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Research, Scholarship and Creative Achievement at UTSA

Abstracts


Aiding student success: UTSA establishes Center for Research and Policy in Education


Dr. Laura Rendon and Dr. Amaury Nora

In order to improve education for students from preschool through college, The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) College of Education and Human Development (COEHD) has established the Center for Research and Policy in Education (CRPE). Housed in the UTSA Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, the center will research and inform the educational community about critical factors that affect the academic success of key student groups.

“South Texas, and particularly San Antonio, has a population that demographers expect to see mirrored across the nation over the next decade, so it seems fitting to establish a center here to focus on educational processes and policies that will affect the next generation of students,” said Betty Merchant, dean and Henrietta Frances Zezula Lowak Endowed Distinguished Professorship in Health and Kinesiology, COEHD.

“This new center will coordinate and facilitate research collaborations on critical educational challenges such as student access, retention and graduation, informing policymakers of the systems needed to allow all students to achieve their personal best. At the end of the day, we hope to have a positive impact on education policy.”

Through the center, UTSA scholars will work with local, regional and national education experts to create a knowledge base on important educational topics that affect students from preschool through graduate school. A sampling of research topics includes kindergarten and college readiness, Latino student success, diversity in education, first-generation college student support, college retention and graduation, diversity in education and educational costs.

In one of its first projects, the center is partnering with the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) and the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to develop and distribute educational policy briefs on topics related to the academic success of Latino/a college students. Hispanics, the nation’s fastestgrowing minority, are expected to compose 30 percent of the nation’s population by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

UTSA education scholars Amaury Nora and Laura Rendon will serve as codirectors of the center. Both are professors in the UTSA Department of Leadership and Policy Studies. Vijay Kanagala, UTSA’s first postdoctoral associate in educational policy, will manage the center’s daily activity.

Nora, COEHD’s associate dean for research, specializes in student persistence models, retention models that integrate economic theories and psychosocial factors, and the role of college on diverse student populations. Currently he is the editor of The Review of Higher Education, the journal for the Association for the Study of Higher Education. He also served on the National Advisory Board for the evaluation of the national GEAR UP initiative and on the technical review panel as consultant on the “Educational Longitudinal Study: 2000” for the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Rendon’s research interests include access, retention and graduation of lowincome first-generation college students and the transformation of teaching and learning to emphasize wholeness and social justice. She served as lead researcher on large-scale projects funded by the Ford Foundation, Lumina Foundation and U.S. Department of Education. She also serves on the National Advisory Board of the Bill and Melinda Gates Completion by Design Project to promote community college student success. Rendon is chairwoman of the board of the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships, which deals with P-20 education projects such as GEAR UP across the nation.

Kanagala earned his Ph.D. in educational leadership with a higher education emphasis from Iowa State University. His research interests include persistence, transition and campus life experiences of students of color with special emphasis on South Asian American and international college students.

“Human and social development is one of the five major research areas we are focusing on to push UTSA to Tier One,” said Special Assistant to the President Robert Gracy. “The Center for Research and Policy in Education is a critical building block for us. Through the center’s work, we expect to develop new and exciting research partnerships that will improve education for our children and their children.”


Do paid advocates prevent juvenile delinquency better than volunteers?

Supported by a $280,000, two-year grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, researchers J. Mitchell Miller in the UTSA College of Public Policy Department of Criminal Justice and Michael J. Karcher in the UTSA College of Education and Human Development Department of Counseling will partner with the international nonprofit Youth Advocate Programs Inc. to study professional advocacy as a treatment for chronic juvenile delinquency.

In Texas the most serious and chronically delinquent offenders are sent to the Texas Youth Commission (TYC). According to the TYC’s most recent statistics (2009-2010), 93 percent of those youth were boys, 44 percent were admitted gang members, and the group’s average age was 16. In addition, 72 percent had high or moderate need for alcohol or other drug treatments. The group also had a sixth-grade median reading level.

