Chemistry Professor Receives Piper Honor

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

One of the most prestigious awards that can be bestowed on a higher education professor in the State of Texas was given this month to a UTEP faculty member whose ground-breaking work in microscopic nanoparticles does not keep his eye off the big picture: his students.

The Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation announced May 1 that Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D., chair of the University’s Department of Chemistry and Dudley Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Science & Engineering, was named one of 10 Piper Professors for superior teaching at the college level.Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D., chair of the Department of ChemistryJorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Chemistry

The foundation’s board of directors approved his selection from a pool of outstanding educators nominated by the 400 institutions of higher education throughout the state, including public and private universities and community colleges.

“I am very happy and honored to have been selected this year for this prestigious award, especially when you consider the extremely competitive selection process among all Texas educational institutions,” Gardea-Torresdey said. “At the same time it energizes me, and I will redirect that energy to the Department of Chemistry and its students. This is great for UTEP's Tier One aspirations.”

The nomination came from the office of UTEP President Diana Natalicio, who was pleased with the foundation’s choice.

"In Dr. Gardea's 20-year tenure on this campus, he has strengthened UTEP's international reputation as a research institution with his groundbreaking work on nanoparticles with potential for medical and environmental applications,” she said. “His research success has always been combined with a strong commitment to teaching, mentoring and serving as a role model to Hispanic students, thereby contributing significantly to UTEP's progress toward becoming the first national research university with a 21st century student demographic."

Gardea-Torresdey, who split his time growing up in Parral, Chihuahua, in northern Mexico, and Los Angeles, said he tries to help minority students, especially Hispanics, because he felt the sting of racism and discrimination when he moved to the United States from classmates and teachers. Today, he encourages the next generation of chemists and scientists to excel in the lab and classroom.

Among them is Alia Servin, a doctoral candidate in chemistry who has known the professor for four years. She helps him study the impact of tiny nanoparticles on edible plants, human health and the environment in general.

“We’re all very proud of him,” Servin said during a lab break. “He’s a great boss and adviser. He’s interested in what we do and looks for opportunities for his students.

Colleague Mahesh Narayan, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, who has worked with Gardea-Torresdey for five years, said this success should be shared by the Miner Nation and considered another stepping stone on the road to Tier One status.

“To us, Jorge's achievements and award is a beacon of light that illuminates our path and reminds us of our duties to the primarily Hispanic student body,” Narayan said.

Gardea-Torresday, who has been at UTEP since 1994 and chair of the chemistry department since 2003, officially will be recognized for his Piper honor during the University’s fall 2012 Honors Convocation. He is the 13th professor from The University of Texas at El Paso to achieve this honor since the San Antonio-based program began to present the awards in 1958.