URI promotes student/faculty collaboration
Posted: 02/23/2005
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Seventeen undergraduate students at The University of Texas-Pan American are now working side-by-side with faculty mentors conducting research after being chosen to be a part of the Undergraduate Research Initiative (URI) at the University.

"This program allows the students to work directly with faculty members. It provides an exciting environment for the students to learn what research is all about and the contributions they can make," said Dr. Wendy Lawrence-Fowler, associate vice president for research and administrator for the program. "It also gives students the opportunity to concentrate on a specific topic related to their major. Through URI, they can obtain hands-on, real-world experience in their field of interest," she said.

Selected in an application process from student/faculty teams, the current URI faculty and student scholars were awarded in December and began their projects January 2005. Each student receives an award of $1,000 for their research activities, which can be used for student salaries and research associated supplies and materials, travel and computer software.

URI, which is financially supported by the University through the Office of the Associate Vice President for Research, also provides benefits to the faculty mentors. Each faculty mentor receives a $500 award, which can be used in similar ways as the student award, except for salaries.

It also affords faculty members the opportunity to have help in their research endeavors while providing in-depth training and invaluable mentorship to the students Fowler said.

Dr. John Cross, an assistant professor of sociology who is serving as a faculty mentor to two students, said the URI provides a great opportunity for students to develop some of their own research interests while working alongside faculty.

"The research experience will look great on the student's résumé for those applying for graduate school or career-path jobs, particularly if it leads to presentations or publications," he said.

The program also allows the faculty to hone the skills of some of their brighter students by looking into issues related to their current research.

Cross said Irma Flores, one of two students he will mentor, is conducting research focusing on the importance of flea markets in the local economy, which builds and expands on Cross' research conducted over the last 15 years on street markets in Mexico.

Flores, a social work major, said she became interested in URI and Cross' research when he mentioned it in class. "I've been to flea markets and have wondered 'Why do people do this?' I've also noticed that many of the displays indicate good marketing skills without having a lot of formal training," she said.

Flores said she's looking forward to the one-on-one interviews with people and hopes the research experience will help her learn increased compassion and understanding of people, attributes important to a person pursuing a social work career.

Dr. Sandra Benavides, assistant professor in the pharmacy program, said her research with Dan Howe is a spin-off of a funded grant from the U.S. Hispanic Nutrition Center in Harlingen.

They will examine the perception of children and parents on obesity and their knowledge of the health complications associated with obesity.

"This program gives the student some funding to conduct research without having to work part time. More importantly, it gives them more time to learn about the research process from beginning to end - from the development of an idea to a presentation at a national meeting," she said.

Howe, a sophomore majoring in pharmacy, said this research project interests him because a lot of work in pharmacy will deal with diabetes. "It will give me experience in dealing with people which relates to the community aspect of the job of a pharmacist," he said.

Other students who received the award include Jose Dominguez, Abel Tamez, Robert Weston, Joe Banda, Alexis Marruffo, Rafael Olacio, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Jose "Leo" Barrera, Claude Matthew Reyes, Edna Martinez, Christina Saldivar, Eric Gamino, Ana MacNaught, Anna Atencio and Pam Kromer.

Additional faculty mentors awarded were Drs. Andras Balogh, Eric Romero, Javier Macossay-Torres, Joshua Caballero, Noe Ramirez, Noreen Glover-Graf, Rosalva Resendiz, Servando Hinojosa, Ken Faulkes, and Valerie James-Aldridge as well as Fred Spaulding and John Milford.

The next deadline for application to URI from student/faculty teams is March 4.

For more information on URI, log on to and examine funding opportunities listed under funding proposals on the Web site.