For almost three years, senior biology major Ramiro Patino has been part of the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
“The RISE program’s mission is to hire students who are Hispanic and who are interested in doing undergraduate research in biology, chemistry and psychology,” said Isabel Nicasio, program coordinator.
The program targets sophomores in these majors, since the program is two and half years long.
“We put up fliers and send emails to professors, who see that if they see students who are wanting to do research or interested, to come and talk to me and I’ll give them an application or further information,” Nicasio said.
She said the program encourages students to earn a doctorate after their bachelor’s degree.
“By the time they graduate they have already applied to graduate schools,” the program coordinator said. And they already know what they are [doing], after they receive their bachelor’s.
Patino has had the opportunity to conduct research through RISE and has successfully won awards at several conferences such as the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS).
He is studying vectors of infectious diseases, particularly chagas.
“A vector, it could be any biological system. Call it like an insect, something that can transmit the parasite,” Patino said. “In this case, this bug is called [the] kissing bug. That kissing bug bites someone, leaving a wound and then the insect poops or defecates in that area. … As long as the feces is getting to some mucus membrane of the body, the parasite can insert easily to the body.”
“I followed my passion for science and I feel really happy for myself of what I am doing and what I have accomplished.
The biology major has recently been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program to continue his education toward a doctoral degree, while also doing research.
The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program receives more than 20,000 applications every year, but offers awards to only 2,000 applicants.
“You can use three years of funding of $34,000 a year,” he said. “It felt like a great accomplishment.”
Patino said he would like to eventually do postdoctoral work after he earns his doctorate in biomedical sciences degree and try to pursue a job within academia.
“I was thinking to work for the government, but I think I have more freedom to develop my own research questions if I become academia working in a school,” he said. “So, I would also like to go to academia to get grants for research training programs, so I can also keep helping people because since I was helped, I want to continue helping others.”
Patino’s interest in science and research stemmed from his early college years in Mexico.
“I started college in Mexico where I was studying to the equivalent of clinical scientist here and I really loved it over there,” he said. “When I started taking microbiology classes and we started learning on how we do the tests for the patients I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is so cool!’ And then you start looking at different tests and different things and you start asking like, ‘But what if this doesn’t work?’ It’s that curiosity, like, how do I answer this? And the answer was doing research.”
Even as a child, Patino was curious to know how things function and the reasoning behind them.
“I was always asking a lot of questions, like, ‘Why is this happening? Why do we have a lot of diseases?’ Since I was like 10,” he said.
Patino considers his program mentors, Teresa Feria and Robert Dearth, associate professors in biology, role models to becoming a scientist.
“[Feria and I] kind of share the same story,” he said. “Although she did most of her studies in Mexico, she had to fight really hard for what she wanted and she achieved it. I feel like she is one of my biggest inspirations because if she could do it, I can do it.”
He said Dearth is also a great inspiration and role model to him because he has worked hard for students in the RISE program. Dearth has kept pushing forward to obtain opportunities for students.
“My best advice was actually given by a doctor [from the Baylor College of Medicine], [who] was brought by the RISE program,” Patino said. “Her name is Dr. Gayle Slaughter. She once said, ‘Once you have an opportunity, you have to make it work. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it because once you make that opportunity work, all the opportunities that you really want come along.’”
Patino has taken Slaughter’s advice toward his career goals and shares it among others.
“Follow your passion,” he said. “I followed my passion for science and I feel really happy for myself of what I am doing and what I have accomplished.”
Patino said he wakes up every morning and wants to keep revising posters, writing papers and doing more experiments even if they don’t work because he has the passion to see what happens.
“If [your] passion is to do communications, if [your] passion is to do art, if [your] passion is to do whatever [you] want to do, [for example,] kinesiology, just follow your passion,” he said. “Get the degree you want because if you have that passion you will excel in that area you are in.”
Edith Jones, a biology major and RISE student, said the program has been a great mentoring experience for her.
“Thanks to the program, they provided funding and mentoring for me to work in the labs,” she said. “The fact that I was an undergrad and allowed to do the experiment and just learn how the scientific method works in real life was an incredible experience.”
She said she has known Patino since she first joined RISE.
“He works in the lab next door. I know he is a good scientist and he has done very well in poster presentations,” she said. “He also applied and got the NSF grant. That’s an excellent award and it’s great that he got it. His grant represents a great opportunity for him and his career.”
Both Jones and Patino advise prospective students to join the RISE program if they have an interest in research.
“I would just tell them that if they like the idea of research, being able to discover something new and just being challenged constantly, expanding your horizons and more than anything being able to apply what you learn in the classroom, they should join by all means,” Jones said.
She has been accepted to the University of Michigan after her bachelor’s.
“I know Ramiro is going to excel in everything he does,” Nicasio said. “I already see him with his Ph.D. being a professor and I know he wants to do the same thing as the director does for this program. I know he wants to help other students how he is.”
For more information about the RISE program, visit www.utrgv.edu/hbs/student-engagement/mbrs-rise/index.htm or call 665-3133 in Edinburg or 882-5744 in Brownsville.