NOVEMBER 7, 2023 — Jesús Romo ’10, ’12, ’18, an assistant professor in the UTSA Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, was selected by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) to receive the 2024 William A. Hinton Award for Advancement of a Diverse Community of Microbiologists. The award recognizes outstanding contributions toward fostering the research training of minorities and increasing diversity in microbiology.
The ASM Hinton Award is given annually in memory of William A. Hinton, a physician-research scientist who developed the Hinton test for syphilis and one of the first African Americans to join ASM. The award is highly competitive. Only one individual receives the award each year. Nominees are selected by a panel of senior scientists and must make significant contributions to the advancement of underrepresented communities in research.
“I am truly honored to receive the ASM William A. Hinton Award for Advancement of a Diverse Community of Microbiologists,” said Romo. “This award means a lot to me, as it highlights the work I have done and will continue to do on my journey of supporting and mentoring students in STEM.”
The Hinton Award recognizes Romo’s experience and impact, which includes more than a decade of mentoring students from underrepresented communities at different institutions and conducting outreach in the community. Additionally, it recognizes Romo’s innovation in developing an undergraduate course called “Diversity in the Scientific Fields: Science in All Colors” that highlights scientists from marginalized communities. The course was published in ASM’s Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education (JMBE).
“I have made it my mission to be the best mentor I can be to help students like me achieve their dreams,” said Romo. “UTSA and the mentors I encountered here made me who I am. I have been successful throughout my career because of them, and I want to do the same for other students like me.”
Romo is from Monclova in Coahuila, Mexico, and was the first in his family to attend high school. Like many first-generation students, he lacked significant academic guidance.
“I truly understand what it’s like to help support your family, translate documents for your parents because they do not speak the language and the challenges encountered as you navigate your way through college and into your career,” said Romo. “This unique view allows me to connect with students and truly understand their needs. The success of students at UTSA is my priority. They are who I was, and I want to help them get to where they want to be.”
During his career, Romo received extensive training in medical mycology and bacterial pathogenesis. He completed his master’s degree at UTSA and conducted his thesis under the supervision of Janakiram Seshu, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, from 2010 to 2012 and then went on to be a doctoral researcher at UTSA conducting research under the guidance of Jose Lopez-Ribot, Margaret Batts Tobin Distinguished Chair in Biotechnology, from 2014 to 2018. He then became an Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Awards (IRACDA) postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University School of Medicine from 2018 to 2022.
“UTSA is the place that allowed me to fully step into who I am now,” said Romo. “I was very fortunate to find true mentors in UTSA’s faculty. Dr. Karl Klose made me fall in love with microbiology, Dr. Janakiram Seshu gave me my first opportunity to conduct research and Dr. Lopez-Ribot showed me how to be a mentor. I am truly grateful to all of them for caring about my success still today.”
Romo’s research focuses on characterizing the role and impact of fungal colonizers in the mammalian gastrointestinal tract during infection by the bacterial pathogen, Clostridioides difficile. His laboratory offers research opportunities to students at all levels to be trained in a wide range of applied basic and advanced microbiological techniques. He also employs a wide range of mentoring strategies including mentoring compacts, individual development plans and professional development workshops.
Romo is currently collaborating with Chiung Yu-Hung, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, on a research project investigating Coccidioides, which causes the fungal infection known as valley fever. Romo believes that by better understanding the life cycle of Coccidioides, researchers could unlock valuable information related to the identification of novel vaccines and antifungal drugs.
“The most important thing is being in a place where I can make a difference,” Romo said. “UTSA is unique because the student population not only closely mirrors the city of San Antonio, but it also truly cares about the success of students from marginalized communities and provides a wide range of resources for them to achieve their goals. UTSA celebrates Hispanic culture and strives to create an environment where everyone is welcomed.”
Seventy percent of students at UTSA are from racial and ethnic groups that have been underserved in higher education. Fifty-nine percent are Hispanic.
The Hinton Award includes funding to attend the ASM Microbe 2024 conference in Atlanta next June. Romo will attend as a guest of honor and will receive a commemorative piece at the opening session. Romo is also an invited speaker at the conference and will be giving a presentation about his research.
ASM was founded in 1899 and is a professional life science organization composed of more than more than 30,000 scientists, educators and health professionals who are dedicated to promoting and advancing microbial sciences around the world.
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