“Mentoring is widely accepted as a delinquency deterrent; however, few in the field really understand what advocacy looks like, particularly for the youth who need it most, those right on the cusp of a criminal career,” said Karcher. “This study will provide a picture of what advocacy for delinquent youth looks like, and it should reveal the elements of advocacy that are most helpful. We expect the findings to help mentors across the country hone their skills and boost their impact on the youth they mentor.”

When compared to general youth mentoring, youth advocacy is an intense form of support. It generally takes place over a shorter time frame than mentoring, and it requires the participation of people from different parts of the youth’s life, such as parents, family members, teachers, advocate program administrators and staff, and probation officers.

“From a pure research perspective, we want to know whether paying adult mentors or relying on volunteers makes a difference in youth outcomes,” said Miller. “We also want to distinguish the subtler differences between advocacy and traditional mentoring modalities to see how each best aligns with various troubled youth populations.”

The UTSA researchers will conduct the two-year study by collecting qualitative and quantitative data at Youth Advocate Programs in Toledo, Ohio; Las Vegas, Nevada; Mobile, Alabama; Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Fort Worth, Texas. Led by Jeff Fleischer, YAP is a national nonprofit youth-work organization with professional advocates active in 17 U.S. states, Europe and South America.


UTSA microbiologist José López- Ribot to serve as President of Medical Mycology Society of the Americas


Dr. José López-Ribot

José L. López-Ribot, professor of microbiology in the UTSA College of Sciences’ Department of Biology and associate director of the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, has been elected to serve the Medical Mycology Society of the Americas as its 2012 president. Medical mycology is the study of fungal organisms that cause infectious diseases.

López-Ribot will be the second UTSA professor to serve as president of the international society. UTSA Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and STCEID member Floyd L. Wormley Jr. served as the society’s youngest president in 2010.

A Spanish native, López-Ribot is a pharmacist by education who transitioned into medical mycology research following receipt of his doctoral degree in microbiology and his Pharm.D. from the University of Valencia in Valencia, Spain, in 1991. His current research focuses on understanding and preventing the spread of Candida albicans, which is most commonly associated with superficial yeast infections and is a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections in the U.S. The fungus, which proves fatal in 30-50 percent of patients with compromised immune systems, forms biofilms on catheters and other medical devices. Those biofilms give the fungus a safe place to grow and spread, making infections extremely difficult to treat.

López-Ribot’s career is marked by an enormous body of work. He is an author of more than 100 articles, 14 books or book chapters, and more than 200 abstracts for meetings.

In addition, he holds three United States patents for discoveries he and his collaborators made during the course of their C. albicans research, and he is an ad-hoc reviewer for more than 60 scholarly journals, some published in Spanish.

“The Medical Mycology Society of the Americas brings together microbiologists from North, Central and South America in a forum that allows them to share knowledge, develop professionally and establish new international research collaborations,” said López-Ribot. “I am privileged to have the opportunity to serve this organization, which represents many of the best medical mycologists in the world.”


UTSA , UTD, Purdue share NSF grant

The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) and Purdue University announce a $3 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation for new cyber security research. Under the direction of principal investigator Ravi Sandhu, executive director of the UTSA Institute for Cyber Security, professor of computer science and Lutcher Brown Distinguished Chair, the researchers will study assured data provenance, the discipline of computer science concerned with the integrity and privacy of data sources, contents and successive transformations. The other two principal investigators are Murat Kantarcioglu, associate professor of computer science and director of the UTD Data Security and Privacy Lab, and Elisa Bertino, computer science professor and interim director of the Purdue Cyber Center in Discovery Park.

Senior researchers participating in the project are UTSA’s Greg White, associate professor of computer science and director of the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security; Shouhuai Xu, associate professor of computer science; UTD’s Alain Bensoussan, professor of operations management and director of the International Center for Decision and Risk Analysis; Bhavani Thusaisingham, Louis A. Beecherl Jr. I Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and director of the Cyber Security Research Center; and Gabriel Ghinita, a former postdoctoral student of Bertino at Purdue who is now an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

“With the proliferation of data on the Web, the source, or provenance, of data has become a critical factor in establishing data trustworthiness in a variety of business and scientific disciplines,” said Sandhu. “To be useful, provenance data must have high integrity and accuracy. At the same time, it can be confidential and private, so it should only be selectively disclosed, if at all. How do we balance these conflicting goals?” Over the last decade, there has been significant progress in data provenance techniques and models. However, thus far, there is no overarching, systematic framework for the security and privacy of data provenance.

