DPC Newsletter

Celebrating Mentorship in the DPC

Volume 9, Issue 1

February 2024

UTEP BUILDing SCHOLARS faculty recognized for excellence in mentoring

By John Garza

Since 2015, BUILDing SCHOLARS annually recognizes faculty from each of the colleges at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) for excellence in student research mentoring. Nominees are selected in a competitive process focusing on their facilitation of student accomplishments and successes, including publications and presentations, awards and honors, and other career and professional achievements. 

This year’s nominees received their awards during the BUILDing SCHOLARS Holiday Celebration on Friday, December 8, 2023, in the company of the BUILD community. The five awardees and some of their accomplishments in mentorship are highlighted below.

College of Health Sciences

Jeffrey Eggleston, PhD, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology in the College of Health Sciences, is the mentor of current BUILD senior, Joshua Cayme.

Eggleston has mentored multiple students at various levels of education and adapts his mentorship according to their needs. 

“I always try to understand my student’s ‘why’ for being in my laboratory. Once I understand their ‘why’, regardless of what it is, I have a better idea of how I can help respective students,” he said.

He aims for continual learning and improvement in his mentorship.

“With every new student and every new experience, I realize I still have so much room for growth.”

Jeffrey Eggleston, PhD

Jeffrey Eggleston, PhD

Carina Heckert, PhD (center) receiving her award from Lourdes Echegoyen, PhD (left) and Marc Cox, PhD (right)

Carina Heckert, PhD (center) receiving her award from Lourdes Echegoyen, PhD (left) and Marc Cox, PhD (right)

College of Liberal Arts

Carina Heckert, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts, is a long time BUILD mentor who has trained multiple BUILD scholars. Previously, Heckert has mentored BUILD alumni Ana Fuentes, Andrea Mata, and James Milam, and is the current mentor of BUILD trainee Anamaria Solis. 

“I regularly look for ways to include students in research and publishing opportunities,” she said, commenting on her numerous graduate and undergraduate mentees. “Nearly all of the undergraduate students I have mentored since 2020 have had funding to support their work.”

In addition to the extensive research training conducting interviews, administering surveys, and analyzing qualitative and quantitative data in her lab, she encourages her trainees to work independently.

“I encourage students to use Independent Study options as a means to get credit for research experiences. [Further], I encourage all of my mentees to gain presentation and publication experience as a part of their work.”

College of Pharmacy

Md Nurunnabi, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the School of Pharmacy.

Nurunnabi attributes the successful development of his laboratory and research team to his mentees.

“The dedication and hard work of my mentees have facilitated us to expand our collaboration both nationally and internationally, within academia and industry.

With that, we have been able to create a group of highly dedicated, motivated and productive, yet diverse team that carry a core value of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” he said.

Md Nurunnabi, PhD (center) receiving his award from Lourdes Echegoyen, PhD (left) and Marc Cox, PhD (right)

Md Nurunnabi, PhD (center) receiving his award from Lourdes Echegoyen, PhD (left) and Marc Cox, PhD (right)

Eli Greenbaum, PhD

 Eli Greenbaum, PhD

College of Science

Eli Greenbaum, PhD, Professor of Biological Sciences in the College of Science, mentors current BUILD senior, Angelica Casas.

Greenbaum has mentored multiple graduate and undergraduate students, at UTEP and at the University of Kisangani in Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa, where he conducts his primary research in taxonomy and conservation.

College of Engineering

Paras Mandal, PhD, is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering, and is a former mentor of BUILD alumna, Gisel Fregoso.

Mandal is a highly successful researcher of renewable energy, who actively engages in mentoring students from elementary and high school through undergraduate and graduate levels.

He has published tens of peer-reviewed articles with his mentees, many of whom have also received prestigious awards and fellowships, and continued on to successful research careers of their own.

Paras Mandal, PhD (center) receiving his award from Lourdes Echegoyen, PhD (left) and Marc Cox, PhD (right)

Paras Mandal, PhD (center) receiving his award from Lourdes Echegoyen, PhD (left) and Marc Cox, PhD (right)

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Celebrating mentorship with SF BUILD

By Gian Carlo Baldonado

To celebrate National Mentoring Month during January 2024, mentors and mentees affiliated with the SF BUILD program shared about their experiences with mentorship. The SF BUILD program works to enhance the diversity of the biomedical research workforce and creates spaces where all students and faculty can represent in research, with a focus on equity and working for social justice. Mentorship plays an important role in the program, helping trainees prepare for success in their research careers, as well as providing mentors with an opportunity to learn from their trainees.

Below, meet some of the mentors and mentees from SF BUILD:

Mentee Christopher David Saavedra and mentor Kala Mehta, DSc, MPH.

Mentee Christopher David Saavedra and mentor Kala Mehta, DSc, MPH.

Christopher David Saavedra, BSc Biochemistry and BAc Psychology, is mentored by Kala Mehta, DSc, MPH, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at University of California San Francisco (UCSF).

