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As the ’20-’21 academic year wrapped up, BUILDing SCHOLARS at the University of Texas at El Paso had much to celebrate. Graduates and alumni alike achieved many remarkable accomplishments, a testament to their hard work and scientific and scholastic talents.
Among the 21 seniors graduating with honors from the College of Science, eight were BUILD Scholars. Twin sisters Sara and Sanaz Zareei Chaleshtori had the honor of serving as the College of Science Marshal of Students and Banner Bearer, respectively, in the May 15 Commencement procession at the Sun Bowl.
Sara Zareei had the additional honor, with three other BUILD students, of being named one of the Top Ten Seniors of the graduating class of 2021 by the UTEP Alumni Association. She shared this distinction with Andrea Danielle Mata, Diana Laura Moreno, and Danielle S. Narimissaei. The award is based on the combined academic achievement, leadership, and service demonstrated by students on-campus and in the community.
Narimissaei credited BUILDing SCHOLARS’s role in her achievement: “It set the tone for my undergraduate endeavors and was a stepping stone to my success. This research fellowship allowed me to find my place in science and granted me the freedom to contribute to causes I felt strongly about. Without support from the BUILD initiative, I would not be where I am today, pursuing a physician-scientist career."
She also offered a few words of encouragement for her BUILD peers, “I advise current BUILD SCHOLARS to keep working hard in their research labs because knowledge is everywhere and waiting to be learned. There is always room to learn and ultimately become the most well-rounded researcher you can."
Sara Zareei had advice for the new BUILD cohort, “get involved and volunteer in a lab before fully committing. It's important to make sure a lab is a good fit for you before you dive in and start your research project. Don't hesitate to seek help from the BUILD team if you need any guidance.”
Continued success for these graduates is sure to be in store if the accomplishments of BUILD alumni are any indication. David Esparza and Gerardo Estrada Zavala (both UTEP graduates from the class of 2019) were recipients of the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP) this spring. Esparza is pursuing a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, and Zavala is pursuing his doctorate in chemical biology at Harvard University with mentor Rachelle Gaudet, Ph.D.
Zavala called BUILD an “incredible opportunity” and credited it as “a major resource that helped me achieve what I have been able to do thus far in my career.” He described learning how unique BUILD is during interactions in graduate school with peers from varied backgrounds and how it helped him, “develop skills that would become essential in grad school, far beyond just the benchwork skills, but soft skills including networking and presenting our work effectively.”
Finally, from bachelor’s degree graduates to a doctoral degree graduate, BUILDing SCHOLARS celebrated the first Ph.D. attained by one of its trainees. Cecilia A. Hinojosa successfully defended her dissertation titled “Structural and Functional Brain Correlates of Treatment Response in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder”, mentored by Lisa Shin, Ph.D. A graduate from the original BUILDing SCHOLARS cohort and UTEP class of 2016, Hinojosa received her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Tufts University. She will begin a postdoctoral position this June at the Massachusetts General Hospital Harvard Medical School, under the guidance of Sharon Dekel, Ph.D.
Hinojosa shared some encouragement and wisdom for her fellow BUILD trainees: “There will be tough days when you question your abilities, skills, and your place in academia. When those tough days come, always think back to why you started this journey; you got this!”