Previous Participants

Previous Faculty

Carlo Moreno

Carlo Moreno
Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Agroecology

As a postdoctoral fellow within the SOAR program, Carlo works closely with local farmers in the Rio Grande Valley to overcome key ecological, economic, and social challenges in the transition from conventional to sustainable and organic agriculture. Using participatory action research methodologies, current projects include the development of complementary “push-pull” systems in organic brassica production, thermal and reduced-till weeding strategies in low-input tomato systems, and innovative cover cropping and soil management strategies in mixed vegetable farms. Carlo’s previous research has taken him from organic collard fields in Maryland, where he investigated relationships between generalist arthropod predator assemblages and biological control of imported cabbageworm, to smallholder potato farms in the Venezuelan Andes, where he looked at the role of semi-traditional farming practices in exotic pest management and sustainable livelihood development. He holds an MS in entomology from the University of Maryland and a PhD in environmental studies from the University of California Santa Cruz.

Pushpa Soti

Pushpa Soti
Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Agroecology

Pushpa was born and raised in a farm family in Pokhara, Nepal. She received her Masters degree in Environmental Science from Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, in 2008. She obtained her Doctorate degree in Geoscience from Florida International University, Miami, in 2013. She is currently working on integrated pest management in agroecosystems with the Agroecology program. Her research interest and expertise is in ecophysiology of invasive species, biogeochemistry, and mycorrhizal fungi function and diversity in natural and agroecosystems. Her past research focused on developing integrated weed management techniques for the two worst invasive species in Florida: Lygodium microphyllum and Eichhornia crassipes. Before coming to UTRGV she worked as a Postdoctoral Research Associate and adjunct faculty at Florida International University. Her future research interests are organic farming of vegetables, sustainable management of weeds and pests, and using soil beneficial microbes to improve soil fertility and crop production. Her long-term research interest is to understand regenerative organic agriculture that promotes carbon sequestration.

CV

Previous Interns

John Brush

John Brush
Urban Ecologist

John graduated with his B.S. in Biology from UTPA in the Fall of 2013 and graduated with his Master's with Dr. Racelis' Agroecology Lab. His project focused on the bird communities of urban areas in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Specifically, the project looks at the composition of the native forest bird community in residential areas, and what are ways towns and cities can sustain the bird diversity in this unique part of the United States. John's main area of interest is avian ecology, and he has done research in Mexico, Turkey, and the LRGV. John's passion for birding and ornithology has given him opportunities to lead bird tours for the RGV Birding Festival, conduct research on avian ecology at UTPA, and work as a naturalist at Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center. His time at Quinta Mazatlan turned his eyes to urban ecology and he hopes his research with UTRGV will lead to further conservation of wildlife in the Rio Grande Valley's growing metropolitan area.

Brush, J. & Racelis, A. Avian Communities in an Urbanizing Region: Abundance Patterns and Effects of Local Habitat Features. Poster session resented at: USDA Workforce Diversity and Career Opportunities Conference. USDA Hispanic-Serving Institution meeting; 2017 Feb 16-18; Albuquerque, NM.

Alejandra Fuentes

Alejandra Fuentes
CENA Graduate Student - Spring 2015

Alejandra Fuentes was born in Monterrey, Mexico in 1992. In 2010, directly after graduating from high school, she registered for classes in the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon with a Biotechnology and Techniques major. Throughout her studies at UANL she developed an understanding and application process for different molecular techniques. However, she transferred to UTPA to increase her academic research opportunities where she has worked on behalf of Agroecology's CENA project interning at the USDA APHIS laboratory in Mission with Dr. Raul Ruiz and Dr. Evan Braswell. She even received an award in August 2014 for her work in DNA sequencing data and received a scholarship to attend the SACNAS conference in L.A. and presented her work at the Agri-Science Conference in Miami November 2014. Alejandra graduated in December 2014 and continued her role in the Agroecology program by researching host specificity for RGV mites transmitting the citrus leprosis virus with Dr. Braswell, Dr. Salas, and Dr. Racelis in the USDA APHIS lab of Mission.

