Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement

The main goal of the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (*RISE) Program at UTEP is to enhance the research experience for students at minority serving institutions. The overall goal is to increase the interest, skills, and competitiveness of students in pursuit of biomedical research careers. The RISE Program provides stipends to qualified students in Biological Sciences and Engineering to perform undergraduate research during the academic year. Working under a faculty mentor, students have opportunities to work in research while attending UTEP and working towards their degree. RISE undergraduate Research Scholars will receive up to $3,500 per semester. In addition, summer support (up to $2,500) will be provided if the student continues their research on campus. Nine Ph.D. trainees are currently fully funded by the RISE Graduate Scholars Program. Graduate trainees will also receive funds for tuition and fees.

*RISE is funded by a grant (#R25GM069621-11) from the National Institute of General Sciences from the TWD Division which administers research training programs aimed at increasing the number of under-represented biomedical and behavioral scientists.

Application Links:


Dr. Renato Aguilera
RISE Program Director
Biological Sciences / 4.144
ph: 747-6852
e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
Dr. Elizabeth J. Walsh
Esc-Biology Building 218
ph: (915) 747-5421
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Dr. Wen-Yee Lee
Chemistry & Computer Science Bldg / Room 2.0110
ph: (915) 747-8413
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Elizabeth Quezada
Program Coordinator Bioscience Research Building / Room 2.136
ph: (915) 747-6890
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RISE doctoral fellows

Nina Raquelle Ortiz
Nina graduated in 2012 from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology and a concentration in Microbiology. In 2014, she was admitted into the graduate program at UTEP and began working on her research project. She is currently investigating the interactions occurring between an androgen receptor splice variant and molecular chaperone proteins and how these interactions contribute to the development of late stage prostate cancer.

To include: Nina Raquelle Ortiz RISE Doctoral Scholar (2015-current) Molecular Endocrinology Lab (Dr. Marc Cox)

Alice Hernandez
Grant, RISE Doctoral Scholar Systems Neuroscience, Dr. Khan.

In order to create targeted treatments for specific metabolic disorders involving the brain, it is imperative to understand the organization of the central nervous system and how it responds to blood-borne signals such as glucose and insulin that help maintain normal metabolism. Alice is interested in identifying the specific combinations of neurons and intracellular activation markers that respond selectively to circulating hormones, and mapping their locations onto a reference atlas of the brain to help neuroscientists understand the neural substrates controlling metabolism. In addition to these pursuits, Alice is using the same reference atlas to integrate multi-scale data – from genes and proteins to connections and behavior – onto a common reference map. Within individual maps of the brain, such legacy data can be validated and, in turn, provide insights about more modern datasets collected on brain function.

Eva Iniguez
Eva Iniguez was born and raised in Mexico. After high school, she decided to continue her college education in the United States. As of today, she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology and a Master’s of Science in Biology from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). In Fall 2013 she was accepted in the Ph.D. in Pathobiology program at the University of Texas at El Paso under the mentorship of Dr. Rosa Maldonado, where she was honored to become a Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) graduate scholar. Her current research interests focus on parasitic diseases such as Cutaneous Leishmaniasis (CL) and Chagas Disease caused by the protozoan parasites Leishmania major andTrypanosoma cruzi respectively. CL is transmitted through the bite of an infected sandfly causing painful skin ulcers in the site of the bite; it affects millions of people worldwide producing and natural transmission of CL is now present in Southern Texas. No vaccine is available, therefore current treatment relies in drugs that are highly toxic for patients and their high cost limits their wider application and use. Thus, her dissertation project titled “Novel Immuno-chemotherapy against Cutaneous Leishmaniasis” focus in the screening and development of novel compounds. Ruthenium-Clotrimazole compounds act as inhibitors of an essential pathway for the synthesis of ergosterol in the parasite. This compounds showed to have anti-leishmanicidal activity both in vitro and in vivo model against CL. Through this immuno-chemotherapy approach, she proposed to achieve full protection against the CL infection by combining Ruthenium-Clotrimazole compounds with a potential synthetic neoglycoproteins as a vaccine candidate. Thanks to her research in different projects focused in Chagas Disease and CL, she has published as a first author and co-author in different journals such as Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy Journal, Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry and Journal of Medicinal Chemistry


