By Laura Acosta
After trips to help people in Kenya, Panama, Guatemala and Kyrgyzstan, Natassia Lozano was no stranger to world travel.
However, a research trip to San José, Costa Rica, in 2018 introduced the El Paso native to a world of new opportunities.
Lozano, a junior nursing major at The University of Texas at El Paso, spent the summer with researchers at the University of Costa Rica to investigate the impact of labor conditions on the health of San José’s working class.
Lozano, who traveled to the Central American country with UTEP’s Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT) program, interviewed police officers, street maintenance workers and other municipal employees about health and occupational safety conditions in their work environments.
“MHIRT specifically showed me that in Latino communities we must always watch the impact on health through the social determinants of health,” said Lozano, who expects to graduate in 2020. “Often they differ not only from country to country, but person to person. Therefore, if we are to shape health in the community, we do it through research, dispersion of information and creating change one day at a time.”
Each year, Miners engage in unique global learning experiences in 43 countries that extend their education beyond the classroom.
According to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, studies show that students who study abroad, especially underrepresented or “at-risk” students, are more likely to complete their degrees or certificate programs. They are also better able to work with people from other countries, understand the complexity of global issues, and have greater intercultural learning.
“International education agreements and the myriad (of) international education opportunities available to UTEP Miners build and enhance the UTEP undergraduate and graduate students’ global competence and international tool kit,” said Dania Brandford- Calvo, Ph.D., executive director of UTEP’s Office of International Programs and Study Abroad.
In a nod to Dr. Seuss’ classic book, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” here are a few UTEP students who went off to great places in the summer of 2018. Whether they decided to go to Spain, China, Mexico or countries in Central America, these Miners have a “98 and 3/4 percent” chance to succeed in today’s interconnected world.
You’re Off to Great Places!
Brenda Baca’s MHIRT experience changed the way she thought about research.
The all-expenses paid program allows undergraduate and graduate students from underrepresented populations to engage in mentor-led research projects that address Hispanic health disparities in Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.
After eight weeks on a project that involved disease-carrying mosquitoes at Panama’s government research institute, Baca returned to UTEP inspired to continue her research activities. She graduated in May 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory science and now plans to pursue an M.D.- Ph.D. degree.
“This whole experience changed my life in many different ways,” said Baca, who was in Panama from June to August 2018. “I learned to appreciate different cultures. I discovered a whole new world in science.”
UTEP is one of 22 U.S. schools that offer a MHIRT program. Led by the College of Health Sciences, the program has received more than $3.2 million in funding from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.
Maria Duarte-Gardea, Ph.D., MHIRT’s principal investigator and chair of UTEP’s Department of Public Health Sciences, described MHIRT as a transformational educational experience. She said trainees gain research skills and cultural experience, and will enhance their chances of admission to competitive graduate research programs and different postgraduate careers.
Out of 143 UTEP MHIRT participants since 2005, 55 are in graduate programs, 22 have earned medical degrees and 17 are pursuing doctoral degrees. Scientific journals have published 20 MHIRT-related research articles co-authored by UTEP students.
In April 2019, Lozano, the nursing student, presented her research at Yale University’s Global Health and Innovation Conference.
“One of the biggest strengths of the research project was having the nursing perspective because (the research team) could analyze and see holistically how the problems and the things workers were doing were influencing their health,” Lozano said. “(Nurses) have the understanding and knowledge of how the human body works and (they know) how to create interventions for it.”
Today is Your Day!
With 68% of the world's population expected to live in urban areas by 2050, cities are racing to implement smart technology to make city life safer, more efficient and sustainable.
To make that happen, UTEP’s College of Engineering and the University of Guadalajara (UdeG) in Jalisco, Mexico, have engaged engineering and science students in an international research experience that provides them with hands-on training to build the smart cities of the future.
During the summer of 2018, 10 UTEP undergraduate and graduate students participated in five weeks of research in optimization, data analytics and sensor data management at UdeG’s Ciudad Creativa Digital, or Creative Digital City, a smart city testbed equipped with cutting-edge technology. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers selected the city of Guadalajara in 2014 as the world’s first smart city testbed.
“Smart cities are all about improving the quality of life,” said Natalia Villanueva Rosales, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science. “By working in teams with members across disciplines, cultures and borders, students learn to develop sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions that can be applied to convert cities anywhere in the world into smart cities.”
A smart city can integrate people, technology and information to create a sustainable and resilient infrastructure that provides high-quality services for residents.
