UTEP Research Grants Roundup

Between October 2013 and March 2014, The University of Texas at El Paso received a number of research grants to study a range of topics. The following is a sampling of grant research in each college started during that six-month period.


Tom Fullerton, Ph.D., professor of economics and finance, was awarded several grants as part of the Border Region Modeling Project. The Water Research Foundation of Denver asked him to do an international study,  “Improving the Accuracy of Water Demand Forecasts.” The El Paso Water Utilities will fund his study on business cycle impacts on municipal water use. The City of El Paso awarded a grant for a municipal forecast model focused on the city’s 15 largest revenue sources. He will be assisted on these projects by Adam Walke, research associate in the Department of Economics and Finance; economics graduate students Alex Ceballos and Alan Jimenez will assist him with these projects.


Ruey Long Cheu, Ph.D., associate professor of civil engineering, has received a grant from the Texas Transportation Institute to study express carpooling in the El Paso region as a low-cost option for reducing the number of vehicles on the roads. The system matches drivers and riders using smart phone apps, has no pre-established routes, no fixed pickup or destination locations, and is designed for commuters with similar transport schedules. The goal of Cheu’s research is to gauge local interest to develop a successful strategy to operate and finance the system in the area.

Nathaniel Robinson, associate director of the Center for Space Exploration Technology Research, has received a grant to continue offering NASA’s Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) at UTEP. SEMAA provides K-12 students with age-appropriate lessons in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). All children who participate in SEMAA gain up to 441 hours of advanced studies in the STEM disciplines.

Tzu-Liang (Bill) Tseng, Ph.D., associate professor of industrial, manufacturing and systems engineering and director of the Research Institute for Manufacturing and Engineering Systems (RIMES), received funding from Lockheed Martin Aeronautics to research measures to prevent foreign object damage (FOD) to aircraft. FOD includes any debris or article that can damage a vehicle, such as debris on a runway that may impair tires or get sucked into engines. FOD is currently a $4 billion to $6 billion annual cost to the aircraft industry. By predicting types of FOD, custom elimination plans can be put in place to potentially eradicate the problem.

Peter Golding, Ph.D., professor of metallurgical and materials engineering, and co-principal investigators Elsa Villa, Ph.D., research assistant professor; Erika Mein, Ph.D., assistant professor of teacher education; and Harry Meeuwsen, Ph.D., professor of kinesiology; received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to increase the number and proportion of Hispanics who persist and graduate from undergraduate engineering programs.


The Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT) program in UTEP’s College of Health Sciences has been awarded $1.34 million over the next five years from the National Institutes of Health – National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to continue its training of students in health disparities research. The funding will support the project “Hispanic Health Disparities Across Cultures in Latin America: Collaborative Research for the 21st Century.”

Mark Lusk, Ed.D., professor of social work, received a grant from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to fund the Child Welfare Training Project in the College of Health Sciences through the Title VI-E program. The grant also will fund technical assistance and staff development training for caseworkers, investigators and child protection social workers at Child Protective Services offices in Region 10, which includes El Paso, Brewster, Culberson, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties.

Samuel Terrazas, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work, and Candyce Berger, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Social Work, have been awarded a grant from the Department of Family and Protective Services to fund the Texas CPS Parent Partners project, a yearlong pilot program with Child Protective Services (CPS). The program will train peer parent mentors to offer guidance to parents whose children have been placed in foster care by CPS.


Meredith Abarca, Ph.D., associate professor of English, and co-principal investigator Consuelo Carr Salas, a rhetoric and writing studies doctoral student, were awarded a grant from Humanities Texas to fund a two-part public lecture series “What the Study of Food Studies Adds to the Humanities.” The series also included two roundtable discussions focusing on how the study of food addresses central issues relevant to the humanities. Four renowned scholars facilitated the lectures and roundtables, bringing an ongoing national and international conversation of how the study of food makes concrete the abstract principles of humanities such as ethics, values, race, class and identity.

Adam Arenson, Ph.D., assistant professor of history, was awarded a grant from Humanities Texas for his “Digital Mapping of El Paso, Yesterday and Today” project. It creates four weeklong humanities-based lesson plans utilizing Geographic Information System (GIS) sites for 9th-12th grades focusing on the cultural, political, linguistic and physical history of Texas and the borderlands of the United States and Mexico. The grant also funds six daylong workshops for high school educators, hosted by UTEP, throughout the grant year.

Timothy Collins, Ph.D., associate professor of geography, and co-principal investigator Sara Grineski, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, were awarded a supplemental grant from the National Science Foundation for their project “Advancing Environmental Equity Research: Vulnerability to Air Pollution and Flood Risks in Miami and Houston.” This supplement will support research experiences for one undergraduate student as part of an interdisciplinary research team that also includes investigators from the University of South Florida. This project aims to address several limitations associated with current environmental justice research and practice, and advance knowledge of social and spatial influences on residential exposure to environmental hazards. The research involves parallel analyses of two high-impact hazards – air pollution and flooding – conducted in the two largest urban areas on the U.S. Gulf Coast: Houston and Miami.

