HU Students Present Studies at Emerging Researchers Conference in Washington, D.C.


HU Students Present Studies at Emerging Researchers Conference in Washington, D.C.

Two outstanding New Mexico Highlands University student researchers presented at the Emerging Researchers National Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in Washington, D.C., with one taking home first prize in the ecology division.

Antonio Garcia, a junior majoring in forestry with a minor in biology, won first place for his geographic information systems, or GIS, study about the correlation between soil type and vegetation at the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge.

Graduating biology student Olivia Yee presented her genetic study to identify the gene responsible for male infertility in a mutant mouse strain.

Garcia, 22, is a student intern and GIS aide for the New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute located at Highlands. For his internship, he helped create road, management, and visitor center maps of the Wildlife Refuge, sparking his interest in doing a research study.

“In my study, I used geographic information systems to investigate the relationship between soil types and plant communities at the wildlife refuge,” Garcia said. “Native grasses like blue gamma and western wheat thrive in silty loam and other soil types at the refuge. It was satisfying to do research that will help the refuge restore native grasses.”

When he was 18, Garcia contracted hantavirus that damaged his spinal cord. He is a paraplegic and uses a wheelchair.

“I keep doing what I want to do and don’t let anything stop me,” Garcia said. “One thing I really appreciate about Highlands is how the professors and staff made the accommodations I needed to succeed academically.”

Garcia, from Wagon Mound, NM, represented the university’s STEM Stars Program at the conference. Highlands was awarded a National Science Foundation grant in 2009 to develop this innovative enrichment program that increases science and math success for students with disabilities.

Garcia’s professional goal is to work for the U.S. Forest Service as a GIS specialist.

Biology professor Carol Linder is Yee’s research and academic adviser and helped Yee design her genetic research study. Yee did the analysis for her study in Linder’s research lab.

The Western Alliance to Expand Student Opportunities awarded Yee funds that paid her expenses for the Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM.

“In my study, I sequenced the DNA of mutant male mice and control mice, comparing them to look for differences that would help explain why the mutant mice sperm is defective,” Yee said. “We isolated some differences in the DNA sequence, and more study is needed.”

Yee, 21, is a peer mentor for students in Linder’s Biology 110 course through the STEM Stars grant. She serves as copresident for the university’s Honduras Club. The student club will travel to Honduras later this month to work for the Habitat for Humanity Women Build project, and other aid projects.  

Yee has wanted to be a dentist since she was a young girl visiting the office of her uncle, Las Vegas dentist Dennis Aragon. She has applied to several dental schools.

Linder encouraged Garcia and Yee to apply for the emerging researchers conference, and accompanied them to the conference.

“I’m very impressed with Antonio’s intelligence, drive, and commitment,” Linder said. “He will go far in his chosen field of forestry.

“Olivia is an excellent, intelligent student, and I admire her strong work ethic. She’s also a real team player in my lab, and in the Honduras Club,” Linder said.