Steering Committee

Committee Members

Meet the steering committee members for the RGV STEM Education Consortium.

Dr. Angela Chapman

Dr. Angela Chapman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She is currently the Co-Director for the UTeach RGV program. She received her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of South Florida in 2013; Master of Science in Biology from the University of Kentucky, and her Bachelor of Science in Zoology from Michigan State University. She taught at the college and secondary level before arriving at UTRGV (formerly UTPA) in 2013. Dr. Chapman’s scholarly interests center on inclusive, equitable practices in STEM education. She is committed to finding ways for all students to be successful in STEM classes. Her research agenda includes topics that focus on the developing culturally relevant curricula and classroom practices that engage students in STEM learning, especially bilingual learners. Her second area of research is developing teacher agency and identity in STEM teachers.

Dr. Steve Chamberlain

Dr. Steve Chamberlain is a professor of special education in the Department of Human Development & School Services at UTRGV. He received his PhD in Special Education from the Bilingual Special Education program at the University of Texas at Austin. He has taught at UTRGV and U.T. Brownsville for the past 18 years and has six years of K-12 classroom experience working with children with emotional/behavioral difficulties and learning disabilities. Dr. Chamberlain is currently teaching courses for the accelerated/online special education Master’s program and is active on various projects, including Pathways to Teaching, an initiative to provide high school students opportunities to explore their interest in teaching as a career. His research interests focus on the role of culture and language in identifying and teaching children with disabilities. Dr. Chamberlain is also an active member of the Council for Learning Disabilities, having served as president of the organization.

Dr. J. Joy Esquierdo

Dr. J. Joy Esquierdo is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She is currently the Director for the Center for Bilingual Studies and the advisor for the Bilingual Education Student Organization. She received her Ph.D in Educational Psychology from Texas A&M University at College Station in 2006; her Bachelor of Arts and her Master of Education in Elementary Education-Bilingual/Bicultural from the University of Texas-Pan American. She taught and worked in Texas public schools for nine years before working in academia. The majority of her teaching experience is from working in elementary schools in the Rio Grande Valley and in the Houston-area. Dr. Esqueirdo’s academic interests center on Bilingual Education, Gifted and Talented Education and the cognitive development of children, especially bilingual children. She has a strong commitment to dual language education programs. The positive long-term outcomes of dual language programs offer evidence of closing the current academic achievement for bilingual Latin@ students and affirm the richness of biculturalism. Her research agenda includes topics that focus on the academic performance of bilingual students in various areas such as gifted education, content literacy development (in both English and Spanish), and overall best teaching practices for bilingual learners. She has co-authored two books: Teaching Content to Latino Bilingual-Dual Language Learners: Maximizing Their Learning and A Practical Guide for Student Interns: Meeting the Needs of Latino Students and their Communities.

Valerie Gamez

Ms. Valerie Gamez. As Director of the $800,000 Texas Regional STEM Degree Accelerator grant program at South Texas College in McAllen, Texas, Valerie Gamez has facilitated professional development for over 150 STEM faculty from across the Rio Grande Valley through the program’s STEM Faculty Institute. As a result, over 40,000 students in local K-12, college and university institutions are receiving additional high-quality instruction in STEM areas. In addition, Ms. Gamez has facilitated the formation of regional industry sector partnerships in both the Health Care and Information Technology sectors. Under the Next Generation Sector Partnership model, leaders from across the RGV are collaborating on issues common to each industry. With the support of regional EDCs, Chambers of Commerce, Workforce, and Educators, these partnerships will have a strong positive impact on employment and economic growth in the Rio Grande Valley.

Ms. Gamez’ diverse career background includes 16 years in the arena of postsecondary education. Key roles include working as Interim Director for the Academic Advising Department at the former University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College (UTB/TSC) and as an Academic Advisor for the UTB/TSC College of Science, Mathematics and Technology. Additionally, she served as a curriculum writer for STEM programs at UTB/TSC including mathematics, pre-medicine, computer science, and building technology.

Ms. Gamez co-authored the Spanish/English Dictionary of Electricity and Electronics (2007). She holds a Master of Arts in Sociology with a supporting field in Educational Psychology. She has lived and studied on the Texas/Mexico border for 30 years.

Kathryn Perez

Dr. Kathryn Perez. I have undergraduate and Master’s Degrees in Biology from Angelo State University, then a Ph.D. in Biology (Interdisciplinary Freshwater Sciences) from the University of Alabama. I am an evolutionary biologist and primarily study snails. Last year my students and I described a new snail species from the Rio Grande Valley. My biology education research has focused on the development of assessments of student learning in evolutionary biology. I joined the steering committee to help strengthen the lines of communication among teachers at all points along our students’ educational pathway.

