The Initiative on Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) program at UT Health San Antonio hosted its annual retreat on July 17.
IMSD is a National Institute of Health student development program to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups in biomedical research at research-intensive environments.
The event was planned by Joel Agosto, Karen Lindquist, Joel (Bryce) Nerios, Kristian Odfalk, Angelica Olmo-Fontanez and Paulino Ramirez. The theme was Interdisciplinary Science.
“We decided to choose the theme of “Interdisciplinary Science” for two reasons,” explained Joel A. Agosto-Peña, a student in the Cancer Biology discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program. “The first one is that our IBMS PhD program covers seven different disciplines and we were trying to make everyone feel engaged and that the retreat would be relevant. The second reason is to remind us that even though we have specific areas of studies, organisms and the patients we aim to help are much more complex than a disease or a system. ”
Agosto-Peña explained that by communicating with each other, we can learn to incorporate aspects from other fields and that this relationship will increase the likelihood of our research having a positive impact on the community.
The keynote speaker for the event was Neil Hanchard, MD. Ph.D., a clinical investigator within the Medical Genomics and Metabolic Genetics Branch (MGMGB) in the NHGRI Division of Intramural Research. Dr. Hanchard is heading the Childhood Complex Disease Genomics Sections within the MGMGB.
“Dr. Hanchard presented some really fascinating and impactful work he has carried out with H3Africa, a consortium of institutions which combine genetics, epidemiology, and medicine to identify genes and environmental stimuli behind Africa’s most devastating diseases,” said Kristian Odfalk, a student in the Neuroscience discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program.
Agosto-Peña explained that Dr. Hanchard was chosen as the keynote speaker because of his interdisciplinary work.
“We wanted to find a speaker capable of providing examples of how science is not compartmentalized to a specific field and Dr. Hanchard was ideal for that. He shared with us some of his work in metabolic genetics in underrepresented populations as well as his career path. The one thing I enjoyed the most out of his talk was how Dr. Hanchard provided examples of how different opportunities can become incredible experiences that allow us to move forward to our desired paths. I felt this part to be very true, it is important to keep an open mind and make use of whatever opportunities come our way,” Agosto-Peña said.
During the event, the students played “Jeopardy” and “Family Feud.”
Odfalk explained that for the Jeopardy game, the students utilized a powerpoint which was formatted in the style of Jeopardy, and inputted questions and answers that spanned all of the discipline of biomedical research taught at UT Health San Antonio.
“Teams were randomly allocated to promote diverse scientific backgrounds in each team. Thus, the teams had to rely on the expertise of individuals from different disciplines to be successful in the game,” he said.
The Family Fued game also used a powerpoint but was based on surveyed answers rather than facts. The topics ranged from “most common lab technique” to “favorite seminar food.” As in the televised version of the game, contestants had to guess the most popular answers for each of the questions.
“The Jeopardy was very science fact heavy and required some thinking, although everyone still seemed to enjoy it and wanted to win. Family feud was so funny and relatable by asking us what we thought other students said about their lab life,” said Joel Bryce Nerios, a student in the Neuroscience discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program.
Elizabeth Rodriguez, Ph.D., the core lab manager for A Student-Centered, Entrepreneurship Development (ASCEND) Training Module to Increase Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce at Morgan State University also spoke at the event.
“Dr. Rodriguez gave a speech about her journey to science and described her struggles, and while some were extreme, others were very relatable and inspiring because she overcame them,” Nerios said.
Afterwards, there was a “3 Minute Thesis” competition on the following topics:
- Courtney Johnson “Identifying the driving forces of liquid-liquid phase separation for the oncogenic fusion protein, EWS-Fli1”
- Leila Takahashi- Ruiz “A sponge-derived microtubule stabilizer with potent and persistent antitumor efficacy”
- Raphael Reyes “Identification of monoclonal antibodies with broad reactivity against the Malaria parasite variant surface antigen responsible for severe malaria”
The group ended the day with a group photo, awards and closing remarks.
Agosto-Peña said that he enjoyed the awards ceremony because members of the IMSD group were recognized for different accomplishments throughout the year.
“Looking at the surprised faces and getting to hear all the amazing stuff everyone is doing is incredible,” he said.
Ediri Metitiri won the “ True Grit” award.
Victoria Alers won the “Heart of IMSD” award.
Angelica Olmo-Fontanez won the “Excellence in Research Junior Student Award.”
Raphael Reyes won the 3MT competition for his presentation on “Identification of monoclonal antibodies with broad reactivity against the Malaria parasite variant surface antigen responsible for severe malaria.”