Faculty Spotlight

Featuring UTRGV women faculty in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM), as well as Social/Behavioral Sciences and Economics (SBE)

Dr. Cristina Villalobos

Dr. Cristina Villalobos

Dr. Cristina Villalobos is the interim director for UTRGV′s School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, and a President′s Endowed Professor. Dr. Villalobos, a Valley native, received her Ph.D. in Computational & Applied Mathematics from Rice University in 2000 and a BS in Mathematics from the University of Texas-Austin. Dr. Villalobos has dedicated her professional life to helping Latino students pursue STEM (science, technology, education, and math) degrees to the national level. In January 2015, she was elected member of the Board of Directors for the Society for the Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and will serve a three-year term ending Dec. 31, 2017. She is the first UTPA faculty member to join the SACNAS board, which includes professionals in academia, industry and government sectors. Dr. Villalobos also serves in the Diversity Committee of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, one of the top applied mathematics professional organizations.

Some of Dr. Villalobos′ accomplishments in teaching, research, service, and mentoring include The University of Texas Board of Regents′ Outstanding Teaching Award in 2012 and the Distinguished Undergraduate Institution Mentor Award from SACNAS in 2013.

Her research interests include linear and nonlinear optimization and their applications, optimal control, and STEM Education. She conducts research in interdisciplinary fields, such as computer science, engineering, and mathematical biology, and has over 20 publications in journals, conference proceedings, and book chapters and has presented at many international and national conferences. Apart from published works, Dr. Villalobos has acquired over $6 million in external grants in STEM Education. She is also the director and principal investigator of a $3.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to establish UTPA′s Center of Excellence in STEM Education, which was recently awarded an additional $1M based on a successful review of their past accomplishments. Dr. Villalobos is also a co-principal investigator of a $3.1 million award received in 2012 from the National Science Foundation′s, ADVANCE Program, which supports the University′s development as an exemplary Hispanic Serving Institution in attracting and nurturing women, especially Hispanic women, in STEM fields and careers.

Dr. Villalobos′ passion for teaching and mentoring students in the Rio Grande Valley, especially women and underrepresented minority students to obtain graduate degrees and positions of leadership, has made her an outstanding educator, a role model, and a national leader in the STEM field.

Dr. Laura Grabowski

Laura Grabowski

Laura Grabowski is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She received her Ph.D. in Computer Science from Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan in 2009. Dr. Grabowski holds three master’s degrees: One in computer science from UTPA, one in communications/theatre from Bowling Green State University at Ohio, and one in dance and related arts from Texas Woman’s University at Denton, Texas. Dr. Grabowski taught dance for many years before returning to her first love of science while teaching dance at UTPA. Her research specialization is Artificial Life, with a focus on the evolutionary origins of key features of intelligent behavior such as memory and learning. This work is applicable to understanding evolutionary processes in nature and to developing more flexible and robust computational systems. She is particularly interested in developing navigation systems for autonomous robots that are flexible and robust like navigation systems in animals. She is also interested in computer science education, particularly issues related to broadening participation by underrepresented populations in the discipline. She is a currently a member of the ADVANCE Internal Advisory Committee. 

Dr. Grabowski has written numerous articles and presented at national and international conferences and symposiums. Her work has been published in venues such as PLOS ONE, the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference (GECCO), the ALIFE conference, and the Frontiers in Education conference.

Dr. Grabowski helped create the local student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Committee on Women (ACM-W) in the 2012-2013 academic year, for which she is co-advisor now. ACM-W’s mission is to promote diversity in the computing discipline, particularly aimed at increasing participation by women. She was nominated by the Department of Computer Science for the 2013 UTPA Faculty Excellence Award for Outstanding Teaching and won the UTPA Bridge Program Faculty Mentor of the Year, 2011-2012. Dr. Grabowski has been recently awarded the highly prestigious University of Texas System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award, Tenure-Track category in 2014 as recognition for her extraordinary classroom performance and innovation in undergraduate instruction.

In fall 2014 she joined the UTPA ADVANCE Program Implementation Team as an ADVANCE STEM Fellow for the College of Engineering and Computer Science. She is working closely with the ADVANCE Leadership Team, especially with the Recruitment Component in order to enhance all stages of the recruitment process, including search committee training, and supporting the onboarding process of new faculty. Dr. Grabowski was instrumental in identifying opportunities to increase the representation and advancement of women faculty across Engineering and Computer Science.

