UHV assistant professors earn $10,000 research grants

Two University of Houston-Victoria assistant professors will use $10,000 summer grants from the university to advance their research in the fields of teaching and biology.

David Cockrum

This year’s grant recipients are Liping Wei, a UHV assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, and Gen Kaneko, a UHV assistant professor of biology.

UHV has given the awards the past nine summers to junior faculty pursuing promising research projects. Junior faculty members are those on a tenure track but not yet tenured. A committee of tenured UHV professors evaluates proposals and then recommends who will receive the awards.

“Sometimes a significant research project needs a kick-start, and that is what this grant provides,” said David Cockrum, UHV interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. “It often leads to further funding externally. Drs. Wei and Kaneko have some thought-provoking ideas, and I’m looking forward to seeing how their research progresses.”

Liping Wei

Wei’s research investigates English as a Second Language teachers’ experiences with professional development. She is studying teachers’ perspectives of its effectiveness, and the challenges encountered, support received, changes in teacher knowledge and practices, and impact on learning outcomes for English Language Learners. The goal is to enhance ESL teachers’ professional development so it better addresses the needs of teachers who educate students who are learning English and academic content in a language they are not proficient in for the meantime.

“Most of the studies on professional development have failed to demonstrate how it has impacted teachers’ teaching practices and their student learning outcomes,” Wei said. “The connection between teacher learning from professional development and teacher change in knowledge and practice remains unclear. This study intends to bridge that gap.”

Wei is recruiting participants for the study and will start collecting data as soon as they are in place. She said the award will help her purchase needed equipment, such as digital voice recorders for interviews, flash drives to store a large number of transcripts and other office supplies. It also will help with the expenses for travel and hiring professional transcribers.

“I also will be able to travel to conferences to keep abreast of the latest research and practices in the field and disseminate my research findings to a larger professional audience,” she said.

Gen Kaneko

Wei said she is truly grateful and honored to receive this research grant.

“It is a great support for junior faculty in their pursuit of research and scholarship,” she said. “More valuable than this monetary award is the recognition from colleagues that encourages me to advance my research agenda more diligently.”

Likewise, Kaneko said he appreciated this grant because funding is critical to his research.

“I’m applying for state and federal grants, but it will be awhile before I find out about those,” he said. “It’s a great idea to provide this support to junior faculty members.”

In August, UHV received a $500,000 grant from the M.G. & Lillie A. Johnson Foundation to purchase and install a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectrometer. Kaneko will make use of the spectrometer for his research project.

The spectrometer uses magnetic properties of atoms to determine chemical structure. Biology faculty members and students can measure the amount of chemicals and metabolites in biological components such as blood. Those measurements interest Kaneko.

“Quantifying measurements could result in applications for humans and plants,” he said. “For instance, the machine can measure blood glucose levels to monitor health. For plants, there could be potential uses for medications.”

UHV has purchased and received the spectrometer. Once a location for it is determined, the machine will be assembled. In the meantime, Kaneko will prepare samples to analyze. He will crush sample materials and extract components. He is using the $10,000 to purchase chemicals necessary for the measurements.

“There are a couple of extracting methods I could use depending on the molecules,” Kaneko said. “I’m trying the different extraction methods now.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Jeremy Shapiro