The researchers from UTSA, UTD and Purdue will develop a comprehensive framework to address the security and privacy challenges of provenance data, allowing society to receive maximum benefits from provenance data with realistic tradeoffs. The project will develop reference architectures, offer provenancerelated definitions, recommend ways to implement provenance plans in enterprises and provide a risk management framework to guide application architects, designers and users.

“Data, like a historic painting or piece of literature, can have tremendous value since it is widely used to make policy, medical and other important decisions. So its reliability and authenticity is critical,” said Bertino. “Through this project, our team in Purdue’s cyber center will focus on the challenging issues in defining models that can provide context for provenance data, its analysis for scientific applications and how it can be transmitted securely using watermarking techniques.

“We also hope to advance tools in how provenance data is captured, using various computer operating systems and application software, and systems to ensure the data is authentic without compromising confidentiality and privacy.”

UT Dallas will build privacy-aware access control policies for provenance data. “At UT Dallas, we will enable policies to protect certain sensitive paths in the flow of provenance,” said Kantarcioglu. “In addition, our group will research data sanitization techniques to limit the disclosure of sensitive data sources due to provenance release, and we will develop a risk management framework for provenance releases.” Ultimately, the research will benefit the community by providing protocols to increase the trustworthiness of data found online and transmitted and processed by computers.

UTSA, UTD and Purdue began collaborating on assured data provenance research through a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives project funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The project enabled the team to develop the preliminaries of a model for assured data provenance, which they then used to apply for NSF funding. The research also offers the universities an opportunity to train graduate students in the theory and practice of data provenance.


Nanochip will accelerate research results

UTSA professors Anand Ramasubramanian, College of Engineering Department of Biomedical Engineering, and José López-Ribot, College of Sciences Department of Biology and South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases (STCEID), have developed a prototype nanochip to accelerate testing in drug delivery and diagnostics. The chip uses high-throughput screening, technology that allows researchers to test simultaneously hundreds of thousands of small molecules for specific characteristics.

“This project started when Dr. López-Ribot and I met at an interdisciplinary seminar held at UTSA,” said Ramasubramanian. “We talked about his Candida albicans research, and he said that the current industry standard is 96 well plates. We thought there had to be a better way to leverage today’s technology to achieve faster testing.”

With assistance from Anand Srinivasan, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, and Priya Uppuluri, a postdoctoral researcher in biology, the researchers began developing a high-throughput nanochip to screen potential antifungal drug candidates for Candida albicans. Often fatal to individuals with weakened immune systems, this fungal organism is the third most common hospital-derived infection in the United States.

With grants from the UTSA Office for Research Commercialization and Innovation Proof of Concept fund and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio’s (UTHSCSA) Institute for the Integration of Medicine and Science, and capital equipment support from STCEID, the researchers developed a nanochip comprising 768 equivalent and spatially distinct Candida albicans nano-biofilms on a single microscope glass slide.

The chip already is effective in research; its advantages include:

  • Accelerated research results
  • Less chemical reagent use and increased savings
  • The opportunity to conduct tens of thousands of tests at once because the process to create high-throughput slides is automated, and multiple slides can be printed at once
  • Durability, since slides do not dry out easily and can be washed multiple times
  • Productivity and convenience for researchers, who no longer have to wait for results from repeated testing periods

Now that a prototype has been created, Ramasubramanian and López-Ribot are testing large libraries of compounds for potential antifungal activity. Ramasubramanian recently received funds from the Semp Russ Foundation of the San Antonio Area Foundation and from the San Antonio Life Sciences Institute to develop separate high-throughput chips to diagnose chlamydial infection and to screen potential breast cancer drug candidates. The project will be in collaboration with researchers from STCEID and UTHSCSA. Shankar Evani, a research fellow in Ramasubramanian’s laboratory, will assist. López-Ribot is the recipient of grants from the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study C. albicans biofilms and the pathogenesis of candidiasis.