Dr. Volker Quetschke

Dr. Volker Quetschke earned his PhD in Physics in 2003. His thesis regarded correlations of noise sources in Nd:YAG laser systems. This meant working on laser systems for gravitational wave detectors and noise sources and correlations of those. From 2003 to 2006, Dr. Quetschke completed his postdoc at the University of Florida located in Gainesville, Florida. There, he developed electro-optic modulators and faraday-isolators for enhanced LIGO. He went on to work for the University of Florida from 2006 to 2009 as a Research Assistant Professor. During his time there, he led development and realization of the input optics for Enhanced and Advanced LIGO gravitational wave detector. He continued to work on LIGO lasers and optics when he became an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Brownsville from 2009 to 2015. He focused on stabilizing 1550 nm laser systems to achieve space-based GW detector requirements. Dr. Quetschke is now an Associate Professor at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) in Brownsville, Texas. He is currently the Chair of the Lasers and Auxiliary Optics working group of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. In regards to research areas, Dr. Quetschke is interested in the development of light sources for next generation gravitational wave detectors. He is also a member of the STAGNATE team; STAGNATE is a project of the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy based on a public/private partnership of the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, the University of Texas System and SpaceX. The goal of STAGNATE is to create a powerful research and technology commercialization partnership in South Texas.

Dr. Quetschke is a co-recipient of the Breakthrough Prize 2016 for detection of Gravitational Waves 100 Years after Albert Einstein predicted their existence. He is also a co-recipient of the 2016 Gruber Cosmology Prize for pursuing a vision to observe the universe in gravitational waves, leading to a first detection that emanated from the collision of two black holes. He is a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, the group behind the project that lead to the award of the Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves". Dr. Quetschke has written over 170 papers and has been granted two patents.

Dr. Joanne Rampersad-Ammons

Dr. Joanne Rampersad-Ammons B.Sc. Biochemistry and Zoology, University of the West Indies; M.Sc. Biochemical Sciences, University of Houston; Ph.D. Microbiology, University of the West Indies.

Jo has had the good fortune to be engaged in numerous diverse applied research projects e.g. use of Bacillus thuringiensis for agriculture, medical diagnostics, aquaculture, apiculture, developing novel community based approaches and tools for integrating mentoring/experiential learning/assessment in education and interventions that ‘empower’ students to persist in their career path. She is also interested in learning how to build strong, diverse professional teams. She has for many years had a lively connection with her community especially in doing educational outreach. Jo is a 2010 American Society for Microbiology Biology Scholar, a National Science Foundation Ideas Lab participant and a 2017 USDA E. Kika De La Garza Science fellow.

For many years, Jo has been looking at why students struggle in STEM at the college level and how to retain our students so that they can successfully navigate their professional lives. She realizes that these are 'wicked problems' which must be tackled on several fronts simultaneously if we are ever going to gain some traction in solving them.

Dr. Chris Smith

Dr. Chris Smith has a background in experimental chemistry as well as chemical education. He brings experience in working with chemistry students and teachers in various learning environments. He has three main areas of focus in his work: a) investigating students’ conceptual understanding in general chemistry; b) developing laboratory curricula focused on inquiry learning and real-world contexts using low-cost instrumentation; c) examining factors related to multicultural students’ engagement and participation in chemistry.

He has been involved in several projects geared towards enhancing the educational experiences of potential pre-service teachers as well as in-service teachers in science and mathematics, and is currently the College of Sciences co-director for UTeach RGV. He is happy to be a member of the RGV STEM Education Steering Committee to help advance and enhance science education efforts.

Dr. Cristina Villalobos

Dr. Cristina Villalobos is Professor in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences (SMSS) at UTRGV and Founding Director of the Center of Excellence in STEM Education, which focuses on strengthening STEM academic programs and providing resources for the academic and professional development of students and faculty. Her research area is in optimization, optimal control, and modelling, and she has acquired over $6M in grants in STEM Education. In addition, she has been recognized at the national level for student mentoring and STEM leadership by SACNAS, AAHHE, and HENAAC. She is also a recipient of the 2013 University of Texas Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award, and a Ford Foundation Fellow. She served on the SACNAS Board of Directors (2015-2017). Dr. Villalobos served as Interim Director of SMSS from 2015-2017 transitioning the school through the first two years of UTRGV.

Dr. Aaron Wilson

Dr. Aaron T Wilson is an Assistant Professor in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, Texas. He is interested in the preparation of teachers of mathematics to work with students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and especially in frameworks of teachers’ knowledge for this work. He also studies the impacts that informal mathematics learning experiences have in shaping students’ mathematical identities and career trajectories. He is director of a mathematical research and outreach lab, the Experimental Algebra and Geometry Lab (EAGL) at his institution. Furthermore, Dr. Wilson has written about his work in peer-reviewed research and practitioner journals in mathematics education.