Freshman Research Initiative Alum Spotlight: Elvira Marquez

January 21, 2015 • by Steven E. Franklin

In honor of the 10th anniversary of the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI), we visit with some of the alumni of the program, like Human Development and Family Sciences senior Elvira Marquez.

As classes start back for the spring semester, hundreds of first-year students are embarking on hands-on research projects as part of the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI). Later this year, FRI will celebrate its 10th anniversary academic year. In honor of that milestone, we visit with some of the alumni of the FRI program, like Human Development and Family Sciences senior Elvira Marquez.

Elvira Marquez

Elvira Marquez

When did you fall in love with science?

I had a really good 10th grade chemistry teacher. She had just graduated from college and was a Teach for America (TFA) corps member. In my high school, in order to advance to the next level, you had to have a science fair project and she was the one in charge of helping us come up with ideas. She was so willing to go beyond the typical ‘Diet Coke and Mentos’ type of thing and would encourage us to read articles to figure out what to research. She was the one to spark my interest because she was really interested in research. And my AP chemistry teacher was also really good, and was always so supportive. He would take us to [area universities] to all of the STEM meetings and that was really helpful.

What areas of science interest you?

I like chemistry; that’s my favorite. Now that I’ve gotten into human development I’m totally fascinated by that.

You say you fell in love with UT early on because of a visit in sixth grade. Tell us about that.

I was in a charter school named KIPP and they were crazy about taking us to visit every single college that we could. In sixth grade they brought us here, and we came multiple times after that.

You’re a first generation college student. Do you feel this created any challenges?

Yes. My parents have always been supportive, but applying to college was difficult because they didn’t know anything about it. So it was just you and the college counselors trying to figure everything out. I feel it’s rewarding because my parents are so involved in what I’m doing. They always call and ask what I’m doing. They have this love of education and they’re really involved – it’s really helpful.

I heard you landed your first research position on campus before classes even started your freshman year.

I saw UT was one of the universities doing research on Down’s syndrome, which interested me. The contact information was there for Prof. Jon Pierce-Shimomura, so I emailed him and said, “I’ll do anything you need, I just want to watch and see you guys do science.” And before school started he sent me an email that said, “Come and meet with me.” He said I could start coming to lab, and then I wound up working there for three years.

So what did you do in the lab?

They work with C. elegans and I did microinjections. I would be the one trying to inject these little tiny worms with whatever genes that they wanted to inject into them. That took a lot of time. I also roamed around helping grad students and postdocs.

Have you had any other research experiences at UT?

I participated in FRI [the Freshman Research Initiative], Supramolecular Sensors with Anslyn. I felt like that was where I learned failure. I would spend so much time on an experiment and then it wouldn’t work—but it was a learning experience, it was science. [The instructors] were always very supportive saying, “You guys are probably going to get it wrong, it’s not going to work, but that’s okay, you can do it again.” I really enjoyed that exposure to what actually happens when you do research.

What do you hope to do in the future?

I just found out that I will be teaching high school science next year! I just got selected for Teach for America so I will be doing that in Houston. I also want to go to grad school. I am considering physician assistant (PA) school or doing a graduate school program in the School of Social Work. I don’t know which one I want to do as of now, but since I’m going to be doing high school science, I might just decide to get a Master’s and continuing teaching.

What are you studying for Human Development and Family Sciences (HDFS)?

I’ve done the early childhood development route, a lot of learning about children and how they develop. Some really interesting classes, like psychopathology class was super fascinating. And next semester we do our practicum where we go into the community and we intern for 20 hours a week. I’m hoping to help adults with mental and physical difficulties do art therapy and then help put on their art shows and sell their artwork.

Can you tell me about being a Texas Interdisciplinary Plan (TIP) mentor?

I was a TIP scholar my freshman year and I absolutely loved it. Because TIP was so great to me, being a mentor is my opportunity to help other freshman. As a TIP mentor we meet with our mentees, and I have four mentees. I help them look at the course schedule and figure everything out. I also take them to see different parts of campus and all the resources that there are on campus. I really enjoy being a mentor.

Elvira at the TIP Challenge Day when she met her TIP Scholar mentees for the first time.

Elvira at the TIP Challenge Day when she met her TIP Scholar mentees for the first time.

Looking back on your time at UT what will you miss?

I love the Gearing building. I feel like it’s really cozy and if you go in the courtyard, that’s one of the prettiest views of the tower. I know that’s what I’m going to miss.

Do you have any favorite professors?

One of my favorites is Amy Bryan in the HDFS department, who’s an inspiration. I’ve had the privilege to have her as a professor for three semesters and she is an inspiration and a beautiful human being. I’ve also had really great chemistry professors, Dr. Fakhreddine and Dr. Iverson. They just love what they’re doing and they demonstrate that every single day and I think, “I want to learn what you’re teaching because you’re so passionate about it.” Now that I’m going to be a teacher, that’s exactly how I want to be in the classroom. I want kids to fall in love with science just like they made me fall in love with science.