Students in the St. Mary’s University Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program, who are known as the McNair Scholars, will present their summer research to the community on Nov. 4 in the Alkek Business Building, room 107 from 1 to 4 p.m.

Topics cover a variety of subjects, including inequalities in public school finance, code-switching of bilingual speakers, using a math model to study Type 2 Diabetes, the evolution of critical enzyme activities, and increasing female and minority participation in collegiate sports.

The McNair Program is designed to prepare participants for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. Founded in 1996 in honor of Ronald E. McNair, Ph.D., a laser physicist and Challenge space shuttle astronaut, the McNair Program is designed to help increase the number of underrepresented students in graduate programs and, ultimately, help diversify the faculty in college and universities and those employed in various areas of science.

About the research

Title of Presentation: Importance of Position 425 to Substrate Specificity of Aromatic Amino Acid Hydroxylases and Evolution of Critical Enzyme Activities
Presenter: Noel Shaheen
Presenter’s Department: Biology
Mentor: S. Colette Daubner, Ph.D., St. Mary’s and Paul Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., UTHSCSA
Hometown: El Paso
Expected Graduation: May 2012

Summary: This research demonstrates the importance of the amino acid sequence for enzymatic activity that regulates dopamine in our bodies. Dopamine plays a critical role because it controls smooth muscle function and various cognitive functions. Aromatic amino acid hydroxylases catalyze hydroxylations in the liver and the nervous system.

Tyrosine hydroxylase, the enzyme that catalyzes DOPA from tyrosine, is a significant enzyme in the pathway that makes the catecholamines dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Tyrosine hydroxylase has evolved from an ancient phenylalanine hydroxylase and has maintained 75% similarity to phenylalanine hydroxylase in its amino acid sequence, although their substrate specificities are different phenylalanine hydroxylase is unable to catalyze the reaction with tyrosine to make DOPA.

This specificity may be accredited to one specific amino acid at position 425 which is an aspartate in tyrosine hydroxylase, and a valine in phenylalanine hydroxylase. Through site-directed mutagenesis, this particular amino acid was replaced with the amino acids methionine, glutamine, and cysteine in tyrosine hydroxylase. The result of several assays show that none of the mutants can produce the amount of DOPA that wild type tyrosine hydroxylase is capable of producing.

Title of Presentation: Everything is Bigger in Texas, Including Educational Inequalities
Presenter: Didya Magana
Presenter’s Department: Economics
Mentor: Albert Cortez, Ph.D., Intercultural Development Research Association
Hometown: Brownsville
Expected Graduation: December 2011

Summary: This research analyzes a combination of historical Supreme Court decisions that have affected public school education finance laws in Texas and how these laws have affected the poorest districts in Texas, especially in the Lower Rio Grande Valley Region (LRGV). The Texas Foundation School Program is explained and data sets on public school funding in Texas are analyzed.

Descriptive summary statistics on National, state, and Texas school districts are used to compare inequalities in per pupil funding among rich and poor districts as well as insufficient funding in the state.

In conclusion, finance reforms must provide more funding for poorer districts due to the fact that it is more costly to teach someone English who does not speak it and more support for programs that increase graduation rates among these student populations. In addition, projected cuts in funding as a result of the SB 1(2011) for the next two years and alternatives to funding education such as the state income tax are explored.

Title of Presentation: Are You Able To Leer This?: Interpretation of Semantic Violations and Code-Switches by Bilingual Speakers
Presenter: Ruben Medina
Presenter’s Department: Psychology
Mentor: Nicole Wicha, Ph.D., University of Texas at San Antonio
Hometown: El Paso
Expected Graduation: May 2012

Summary: Semantic violations on their own disrupt the flow and meaning of a sentence; pair this violation with a code-switch and the product sentence becomes an ambiguous mess. The study explored bilingual speaker’s abilities to interpret meaning in sentences containing semantic violations as well as sentences containing code-switches.

These two stimuli were also paired within sentences in order to compare interpretation time between stimuli presented separately as opposed to stimuli presented together. The authors of this study used E-Prime to present participants with various trial lists consisting of four sentence categories. The test was to be taken at the participant’s own pace and timed using a button box. Results found that combined stimuli presented times that were sub-additive, demonstrating a cascade effect in time.

This meant that individual stimuli times were not added to produce a sum for the pair, but instead combined times were only a few ms above individual stimuli presentations. Future studies can gain a stronger variance by adding a larger population of subjects. Also, by using paragraphs of information instead of single sentences experimenters can better understand how well a bilingual speaker can successfully comprehend overall passage context.

