Friday, March 29, 2024
  Academics, Around Campus, Faculty Focus

By Victoria Brito Morales

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – MARCH 29, 2024 – For a dedicated group within the UTRGV College of Sciences, Women’s History Month represents an initial step in their vision of ensuring that women feel a sense of belonging in the world of STEM. 

Established in 2020, the Women in Science Network (WISE) has played a pivotal role in constructing an environment open to a broad range of skills and interests for women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. Led by co-founders Dr. Vivian Incera, dean of the College of Sciences, and Dr. Teresa Patricia Feria, associate dean for Faculty Success and biology professor, the group is committed to empowering female faculty members and providing them with opportunities for career success.

The WISE Network’s primary goal is to nurture females in sciences,” Feria said. “We work toward empowering each other and knowing about what each other is doing. Through workshops, keynote speakers and social events, we aim to strike a balance between work and personal life.”

The organization has officers from various departments within the College of Sciences and is open to all women in the college, including students, staff or intersectional groups interested in joining the supportive network. WISE faculty members currently are collaborating to establish a student chapter, to ensure the next generation of women in STEM receive the same level of support and encouragement. 

Currently, the WISE Network meets via Zoom within the dean’s offices on the Brownsville and Edinburg campuses. In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 6, the group met and heard from Feria about the organization’s goals and the importance of unity. 

“You are not alone,” Feria said. “Your experiences and work are meant to be shared and learned from.” 

Women in Science Network (WISE) officers gather at the UTRGV Brownsville Campus on March 6 during International Women’s Day. (UTRGV Photo)


For Viviana Treviño, a biology lecturer in the School of Integrative Biological and Chemical Sciences, serving as a WISE officer is an opportunity to exchange experiences and learn from fellow faculty members. Treviño, a UTRGV legacy alumna, earned a degree in Biology from UT Brownsville and earned a master’s degree in Biology from UTRGV. 

“When I was a young undergraduate, there weren’t very many women in research, but things have gotten so much better and I'm grateful for that,” she said.

The group’s guidance has made her own STEM journey more manageable, she said, and today she serves as a mentor to other women studying STEM subjects. That particular role was lacking during her own undergraduate education, she said. 

Sara Sharifi, a doctoral student in Physics from Iran, joined UTRGV in 2021 with the intention of expanding her education and pursuing her scientific aspirations. She was inspired by the achievements of her role model, Marie Curie.

“She dedicated her life to science and experiments,” Sharifi said. “When I was a child, I read a book about her, but I'm far from her. I love her attitude. She proved to everybody that women can be powerful in science, and they can win the Nobel Prize.” 

Sharifi said she is grateful for the WISE program and for having access to a supportive community, as it helps her thrive academically and boosts her confidence in the doctoral program.

Dr. Mayra Ortiz Galarza, assistant professor in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences and chair of the WISE Network in the College of Sciences, said WISE is committed to ensuring that every faculty member has an fair opportunity to thrive.

“It's more than just a goal. It's about supporting them, keeping their efforts going, and encouraging them to make a difference,” Ortiz Galarza said. “With the WISE Network, we're working to make sure every faculty member has a fair chance to succeed in their career." 

Dr. Vivian Incera, dean of the College of Sciences and co-founder of the WISE Network, founded the group with Dr. Teresa Patricia Feria, associate dean for Faculty Success and biology professor. Incera spoke with WISE Network members at a March 6 meeting. (UTRGV Photo)


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.