Savannah Rugg

Savannah Rugg
SOAR Graduate Student - Fall 2014

Savannah is a graduate student at UTRGV studying under Dr. Racelis in the Agroecology program. She recently moved from Santa Cruz to the Rio Grande Valley to pursue her passion for sustainable food systems. While attending the University of California Santa Cruz she obtained her Bachelors Degree in Environmental Studies, which she focused primarily on sustainable agriculture and environmental education. She has experience in tropical agriculture when she worked on farms in Costa Rica, which used holistic practices including composting, intercropping, and agroforestry, all aspects she is excited to incorporate to the UTRGV Agroecology Program. Working under SOAR, Savannah will be working with local farmers and other stakeholders in the Rio Grande Valley to help the transition from conventional to organic farm management. She loves gardening, hiking, rock climbing, and all activities dealing with the outdoors.

Bobby Escamilla

Bobby Escamilla
CENA Graduate Student - Fall 2014

Bobby graduated in 2011 with a B.S. in Biology from the Univeristy of Texas - Pan American. During his last year of college he began working as a contractor with the USDA/ARS Biological Control project Arundo donax under USDA/ARS Research Entomologist Dr. John Goolsby. During Bobby's three year employment with the USDA/ARS he acquired a passion for biological research. Bobby assisted the program in increasing Tetramesa romana population density began increasing within release sites all along the Rio Grande Valley River to attack the evasive weed A. donax. After T. romana became well established, Bobby began to work on the rearing of the second biological control agent an armored scale known as Rhizasipiotus donacis. Bobby worked within a level 2 USDA/APHIS Quarantine Facility in order to screen European R. donacis shipments for foreign parasites. As Bobby's experience and knowledge increased he was given the opportunity to help test methods for rearing the third biological control agent Lasioptera donacis. At the end of Bobby's employment he had assisted in creating a rearing method for L. donacis utilizing a fungi known as Arthrinium arundinis. With the co-op between UTPA/UTRGV and the USDA/ARS Bobby's hopes to utilize the Eddy Covariance Method to better determine water use in A. donax through evapotranspiration. He is continuing research on A. donax and its water consumption within the Agroecology lab.

Andre Munoz

Andre Munoz
CENA Student

Andre Munoz is a senior environmental science major at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Brownsville campus. His hobbies include mountain biking, kayaking, gardening, being outside with beautiful nature, and volunteering. He has over 800 hours of service under his belt through multiple events such as beach clean ups, Keep Brownsville Beautiful, chess tournaments, science fairs and much more. He is an active member and treasurer of STEMS, South Texas Engineering Math and Science. He currently has an internship with the USDA Cattle Tick Fever Research in attempt to control guinea grass (Megathyrsus maximus) an invasive weed to South Texas. After graduation he would like to pursue research in applied science of geographics information systems of invasive species effecting microclimates in agriculture.

Mia Infante

Mia Infante
CENA Student

Mia is a senior majoring in Environmental Science at UTRGV. She was the Agroecology Communications Coordinator where she was responsible for the relationship and arrangements with the Food Pantry. She has previous experience with environmental education, interpretation, and communication at the birding centers of the RGV and was a Visitor Service intern at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia during summer 2015. In summer 2016, she was in Woods Hole Partnership Education Program in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The PEP program was created to give undergraduate minorities an opportunity to intern in the Woods Hole Science Community. PEP is supported by NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, U.S. Geological Survey, Sea Education Association, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole Research Center and the University of Maryland - Eastern Shore. The program consists of a four-week course with UMES and six week research with assigned mentor. Mia did research with Dr. Ben Harden from SEA on analyzing the temperature, salinity and density of the North Atlantic Bight for the past 28-years using R Studio to organize the data. With this experience Mia wants to attend graduate school to study oceanography.