With the long-term view of successful technology commercialization, the UTSA Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship (CITE) teams researchers with graduate students in the Management of Technology program to create a strategic technology business plan that assesses the market potential and outlines the technology roadmap necessary to bridge the gap between research development and new technology ventures.

“These are the kind of synergies we can create at UTSA, bringing together phenomenal research innovation with targeted class projects that both improve the educational model for our students and help propel technology from our laboratories into the market,” said Cory Hallam, CITE founding director.


UTSA infectious disease researchers develop international partnerships in Lebanon

Professor of Microbiology and University of Texas at San Antonio Director of the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases (STCEID) Karl Klose, with colleagues Bernard Arulanandam, associate dean of research for scientific innovation and Jane and Roland Blumberg Professorship in Biology, and Janakiram Seshu, associate professor of microbiology, traveled to Lebanon May 9-14 to develop collaborations with microbiology/immunology researchers and clinicians at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Their travel was funded by the U.S. Department of State through the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security created the exchange as part of “International Engagement: Responsible Bioscience for a Safe and Secure Society.” The program introduces U.S. researchers to researchers in the Middle East or northern Africa to develop collaborations in health, agriculture and security to improve the well-being of the international community. Klose and Alexander Abdel-Noor, chairman of the microbiology and immunology department at AUB, were awarded the funds for the exchange program, which will also involve Lebanese scientists from AUB visiting UTSA.

The UTSA infectious disease researchers traveled to Beirut on behalf of STCEID, which was established to support UTSA’s teaching and research initiatives in molecular microbiology, immunology, medical mycology, virology, microbial genomics, vaccine development and biodefense. The center’s researchers study the pathogenesis of emerging infectious diseases such as chlamydia, tularemia, cholera, Lyme disease, valley fever and others.

“When you collaborate with international researchers, it’s so important to meet face-to-face in order to understand their research capabilities, scientific culture and most-pressing research concerns,” said Klose. “And it’s critical to keep up those relationships through personal contact. That is the key to the most successful scientific collaborations. Because of our visit to AUB, we now have a better idea of areas of common scientific interest and the expertise available in Beirut.”

The American University of Beirut was established in 1866 and is home to nearly 700 faculty members and about 8,000 students. It is ranked among the world’s top 350 universities and is highly regarded as offering the Middle East and Africa’s best medical and engineering schools. Researchers in UTSA’s STCEID also collaborate with scientists and clinicians in India, Chile, Colombia, Malaysia, Malawi, Germany, Austria, Spain and Norway


UTSA biologist awarded NIH grant for brain research

Carlos Paladini, UTSA associate professor of biology, was awarded a $1.3 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study which inputs in the brain drive dopamine cells to fire faster.

Dopamine cells release a chemical, or neurotransmitter, in the brain called dopamine, which drives motivated and reward-related behaviors. The loss of dopamine cells in the brain is associated with Parkinson’s disease cases, and the effects of drugs of abuse on dopamine cells can lead to addiction. Paladini hopes the research results will eventually assist in helping to find therapies to cure drug addiction and treat patients with Parkinson’s disease.

The researcher and his graduate students are focusing on the spikes of electrical activity associated with dopamine cells in the brain and the effects they have in driving motivated behavior. They hope to learn how dopamine cells get access to information in the brain that drives reward-related behavior.

“We want to find out what are the inputs to the dopamine cells that actually drive the cells to either increase their activity in terms of a reward or reward signal or decrease their activity if the reward that was expected was not received,” said Paladini. “We don’t know which inputs or which parts of the brain connect to dopamine cells to inform the cell and give it all the information it needs to calculate whether it should fire faster or slower.”

