Originally published January 23, 2017
By Esmeralda Treviño
BUILDing Scholars, a consortium made up of 19 different institutions led by The University of Texas at El Paso, is currently recruiting its third class of students to begin in the fall of 2017.
The 2-year-old BUILDing Scholars program, which stands for BUilding Infrastructure Leading to Diversity, aims to diversify the workforce by training the next generation of biomedical and socio-behavioral scientists and engineers from underserved and underrepresented backgrounds.
Gabrielle Mendoza, a BUILD Scholar, learned about the program in fall 2015 while working with sociology Professor Sara Grineski, Ph.D., and geography Professor Tim Collins, Ph.D., as an undergraduate research assistant. Mendoza participated in the Research and Teaching Integration program, which was open to both BUILD and non-BUILD students.
“I wasn’t working in the (BUILDing Scholars) program, but I got to learn a lot about it, and from there they encouraged me to apply and see where it would take me,” Mendoza said. She was accepted to the program’s fall 2016 cohort.
“The program targets undergraduate students in 24 majors across four colleges and is organized around transdisciplinary research nodes, instead of traditional disciplines,” Grineski said. “It also uses an early intervention approach and supports students for up to four years, providing a variety of research and leadership experiences at UTEP and at our partner institutions across the region.”
The program is currently recruiting its third class of students, who will start in fall 2017. There are presently 89 undergraduate students on full scholarship.
Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), BUILDing Scholars focuses on students, faculty and institutional development to positively transform the next generation of biomedical researchers from the U.S. Southwest region in an effort to substantially diversify the biomedical research workforce so that it more closely mirrors the population of the nation.
Areas of emphasis within the program include addiction, cancer, environmental health, health disparities, infectious diseases, neurodegenerative and chronic diseases, and translational biomedicine.
Students in the program not only research these areas of emphasis, but also receive mentoring through activities at UTEP. Additionally, they conduct summer research at one of 12 partner institutions, many of which will reserve positions for these students to pursue graduate-level studies upon completion of the program.
During the fall 2016 semester, approximately 64 undergraduate scholars showcased their summer research during the first BUILDing Scholars Symposium. UTEP BUILD students, as well as students from other partner institutions, such as Clemson University and Baylor College of Medicine, presented their health-related research.
BUILDing Scholars also has a peer mentoring program that provides academic and peer support to first-year students of the program to help make their college experiences exciting, fulfilling and successful. In particular, the program enables these scholars to effectively complete their educational objectives. Peer mentors are sophomore BUILDing Scholars students who receive weekly mentoring and leadership training to prepare them to assist their mentees.
“There are 10 BUILD programs across the country and UTEP leads one of them,” Grineski said. “It’s quite an honor to be able to run this program for UTEP students and other students from EPCC (El Paso Community College) and other pipeline partners who intersect with various aspects of the program. The program has enabled UTEP to offer course-based research experiences to hundreds of students in many majors, the majority of whom are not on scholarship with us.”
Students who are accepted into BUILDing Scholars receive scholarships that cover all four years of tuition at UTEP, plus a stipend. During their time at UTEP, BUILD scholars take special research-intensive courses and participate in mentored research projects. By the time they graduate, these students will have developed several close-knit relationships with mentors who conduct their own research, inspiring them to pursue doctoral degrees in biomedical sciences and engineering.
“We are so blessed to have programs for undergraduate research here at UTEP,” May 2016 BUILD graduate Cecilia Hinojosa told other scholars in the program. “I’ve been to other universities for summer internships and there’s nothing like this over there.”
While Hinojosa was a BUILD scholar, she had the opportunity to research nicotine addiction and diabetes at UTEP through the Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives (COURI). She also had the chance to present her research on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in April 2016.
Each year in May, the BUILDing Scholars program holds an orientation for the new students who will start in the fall. This past May, students brought their families and were introduced to the program. Families of the students are involved in several BUILDing Scholars events to help parents understand the program, its benefits and the demands that it places on their children.
“We are hoping to be able to continue to run some of the best elements of the program into the future, even once the NIH funding has ended,” Grineski said. “The goal is for our students to continue on a biomedical research path after graduating with their bachelors’ degrees from UTEP. They will earn Ph.D.s and M.D.s and do amazing things, like find cures for diseases and disproportionately impact people from our region.”
The scholarship will be offered to incoming students for the next two years. By 2018, UTEP expects to have about 125 BUILDing Scholars attending the University.
For more information on the BUILDing Scholars program, visit buildingscholars.utep.edu.