Participants in UTPA Bridge to the Doctorate Program celebrate achievements May 18
Posted: 05/31/2006
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Twelve students at The University of Texas-Pan American and their faculty mentors gathered May 18 with University administrators to celebrate the nearing culmination of a two-year Bridge to the Doctorate Program supported by a $972,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to the University of Texas System Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP).

Devised to increase the quality and quantity of students, particularly minorities, in obtaining master's and Ph.D.'s in the fields of science and mathematics, the Bridge to the Doctorate Program, which began in 2004, assisted 12 students from the University with tuition and fee expenses and a $30,000 annual stipend while they pursued their post-graduate degrees. Each student was paired with a faculty mentor in their area of research interest and had opportunities to attend workshops and seminars as well as to present at national conferences.

Participants in the Bridge to the Doctorate program who will graduate with master's degrees from UTPA in August 2006 are left to right Eugenie Hanul Kim, Maricela Lizcano, Erica Escobedo, Rhianna Hughes and Stephanie Baker. All five hope to become professors in the future and four of the students have already been accepted into Ph.D. programs. Twelve students are currently in the Bridge to the Doctorate program at UTPA.
According to UTPA's LSAMP program coordinator and mathematics professor Dr. Miguel Paredes, the program's objectives not only include graduation with a master's degree but also preparation for the students to obtain scholarships to Ph.D. programs related to their field. Hopefully, he said, many of these students will return as professors in science, engineering, and mathematics. All 12 UTPA students in the program currently have expressed an interest in teaching at the university level.

Four of the students who will graduate in August have obtained Ph.D. scholarships for fall 2006. Eugenie Hanul Kim, who was mentored by mathematics professor Dr. Monty Taylor and currently by Dr. Rajendra Rai, visiting assistant professor of mathematics, will obtain her master's in mathematics and attend Baylor. Graduating with a master's in biology, Rhianna Hughes will pursue a Ph.D. in physical therapy at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in Florida. Her mentor was Dr. Anxiu Kuang, associate professor biology. Mentored by Paredes, Stephanie Baker will graduate with a master's in mathematics and attend UT Austin this fall to pursue her Ph.D. in the same field. Maricela Lizcano, mentored by assistant professor in mechanical engineering Dr. Karen Lozano, will enter Texas A&M to pursue her doctorate in mechanical engineering. Lizcano and Hughes both obtained their undergraduate degrees at UTPA while Kim and Baker earned their bachelor's degrees at The University of Texas at Brownsville/Southmost College.

Other Bridge to the Doctorate students, including their master's area and mentor(s), are as follows: Giselli Álvarez, mechanical engineering, Dr. Constantine Tarawneh and Dr. Hashim Mahdi; Erica Escobedo, biology, Dr. Anxiu Kuang; Rosa Gutiérrez, mathematics, Dr. Roger Knobel; Cyril Harris, computer science, Dr. Zhixiang Chen; Nadia Kasem, mathematics, Dr. Qiang Zhao; Obadiah Kegege, electrical engineering, Dr. Junfei Li and Dr. Heinrich Foltz; Kelly M. Wroblewski, mathematics, Dr. John Bernard; and Michelle Zamarrón, biology, Dr. Mohammed Farooqui and Dr. David Robacker.

Posters presenting the students' research, which ranges from topics of the use of radar in detecting roadside bombs to the development of viable lures to address the problems of the Mexican fruit fly to the citrus industry, can be accessed at

Knobel, an associate professor in mathematics, said he enjoyed his mentorship role and felt the program has been highly successful.

"A large goal of the project is to bring more underrepresented minorities into getting Ph.D.'s in science and mathematics so this program has been very important. I think it's been one of the most successful programs I've seen by getting the students, the money and the time all focused on doing research during the two years. It has really paid off in helping students reach a higher level of achievement," he said.

Lizcano, who will attend Texas A&M this fall on a three-year fellowship valued at $104,000, said her ultimate goal is to return one day to be a UTPA professor.

"I feel blessed to have been able to participate in this program. It has been a very exciting, and fulfilling experience. I was going to get my master's anyway but had it not been for this scholarship I would not be graduating and obtaining my Ph.D. quite as soon as I wanted to. It was a great financial support," she said.

Both Dr. Ana Maria Rodriguez, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, and Dr. Edwin LeMaster, dean of the College of Science and Engineering, thanked the students, faculty and staff on the hard work involved in the program and congratulated soon-to-be graduates on their success. Expressing the need for new faculty, both administrators hoped that some of the students would return to teach at UTPA.

"You are among the very few individuals in the country who are achieving at this level. When you receive your doctorate you will be in an even smaller minority group of people. UTPA is waiting for you. I see 12 potential faculty members," Rodriguez said.

LeMaster said the demand for doctoral graduates is high and growing.

"I just came from a meeting with the Air Force Research Lab and they want to know where they can find scientists and engineers over the next five and 10 years because their work force has gray hair. They will have 20 to 50 percent of their scientists and engineers retiring over the next 10 years. There is a huge demand for your talents, so get those Ph.D.'s," he said.

For more information on LSAMP and the Bridge to the Doctorate program, contact Paredes at 956/381-2290 or e-mail