Dec. 7, 2001
Volume XXXIV, No. 48



Holiday Happenings


Chapa works to inspire, recruit future UTHSC students

Portrait of Dr. Chapa CHAPA

Sparking young people's interest in the health professions is one of the things Dr. Irene Chapa says she loves the most about her job. Dr. Chapa is the Health Science Center's new coordinator of recruitment and science outreach activities.

She serves as the point-of-contact between the UTHSC and secondary and post-secondary schools. Dr. Chapa brings an average of 300 elementary, high school and college students from San Antonio and South Texas to visit the UTHSC every month.

"We offer a variety of outreach programs intended to spark an interest in science in the minds of our young population and to recruit potential students into our many wonderful educational programs," Dr. Chapa said.

When students visit the UTHSC, they receive an overview of the five schools and a walking tour of the grounds, classrooms and selected labs. An emphasis is placed on providing students with a hands-on experience. Students are given the opportunity to listen to presentations from representatives of the individual schools. Campus visits range in length from short stays to all-day events to extended stays during which select groups visit for up to one week at a time.

"We hope that students gain a greater understanding of the many opportunities available in the health professions and learn how the Health Science Center can help them realize their dreams," she said.

"Dr. Chapa's work in reaching out to young students is extremely critical to the health and education needs of South Texas," said Dr. Chuck Rodriguez, assistant vice president for university relations. "Within the next 30 years, the Hispanic population of Texas will be nearing 50 percent. When students, especially those from the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the barrios of South Texas, visit the UTHSC they truly become interested in the health professions. Education here becomes real for them, immediate and attainable. These are the future doctors, nurses, dentists and biomedical researchers who will literally change the face of our health care professions. These are also our prospective students."

Dr. Chapa said collaboration and support from UTHSC faculty and staff are what help make her job a success.

"I very rarely get a 'no' from a faculty member when I ask for assistance," Dr. Chapa said. "They are all willing to accommodate the students we bring to campus. They help give tours, presentations, lectures and hands-on demonstrations for our visitors. They make our guests feel welcome." Dr. Chapa said some faculty members have actually taught visitors how to make a dental bridge, how to fashion a splint or how to administer CPR. "Our faculty help make the health professions exciting for the students," she said.

Dr. Chapa recently spearheaded the annual Science Expo 2001 held Nov. 17 on campus. More than 90 faculty and staff volunteered to showcase the UTHSC and the health professions to nearly 400 students.

Portrait of Dr. Chapa Students examine heart models during the Science Expo as Dr. Frank Weaker, associate professor in the department of cellular and structural biology, looks on.

"The Expo is a great way to inspire a lot of people at once," Dr. Chapa said. "I hope to expand the Expo and make it happen more than once a year." She said she also hopes to develop more partnerships between the UTHSC and local schoolteachers. "We have the potential to become an invaluable resource for teachers, all working in concert to elevate the level of science education and science awareness in the community and in the schools."

Dr. Chapa earned her bachelor's degree in biology from Texas A&M International University in Laredo in 1990 and worked as a science teacher in the San Antonio Independent School District for several years. In 1998 she received her Ph.D. in pharmacology from the UTHSC. Following that, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the department of physiology. Throughout her graduate education and postdoctoral fellowship, Dr. Chapa participated in many science outreach efforts. She says she now has the privilege of getting paid for something she's enjoyed doing on a volunteer basis for years.

"Interacting with the students on a daily basis gives me instant gratification," Dr. Chapa said. "There is nothing like seeing the spark in students' eyes when they realize all that the health professions have to offer, and the fact that they can attain their dreams here at the Health Science Center."

Dr. Chapa also enjoys visiting off-site educational campuses and community organizations to make presentations, and sitting on advisory boards intended to build bridges between local educational institutions and the UTHSC. She also writes grants to increase funding for existing and future outreach programs.

Dr. Chapa has earned several academic and professional honors, including awards from the Society for Neuroscience, the Nathan Shock Center Award and the UTHSC Hispanic Heritage Committee for Community Service. She also is a National Hispanic Scholar and a National Presidential Scholar.