Joseph Villareal

Joseph Villareal
CENA Student

Joseph is a native of Edinburg, Texas and is expecting to graduate from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in the Spring of 2016 with a B.S. in biology and a minor in chemistry. Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, he always had a profound interest in wildlife and the great outdoors. Today, that same fascination and passion has fueled his studies and field work. Through Dr. Racelis, he was able to land a 30 day internship in April of 2015 with the USDA/ARS Biological Control Project Arundo donax under USDA/ARS Research Entomologist Dr. John Goolsby. The program is using biocontrol agents to control the invasive weed, Arundo donax, also known as Carrizo Cane or Giant Reed. In the past year, Joseph has worked with all three biocontrol agents: Rhizaspidiotus donacis (Arundo Scale), Tetramesa romana (Arundo Wasp), and Lasioptera donacis (Arundo Leafminer). Still with the program today, that opportunity has now turned into a possible career pathway post graduation. Now, as a CENA scholar, Joseph is currently working on a note for a journal documenting the production and infestation of microplants with scale crawlers. In his free time, Joseph enjoys fishing, hunting, mountain biking, kayaking, and visiting state parks throughout the Rio Grande Valley and Texas.

Kevin Thompson

Kevin Thompson
CENA Intern - Spring 2015

Kevin is a biology major studying at the University of Texas - Pan American, who hopes to pursue a masters in public administration in order to prepare himself for future employment with the Federal Government. He hopes to one day reside in the Pacific Northwest or Rocky Mountain areas where he can acquire a position within the USFWS, USDA, or BLM. He recently joined the Agroecology lab under the CENA program where he is studying the predator-prey relationship between an invasive insect that has the potential to devastate the citrus industry of the United States through transmission of a disease that is irreversible and leads to the death of the host plant and its predator. His research will include collection of both species and their population dynamics along the Gulf of Mexico.

Jorge Cantu

Jorge Cantu
Tree Campus USA Committee - Graduate Student / Research Assistant/Project Coordinator Fall 2013 - Spring 2015

Jorge graduated with a B.S. in Biology from Sam Houston State University. During his undergraduate he worked with an invasive plant parasite, Orobancheae ramosa, and its distribution in neighboring cities. He actively helped with collection, pressing, and dissecting of the parasitic plants. He also worked with riparian plant communities, focusing on species biodiversity as the geomorphology of the creek changed. Both of these projects helped prepare Jorge for his work as a graduate student at UTPA where he led a campus wide project for UTPA join the Tree Campus USA Initiative. By becoming a Tree Campus College, UTPA will instill pride in our green space and provide updates for proper maintenance and control on campus. After receiving his MS he has been lecturing at STC for general biology courses.

Guadalupe Diaz

Guadalupe Diaz
CENA Graduate Student - Spring 2015

Guadalupe graduated from UTPA in the Spring of 2014 with a bachelors in Pre-Medical Biology and a minor in Chemistry. He has experience as an intern with the Su Clinica Familiar, where he researched medical areas, sparking an interest in the genetic disease of Retinitis Pigmentosa and Autism. Furthermore, he has worked with Mexican fruit flies, Anastrepha ludens, conducting various fly trapping techniques, stress tests, and mating tests in an effort to control and reduce the costly effects the flies have on the citrus industry. Through the University of Texas - Pan American Department of Community Engagement, he has had the opportunity to work with conducted and applied research on various plants, including blackberries, elderberries, asparagus, and olive trees. Additionally, he also played an active role in the UTPAs Community Garden Committee, constructing the raised beds and providing workshops for student organizations. Lupe plans to further investigate fungal interactions with maize as part of his graduate research.

Brian Rich

Brian Rich
SOAR Intern - Spring 2015

Brian is a senior at UTPA graduating with an emphasis on entomology and acarology. He's received four grants, his most recent with our SOAR program, where he currently identifies and classifies agricultural beneficiary and pest insects at the genera level. Brian has worked on several projects before this including the Insect Diversity in Organic vs. Conventional Citrus Orchards, A Survey of Native Ground Beetles in Arundo donax Habitats, and Arthropod Diversity in Riparian Habitats Along the Texas Shoreline. He aims to advance in entomology by obtaining a masters and doctorates degrees with goals to pursue a career in the Department of Agriculture's - Agricultural Research Service as a Research Entomologist. He has an interest in biological control programs aimed at finding biological vectors to minimalize agricultural pests and in the development of integrated pest management protocols.

