Sunday, October 04, 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.



Oct. 2, 7:15 p.m.

First Friday Stargazing

Visit the Curtis Vaughan Observatory and see the wonders of the sky over San Antonio with experienced astronomers.
4th floor, Flawn Science Building, Main Campus

Oct. 3, 6:30 p.m.

Where Ink Does Not Show: A Celebration of the New State Poet Laureate

A fun and festive evening featuring Corridos from Texas and Northern Mexico sung by AZUL and a reading of new and classic works by Carmen Tafolla, the new State Poet Laureate.
Buena Vista Theater (1.326), Downtown Campus

Oct. 5, 1:30 p.m.

Campus Carry Listening Session

Listening session will seek input on the places, events and special circumstances that should be considered in determining whether concealed handguns may be prohibited.
John Peace Library, Faculty Center Assembly Room (JPL 4.04.22), Main Campus

Oct. 5, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Civic Engagement Summit

This summit is an opportunity to showcase and share the variety of community engagement activities of UTSA students, faculty, and staff. The summit is currently accepting proposals for poster presentations. The Call for Posters deadline is Friday, Sept. 11.
University Center Denman Room (2.01.28), Main Campus

Oct. 5, 6 p.m.

Film Screening: The Head of Joaquin Murrieta by John Valadez

The Mexican American Studies Program will host a screening of this irreverent, entertaining and often disturbing tale that uses both fiction and documentary story telling devices to tear open a painful and long ignored history: the lynching of Mexican Americans in the southwest.
Buena Vista Building Aula Canaria (BV 1.328), Downtown Campus

Oct. 6, 3 p.m.

State of the University

Join President Ricardo Romo as he gives his address to the UTSA community.
H-E-B University Center Ballroom (UC 1.104), Main Campus

Oct. 8, 10 a.m.

Graduate Fair

Graduate School representatives from across the country will provide information on options after earning a bachelor's degree. Students, alumni and community members are welcome.
University Center Retama Galleria, Main Campus

Oct. 9, 8 a.m.

College of Sciences Research Conference

The day-long research conference will include a keynote address, faculty and student oral presentations, poster sessions, and an awards ceremony. Lunch will be provided for those who register. Abstract submission deadline is September 20, 2015. Event registration deadline is October 4, 2015.
H-E-B University Center, Main 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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