Theodore R. Curry, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, was awarded a supplemental grant from the National Science Foundation for his project “Why Are Immigrant Neighborhoods Low Crime Neighborhoods? Testing Immigrant Revitalization Theory and Cultural Explanations.” With the supplement, undergraduate students will collect data to assess hypotheses about the relationship between neighborhood levels of immigration and crime. Primary data will consist of survey data to be collected from random samples of adult residents living in selected neighborhood clusters in El Paso County.

Sandra Garabano, Ph.D., acting director of the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies and associate professor of Spanish; and co-principal investigators Meredith Abarca, Ph.D., associate professor of English and CIBS academic adviser; and CIBS Coordinator Zulma Mendez, Ph.D., were awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for “Border Security and the Humanities,” a yearlong faculty fellows program creating nine fellowships for faculty selected from history, literature, cultural anthropology, communication, and languages and linguistics. Participating faculty will increase the presence and impact of humanities scholarship on UTEP’s master’s program in Intelligence and National Security Studies and UTEP’s master’s program in Latin American and Border Studies, two graduate programs that have traditionally relied on a solely social science perspective. Fellows will also develop innovative coursework with content and syllabi that bridge the gap between the national or mainstream narratives of border security and the everyday reality of border crossing as revealed by fiction, theater, poetry, folktales and personal testimonies. The program aims to enhance graduate curricula by developing a cohesive set of courses that humanize and broaden the study of border issues in both programs.

Kate Houston, Ph.D., research assistant professor of psychology, was awarded a grant from the University of Portsmouth for her project, “The Influence of an Interpreter on Eliciting Information, Rapport Building and Detecting Deceit in an Interview.” Her grant work will examine whether the use of an interpreter during investigative interviews alters the information gained from the interviewee and the ability of the interviewer to detect deceit. The participants recruited will be Spanish-speaking. Hiring two undergraduate research assistants to assist in the recruitment and scheduling of participants for data collection will also be part of the grant.

Daniel Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, received a grant from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues for “Honor Through Psychopathic Eyes: A Synergistic Explanation of Family Violence,” which examines how antisocial personalities (such as psychopathy) may have a synergistic effect in predicting extreme forms of family violence when combined with a sense of cultural honor. Two studies will examine the possibility that the combination of psychopathy and personal honor may create extreme family violence. The first will be an online study examining reactions to various scenarios of perceived family dishonor. The second will be a laboratory experiment examining behavioral aggression in response to perceived family dishonor.

Patrick Piotrowski, KTEP-FM radio general manager and communication department lecturer, was awarded a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) for annual general operations of the public radio station. KTEP will use this grant to pay one year of salary for an IT radio and TV specialist, and to pay for national programming from the CPB program networks National Public Radio, Public Radio International and American Public Media.


Tunna Baruah, Ph.D., associate professor of physics, earned a major grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences. Her goal is to develop computational methodologies for calculations on the charge transfer characteristics using quantum chemical theories. This will help predict photon conversion efficiency in organic molecules using powerful supercomputers.

Lin Ma, Ph.D., assistant professor of geological sciences, received funding from the National Science Foundation to quantify the weathering rates of volcanic rock to understand how they respond to changes in climates, landscapes and tectonic changes over time. Using a new age-dating technique, the research team will specifically study weathering rinds on France’s Basse-Terre Island in the Caribbean Sea. The team will conduct the research over the course of the next three years.

Elizabeth Walsh, Ph.D., chair of biological sciences, and co-principal investigators Eric Hagedorn, Ph.D., associate professor of physics; Lixin Jin, Ph.D., assistant professor of geological sciences; Vanessa Lougheed, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences; and Diane Doser, Ph.D., professor of geological sciences, received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to revise the freshman and sophomore-level environmental science (ES) curriculum to improve recruitment and retention. The team plans to develop a two-year introductory ES program to engage Hispanic students and improve recruitment, retention and graduation rates. Students will be provided supplemental mentoring and research experiences to prepare them as highly trained professionals.

A team of seven interdisciplinary faculty members were awarded funds from the National Institutes of Health to plan a new initiative to develop opportunities for mentoring and biomedical and health research for minority undergraduate students. Known as NIH’s Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD), the initiative aims to drastically diversify the workforce in the biomedical, behavioral, clinical and social sciences. The members of the team are: Renato Aguilera, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences; Thomas Boland, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering; Tim Collins, Ph.D., and Sara Grineski, Ph.D., associate professors of sociology and anthropology; Lourdes Echegoyen, Ph.D., director of the Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives; Osvaldo Morera, Ph.D., professor of psychology; and Homer Nazeran, Ph.D., professor of electrical and computer engineering.