Alma Alaniz

Alma Alaniz
CENA Intern - Fall 2014 - Spring 2015

Alma, a Progreso native, graduated from UTPA with a Biology degree. Her work with the Agroecology program focused on the ecology and phenology of Giant Reed (Arundo donax), sifting through numerous samples taken from four different regions in Texas. Each region demonstrates varying climate conditions so analysis on the biomass of the invasive species is of main concern throughout her research. Alma has been teaching tenth grade Biology & Chemistry at IDEA McAllen since 2014. She recently applied to UTRGV to pursue her dream of dentistry.

Eleonor Lane

Eleonor Lane
CENA Intern - Spring 2015

At 23, Eleanor is completing her junior year at the University of Texas - Pan American with a major in biology and double minoring with psychology and anthropology. She recently moved from Bloomington, Indiana where she lived on an apple orchard and developed a love for the outdoors and gardening. She has experience planting over 1200 new fruit trees within her family orchard and helps harvest annually. She is now interning for Dr. Racelis under Savannah Rugg, acting has her right hand in the cover crop research. Eleanor plans to graduate in May 2016 and continue her studies with graduate school where she wishes to pursue ethnobotany or honey bees with ambitions to work with the USDA.

Jesus Gonzalez

Jesus Gonzalez
CENA Intern - Spring 2015

Jesus graduated from Roma High School as top 5% and is now pursuing a degree in Biology with a minor in Criminal Justice. His current work with the CENA program is under Dr. Hugh Conway, where he is testing the diets for the Mexican fruit fly. The goal is to determine the favorable diet then radiate the ideal fruit fly to make them sterile. Afterwards they will be released into the environment but unable to reproduce, benefiting the agricultural crops. Beyond this, Jesus plans to become a U.S. Custom with agricultural specialty.

Stefani Ocon

Stefani Ocon
CENA Intern - Fall 2013 - Fall 2014

Stefani obtained her degree in biology while working with Dr. Racelis' Urban Ecology Lab as a Student Research Intern. Her managerial skills were very beneficial in the lab and in her research in assessing the biodiversity of insects at different strata's - upper canopy, under canopy, and ground. Stefani graduated from UTPA in the fall of 2014 and plans to continue her studies in a graduate program, hoping to eventually pursue a career in education at a collegiate or secondary level or to work with USDA. She is currently working as a USDA technician in the Rio Grande Valley.

Heather Hernandez

Heather Hernandez
SOAR Intern - Fall 2013 - Fall 2014

She graduated from Donna High School and directly applied to the Univeristy of Texas - Pan American where she graduated with her biology degree in the fall of 2014. She had worked in Weslaco, TX at the Kika de la Garza Subtropical Agricultural Research Center. Under the Agroecology lab she conducted research at Hill Top an organic farm in Lyford, TX. She plans to apply for graduate school and continue her advancement in entomology, a field she is very passionate about. Heather has been very successful with her work, receiving a scholarship to attend Latino's in Agriculture Conference in Grapevine, TX, and an award from the Undergraduate Research Institution. She is currently looking for employment.

Ricardo Marez Jr.

Ricardo Marez Jr.
SOAR Intern - Fall 2013 - Fall 2014

Rico graduated UTPA with his environmental science degree, where he focused primarily on botany but has an interest in agroecology and food production as well. He moved to Edinburg to attend UTPA from San Antonio in 2011 where he found a passion for activism, the environment, and sustainability. Rico has been involved with the Sierra Club, People for Peace and Justice, and UTPA’s Environmental Awareness Club. His experience extends to an internship in 2012 at UTPA’s Office of Sustainability. His work with Juan Raygoza at Terra Preta organic farm in Edinburg under the Agroecology program focused on researching fertilizers that will directly benefit farmers of South Texas and similar climatic regions. He also studied the salinity and drought tolerance of tomatoes. Rico hopes to facilitate more sustainable and efficient food systems for society in his future. Rico also received praise for his work receiving an award from the Undergraduate Research Institution for his work with the SOAR program. He now works as a USDA technician at the Weslaco USDA facility.

