Chemistry Students Laud Exchange Experience in China

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

The three UTEP senior chemistry majors who recently returned from a 10-week summer research trip to China praised the experience on academic, cultural and personal levels.

“It was a life-changing experience,” said Karen Ventura, one of the students involved in the pilot student exchange program coordinated by The University of Texas at El Paso’s Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives (COURI). “I’ve grown as a person.”From left, Gustavo Hernandez, Karen Ventura and Javier Grajeda spent 10 weeks at Shantou University in China doing research this summer. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News ServiceFrom left, Gustavo Hernandez, Karen Ventura and Javier Grajeda spent 10 weeks at Shantou University in China doing research this summer. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

Ventura, Javier Grajeda and Gustavo Hernandez spoke recently about their opportunity to live and learn at Shantou University, a 30-year-old institution in the country’s Guangdong Province near the China Sea. They also made a point to encourage others to take advantage of similar programs.

“It was really amazing; way better than I thought it would be,” said Ventura, who studied biosensors during the summer.

Part of the reason these students were selected was “for their adventurous spirit,” said Lourdes Echegoyen, Ph.D., director of COURI and the exchange program. UTEP and Shantou officials wanted to provide an intense research opportunity for the undergraduate students that also would build their global perspective of economics and culture.

She said the program went well based on initial feedback she received. Academically, the students acquired skills and learned techniques that they could not have learned in El Paso. Personally, they discovered a lot about themselves by being immersed in the Chinese culture.

“Their mentors (at UTEP) are very happy because these students can now teach others and implement these techniques in their labs,” Echegoyen said.

The three exchange students mentioned the affability of the people and the tropical beauty of the country, especially the lush campus that has two lakes and is surrounded by tree-covered mountains. They said part of their down time was spent at the nearby Nan Ao Island.

Hernandez, who studied materials with applications in illumination, called the research program a positive experience that will open a lot of doors for participants and the University.

“I consider this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will challenge you academically, professionally, and socially,” he said.

Grajeda commended his faculty mentors for pushing him to accomplish more than he thought possible in his research about luminous properties of metal-organic frameworks. He learned a lot from them and said he looks forward to being able to share that information with his Miner peers.

He also surprised himself by agreeing to taste a dish made out of duck stomach. “It was OK,” Grajeda said sheepishly.

Michael Irwin, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry, is the research adviser to Hernandez and Ventura. He said the experience has been “invaluable” to both students because it provided them with the kind of experiences that broadened their horizons culturally and academically.

“I believe that spending the summer in China has given Gustavo and Karen a broader global perspective that will help with their respective future life decisions,” Irwin said.

If funding is available, COURI plans to participate in another undergraduate summer student exchange program. Interested chemistry majors should contact COURI officials at 915-747-5679 or visit the Chemistry and Computer Science Building, Room 3.0308.