Las Vegas, N.M. — Two outstanding New Mexico Highlands University students presented at the Emerging Researchers National Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in Washington, D.C., with one winning second place in the ecology division.
Antonio Garcia, a graduating forestry senior from Wagon Mound, N.M., won the award for his geographic information system study that mapped the watershed of the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge.
Graduating biology senior Alfonso Trujillo of Mora, N.M. presented his genetic study to identify the gene responsible for male infertility in a mutant mouse strain, with potential applications for human male infertility.
In 2011, Garcia, 23, took first place in the ecology division at the conference for his GIS study about the correlation between soil type and vegetation at the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge.
“In this study, I expanded on my earlier GIS research at the refuge by using digital terrain models to characterize the surface hydrology. We were searching for and found surface runoff, which is a major key to creating a successful plan to reintroduce certain native grasses like blue gamma. It’s rewarding to help the refuge with restoration efforts,” Garcia said.
Garcia honed his GIS expertise in classes at Highlands, and through internships with the New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute at Highlands and the U.S. Forest Service. After he graduates in May, he begins a career position with the U.S. Forest Service.
Joe Zebrowski, director of geospatial technology at Highlands, advised Garcia on both of his GIS studies at the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge.
“I’m impressed with Antonio’s intellectual curiosity and perseverance on this successful watershed study,” Zebrowski said. “He is proficient in GIS, and has a strong customer orientation that is helping the refuge develop a strategy for grassland restoration.
Biology professor Carol Linder advised Trujillo for his genetic research study. He also did the analysis in her reproductive biology lab, where he has worked as a student assistant for three years.
“My study mapped four known genes in mutant mouse strains that may cause male infertility,” said Trujillo, who is 21. “We bred two mouse strains and analyzed their mature sperm, including the morphology, or shape. We ruled out one gene, Clip 1, as causing total male infertility. More study is needed for the remaining three genes.”
Linder said: “Alfonso did an enormous amount of research for this senior project study, as much as some graduate students complete for their thesis. He is very motivated and has great technique in the lab.”
Trujillo said he’s had valuable opportunities for both biology fieldwork and lab research as an undergraduate at Highlands.
“I really appreciate all the one-on-one help with learning research methods. The biology professors at Highlands are super knowledgeable and so good at teaching complex scientific concepts,” Trujillo said.
He will pursue his master’s degree in biology this fall at Highlands, with his sights set on becoming a conservation biologist. He is an active member in the university’s conservation club.