Title of Presentation: Can Transwomen be Feminists too? The Debate between Pro- and Anti-transwomen Feminists
Presenter: Stephanie Canales
Presenter’s Department: Psychology
Mentor: Amy Stone, Ph.D., Trinity University
Hometown: Houston
Expected Graduation:May 2012

Summary: This research examines the feminist debate on the legitimacy of male-to-female (MtF) transgender feminists. Prior research has incorporated males with feminist studies but not with MtF transgenders. Data was collected from literature, websites, blogs, and interviews with feminists. Anti-transgender feminists emphasize body issues while pro-transgender feminists recognize identity as defining components.

Title of Presentation: Breaking the Barrier: Increasing Female and Minority Participation in Collegiate Sports
Presenter: Jeanette Vazquez
Presenter’s Department: Marketing
Mentor: Peter Titlebaum, PhD, University of Dayton
Hometown: El Paso
Expected Graduation: December 2011

Summary: According to the U.S. Department of Education, female students now represent 57 percent of the nation’s college enrollment; meanwhile, minority representation has increased from 15 percent in 1976 to 32 percent in 2007. With this rapidly growing representation of women and minorities comes a challenge for the curricular and extracurricular programs in higher education. In most schools, less than 10 percent of the student population is engaged in these sports, and women and minorities participate at a rate lower than men.

A methodical approach was developed to assess the participation of these two underserved groups, as well as understanding the barriers to their lack of involvement in intramural sports. In a survey conducted by the University of Dayton, 45 of 93 intramural directors affiliated with the National Intramural Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) indicated that less than 10 percent of their school’s women participate in intramural sports. A survey conducted with the same university’s female student body, total population 10,000, indicated that 44 percent of the respondents have not played an intramural sport. In order to decrease the barriers these underrepresented groups face, directors must implement updated marketing strategies to entice this particular target market to participate.

Title of Presentation: Dogmatism and Closure
Presenter: Luis Romo
Presenter’s Department: Philosophy
Mentor: David Hilbert, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Chicago
Hometown: Mission
Expected Graduation: December 2011

Summary: The researcher argues that Roger White’s claim of Bootstrapping against Dogmatism is not carefully developed and has some gaps in reasoning. Dogmatism is James Pryor’s epistemological theory of perception. It argues that if you have an experience as of P then you are justified in believing P. However, there is a claim of epistemic circularity that is usually brought up against Dogmatism. White tries to carefully develop a version of the Bootstrapping argument to undermine this theory of perception but his mistakes lie in a misapplication of the Closure principle. The Closure principle is a principle that applies logical implications to belief ascriptions. More specifically, I argue that Roger White’s mistake lies in the fact that he applies the Closure Principle, with regards to justified belief, to conjunctions, which has been shown to create contradictions.

Title of Presentation: My BIG Fat Math Model: Beta-Cell Compensation with Type 2 Diabetes
Presenter: Tracy Gonzalez
Presenter’s Department: Mathematics
Mentor: Erika T. Camacho, Ph.D., Arizona State University
Hometown: El Paso
Expected Graduation: May 2012

Summary: In this work the researchers mathematically explore the biological consequences of the effect of over-nutrition, fat accumulation, and beta cell function in a model of the progression of Type 2 diabetes (T2D). More specifically, we focus on the effects of fat mass in the liver and the mechanism underlying the initiation and progression of beta cell failure. This mathematical model is based on a previous model that considers glucose-insulin and beta cell mass dynamics.

We incorporated fat (assumed to grow linearly), the direct effect of insulin sensitivity, and the effect of beta cell sensitivity in our model. We assumed that beta cell sensitivity embodies a logistic response by initially increasing as fat accumulates due to the compensatory response triggered by increased glucose levels. Using the theory of dynamical systems we analyze the various stages of T2D, investigate whether weight loss in the pre-diabetic and diabetic stages would reverse T2D, and study when this treatment strategy is no longer effective.

Title of Presentation: Economic Viability of Photovoltaic Systems in Northern Illinois
Presenter: Marcos Mendoza
Presenter’s Department: Physics
Mentor: Robert Rosner, Ph.D., University of Chicago
Hometown: Fort Stockton
Expected Graduation: May 2013

Summary: A Monte Carlo simulation is carried out to calculate a Levelized Cost of Energy for a residential photovoltaic system in Illinois. The program used was the National Renewable Energy Laboratory-based System Advisor Model in order to take into account engineering and economic factors for analysis. Preliminary results were compiled for the cases including subsidies and not including subsidies. As expected, the utilization of subsidies warrants the investment in such systems whereas no subsidies render the implementation of photovoltaics beyond the means of the average consumer.

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