Uriel Ortega-Rodriguez - RISE Doctoral Scholar

Mentor: Dr. Igor C. Almeida

Co Mentor: Dr. Nathan C. VerBerkmoes

Chagas disease is a vector bore disease transmitted by the triatomine (Kissing Bug), which currently affects 6-7 million people worldwide. An estimated 10,000 people die every year of complications linked to Trypanosoma cruzi infection. 300,000 individuals infected with T. cruzi currently reside within the United States, posing a threat for transmission. Treatment of Chagas disease is highly toxic, and partially effective during chronic infection. For this reason, it is necessary to develop a vaccine that provides 100% sterile protection.  As a 2nd year Ph.D. student, I am currently using Liquid Chromatography Tandem Mass Spectrometry (LCMS/MS) to structurally characterize immunogenic oligosaccharide epitopes from surface GPI-anchored glycoproteins of the infective Trypomastigote form of T. cruzi. These glycan epitopes are the main target for lytic antibodies present during T. cruzi infection and will be tested as potential vaccine candidates for Chagas disease in the humanized mouse model.

Yoshira M. Ayala-Marin

Mentor: Dr. Kirken

Mentor: Dr. Robert Kirken Mrs. Yoshira M. Ayala-Marin received her bachelor's degree in microbiology from University of Puerto Rico at Humacao and entered the Ph.D. program in Pathobiology in the Spring of 2015.The goal of the lab is to understand the intracellular signaling pathways that are involved in T cell activation and how strategies for the regulation of the immune response are achieved. The main emphasis of her project is to identify and determine the relationship between IL4 stimulation and the phosphorylation of CrkL. CrkL is an adapter protein that is overexpressed in hematopoietic malignancies and its level of expression is correlated with aggressive and malignant behavior. Post-translational modification of CrkL is important for its role in signal transduction pathways. Understanding the role of these phosphosites can help elucidate control mechanisms of CrkL in lymphocytes.

Luis Horacio Solis

Mentor: Dr. Thomas Boland, Director of the Biomedical Device, Delivery, and Diagnostic (B3D) Laboratory

Mr. Luis Horacio Solis received his bachelor's degree in microbiology and master's degree in public health from New Mexico State University. Mr. Solis is currently in the process of developing a microvascular network to provide nutrients, oxygen, and remove waste from encapsulated insulin producing cells. A major setback in bioengineering encapsulated cells is the formation of fibrosis from immunologic defenses that render the cells ineffective. His research proposes a new method to reducing fibrotic buildup on an encapsulated cell scaffold. It is hypothesized that encapsulated beta cells working in unison with a vast capillary network will significantly decrease fibrosis levels while permitting insulin secretion.

Karla Parra

Mentor: Dr. Giulio Francia- Cancer Biology and Metastasis Lab

Karla received her Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), where she then continued her graduate studies by pursuing a PhD in Pathobiology. She has been working under the supervision of Dr. Giulio Francia. Her project consist in understanding the interaction between CTLA-4 protein receptor and the regulation of the immune system in vivo in combination with different chemotherapy regimens to improve preclinical breast cancer models. One of the main obstacles in cancer research is the low rate of success in reproducing encouraging preclinical therapeutic findings, using transplanted or spontaneous primary tumors in mice. The use of preclinical mouse tumor models, which mimic postsurgical adjuvant or metastatic therapy, may be a promising strategy to help improve our ability to predict subsequent clinical outcomes.

Richard Joaquin Ortiz

Mentor: Dr. Bruce S. Cushing

Richard graduated from Oral Roberts University with a B.S. in Health and Exercise Sciences in the spring of 2013. Richard then started working as a laboratory technician in Dr. Himanshu Garg’s HIV lab at Paul Foster School of Medicine. Soon after, he received critical mentorship from the new chair of the Biological Sciences department, Dr. Bruce Cushing. Within a semester, Richard gained acceptance to the PhD program at UTEP, where he is currently studying the changes in the brain during the development of a social bond in Dr. Cushing’s lab. Following his acceptance into the program, he received a NIH-funded summer research fellowship at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA. In the fall of 2015, Richard became chair of the Biological Sciences Student Association (BSGSA) and was nominated by the UTEP graduate school for the “Outstanding TA of the Year" award. In April 2016, Richard was presented with the BSGSA’s “Student of the Month" award for his superb work done in behavioral neuroscience research at UTEP. He was awarded the RISE fellowship in the fall of 2016.