Interdisciplinary student teams, which included Daniel Mejia, Ph.D., developed smart mobility and smart buildings solutions that addressed common problems found in El Paso and Guadalajara, such as flooding and safety.
“The overall experience in Guadalajara has helped me grow as a researcher,” said Mejia, who earned a doctoral degree in computer science from UTEP in May 2019. “It has given me the challenge to step outside my comfort zone and work with other people from different places, speaking different languages as well.”
The National Science Foundation, through its International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) program, funded the project in 2017. In total, 30 students will participate in the three-year, all-expenses paid program led by Villanueva Rosales.
The IRES program stems from a past collaboration between UTEP and UdeG. From 2016 to 2018, students from both campuses participated in the U.S.-Mexico Bidirectional Program on Smart Cities sponsored by both universities, IBM Mexico and the 100K Strong in the Americas federal program.
“Students care about making a difference in the community,” Villanueva Rosales said. “This program gives them the opportunity to apply what they learn to make our quality of life better.”
Your Mountain is Waiting
A trip to Spain in 2018 put Cecilia Martinez on the path to a future career as a special education teacher.
Martinez joined UTEP faculty and students from the colleges of Liberal Arts, Education and Health Sciences on a new faculty-led global studies program from May 14 to June 1 to the country’s southern region.
Students shared their knowledge and gained new insight about how different disciplines relate to one another in global health.
A visit to a center for children with disabilities in Seville, Spain, spurred Martinez’s decision to pursue a master’s degree in special education at UTEP.
“Working with the kids, I realized that I felt real joy to be there,” said Martinez, who earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology in December 2018. “This real-world experience made me more aware of the population I want to work with.”
Thirty students took courses in special education, rehabilitation science and anthropology of food, culture and society.
Classes were followed by daily excursions to places such as Seville’s Parque de María Luisa, Granada’s Alhambra palace and gardens, and Córdoba’s Jewish Quarter and Synagogue.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re from education or liberal arts or health sciences, the bottom line is we all think about health and we all collaborate on health,” said Dahlia Castillo, OTD, UTEP occupational therapy program co-director. “Even teachers think about nutrition for their own students.”
Beverley Argus-Calvo, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Special Services, said occupational therapy and education students got a taste of what it is like to work together in the real world. Occupational therapists and teachers collaborate in schools to help children succeed in the classroom.
The trip also proved to be an educational experience for Argus-Calvo, Castillo and Héctor M. Enríquez, lecturer in the languages and linguistics department.
“In 20 years at UTEP, last year was my first (study abroad) experience,” Argus-Calvo said. “It’s something that I always wanted to do but I never knew how to do it. Not only was this a learning experience for the students, it was a learning experience for us, too.”
So … Get On Your Way!
Since 2014, UTEP business students interested in learning more about Chinese business culture have traveled each summer to Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province in East China, to study business analytics at Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics (ZUFE).
For three weeks, undergraduate students such as Andrea Rojas and ZUFE classmates study business intelligence, analytics and decision support. They also engage in business analytics projects, which the ZUFE faculty evaluates at the end of the program. Despite cultural and language differences, students learn to work together in intercultural teams.
“This experience taught me a lot of things, principally to recognize how capable I am of solving problems, adapting and learning from different cultures,” said Rojas, who traveled to Hangzhou in 2018. “Being abroad opened my horizons, made me reconsider my main goals in life and got me thinking about why I am here in the world. I honestly enjoyed discovering parts of me I did not know.”
José Humberto Ablanedo-Rosas, Ph.D., associate professor in UTEP’s Department of Marketing and Management, started the program five years ago with Wenyu Zhang, Ph.D., dean and professor at ZUFE’s School of Information, to teach students Chinese business practices. According to the World Bank, China is the world’s second largest economy after the United States.
“China is now one of the most important markets for many products,” said Ablanedo- Rosas, who specializes in operations and supply chain management. “When students come back, they are different because they see the business opportunities that we have in China. It’s not that we can just buy from them, but we can also sell them products and take advantage of that huge market.”
More than 100 UTEP students have participated in the program, which also includes excursions to major Chinese businesses such as Alibaba, the world’s biggest online commerce company, and LOGINK, China’s electronic exchange platform for logistics information sharing. Students also visit the wholesale market known as Yiwu International Trade City to learn about e-commerce and supply chain management in China.
“This experience changes their lives,” Ablanedo-Rosas said. “Their confidence starts to build because they see that they are competitive and they can do what Chinese students can do. Some of them realize that they can work anywhere in the world.”