Grad Students Participate in 'Friendly' Research Expo

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

About 60 UTEP graduate students condensed years of research into 15-minute presentations as they participated in the 2nd annual Graduate Research Expo Nov. 9 in the University’s Union Building East.

The exercise is an essential part in the students’ development as researchers, said Benjamin Flores, Ph.D., dean of the University’s Graduate School.Richard Flores, a political science graduate student, was one of 62 participants from throughout UTEP’s colleges and schools who presented during the 2nd annual Graduate Research Expo in Union Building East. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News ServiceRichard Flores, a political science graduate student, was one of 62 participants from throughout UTEP’s colleges and schools who presented during the 2nd annual Graduate Research Expo in Union Building East. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

“This is what you’re going to be doing for the rest of your life – research – and research is never complete unless you actually communicate your findings in writing and through presentations,” Flores said during his opening remarks in the Union’s Tomás Rivera Conference Center.

The expo was created to let graduate students share their research in a friendly environment, build a network among interdisciplinary peers, engage underclassmen and channel them into post baccalaureate programs.

The topics included how Wii strength training could help older adults, the evolution of Latinos in Texas history textbooks, the impact of environmental concerns on the mental health of colonia residents, and how Hispanic youth can successfully transition from high school to a university and earn a degree.

Among the students who participated was Zuleika Vargas-Cortes, a master’s student who used her five children as part of her research into the relationship between learning a new language while maintaining their heritage language.

“I finished at 4 a.m. this morning,” she said with a combination of relief and excitement.

Vargas-Cortes, a first generation college student who earned her bachelor’s in communication from UTEP in 1993, said she looked forward to sharing her research and discovering how she could improve it.

The presentations helps reinforce what the students are learning, said Shane Walker, Ph.D., assistant professor of engineering, who had two students participating in the expo. He said a commercial company is helping to pay for the research by one of his students who is investigating ways to reduce the cost of water desalination.

“Their research is important and we want people to know about it,” Walker said.

Nazanin Heydarian, a doctoral psychology student who studied the abilities of older adults to learn facts and foreign languages, said her presentation helped solidify her interest in her topic and allowed her to practice how to share her findings with others in her field.

The expo is a yardstick by which the University can measure how well it prepares its graduate students, said University President Diana Natalicio, who spoke to about 120 students, staff, faculty mentors, and University administrators who attended an expo luncheon. But the onus falls on the students, she added.

“You want to be able to go out there and make a presentation that is compelling, respected and admired,” she said. “There’s only one way that I know of to do that and that is to practice and practice a lot.

She shared her personal experience as a shy undergraduate at St. Louis University who did not break out of her shell until she spent a year in Brazil as a Fulbright student where she mangled the Portuguese language, but learned from her public mistakes.

“It’s important to practice doing whatever it is you’re going to do because it’s not just the quality of your work, it’s not just what you do … it’s not just what you know, but it’s how you present it. So much of how we’re judged is by how we appear to people who meet us and listen to us. It doesn’t matter what’s in your head if you can’t communicate it effectively to people who matter,” President Natalicio said.

The best presentations earned prizes such as gift certificates to the University Bookstore and memberships in a science honor society for students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. To learn who won, visit graduate.utep.edu/puentes_home.html.

The expo was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education PPOHA (Promoting Post-Baccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic-Americans) grant and the UTEP Graduate School.