Posted on August 26, 2020 by Amanda Cerreto

Five teams made up of 22 graduate students working across research disciplines at UTSA have taken top honors in the first COVID-19 Transdisciplinary Team Grand Challenge.

The Graduate School and the Office of the Vice President for Research, Economic Development, and Knowledge Enterprise launched the COVID-19 challenge in May to unite graduate students from various academic programs to work with community partners to tackle issues brought to light by the current pandemic.

The transdisciplinary nature of this challenge brought UTSA master's and doctoral students from different fields together to develop proposals for creative, innovative concept projects that address the very real issues facing society today.

Members of the winning teams represented the College of Architecture, Construction and Planning; College of Business; College of Education and Human Development; College of Engineering; College for Health, Community and Policy; and College of Sciences.

"For all the negative impact of the pandemic, it is especially gratifying to be able to celebrate a positive outcome, which is the innovation and initiative demonstrated by our graduate students in seeking to address issues associated with this public health crisis," said Kimberly Andrews Espy, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. "That's what students do at great public research universities—they put their talents to work for the public benefit, and I applaud all the student participants who took up this challenge!"

“The COVID-19 Transdisciplinary Team Grand Challenge helped to broaden our graduate students' horizons this summer,” said Ambika Mathur, vice provost and dean of The Graduate School. “This allowed students to work collaboratively across disciplines to tackle the problems that our community may face during and after the pandemic. Students who normally conduct research within disciplinary boundaries quickly appreciated the diverse perspectives of team members from different disciplines to solve complex problems much more efficiently.”

In total, the Challenge Review Committee received 11 outstanding proposals. After careful deliberation, the results were as follows:

Two proposals tied for first place:

  • “Wastewater Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 for Monitoring Community-wide Disease Outbreak in San Antonio, Texas” (team members: Arash Jafarzadeh, Haya Mohanad Qutaiba Al-Duroobi, Katrina Poling, Robert B. Salinas, Sina Vedadi Moghadam).
  • “Countering Ubiquitous COVID-19 Health-Related Misinformation: A Transdisciplinary Approach” (team members: Beatrice Ruiz, Mir Mehedi Pritom, Rosana Montanez Rodriguez, Asad Ali Khan, Esra'A Alrashydah, Sebastian A. Nugroho).

Additionally, two proposals tied for third place:

  • “Dodge Corona: Promoting STEM learning in The Age of COVID-19 through a Culturally Relevant Online Game” (team members: Andres M. Aguirre Mesa, Elizabeth McMillan, Lina Martín-Corredor, Nguyen Dao, Orlando Graves Bolaños).
  • “Socio-economic and Environmental Impacts of COVID-19 Pandemic in Texas” (team members: Jullian Williams, Younghyun Koo, Bethsanie Sanchez).

Lastly, one proposal was selected to receive the recognition of Graduate Dean's Choice:

  • “Life Under COVID-19: Oral Histories of Small Businesses in the Historic Westside of San Antonio” (team members: Anna Slade, David Robinson Jr., Gigi Kamali).

“It was wonderful working more closely with another member of my cohort and meeting new graduate students during the process,” said Williams, a student in the College of Engineering. “It's a great example of finding a positive outcome from a negative time such as the pandemic.”

College of Education and Human Development student Slade added, “The best part was the people I met: my inspiring team cocaptain, David Robinson Jr.; my enthusiastic teammate Gigi Kamali; Dr. Rebecca Weston; Dr. Kirsten Gardner; and Ramiro Gonzales and Melinda Gonzalez of Westside Development Corp. And many UTSA faculty and staff members who I contacted in my efforts to walk through imaginary barriers. I would never have met any of these outstanding people if not for this competition. They expanded my world. The requirement that teams be composed of three to five people from at least two different colleges at UTSA was genius. To anyone thinking of participating next time, I urge them to do it.”

“The challenge allowed us to look beyond our disciplines, collaborate with graduate researchers from different backgrounds and explore a global problem from different perspectives,” said Montanez Rodriguez, a College of Sciences student, on behalf of her team. “This opportunity challenged us as future researchers and honed our skills.”

“Given the circumstances in which we are living, the future of UTSA's knowledge enterprise is secure with this cohort of graduate researchers maturing at the institution,” said Bernard Arulanandam, vice president for Research, Economic Development, and Knowledge Enterprise. “The quality of the proposals was impressive, as was the diversity of the research inquiries being undertaken. I look forward to seeing the results.”

For Graduate School Roadrunners who were not able to participate in this challenge, another opportunity may be on the horizon.

“After the enthusiastic response from our students, we are planning to have another challenge in the coming academic year,” Mathur shared. “We eagerly anticipate seeing the creativity of our graduate community in future endeavors.”

⇒ Learn more about the COVID-19 Transdisciplinary Team Grand Challenge.
⇒ Read about the launch of the challenge in UTSA Today .
⇒ Explore The Graduate School at UTSA .

— Amanda Cerreto