“My experience with Kala Mehta as a mentor has been nothing but welcoming. Not once did I feel the same familiar feeling of being out of place since I've been here under Kala!” Saavedra said.

Elissa Sanders, BSc Cell and Molecular Biology, is mentored by Kim Rhoads, MD, MS, MPH, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF.

“My time spent with my mentor, Dr. Kim Rhoads, and the Umoja Health community has been truly transformative. Under Dr. Rhoads' guidance, I have had the opportunity to better understand the world of health disparities, while also formulating my own cancer project to share cancer knowledge across diverse communities. Throughout my research project, I have gained an understanding of the importance of cancer research and the pressing need for accessible healthcare centers in communities with low socioeconomic status (SES).

Dr. Rhoads' mentorship has not only deepened my understanding of these issues but has also inspired a commitment to addressing health inequalities and striving for a future where everyone, regardless of their background, has equitable access to healthcare resources.

I am grateful for the experience that SF BUILD has provided me, and I look forward to carrying the knowledge and advocacy forward,” Sanders said.

Mentee Elissa Sanders and mentor Kim Rhoads, MD, MS, MPH.

Mentee Elissa Sanders and mentor Kim Rhoads, MD, MS, MPH.

Mentee Isa Palomata, and mentor Kala Mehta, DSc, MPH.

Mentee Isa Palomata, and mentor Kala Mehta, DSc, MPH.

Isa Palomata, BSc Public Health, is mentored by Kala Mehta, DSc, MPH.

“My journey with Kala Mehta has been truly heartwarming. She not only provides invaluable guidance but also cultivates a collaborative and supportive atmosphere that makes my research endeavors all the more meaningful. Learning the intricacies of crafting a public health research paper under her mentorship has been an enriching experience.

I'm genuinely excited about exploring diverse research areas with her, and I'm optimistic that our joint efforts will contribute to a positive and impactful change,” Palomata said.

Destinee Unique Lewis, BSc, Biology (Physiology) is mentored by April Bell, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor of family and community medicine at UCSF. 

“I am incredibly fortunate to have April Bell as my mentor. Her guidance has been a source of inspiration, and her support has played a pivotal role in my personal and professional growth. April has a remarkable ability to show grace when it's needed most, creating an environment where I feel valued and understood. One of the aspects that truly sets April apart is her unwavering dedication to providing the best advice, whether it's related to personal matters or research endeavors. Her insights have proven invaluable, offering a blend of wisdom and practicality that has enhanced my decision-making processes and problem-solving skills.

What stands out most about April is her limitless patience. Despite my endless stream of questions, she remains composed and always takes the time to address each query thoroughly. Her willingness to share knowledge and engage in thoughtful discussions has fostered an environment where learning is not only encouraged but celebrated. This mentorship experience has exceeded my expectations in every way. April has cultivated a relationship that extends beyond the typical mentor and mentee dynamic. It has become a partnership characterized by mutual respect, trust, and genuine care for each other's success.

I am truly grateful for April's mentorship and the positive impact it has had on my personal and professional journey. Her guidance has been instrumental in helping me navigate challenges, seize opportunities, and develop into a more confident and capable individual,” Lewis said.

Mentee Destinee Unique Lewis and mentor April Bell, PhD, MPH.

Mentee Destinee Unique Lewis and mentor April Bell, PhD, MPH.

Mentee Charlene Calderon and mentor Pleuni Pennings, PhD.

Mentee Charlene Calderon and mentor Pleuni Pennings, PhD.

Charlene Calderon, BSc Computer Science, is mentored by Pleuni Pennings, PhD.

“My mentor has been supportive in the many paths that I am currently exploring. I appreciate the patience and partnership Dr. Pennings has showed. I am currently working with Taku [another student in Dr. Pennings’ lab] in a project that involves phylogenetic trees and learning concepts, methods and more on how to achieve the goal set forth. I look forward to exploring new techniques and data with my mentors,” Calderon said.

Pleuni Pennings, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Biology at San Francisco State University.

What inspired you to become a mentor?

“Many reasons, but maybe the most important is that when I was a student, I really liked being part of a lab – I want as many students as possible to have that opportunity.”


What have you learned from your mentees?

“Many things. As I am a new immigrant, my mentees are the main way for me to learn about the US. I remember in one of my first lab meetings, everyone shared something fun they had done on the weekend and one student said that he had enjoyed shooting hoops. I was like: what did you shoot?? So I learned a new word for playing basketball.”


What do you think is the biggest misconception about mentoring?

“I think the biggest misconception is to think that the mentor (professor, Principal Investigator) is the most important person. It is really the other students and the group as a whole that is most important. The best thing you can do as a mentor is to make sure the students can work with and learn from each other.”

Mentor Pleuni Pennings, PhD with students at a research conference.

Mentor Pleuni Pennings, PhD, with students at a research conference.

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The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.

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