versus 67.5) but foreign born defendants received longer average sentences (32 versus 26.1 months). Hartley affirms that the number of years from arrest to sentencing ranged from six to 15 months with an average of 4.5 years.

In the U.S., roughly 90 percent of cases are plea bargained, whereas courts don’t rely on plea bargaining to resolve cases.

Affording every defendant an opportunity to go to ‘trial’ backlogs courts to the point that some cases aren’t heard until years after the defendant’s arrest. In Spain, defendants are rarely detained, and so those charged are also not sitting in jail over this period of time.

Hartley realized a few judges expressed frustration with the backlog of narcotics and other cases in the Spanish court system. He is currently administering surveys to Spanish judges with the hopes of getting some additional context to better understand the complexities of Spanish Criminal Courts. Likewise, the Chief Judge is hoping Hartley’s research can assist them in developing more efficient methods to administer justice.

Hamid Beladi on International Trade and Pedagogy

Hamid Beladi|
Dr. Hamid Beladi

Professor of Economics and IBC Bank Senior faculty Fellow, Dr. Hamid Beladi focuses on expanding research within international trade and ensuring provisions of a rewarding academic career for students.

Beladi’s research specializations include International Trade and Finance, Technology Transfer and Joint Ventures, Trade and Environmental Issues.

Research Expansion on Cross-border Mergers

One of Beladi’s recent research analyses involves vertical integration and crossborder mergers. In “Cross-border mergers in vertically related industries,” Beladi, Chakrabarti and Marjit (2011) affirm that cross-border mergers are effective strategies used by multiple companies in order to increase diversification of production albeit mergers in vertically related industries are subject of debate among regulators, anti-trust authorities, as well as the media and academics due to monopolist upstream.

The authors also demonstrate how market concentration interacts with costs in the decision of a relatively efficient foreign firm located in one country (source) to merge with a disintegrated or an integrated firm in another country (target) when the industry is vertically related.

According to Beladi et al. (2011), cross-border mergers of firms in vertically related industries pose challenges for competition policy. Such mergers result in conflicting conclusions due to the potential gains that some countries may have, whereas others may bear more of the costs.

Beladi et al. (2011) provide a prominent exemplar of the $42 billion merger between General Electric (GE) and Honeywell. The merger was approved by the U.S. authorities but not by the European Commission.

His other most notable pursuits involve an analysis of the international trade deficit in comparison to the U.S. deficit and its paradoxical implications on bond prices and interest rates, as well as his work on Intellectual Property Rights, where in recent decades globalization has led to fragmentation of production across national borders, with each country specializing in a particular stage of the production process.

More recently, this pattern of internationalization has extended from production to further up the value-chain through research and development activities, with each country specializing in a particular stage of the research and development chain.

Beladi, et al. (2011) build up a theoretical model to answer the question on how a developing country should reform its IPR policy to become more conducive to outsourced research and development (R&D) activities in the era of globalization?

Beladi continues to increase the quantity of research within his field of expertise, as well as contribute to the overall success of the university and its research pursuits.

Ensuring a Rewarding Academic Experience

"From a broad point of view, my life as a university faculty member has involved the pursuit of two objectives: the cultivation and advancement of knowledge and the nurturing of students in acquiring that knowledge,” Beladi stated. Beladi continues to further develop research regarding international trade, as well as aiding in the improvement of the quality of a UTSA degree.

Beladi supports the university’s objective in attaining recognition for a promising education and faculty who further the quantity and quality of research produced at the university. Moreover, faculty commitment to research and publications would result in an increase in the value of a UTSA collegiate experience.

“Simplicity and creativity are the two basic principles of my philosophy of teaching. The purpose of teaching is to make the subject easily understood and interesting to the student,” Beladi stated.

“I believe teaching is a creative art. It stimulates creative thought on the part of the individual and combines it with group dynamics thus resulting in a group production and is not the result of a solo performance by the instructor,” Beladi continued.

Through the promulgation of research and the production of well-prepared graduates, Beladi affirms that corporations and the general business sector, as well as private individuals, take notice of such universities. Such institutions are thus rewarded with endowments and further recognition through the media and by word of mouth.

Consequently, the value of the institution increases in the eyes of prospective students who demand an intellectual experience. This ultimately leads to an increase in student enrollment and an improvement in student quality.

According to Beladi, larger endowments and higher enrollment also enable an institution to offer world-class educational and research-related facilities which enrich the learning experience and research capability of both faculty and students.

“As university faculty increases its commitment to research and publications, an increase in competitive rankings will follow,” Beladi stated.

“The university will be ‘on the map’ and in a better position to absorb quality faculty and students. The interaction between quality faculty and students ultimately results in graduates who obtain better jobs and positions in society,” Beladi continued.

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