Andrew Wells

Andrew Wells
CENA Intern - Spring 2014

Andrew Wells is following the Clinical Laboratory Science degree plan at UTPA going on to his sophomore year. He was born and raised in McAllen, Texas for all nineteen years of his life and graduated from McAllen High School in 2012. He worked under Dr. John Goolsby with the USDA Arundo Project as a contractor. Andrew aspires to become a medical technologists but is undecided on obtaining a graduate degree plan.

Claudia Pena

Claudia Pena
CENA Intern - Spring 2014

Claudia Pena is a Contractor at the Moore Airbase, where she assisted in the research and development of biological control solutions for the invasion plant species called Arundo donax. She is a senior at the University of Texas - Pan American majoring in biology. After graduation she plans on obtaining a Master's of Science in Biology and pursue a career in research. She enjoys tutoring chemistry, sketching artwork, and the outdoors.

Julian Gonzalez III

Julian Gonzalez III
CENA Intern - Fall 2013

Julian is an Environmental Science major who transferred from Texas State Technical College in 2012 and is planning on graduating from UTPA in the fall of 2014. He is working under Dr. Racelis' wing in the Urban Ecology Lab researching insect biodiversity. Julian's drive for Biology started at a young age and by his junior year in High School he had his first internship with the University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College. He has also interned with the Hispanic Association of College and Universities Internship Program where he traveled to Washington D.C. for the summer of 2012 and worked for the National Science Foundation. This past summer Julian also had a research opportunity with the University of Arizona. Through his extensive involvement he has been inspired to promote the STEM field by attending graduate school and aims to obtain a PhD. in Environmental Science.

Eric Cantu

Eric Cantu
Engaged Scholarship Program

Undergraduate Biology student with a Chemistry minor
Conducted Agricultural and soil science research in the UTRGV Agroecology department. He is interested in pursuing a Masters degree in Sustainable Agriculture, or Soil Science.

Jose Gonzalez

Jose Gonzalez
CENA Student

Jose is currently a senior pursuing a double major in biology and business management. He has two associates from STC in chemistry and business administration. He has worked for many years in both the retail garden industry and commercial farms. He hopes to apply his experience to educate the public in new technologies and methods available that encourage sustainable agriculture. He has a big interest in new ways of farming, which has led him to his current research aquaponics project where he maintains a 150 gallon system with about 50 Tilapia that has been used to grow lettuce and tomatoes so far. The project is looking at the different aspects of growing aquaponically compared to traditional farming methods in the ground. He hopes to continue this project while finishing his Bachelors degree and then plans on working in the commercial farming industry.

Rocio Hernandez

Rocio Hernandez
CENA Student

Rocio graduated with a degree in both Biology and nutrition-- with an interest in food systems, food desserts, local agriculture, and mobilization of the community around these topics. She has been active under different nationwide social justice organizations and groups since 08' and hopes to spread, maximize, and expand her knowledge as a CENA intern- where she has been working with Rio Grande Valley farmers, community leaders, and the University to bridge the gap between local organic food and local businesses. She hopes to pursue her education while continually working alongside the community in an effort to transform our region. When she isn't studying she is raising her four year old son, Kael, and together they enjoy biking, hiking, community activities, painting, traveling, and park clean ups.

Darcy Gonzales

Darcy Gonzales
BASE Intern - Spring 2016

Darcy majored and graduated with a degree in Biology with a keen interest in ocean ecology and the evolution of photosynthesizing bacteria, seaweeds and other plant life and their major role in the ecology of their immediate surroundings.

She has been working at Texas Plant and Soil Laboratory in Edinburg for over a year and has become familiar with testing techniques in regards to plant, soil and water. At her workplace, they quickly provide test results to an agricultural client in order to inform their clients on simpler and more environmentally friendly techniques and practices while still yielding great crop performance.

With regards to some techniques she's learned in the lab, her project with the Agroecology program has to do with testing plant stress on the garden pea and other legumes. She is a strong believer that if we become knowledgeable in alternative, more holistic methods of protecting the earth, then we can become a more sustainable society and in turn, help our oceans!

