Undergraduate Research Becomes a Focus in College of Science

Posted: 3/1/2011

On its quest to become a national research university, The University of Texas at El Paso is focused not only on graduate and doctoral research, but also on introducing undergraduate students to research opportunities that will give them an edge against students at other universities.

Lourdes Echegoyen, Ph.D., director of the new UTEP College Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives (COURI) in the College of Science, said students who engage in undergraduate research are poised for success.

“Most science courses have laboratories associated with them, but nothing is more stimulating than doing science that has never been done before,” she said. “Universities like UTEP that are encouraging their students to engage in research activities as early as possible are finding that well-trained and properly mentored undergraduates can make significant contributions to the advancement of science and are getting better education, career and employment opportunities than peers without undergraduate research experience.”

COURI aims to encourage undergraduate science students to participate in research, connect them with research advisers, and assist them in submitting journal articles and presenting their work at conferences. The office is developing workshops, hosting an inaugural symposium April 3-5, and developing an undergraduate research journal.

In March of 2010, 206 undergraduate students at UTEP were engaged in research conducted by faculty in the College of Science, Echegoyen said. 

Ernesto Licon, a senior microbiology major who plans to enter an M.D./Ph.D. program after graduation, said his research on how the anthrax toxin affects human cells has enhanced his learning.
“I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned in class in the lab,” he said.

Lucy Camarena, a senior biological sciences major, has been involved in prostate cancer research at UTEP.

“I’ve always been into puzzles and brain teasers," she said. "It’s just a really great feeling to be in the lab. The end result will be a great impact to society, so that gives me a lot of motivation to do research.”

Camarena plans to enter a master’s program after finishing her bachelor’s degree, and eventually earn a doctoral degree.

UTEP students who participate in research as undergraduates are more likely to attend and be successful in graduate school than those students who do not, said UTEP President Diana Natalicio.

“You’re going to tell the world that UTEP students can compete with anybody, anywhere,” she told a group of undergraduate science students at a recent reception. “That, in turn, is going to help us get to that Tier One goal, because the best evidence of our success as a university is your success as graduates.”

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