University of Texas at El Paso

GK-12 Fellows

Cheryl Storer

Cheryl Storer
  • GK-12 Campus: Valle Verde Early College High School
  • Current Studies: Ph.D., Molecular Biology, UTEP
  • Degree(s): B.S., Biochemestry, Campbell University, North Carolina

Hi! I am Cheryl Storer. Growing up with a dad in the Air Force was a lot of fun; I got to live in many different places. As an “Air Force Brat,” I got to live in Germany, Texas, Arkansas, Florida, and North Carolina prior to settling down in Alabama and finally, Texas. I love to travel and to experience new adventures every place I go. I received my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry with a pre-medical/optometry focus at Campbell University in North Carolina. From there, I attended optometry school for a year at UAB, but I decided that I really liked the challenges and the discoveries of scientific research and teaching students more than I enjoyed looking at eyeballs. I am currently a fourth year Ph.D. student in the Department of Biological Sciences at UTEP, working under the direction of Dr. Marc B. Cox. My present research interests lie in the molecular biology/biochemistry fields, and my dissertation project focuses on mechanisms of prostate cancer progression. I have served as a teaching assistant, an HHMI undergraduate student research mentor, and a research assistant while at UTEP.

I am extremely excited to work with freshmen this year at Valle Verde Early College High School under the GK-12 Program as a Scientist in Residence this year. I am excited for this opportunity to share research experiences and to encourage students to consider careers in science. I plan to pursue a career as a professor at a university. My outside hobbies include traveling, playing flute, and volunteering with a single soldier support group at Ft. Bliss.

Gena Esposito

Gena Esposito
  • GK-12 Campus: Mission Early College High School
  • Current Studies: M.S., Environmental Science, UTEP
  • Degree(s): B.S., Marine and Freshwater Biology, University of Texas at Austin

My name is Gena Esposito and I was born and raised in El Paso, TX. I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Marine and Freshwater Biology. I am currently a first year Master’s student in the Environmental Science department at UTEP. I am working with Dr. Vanessa Lougheed on the ecology of aquatic insects in water bodies at Indio Ranch in the Trans-Pecos. Specifically, I am interested on human impacts to aquatic insects, such as pollution, introduction of invasive species, and creation or destruction of water bodies. In the past, I have participated in a wide variety of research projects on topics including: tiger shark population ecology, sea turtle population ecology, freshwater fish parasite life history, scorpion evolution, and picoplankton biodiversity.

In the GK-12 program, I will be working with Diana Lara at Mission Early College High School in her freshman Biology classes. Through this program, I hope to improve my teaching skills and to gain a better understanding what high school students are capable of. After completing my graduate degree(s), I hope to work with long-term research stations where I could be both a researcher and involved in community outreach.

Jaidee K. Zavala

Jaidee Zavala
  • GK-12 Campus: Mission Early College High School
  • Current Studies: Ph.D., Biological Science, UTEP
  • Degree(s): B.S., Animal Science, Texas A&M

I am a biological science doctoral student at the University of Texas at El Paso, specifically studying in the field of neuronal-endocrine physiology. My research deals with the investigation of neuroanatomical pathways involved in the processing of emotional stress that occur between male and female rats. My objective in life is to obtain a great education that will allow me the pleasure of using what I have learned to give back to my community. My compassion is what drives me to do better and work harder. I graduated with honors from high school and went on to receive a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science at Texas A&M University. My hobbies include horseback riding, hanging out with friends and family, going to the movie theater, and reading science fiction.

Ezer Patlan

Ezer Patlan
  • GK-12 Campus: Valle Verde Early College High School
  • Current Studies: Ph.D., Geophysics/Siesmology, UTEP
  • Degree(s): B.S., Geophysics, UTEP

I am Ezer Patlan. I am originally from Cd. Juárez, Chihuahua, MX., and I am a graduate student. My bachelors in Geophysics/Seismology at University of Texas at El Paso. I am currently in a transition from my Masters student to a Ph.D. candidate. I am working under Dr. Aaron Velasco and Dr. Jasper Konter. Dr. Velasco is the chairperson of the Department of Geological Sciences and a distinguished seismologist. Dr. Konter focuses in the volcanic chemical studies and volcanic earthquake detection. My research primarily focuses in volcanology seismology. The study takes place in active volcano at El Salvador, Central America. The goal is to understand how the stresses change near the volcano before and after an eruption. The pre-eruption or post-eruption can occur at anytime by developing different image slides of the volcano structure. The internal state and active volcano remains an important component to understanding volcanic hazard. I am looking forward in the GK-12 Valle Verde Early College High School (VVECHS), specially helping students in their AP Physics class. My motivation is to teach real sciences and influence the new generation of scientists.

More information:

Christian Servin

  • GK-12 Campus: Canutillo Early College High School
  • Current Studies: Ph.D., Computer Science, UTEP
  • Degree(s): B.S., Computer Science, UTEP; M.S., Computer Science, UTEP

Christian Servin is a Computational Sciences student. He has a B.S. and a M.S. in Computer Science from UTEP. During years, he has been working on different research areas in the field of Computer Science including multidisciplinary research, such as Geology and Philosophy. His doctoral interest includes incorporating uncertainty in Geophysical problems and work on the inverse problem for seismology applications.