Dr. Teresa P. Feria

Teresa Feria

A native of Mexico City, Dr. Feria joined the UTPA Biology Department as an Assistant Professor in 2008. She earned both her B.S. in Biology with honors (1997) and an M.S. in Animal Biology (2001) from The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). She then went on to complete a doctoral degree in Biology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (2007) and subsequently finished two post-doctoral appointments (Missouri Botanical Garden-Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development and UNAM, Mexico) before coming to UTPA. She is currently an Associate Professor of Biology at UTRGV> 

In the Biology Department, the core of her research is focused on the distribution of animal and plant species along the Texas-Mexico border. Ongoing studies include work on Chagas disease, specifically the higher risk that south Texans will have for contracting this tropical illness as the effects of global climatic change unfold, spread of invasive species, and conservation of endangered species. At UTPA, Dr. Feria has authored or co-authored a total of 14 peer-reviewed papers and 2 book chapters and has advised more than 20 graduate students while at UTPA. She received the Provost’s International Studies Award (2011) followed by the Excellence in Teaching Award from the College of Science and Mathematics (2012). More recently (summer 2013), she was the recipient of a USDA Kika de la Garza Science Fellowship, where she was the only female, out of five science fellows.

Dr. Feria has received numerous international and national grants to aid in accomplishing her research goals, some of which include awards from Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, Spain Madrid, the National Geographic Society, USDA, Wildlife Management Institute, Amazonian Conservation Association, Conabio (National Commission for the Use and Protection of Biodiversity in Mexico) and the South Texas Border Health Disparities Center. She currently serves as the Vice-President of CIPAMEX, a non-profit organization dedicated to the study and conservation of Mexican birds and their habitats, and she is an Associate Editor of HUITZIL, a journal of Mexican ornithology. She is the director of recruitment/retention for the Subtropical Plant Society located here in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. She is mentor for the HHMI, BRIDGE, LSAMP-NSF programs, C-STEM center, and for the Conservation Biology organization at UTPA. She has participated in the Mothers-daughters at UTPA program as keynote speaker. Dr. Feria has reviewed grant-proposals for the Texas Academy of Science and National Science Foundation and has served as a reviewer for 15 peer-reviewed journals.

Dr. Kristine Lowe

Kristin Lowe

Dr. Kristine Lowe is an Associate Professor of Biology at UTRGV. Prior to joining the Biology department in 2004 at the University of Texas-Pan American, Kristine Lowe earned her B.S. in Ecology, Ethology and Evolution from the University of Illinois, her M.S. in Environmental Biology from Governors State University and her Ph.D. in Applied Biology from the Georgia Institute of Technology. She also completed two postdoctoral research fellowships with the Naval Research Lab in biocorrosion, biocontrol and bioremediation, and she completed a year of employment as a principal microbiologist with the Gas Technology Institute in Illinois. She currently teaches undergraduate courses in Microbiology and Environmental Biology and serves as the Chair of the Environmental Sciences section of the Texas Academy of Science.

Lowe’s research interests include natural microbial communities that mediate the biogeochemical cycles of metals and metalloids in marine, freshwater, and estuarine environments. Her research on the impact of arsenic on the Laguna Madre ecosystem earned UTPA a grant of $768,552 in 2009 from the National Science Foundation’s Undergraduate Research and Mentoring (URM) in the Biological Sciences program. Lowe also directs the Undergraduate Research and Mentoring at a Hispanic Serving Institution Investigating a Rare Ecosystem project, which involves undergraduate students in research and other activities to increase their knowledge and awareness of biology. She was recently awarded (2013) a grant from the National Science Foundation in the amount of $158,420 to acquire a next-generation DNA sequencer for biology research at UTPA.

Lowe is passionate about her students participation in the research program. “This should make research more interesting because it will directly benefit their community. Students will also gain skills in laboratory and field techniques, learn how to communicate scientifically, and hopefully have some fun. These skills will make them more marketable in the workforce. Ultimately, we would like students to consider going to graduate school and pursuing a career that involves research,” she said.

Archived Faculty Spotlight

Karen Lozano

Karen Lozano

Karen Lozano is Professor of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas – Pan American (UTPA). After earning her undergraduate degree from Universidad de Monterrey, Lozano moved to the United States to study at Rice University. She earned her doctorate in 1999. She was the fifth woman in 25 years to earn a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering/Business Administration at UDEM and then the first woman from Mexico to earn a Ph.D. from Rice University in the Science and Engineering fields. In 2000, Lozano was hired as a faculty member at UTPA, making her the first woman, and for several years afterward, the only female faculty member in several engineering departments.

Since joining UTPA, Lozano has been awarded 44 grants and has 23 patents/patent applications. Together with fellow mechanical engineering faculty member Dr. Kamalaksha Sarkar, Lozano invented a more efficient way to produce nanofibers. This landmark invention led to the creation of UTPA’s first startup company, FibeRio, and garnered the University two grants from the UT System’s Texas Ignition Fund The company has provided employment opportunities for Rio Grande Valley residents and UTPA graduates with hopes of growing its workforce to 250 people within the next five years. Along with her impact on the region, UTPA has also recognized Lozano’s dedication to mentoring students with the 2012-13 college-level Excellence Award in Mentoring.

