Remote LoboBITES a success

In 2019, Graduate Studies at The University of New Mexico celebrated its 100 years of graduate education at UNM with its annual Shared Knowledge Conference and popular LoboBITES competition. Students, faculty, staff, judges, and community members rubbed elbows around Hodgin Hall for the poster presentation and then convened in Centennial Hall for the final LoboBITES competition, followed by a closing reception with refreshments, close company, and a slideshow presentation by Graduate Dean Julie Coonrod, who noted that UNM’s graduate program began at the height of the 1918-1919 flu pandemic.

While it seems like another century has passed between last year’s birthday celebration and this year’s event, the first LoboBITES remote competition was a success and a testament to the way technology channeled Lobo support from far and wide, Coonrod said.

LoboBITES are soundbites of a student’s research presented in the format of a three-minute thesis that gives the student the opportunity—or challenge—to distill their complicated scholarship to a broader audience. Normally, students present their work in front of a live audience and a panel of judges, but this year, finalists were chosen from a much larger group of presenters who submitted videos that were initially judged by a cross-section of UNM staff. The seven finalists then participated in the remote LoboBITES finale hosted by Coonrod.

“The strength of Lobo spirit made this year’s experimental remote event a memorable and successful competition,” Coonrod said. “We had outstanding finalists who showcased the breadth, strength, and diversity of graduate research at UNM, and we also had a distinguished panel of judges and guests who came out in support of our students’ work.”

UNM President Garnett Stokes welcomed the virtual attendees, and Provost James Paul Holloway commended the presenters on their research. Meanwhile, the panel of judges and Lobo alums included: U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland; Mark Valenzuela, principal analyst, Legislative Finance Committee; Alan Armijo, director of Public Affairs, Office of the Albuquerque Mayor; N.M. Rep. Joy Garratt; Judge Shammara Henderson, New Mexico Court of Appeals; and Chris Lujan, architect and president of Las Vegas Alumni Chapter.

Each of the finalists presented their scholarship in a three-minute video that was judged on four different categories: significance, clarity, delivery, and engagement. Topics ranged from sociolinguistics, uranium and arsenic testing in water, extended life expectancy, and the impact of dust on the southwest climate. However, when the dust settled, the judges selected three award winners:

Tied for second place ($500 each):

Tia Donaldson, Psychology, whose research on Alzheimer’s disease promises to discover more effective treatments of the widespread disease by studying its development and progression, is from Rio Rancho. In her presentation, “A New Look into an Old Problem: Implications of the Locus Coeruleus in Alzheimer’s Disease,” Donaldson noted that, while most studies focus on the late-stage formation of the disease, when its symptoms like memory loss are at its peak, her research measures the progression of the disease to identify its earlier stages and thus advance better treatments of the disease before it peaks.

“I’ve always been interested in the brain and how it works,” said Tia of her research, “and with Alzheimer’s the brain doesn’t work as well, so I wanted to answer that question about it.”

Mario Del Àngel, Spanish (with an emphasis in Hispanic linguistics), presented on “Spanish in New Mexico: A Study of Nuevomexicano Words.” A native Mexican who came to UNM as an exchange student, Del Àngel said he also fell in love with New Mexican food, music, and people. He became intrigued with the changing landscape of Spanish in New Mexico and the linguistic exchange between the Spanish spoken by relatively new Spanish-speaking arrivals from central Mexico and the traditional dialects that characterize northern New Mexican Spanish. Mario charted the way New Mexican Spanish has changed over the words and explored the level of familiarity between two otherwise different Spanish-speaking communities.

First place ($1,000)

Amelia Bierle, Public Policy, was selected as the first-place winner for her work on vaccine delivery. A former member of the UNM Women’s Soccer team, Bierle explained in her presentation, “Vaccine Delivery to Remote Regions of the World Using a Novel Delivery Platform,” that her timely research focuses on making the transportation, dissemination, and administration of vaccinations more affordable and accessible by way of “microneedles,” a new, temperature-stable method of vaccine delivery akin more to a Band-Aid patch rather than a pin prick.

“The microneedle patches consist of micron-sized needles,” the Carlsbad standout explained, “and is considered a needle-free vaccination strategy” that could lower production and transportation costs and thus increase the potential distribution and administration of vaccines to rural or remote regions in need. While her research started before the current pandemic, Bierle noted that micro-needles promise “the opportunity for an effective, low-cost, and safe vaccine delivery platform” that would certainly help marginal communities fight the disease.

“Typically, when we meet in person, the most complicated instruction is for parking,” Dean Coonrod said of previous LoboBITES events, “but this year’s remote LoboBITES challenged us to show how remote operations and technological innovations can be harnessed to share innovative research, support graduate students, and bring back a pack of spirited alumni community leaders.”

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