UIW Faculty Member Brings Immersive Learning Opportunity to Life Science Students

UIW’s Dr. Veronica Martinez Acosta, associate professor of biology, has been named co-director of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Mass. The program meets over the summer for 10 weeks at the MBL and accepts 10 students per year. Many of the students chosen generally have few research opportunities available to them across their academic career. At least one UIW student will have the opportunity thanks to Martinez Acosta. This program is important to Martinez Acosta because of her history over her career and with the MBL.

Martinez Acosta grew up in Houston and went to Charles H. Milby High School. Not ready for the environment of a larger university, Martinez Acosta enrolled and attended the University of St. Thomas where she graduated in 1996 with a double major in biology and education. It was during this time when she was contemplating graduate school that she realized the hurdles underrepresented minority students face when entering a graduate program. She decided to take time to think about graduate school and instead chose to teach lower school science at Annunciation Greek Orthodox School. After three years of teaching and volunteering her time to research at the University of Houston, she decided to apply to graduate programs all over the country as a marine biologist. She was accepted into Texas A&M University where she switched her focus from marine biology to neuroscience after an impactful meeting with a professor enlightened her on the connection of research in biology and neuroscience. She received her Ph.D. from TAMU in 2005.

Since graduating from TAMU and working at the University of the Incarnate Word, Martinez Acosta has been fascinated and interested in the nervous system and its regeneration. She took a sabbatical from her work at UIW to research at the MBL toward this initiative. It was during this time that Martinez Acosta realized a larger scope of opportunity with the MBL to give back to underrepresented students. This was a position she had once been in as a student.

Students in this program will be placed in the laboratory of an MBL research scientist and have a full immersion experience of participating in all laboratory exercises and activities. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the program will provide each student with a $5,000 stipend in addition to housing and a cafeteria pass for dining purposes for the duration of the program. The NSF wanted to provide this opportunity to university students who would not otherwise have the means to conduct research in their disciplines.

The program will benefit undergraduate students in life sciences interested in continuing their education into graduate school and intend to continue researching in different fields of biology. Information about the program can be found online at the MBL site or by contacting Dr. Veronica Martinez Acosta at vgmartin@uiwtx.edu.