Rolando Cardenas

Jaidee Zavala
  • GK-12 Campus: Transmountain Early College High School
  • Current Studies: Ph.D., Computer Science, UTEP
  • Degree(s): B.S., Electrical Engineering, UTEP

My name is Rolando Cardenas and I am a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Computational Science at UTEP. My research is in the development of a software package that performs a 3D inversion of gravity and magnetic data over the Border Ranges Fault System. I received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from UTEP in 1991. During my studies, I was a General Motors Scholar and served my internship in the Advanced Engineering department for Packard-Electric. Upon graduation, I was employed as an Electronics Engineer at White Sands Missile Range where I worked in the Vulnerability Assessment Laboratory and PATRIOT Test Operations.

I received a Master of Arts in Teaching Mathematics in 2006 from UTEP after teaching elementary, middle, and high school math and science for 17 years at Bethel Christian and Jesus Chapel Schools. Over the past 6 years, I had the privilege of teaching credit and non-credit mathematics courses for UTEP and EPCC. In addition, I was the Director of Bands at Bethel Christian School from 1995 to 2008.

I've been happily married for 19 years and have 2 fantastic children. I've been a Children's Pastor at Bethel Family Ministries in northeast El Paso for 18 years and a member of the El Paso Wind Symphony as a trumpet player since 2001.

Sarah N. Cervera

Sarah Cervera
  • GK-12 Campus: Valle Verde Early College High School
  • Current Studies: Ph.D., Geological Science, UTEP
  • Degree(s): B.S., Geology, UTEP; M.S., Structural Geology, UTEP
  • Personal Website:

I was born and raised in the El Paso region and as a child I spent a lot of time outdoors exploring the natural environment around me. While pursuing a B.S. degree I took an Introduction to Geology course at The University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso Texas (UTEP) and fell in love with the discipline, specifically Structural Geology. For my Master’s degree I studied the East Potrillo Fault scarp in Southern New Mexico.

I started my Ph.D. studies in the summer of 2008 in the Geosciences at UTEP. My current Ph.D. research is focused in LiDAR and ALSM data along with various forms of aerial photography which allow construction of improved regional maps of bedding, and fault traces in areas of poor outcrop. These regional maps can be used to develop 3D and 4D models either directly through 3D visualization or through reconstruction of cross-sections. With these remote sensing methods geological features such as fault scarps, bedding and fault traces can be identified and accurately traced in three dimensions. Once these geologic features are identified they can be studied through structural analysis. 3D and 4D models can be compared to current geologic data collected in the field, or current geologic data can be overlaid or plotted on these models to produce an accurate reconstruction of the structural history of an area. These kinds of data are being analyzed in two study areas; the Katalla area in the St. Elias Mountains of southern, Alaska and the Bezymianny Volcano area of the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia. Here we emphasize results from draping of high resolution aerial photography onto a LiDAR DEM in the southern Alaskan data set acquired during the St. Elias Erosion and Tectonics Project (STEEP). The resultant 3D visualization, together with bare-ground LiDAR terrain models provide unprecedented abilities to visualize the geology in this complexly deformed terrain, as well as provide insights into the origins of large numbers of surface ruptures in the region.

Since 2008 I have had different sources of funding that have aided me through my Ph.D. career such as NFS GK-12, PIRE, and STEEP as well as from the UTEP Geosciences Department. Not only have these sources supported my education goals and research, but have allowed me to grow as an international scientist and sharpen my teaching skills.

Claudia Santiago

Claudia Santiago
  • GK-12 Campus: Mission Early College High School
  • Current Studies: Ph.D., Geological Science, UTEP
  • Degree(s): B.S., Physics, NMSU; M.S., Geophysics, UTEP

At New Mexico State University (NMSU) I earned a bachelor’s degree in physics with a minor in mathematics, and I was a hunt seat rider for the NMSU Women's Varsity Equestrian Team. I completed a master degree in geophysics, and currently I am pursuing a PhD in geological science at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Through a PhD I want to be able to contribute to the better use of our planet's resources and its conservation. Particularly, it will allow me to study more in depth the many applications of non-seismic methods. Additionally, I am interested in the development of advance mathematical models that can make available a physical basis for interpretation of the Earth's complex processes. Equally, I have an interest in the application of geophysics principles to planetary science.

Research Experience
2009-2010  Research assistant at UTEP’s Department of Geological Science. Conducted resistivity and conductivity surveys and modeled data.
Summer 2007  University of California Los Angeles. Contributed to the mathematical visualization of invariant manifolds, as 2D surfaces in a 3D space that propagated from periodic orbits surrounding the fixed points of the Planar Circular Restricted Three Body Problem. Summer 2006 University of California San Diego, Summer Training Academy for Research in the Sciences. I predicted the magnification of the Type Ia supernova SN 1997ff using the theory of gravitational lensing. Summer 2005  New Mexico State University, Ronald E. McNair Program. Created a C program to identify organic molecules in the external galaxy MKN 231. Summer 2004  New Mexico State University, Alliance for Minority Participant. Assisted with the construction of one of the NMSU NanoSat. Summer 2003  New Mexico State University, Alliance for Minority Participant. Computationally assembled a list of candidate stars in the nearby star cluster, The Pleiades, to be searched for planets that seem to present conditions favorable for life.


  • UTEP GK-12 Fellowship
  • Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degree of Success in the Earth System Science (MS PHD’S) Scholar
  • Ronald E. McNair Scholar
  • Gates Millennium Scholar
  • Ysleta Education Foundation Outstanding Achievement Scholarship
  • League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Scholarship
  • Ronald McDonald House Charities HACER scholarship