Kristin Croyle

Kristin Croyle

Kristin Croyle earned her bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Utah in 1994 and her master's and doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology at the University of Montana in 2000. She completed a one-year predoctoral internship in clinical psychology at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Seattle Division and a two year postdoctoral fellowship in clinical neuropsychology at the University of Washington Medical School. She is a licensed psychologist in the state of Texas.

In 2002, Croyle joined the psychology faculty at The University of Texas-Pan American where she has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in clinical psychology, assessment, and research methodology. Her research interests include emotional regulation, self-harm, and Latino mental health.

Croyle values excellence in teaching and in 2010 won the university-level UTPA Faculty Excellence Award in Teaching, an award designed to distinguish superior teachers who maintain high expectations of their students and ensure academic rigor in their courses. It also recognizes her contributions to the development and delivery of effective teaching and learning experiences.

“I love teaching in the classroom and in the research lab; both teaching and clinical work are so rewarding” Croyle said in an interview with a UTPA Public Affairs representative. “Both are oriented toward helping people improve or shifting their attention to new ways of thinking about things. They are very interpersonally interactive and focused on improvement.”

In addition to her teaching as a UTPA faculty member, Croyle has served as Assistant Dean and Interim Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, as Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, and beginning Fall 2013, as the inaugural Dean of the University College, overseeing all undergraduate student success including retention and graduation initiatives, first-year programming, undergraduate curriculum and assessment, advising, and curriculum alignment.

Dr. Croyle notes that her administrative work is another demonstration of her commitment to students at UTPA. “Being in the classroom or the research lab allows faculty to directly impact students individually. The work that committed faculty do in administration in growing and developing broader programs for students allows us to impact all of the students at the university.”

Marie Mora

Marie Mora

Marie T. Mora is Professor of Economics and Vice Provost Fellow for Faculty Affairs at The University of Texas – Pan American (UTPA). In addition to her forthcoming book on Hispanic Entrepreneurs in the 2000s (Stanford University Press, Fall 2013, co-authored with Alberto Dávila), she has published two co-authored/co-edited books Labor Market Issues Along the U.S.-Mexico Border (2009) and The Economic Status of the Hispanic Population: Select Essays (2013) and over 30 refereed journal articles on issues related to Hispanic socioeconomic and labor-market outcomes (including self-employment) and the economics of the U.S.-Mexico border.

In terms of professional service, Professor Mora is currently involved in a variety of mentoring activities as part of UTPA’s NSF-funded ADVANCE Program, and effective August 2013, she is the Director of the American Economic Association's (AEA’s) Economics Mentoring Program. She is also serving on the Data Users Advisory Committee for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; the Editorial Board of Social Science Quarterly; the AEA’s Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession (a Committee which she chaired in 2011); the National Advisory Board of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico; the Board of the American Society of Hispanic Economists; the Texas Border Colonias Study Steering Committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas; and the International Advisory Board for the Association for the Advancement of African Women Economists . Moreover, Professor Mora was previously a Mentor in the Diversity Initiative for Tenure in Economics (DITE) Program (2008-2011) and she served two consecutive two-year terms as President of the American Society of Hispanic Economists (October 2006-September 2010).

Dr. Liang Zeng

Liang Zeng

Dr. Liang Zeng graduated with a Ph. D. (1998) in Theoretical Physics from Zhejiang University in P. R. China. She joined the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) as a full-time faculty in 2000. After six years of service to the students at UTPA, Dr. Zeng was tenured and promoted in 2005. Dr. Zeng specializes in quantum optics and has expanded her academic experience to include quantitative methods in educational research and physics education research.

Dr. Zeng has published 16 peer-reviewed journal articles in reputable international and national journals, as well as a number of reviewed conference proceedings in the fields of quantum optics, educational research, science teaching, and quantitative methods. She has taught undergraduate physical science and physics courses as well as the Physics by Inquiry course in the Master’s Teacher Preparation Program in the Physics and Geology Department. Her graduate course teaching experience also includes Introduction to Statistical Methods and Educational and Psychological Measurement at UTPA. Further, she has been Co-PI on three NSF education grants. Among several awards, Dr. Zeng received the Outstanding Faculty Award for Professional Achievement in 2002 and the Faculty Excellence Award from the College of Science and Mathematics in 2011.

Dr. Zeng has served as Chair of the Task Force on preparing a proposal for a Bachelor of Science in Physical Science program (Physics & Chemistry), which commenced in 2011. Furthermore, Dr. Zeng has contributed to community service projects in the Rio Grande Valley: high school and middle school teacher training workshops in physics, middle school student physics summer camp, regional and local science fair judge, and performing general science experiments in schools.

During AY 2013-2014, Dr. Zeng was selected as an ADVANCE Administrative Fellow, working in the Department of Community Engagement to co-organize outreach projects such as the HESTEC Science Funland and to collaborate on quantitative research to study the longitudinal impact of HESTEC on the community.