She has recently been accepted to join the amazing team of interns at Bigelow Laboratory of Ocean Sciences in Boothbay, Maine, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. She looks forward to learn new methods and techniques for testing overall ocean health.

She enjoys swimming, camping, making terrariums and aquariums as well as stargazing. She hopes to soon have the funds for scuba diving classes.

Rebekah Hernandez

Rebekah Hernandez
SOAR Intern - Fall 2016

Rebekah Hernandez graduated with her Bachelor's Biology with a minor in English. After graduation she hopes to be able to get the internship at Sea Turtle Inc. at SPI to further her knowledge and experience in marine biology with a focus in marine mammals, sea turtles, and sharks. Eventually she aims to obtain a researcher position. Her research with the program is alongside our intern Lindsey working with tomato plants to test the wavelengths that the leaves are able to absorb using a spectroradiometer. Rebekah’s ecology interest has spread to the conservation aspect of marine species and is interested in pursuing this for her masters degree.

Brenda Leal

Brenda Leal
Agroecology Student

Brenda has progressed as an animal caretaker for the USDA in the Cattle Fever Tick Research Lab in Edinburg, TX to a researcher with data acquisition and recording responsibilities with her keen interest. As a new master’s student she is now focusing her thesis on this experience. It is titled: Comparison of Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus and Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) annulatusquesting behavior as affected by season and weather. She intends to continue focusing on the larvae in hopes of having a significant impact towards the approach taken in eradicating the ticks. Additionally, she wishes to use her research to inform and educate the scientific community and general public on Cattle Fever Ticks and their role in agriculture.

Katharine Jones

Katharine Jones
CENA Graduate Student - Spring 2016

Katharine Jones graduated from UTRGV in December 2015 with her B.S. in Environmental Science. She is now pursuing a master's degree in Ecology. She was born in Laredo, Texas and moved to McAllen 20 years ago. She is currently working with the Urban Ecology research group as a CENA intern and determining tree worth in the property value assessment. She has prior experience being a Texas Master Naturalist and the volunteer coordinator at Quinta Mazatlan. She hopes to research the relationship between flora and bats one day.

Robert Mier

Robert Mier
BASE Intern - Spring 2016

Robert Mier is an undergraduate at the University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley. He enjoys camping, cliff climbing, bird watching, and bug hunting. Robert is mostly fascinated with the coleopteran genus Chrysina. He spends his summers in Southwest U.S. in search for the Chrysina beetles with his STC professors and Chrysina experts, Dr. David Robacker and Ms. Michelle Zamarron. Robert's undying passion is the study of evolution. He plans to be a world authority on the study of speciation. He is currently interning at the USDA APHIS facility under Dr. Raul Ruiz and Dr. Evan Braswell, learning molecular techniques to construct phytogeographies of pest dipterans and in the frontier of discovering the host range of Brevipalpus mites.

Mier, R., Ruiz-Arce, R., Braswell, W. E., & Racelis, A. Mitochondrial DNA variation within the ND2-COI tRNA Region for the members of the Anastrepha fraterculus group. Poster session resented at: USDA Workforce Diversity and Career Opportunities Conference. USDA Hispanic-Serving Institution meeting; 2017 Feb 16-18; Albuquerque, NM.

Habraham Lopez

Habraham Lopez
CENA Intern - Fall 2016

Habraham is a graduate from UTRGV in May 2017 with a Bachelors of Science in Biology and a minor in Spanish. He is currently interning with the USDA Quarantine lab with an interest in biological control. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Biology in hopes of becoming a researcher and/or a professor.

Madeline Marshall

Madeline Marshall
Graduate SOAR Intern Graduate Student - Spring 2016

Madeline graduated with her bachelors in biology and minor in chemistry and biochemistry from UTRGV in December 2015. She is currently studying under Dr. Racelis to obtain her master's in biology with a focus on chemical ecology. In the past she has worked as a physical science Lab Assistant at STC, a supplemental instructor for general chemistry 1 and 2 at UTRGV, and has been a TA for biochemistry at UTRGV as well. She is also a Biological Science Technician at the USDA working on the bio-control of the Arundo donax reed. She plans on obtaining her Ph.D. in chemical ecology and she aspires to be a research professor at a collegiate institution.

