Thursday, January 4, 2024

Mentors, research opportunities vital to success of UTSA grad Emerson Larios

Mentors, research opportunities vital to success of UTSA grad Emerson Larios

CLASS OF 2023 

NOVEMBER 27, 2023Emerson Larios’ story begins in Honduras. A seven-year-old Larios was sitting in the Orphanage Emmanuel coloring in an alphabet notebook. He attended a school built on the property, where he began to excel in education. It was his first form of refuge.

“I didn’t understand why, but I knew one way out was education,” Larios said. “That’s how I saw it. By the time I left the orphanage, I was really focused on my education.”

In 2007, Larios was awarded with an academic scholarship to attend a school in the United States. He arrived in Auburn, Alabama, where he entered the Lee-Scott Academy and began to excel as an eighth grader. His host family turned into his family in every sense of the word.

“There may be some doors that are closed to me or there may be some personal prejudices that work against me, but that doesn’t mean I stop.”

With hard work, he continued his progress, ultimately graduating four years later.

As an undergraduate in Alabama, Larios continued to flourish academically. He earned a bachelor’s in science and minor in chemistry at the University of Mobile. A master’s in biology followed at Auburn University. Then, his education led him to UTSA, where he’s earned a master’s in psychology. Although he’ll cross the stage in December to receive that second master’s, he’s already started on the path toward a doctoral degree in psychology.

Earlier this year, the UTSA graduate student presented findings from his master’s thesis at the 2023 Southwestern Psychology Association (SWPA) conference. Though doubt plagued him just before he took the stage, Larios overcame yet another obstacle. He won first place in the graduate student competition.

Despite his successful academic achievements, the time Larios spent at the orphanage still pervades him. At the same time, it serves as the driving force behind Larios’ desire and determination to better understand the nature of humans.

“There’s been a lot of strife to contend with in my life. I hold myself accountable to get better, because for me what’s really, really important is that at the core I’m a scholar who wants to learn why things work and recognizing the nuance, the complexity and having that helps me understand the world better. I hope that through my research I can help other people understand why we are the way we are and make the world better,” Larios said.

Mentors, like Itamar Lerner, an assistant professor in the UTSA Department of Psychology, and fellow students have helped shaped Larios. In Lerner’s laboratory, Larios began to study the effects of sleep on stress. That research opportunity challenged Larios to grow and expand his worldview. He crossed paths with fellow students, whose varying perspectives inspired his outlook on research and in his personal life.

“I want to understand how psychology and biology weave together. My focus has always been understanding trauma, how it works and human resilience. UTSA has helped create an environment in which I can engage with this — with that process and make it more refined,” Larios said.

Larios is currently working on research to understand the biological mechanisms supporting the role sleep plays in the development of stress and trauma, and with subsequent disorders that may arise such as PTSD.

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The magnitude of his accomplishments is not lost on Larios.

“There may be some doors that are closed to me or there may be some personal prejudices that work against me, but that doesn’t mean I stop. I don’t have to change the world, but I can have an effect on the community I’m in,” he said.

Ari Castañeda

UTSA Today is produced by University Strategic Communications,
the official news source
of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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