One West University Boulevard, Brownsville, Texas 78520 | 956-882-8200
Biomedical Research and Health Professions Building 2 Dedication
September 6, 2013
The University of Texas at Brownsville
Good morning! My name is Juliet García, and I have the honor of serving as president of The University of Texas at Brownsville.
We are very honored that you have taken time out of your busy schedule to join us in dedicating the second building of our Biomedical Research complex.
Later in the program, you will hear from our Vice President for Research how humble our university’s beginnings were in the field of research. And how just a few visionaries have been able to grow research exponentially at this university.

The building we dedicate today was the product of one of those visionaries. Luis Colom was recruited to UTB by José Martín from the Baylor College of Medicine to teach and conduct research in biology in 2001. His medical and doctoral degrees from his native country, Uruguay, coupled with his extensive research training in Spain, Canada and Baylor College of Medicine were fundamental to developing his research expertise in Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy.
Immediately upon joining our campus community, Dr. Colom began to act as a high powered Pied Piper attracting student after student into his research lab. There, he would immerse them as undergraduates in sophisticated research activities and soon a job in a lab turned into a major, a major turned into a graduate student, and a graduate student turned into a scientist.
Luis had modeled the attributes of the best teacher/scholar/researcher. Quickly the number of majors in biology began to grow. I recall seeing a graph that showed that the more external funding we received for research, the more biology majors we added. The number of biology majors increased from 131 in 2001 to more than 800 this year. Research dollars buy equipment and pay for professors’ time; but as importantly, they also create jobs in labs for students that transform their lives.
Inevitably, Luis’ skill in attracting research funding and growing more majors led to his being selected as Chair of the Biology Department. There, Luis quickly began to use his new position to recruit other teacher/scientists like himself. Since he served as chairman, the biology and biomedical faculty have almost quadrupled from 8 to 30. The number of principal investigators overseeing grants on campus also grew – from just a few to now 59. The faculty who will be conducting research in our new building have diverse specialties that include bioengineering, nanoscience, exercise science, biophysics and microbiology.
Over the past decade, Luis rapidly rose to leadership positions and was key in recruiting energetic faculty. Through discipline, diplomacy, talent, and most of all, hard work, he has helped his colleagues work together to create one of the most vibrant departments on campus. Not surprisingly, enrollment of both majors and students in biology courses rose rapidly.
Every day Dr. Colom lives with our urgent need to build research capacity. He alone has personally attracted more than $13.4 million in grants while at UT Brownsville. But you can’t attract scientists without labs; high quality labs. So in 2009, Dr. Colom wrote a grant to seek funding from the National Institute of Health to build more labs that would attract research faculty and entice students towards the sciences.
His grant proposal was successful, and today we see the results. The building behind me increases our biomedical laboratory space by 50 percent.
The six labs are also accompanied by office space for the professors. When you think scientists, you often think of a professor conducting research in an isolated lab. Our building was designed to do exactly the opposite. They were planned to create interactive places where students are introduced to science perhaps for the first time and where it is our most fervent hope that they will fall in love with science over and over again.  
This building is special in yet another way. It is our first LEEDs certified building on campus. Developed and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED is a rating system that stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design.
Building projects are awarded points based on design and construction practices that increase profitability while reducing the negative environmental impacts of buildings and improving occupant health and well-being.
Among the points earned for our facility were those for green construction materials, the recycling center, air and water conservation systems and the native plants used in the landscaping.
Having experienced our first LEED building, it is now our intention to become a leader in sustainable building campus wide.
The building we dedicate today nicely complements the adjacent $33 million Biomedical Research building which features:
·         11 state-of-the-art labs in the buildingeach one is designed for a specific use
·         Faculty offices planned to create interactive places where students are introduced to science for the first time
·         A vivarium consisting of four holding rooms, a place to conduct surgery, quarantine areas, easy access to clean the cages, and room to grow
·         Emergency Command Center built to withstand a category four hurricane
I’d like to recognize and thank the experts who helped bring Luis’ vision to life.
SHW Group
·         William Hodge
·         Don Hensley
·         Rene Capistran
·         Juan Delgado
·         Kevin Bennett
·         Hugo Ramos
·         Laura Lara – Sr. Project Manager
·         Richard De Leon – Regional Program Manager
And while the compilation of these labs and essential support areas are impressive, what is really impressive is the work that takes place inside.
I want to share the story one our recent graduates named Ivan Valdez. Ivan came to us as a freshman from one of the local high schools.
His father is a cook in a small restaurant in Brownville. Ivan’s mother learned just enough English to help her children make it through the public school system. Although Ivan’s parents didn’t have the luxury of attending college themselves, they knew they wanted Ivan to have the opportunity.
Ivan made academics his highest priority. Because he had to work to afford the expense of going to college, and he got a part-time job at our city zoo. Our zoo is a breeding zoo for endangered species; so it was there that Ivan first began to study genetics. That job sparked an interest that then led Ivan to apply for a campus job in a research lab. The job Ivan got was with Luis Colom.
Working in the lab soon turned into doing research in the lab, and then turned into presenting the results of his work at a scientific conference where he met the dean from Cornell who recognized the spark in Ivan. She told him that she was going to try to recruit him to Cornell, but at the same time, she was going to help him connect with faculty from Harvard. 
That next summer, Ivan was invited to complete an internship at Cornell University to conduct research. Eventually Ivan was in his senior year at UTB and applying for graduate work. Ivan got into Cornell; but he also was invited to Stanford and Harvard to do his doctoral research. 
Ivan accepted a full ride scholarship to plus a $30,000 stipend to attend Harvard University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Ivan has been there for three winters now pursuing a doctoral degree in biomedical research.
I spoke with Ivan last week when he was at home visiting his mother. He spoke excitedly about his research and about his experience at the International Society for Stem Cell Research conference he attended this year in Boston that described a new kind of stem cell research.
He met a Japanese scientist, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, who in 2006, discovered a way to extract any adult cell from a person’s body, such as a skin cell, and turn back its biological clock reverting it to a stem cell state. These cells are called induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS cells), and like Embryonic Stem Cells, they have the capacity to be reprogrammed into any other cell type, such as a neuron, a heart cell or, in the case of Ivan’s laboratory, an insulin-producing pancreatic beta cell.
However, since iPS cells are derived from a patients’ own cells, they not only nullify the ethical issues elicited by Embryonic Stem Cells, they also hold great promise for tissue replacement and organ regeneration without fear of immune rejection. Because of his discovery, Dr. Yamanaka was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012.
Ivan told me that he knew when he heard that lecture, that this was the research he would make his life's work.
What if UT Brownsville hadn’t been here for Ivan and the 35,000 other students who have earned degrees through the community university over the last 22 years?
What if he hadn’t had access to a visionary professor like Luis Colom who took a personal interest in him?
Ivan will complete his Ph.D. from Harvard in just three years. It is my dream that shortly after, Ivan will return to the new UT medical school being established in the Rio Grande Valley to conduct his research and inspire the students in this area as he was once.
The new Biomedical Research building represents UTB’s commitment to innovation and experimentation. The work that will take place in this building and across the campus will strive to transform a region too long plagued by poverty and lack of education into a vibrant and dynamic community.


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