Stephanie Kasper

Stephanie Kasper
SOAR Graduate Intern

Stephanie graduated from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee in 2014 with a B.A. in Anthropology and Sociology. A Victoria native, she returned to Texas to farm on small sustainable operations closer to home. As the farm manager at Knopp Branch Farm in Edna, Texas, Stephanie realized how little  geographically relevant information was available to help sustainable farmers in south Texas make smart economic and ecological decisions on their land. She decided to take a break from farming to learn more about the science of sustainable agriculture and participate in Dr. Alex Racelis's farmer-driven research projects in the Rio Grande Valley. She's currently working on a master's degree in Agricultural, Environmental, and Sustainability Sciences with a focus on cover crops as a pathway to improved soil health.

Diana Cantu

Diana Cantu
SOAR Intern - Fall 2015

Diana is a freshman entering UTRGV with a degree plan in Environmental Science. She is currently working under the Agroecology program with a research project focused on organic weed irradication. Her helping hands have been very beneficial in maintaining the research wing of the garden on campus. Her previous experience as a USDA intern identifying various plant competitors is valuable within our program. After she graduates with her bachelors she plans to receive her masters from A&M College Station.

Amrita Singh

Amrita Singh
Agroecology Student

Amrita Singh is an environmental science student pursing her bachelor's degree. Her previous work has include interning at the U.S. Department of Energy in Los Alamos, New Mexico. This is where she assisted climate atmospheric scientists in gathering plant trait data for Earth System Modeling. She was recently a Pathways Intern for the U.S. Forest Service in Arcadia, California. At this position, she drafted NEPA specialty reports involving fire reforestation and working on water rights issues. Through the agroecology program at UTRGV she has worked on research involving mycorrhizal fungi and working in the campus garden. Amrita's hobbies include hiking, gardening, water sports, and being outdoors. Although she has a background in science, she plans on continuing her education by either attending law school or getting her masters. She wants to be an advocate for environmental protection and regulation by serving as a voice in the political spectrum. 

Singh, A., Christoffersen, B., Johnson, D., Wei, L., Xu, C., McDowell, N., & Racelis, A. Gap-filling plant trait data for Earth System Models. Poster session resented at: USDA Workforce Diversity and Career Opportunities Conference. USDA Hispanic-Serving Institution meeting; 2017 Feb 16-18; Albuquerque, NM.

Mylen Arias

Mylen Arias
BASE Intern

Mylen graduated from UTRGV in December 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and is currently a Post Baccalaureate student of Biology. She has served as a Writing Consultant for the UTRGV Writing Center for 5 years, earning the title of Tutor of the Year in 2016. Her interdisciplinary background has inspired her to aid and encourage others to engage in societal and political activity through her involvement in civic engagement workshops, marches, and the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, a debate competition about ethical dilemmas facing our society.

As a student, Mylen met Dr. Racelis in the Fall of 2017, furthering her interest in the Ecological sciences and encouraging her to become an Agroecology lab intern. Her continued volunteer work in organizations such as the Palm Valley Animal Center and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, as well as her interaction with faculty at UTRGV, have inspired her to contribute to the fields of Ecology, Agriculture, and Conservation Biology. She is dedicated to exploring ways in which wildlife conservation and sustainability can be brought to the attention of our communities, for she is committed to sharing her passion and work with others.

Previous Affiliated Students

Quentin Van Camp

Quentin Van Camp
Visiting Scholar

Quentin Van Camp was born in 1992 in Brussels, Belgium. He attended the Catholic University of Louvain and received a bachelors degree in Agronomy studies. Later he got his masters in Biology of Organisms and the Environment. During his studies, he got involved in a non-profit organization called Natagora, where he helped manage high biodiversity calcareous grasslands sites. After Quentin finished his thesis, he focused on the positive effects of Agroecology and grassy strips on carabids, that is when he figured out that Agroecology was his center of interest. With that, he looked into an internship in Agroecology. He found the Agroecology program at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Now here, at UTRGV, he will work on well known pests called leaf cutter ants.