To conduct the research, the scientists are using optical fibers to stimulate dopamine cell inputs that produce a protein sensitive to blue light. A virus with a gene is injected into the inputs, and that gene makes the cells produce a protein that is sensitive to blue light. When the protein is shone with blue light, it activates the cell, which is similar to what occurs when a reward takes place.

“If we go to the region where the dopamine cells are and shine a blue light, only those inputs that are producing that protein will be activated,” Paladini said. “We will know for certain that when we shine blue light and activate only one input, whatever effect we see in a dopamine cell is due to the effect on those inputs that have that specific protein and not any other inputs that are there.”


UTSA physicists honored by peers for advances in energy-efficient lighting

Researchers Gangadharan Ajith Kumar, Madhab Pokhrel and Dhiraj K. Sardar in the UTSA Laser and Biophotonics Laboratories have developed the world’s most intense infrared-activated, light-emitting phosphor. The discovery will advance the underlying technology of LEDs, lasers and other electronic displays.

Photons, or light-emitting particles, are the focus of the scientific discipline photonics. Phosphors are photons that emit colored light when excited by another color. The efficiency of phosphor light output depends on many material properties. While most phosphors excited by ultraviolet light are inefficient and lose a lot of thermal energy, excitation by infrared light makes phosphors more energy efficient and environmentally safe.

The trio created a unique phosphor that produces more intense light than any other infrared-activated phosphor on record. Kumar is now testing the discovery’s application with an LED manufacturing company. Pokhrel, a UTSA Ph.D. student, is researching the material’s potential to enhance silicon solar cell efficiency.

Recently the researchers were honored by the Society of Photographic Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE) with one of four Green Photonics Awards. They accepted the award at the SPIE Photonics West conference in San Antonio last month.

“When I heard UTSA’s name along with Harvard, Caltech and other German researchers who received SPIE’s Green Photonics Award, I was really excited,” said Kumar. “It was exciting to see that our research was on that level and we were all on the same stage. We hope this attracts more students to UTSA who are interested in researching photonics.”

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, was founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The society serves more than 180,000 constituents from 168 countries and advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth.

The UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy offers coursework in semiconductor technology, solid-state physics, theoretical physics, astrophysics, computer visualization, lasers and biophotonics, cosmology and relativity. Additionally, UTSA and the Space Science Division at Southwest Research Institute jointly offer a graduate degree in space physics, giving students firsthand experience in instrument and satellite development.


Religious belief may have connection to obesity prevention

According to the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, more than 90 percent of Latinos are members of faithbased organizations. This statistic led Meizi He, M.D., associate professor of health and kinesiology in The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) College of Education and Human Development, to wonder if churches might help Latinos combat obesity.

With seed money from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Dr. He and her colleagues embarked on a pilot research project: “Building a Healthy Temple—A Faith-Based Community Participatory Research Project for Preventing Childhood Obesity among Latino Families.” They traveled to nine churches in San Antonio to elicit the attitudes and beliefs of Latino parishioners toward healthy eating and living.

After speaking with the members of five Catholic and four Protestant churches, the researchers learned that Latino church leaders and members perceive a strong link between faith and health. The Latinos surveyed generally viewed life as a God-given gift, creating a responsibility for Christians to take an active role in their spiritual and physical well-being.

Dr. He’s research identified several factors for a successful obesity prevention program:

  • Having clergy serve as role models
  • Free after-school or summer camps providing physical activities for parents and children
  • Healthy-cooking classes
  • Changes in food at church and home

The research also uncovered a variety of challenges to healthy living:

  • Financial constraints
  • Lack of nutrition knowledge
  • Lack of access to sidewalks, parks and physical activity programs
  • Busy lifestyles
  • Cultural barriers, such as unhealthy traditional Latino foods

With a grant from the San Antonio Life Sciences Institute, a partnership between UTSA and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), He and Deborah Parra-Medina, UTHSCSA professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, developed and pilot-tested comprehensive, culturally sensitive obesity prevention programs for faith-based organizations. Their curriculum spans religious sermons, Sunday school classes and social events. They plan to apply for NIH funding to implement their program in more churches.

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