Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Commencement Close-Up: For the love of research, grad will go to St. Jude hospital


UTSA alumnae Annette Rodriguez (center) with mentors Bernard Arulanandam (left) and Edwin Barea-Rodriguez

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(May 9, 2011)--Annette Rodriguez '89, '05, '10 boasts an accomplishment few Roadrunners can surpass. The San Antonio native has earned three biology degrees from UTSA -- a bachelor's in 1989, a master's in 2005 and a Ph.D. in 2010.

"I learned early on when I was hired by a physical therapy facility that I was not meant to work with patients," she recalls. "When I was dealing with the patients' suffering, I felt it too much and I was getting too emotional. But, I loved the sciences. I knew a career in science was what I wanted to pursue."

The biology major earned her bachelor's in 1989. Shortly thereafter, she was hired at Baylor College of Medicine as a laboratory technician working on analysis of influenza vaccines using animal models and human samples.

As the only tech in the lab, Rodriguez received individualized attention and detailed training from her mentor, Innocent Mbawuike.

"That first research position was a great experience for me," she recalls. "Dr. Mbawuike taught me the importance of conducting experiments carefully and maintaining good records. He strengthened my research skills and was a big influence on my continuation in the field."

But San Antonio called Rodriguez home, and she took back-to-back jobs researching HIV infection at the UT Health Science Center and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute (formerly Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research). Uncomfortable with the uncertainties of funding, she spent two short years in industry. But, she missed research so much that she returned to the institute and matriculated into UTSA's master's program in biology.

She recalls that part of her life as "the most exciting time in my research career."

"When I was a master's student, I was able to start something from the beginning," Rodriguez said. "I designed my own project, and I had my research published."

But then a mentor stopped her in her tracks.

"One of my thesis advisers, Dr. Krishna Murthy, told me, 'You have your master's degree; you're neither here nor there. If you really want to conduct the research you want to do -- if you want to design your own projects -- you need to go the next step.'"

Rodriguez hadn't considered a Ph.D. program. And frankly, the whole idea was a little intimidating. But, she took the plunge, returning to UTSA for a third time.

To ensure her success, she joined UTSA's MBRS-RISE program, managed by Edwin Barea-Rodriguez, chair of the UTSA Department of Biology, and Gail Taylor, MBRS-RISE assistant program director. The MBRS-RISE program offers academic and financial support to minority students pursuing biomedical research careers. In addition, program workshops help students sharpen their skills in critical areas such as communications, leadership, presentations and writing.

Rodriguez conducted her doctoral research in the laboratory of Bernard Arulanandam, UTSA Jane and Roland Blumberg Professor in Biology, focusing on the Franciscella tularensis bacterium, which causes tularemia. In addition to working with Arulanandam, Rodriguez is grateful to Neal Guentzel, UTSA professor of microbiology, who also "devoted so much of his time to training me during my doctoral studies."

The bacterial pathogenesis research complemented what Rodriguez had learned about viral pathogenesis from prior jobs. Working with the Class A pathogen also gave her experience in a biosafety level III laboratory.

With her doctorate in hand, Rodriguez is ready now to conduct research projects of her own design. Her first challenge awaits at Memphis-based St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in immunologist Thirumala-Devi Kanneganti's laboratory.

She also recently celebrated one last milestone: her wedding to fiance Robert, who also happens to be a successful scientist.

"It has been very important to me to have support from someone who understands the long days and the nature of laboratory work," Rodriguez said with a smile. "My fiance has been a great listener, and he's understood what I was going through as a Ph.D. student. I would not have made it through if I had not had someone supportive at home."

Annette Rodriguez begins her post-doctoral fellowship at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital on May 9.



Dec. 1, 9 a.m.

CITE Venture Competition & Exposition

The annual Center for Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship (CITE) 100K Venture Competition and Exposition will be held on the Main Campus on Dec. 1. Twenty-eight teams from across the university will exhibit their project; six teams will compete for a prize pool of more than $100,000 in funding to launch their new venture / company. More than 650 students have participated in launching new technology ventures.
Biotechnology, Sciences and Engineering (BSE 2.102), Main Campus

Dec. 3, 5:30 p.m.

UTSA Downtown String Project Winter Concert

This concert features 50 community children performing music in the UTSA Downtown String Project Winter Concert. The children, led by UTSA music students studying to be music teachers, will join together in playing the Theme from Batman at their concert. The Batman of San Antonio, a local celebrity figure, will make an appearance at the concert. This event is free.
Buena Vista Theatre, Downtown Campus

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Did You Know?

UTSA writes the book on all-digital libraries

As touch screens and e-books demand more and more attention from both casual readers and scholars, many people say the handwriting is on the wall for the printed page.

At UTSA, the handwriting is on the wall for a library that doesn't have any printed books.

Since March 2010, the bookless library in the Applied Engineering and Technology Building has given UTSA students an innovative way to read, research and work with each other to solve problems.

With ultra-modern furniture and a décor featuring desktop computers, scanners and LCD screens, the AET Library is designed to engage students in an online format. But it also offers group study niches and study rooms with whiteboards and glass walls on which students can write. The space encourages teamwork, communications and problem solving for the next generation of scientists and professional engineers.

Did you know? The UTSA AET Library is the nation's first completely bookless library on a college or university campus. It served as a model for Bexar County's first-in-the-nation public bookless library system and one of its branches, the Dr. Ricardo Romo BiblioTech.

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The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.

UTSA's Vision

To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.

UTSA's Core Values

We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.

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