Faculty Get a Research Boost from JumpStart Program

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

Always working on new ways to advance faculty careers, UTEP’s Office of Research and Sponsored Projects (ORSP) created the “JumpStart Your Research” program two years ago to provide valuable assistance with research. Each spring and fall semester since then, ambitious members of the UTEP family have leapt at the chance to elevate themselves professionally. To date, 71 faculty and staff members have graduated from the program.

“JumpStart began in the spring of 2011 as a semester-long program for faculty interested in honing their proposal writing and planning skills,” said Andrea Tirres, interdisciplinary network manager at ORSP. Fall 2012 JumpStart Your Research Program participants included Ellen Dengler, health sciences; Katherine Mortimer, education; Stanley Mubako, Center for Environmental Resource Management; Amanda Nahm, science; Jacquelyn Navarrete, health sciences; Yok Fong Paat, health sciences; Andrea Shaheen, liberal arts; Daniel Tillman, education; Larry Valero, liberal arts; Miguel Velez-Reyes, engineering; Natalia Villanueva Rosales, engineering; and Huiyan Yang, science.

“JumpStart helped me align my grant writing with the goals of the government agency that best matched the funding requirements for my project,” said Ellen Dengler, Ph.D., assistant professor in the physical therapy doctoral program. “As a new researcher, the team built my confidence that with their help, I can and will bring in extramural funding to UTEP. I haven’t yet been funded but I am going to be writing R-03 and R-15 grants this summer. These grants were recommended as good fits for my project by the folks at JumpStart.”

Dengler is working on a project titled “In vivo measurement of glutamate release and uptake in ventral horn of the spinal cord in G93A mutant rat model of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.”

JumpStart takes each cohort of faculty through serious planning for a productive career that integrates research and education and aligns with UTEP’s strategic directions. Participants meet twice a month during the semester for a series of focused workshops, meetings, and critical review. At the end of their time in the program, they come away with a strategic roadmap that can serve as a foundation for preparing competitive proposals and building teams and collaborations.

Specifically, JumpStart works with each participant on aligning with UTEP and funding agencies, integrating research and education goals; defining a research problem, providing background, and documenting the significance and intellectual merit of the research; developing goals and research questions; developing objectives and activities to achieve goals; and establishing a professional network and multidisciplinary collaborations.

With additional support from the NSF-funded Innovation through Institutional Integration (I3) program, JumpStart has evolved into a program that, in addition to preparing participants to write competitive proposals, also supports and fosters interdisciplinary communications, promotes participants’ respective expertise, and facilitates community building across academic disciplines.

“My experience attending JumpStart was great,” said Jacquelyn P. Navarrete, Pharm.D., clinical assistant professor in the UTEP/UT Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program. “As a junior faculty, I learned how to write a grant through an extremely structured process. I also was able to receive invaluable feedback and make important connections with the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects.” Navarrete is awaiting a response after applying for a University Research Institute Grant for her research, which aims to demonstrate and evaluate how a pharmacist-physician network can increase the uptake of HPV vaccinations in Hispanic communities by providing effective educational material and counseling in the El Paso region.

A more senior faculty member still found much to learn from JumpStart.

“As a new faculty to UTEP and a new department chair, the JumpStart program provided me a way to learn about the research support infrastructure and culture at UTEP, to refresh and update my grantsmanship skills, and to be better prepared for mentoring and supporting the faculty in my department,” said Miguel Velez-Reyes, Ph.D., professor and chair of electrical and computer engineering. Velez-Reyes (in collaboration with Olac Fuentes, Ph.D., from computer sciences and Stephen L. Crites, Ph.D., from psychology) was awarded $20,000 from UTEP Interdisciplinary Research to conduct proof of concept experiments throughout 2013 on defining a new research line in spectral imaging for human monitoring.

“While in the JumpStart program I collaborated with Dr. Andrea Shaheen on a UTEP Interdisciplinary Research (IDR) grant that was funded by the Provost’s Office at $20,000,” said Daniel Tillman, Ph.D., assistant professor in educational technology and director of the Educational Technology Research Laboratory. Tillman and Shaheen’s research focuses on how music activities can be a context for teaching math to elementary students. The funding they received will be used in part to support a summer camp on music-math activities in education for elementary teachers and students.

“We’ve also already applied for a Google RISE grant that would help support the summer camp by allowing us to put many of the activities online for anyone to use in teaching, teacher professional development or research,” Tillman said.

After giving JumpStart the chance to receive feedback from a few dozen participants, the program is being tweaked to allow for evolution.

“This spring semester, the Proposal Development Team is re-programming JumpStart to extend and improve the content,” Tirres said. “We’re looking at offering JumpStart over the course of two semesters and incorporating a train-the-trainer element so that more individuals can benefit from the exercises, peer-review, and presentations provided in JumpStart. We expect to announce JumpStart 2.0 and the application process in the summer.”

Full-time faculty members of all ranks will be eligible to apply with the endorsement of a chair or dean. Within their application, faculty must include keywords that reflect their research and educational interests along with a 150-word statement about their interest in the program and how their research goals align with UTEP’s research strategic plan.

JumpStart works toward representation from all areas of the campus and a group of participants that can work in the most collaborative fashion. The number of participants is kept small so as to encourage this type of working environment. When ready, the application for JumpStart will be downloadable here.

“The highly experienced JumpStart team provided me with tremendous individual feedback and invaluable criticism on my research plans and goals,” said Larry A. Valero, Ph.D., associate professor of security studies. “I only wish I had this experience earlier in my career. I am extremely grateful to Dr. Roberto Osegueda, Dr. Christian Meissner, and the entire JumpStart staff for this outstanding opportunity.”