USDA, Department of Education grants support UTSA minorities in engineering and sciences

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(Nov. 23, 2015) -- Two new grants are supporting top-tier opportunities for minorities in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) education and research at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). Krystel Castillo, GreenStar Endowed Professor in Energy, and her BioEnergy and Water for Agriculture Research and Education (BE AWARE) Network has received $1,000,000 over fours years from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture. Additionally, Hongjie Xie, UTSA professor of geology, has received $748,705 from the U.S. Department of Education to promote new research opportunities for minority students, especially women in earth sciences and engineering.

The BE AWARE Network is a collaborative project between UTSA, UT-Rio Grande Valley, the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, several community colleges and multiple U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies. The goal is to increase minority participation in advanced degrees in STEAM, enhance interdisciplinary research and build a highly trained workforce with strong analytical, computational and scientific skills.

Castillo noted that growing energy demand, which is connected to water availability and climate change, is placing additional stress on the agricultural industry.

“There is a need to prepare next-generation researchers to face the main challenges in clean energy,” Castillo said. “Our goal is to close the gap between rigorous science, math and engineering competencies and foster the teamwork, communication and systems skills needed to transcend disciplinary boundaries in agriculture.”

Hongjie Xie, UTSA professor of geology, has headed up the university’s Improvement of Minority Education in Earth Science and Environmental Engineering Program since 2005. Every five years, the project has competed for more funding to promote research opportunities for UTSA minorities. This began in 2005, when the project competed for and received $280,000. The funding has now increased to nearly $750,000.

“Minority students are always underrepresented in science and engineering,” Xie said. “We try to focus on minority students who would like to get involved in research and want to improve their education, but need financial support.”

The grant will support 15 minority students per year for research training in faculty labs. It will also fund week-long summer workshops for 20 K-12 science teachers per year for three years from San Antonio and south Texas to prepare them to teach the next generation of the STEM workforce.

“My main passion is for teaching and research,” he said. “We have lots of students, but very few minority students in my research program, even though we are a minority-serving institution. It’s wonderful to be able to offer more education and support for minority students through this funding and to create new opportunities.”

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Learn more about the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Learn more about the Improvement of Minority Education in Earth Science and Environmental Engineering Program.

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