FEBRUARY 6, 2020 — The UTSA College of Engineering welcomes new faculty Mario Flores and Karina Vielma for the spring 2020 semester.
Flores joins the college as an assistant professor and is the first joint appointment between the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering. Flores has a strong record of research accomplishments in the field of bioinformatics, and his expertise in digital signal processing and artificial intelligence allow him to teach students in both departments.
Flores earned his B.S. in electronic engineering from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico, an M.S. in applied mathematics from UTSA, and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, also from UTSA. Since completing his doctorate in 2015, he has served as a postdoctoral fellow at NIH in computational biology with specific impact on identifying human genomic regulatory regions to infer their functionality. During his doctoral studies, he also worked in the Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute at UT Health San Antonio, where he contributed to the first published database of RNA methylation in the world.
“Dr. Flores brings unique and strategic expertise in computational biology and data science as well as strong experience with national scale best practices in bioinformatics that will be invaluable as we look to expand collaborations with partners like UT Health San Antonio and Texas Biomedical Research Institute,” said JoAnn Browning, dean of the College of Engineering.
Karina Vielma joins the faculty as assistant professor of engineering education, the first position of its kind. A joint hire between the College of Engineering and the College of Education and Human Development, Vielma will spearhead a new engineering education program and support mentorship of female, Hispanic and first-generation engineering students.
Vielma earned her B.S. degree in mathematics and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a master’s of dducation in technology degree in education from Harvard University, and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from UTSA. She also holds educator certifications in mathematics (grades 8–12), physics/mathematics (grades 8–12), and principal as instructional leader.
She has considerable experience mentoring students from groups underrepresented in higher education and cultivating programs to advance diversity and inclusion in higher education. She managed the Latina/o Cultural Center for MIT-Harvard University in its inaugural year (2002), was the assistant dean for academic programming in the Office of Minority Education at MIT (2006–2008), and won MIT’s Infinite Mile Award for Innovation & Creativity (2007). She has also held positions in the McNair Scholars Program at St. Edward’s University (assistant director) and UTSA (program manager). Most recently, Vielma led the National Science Foundation National Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure Network Coordination Office-Education and Community Outreach grant with Browning to build inclusion within the natural hazards engineering community with a network-wide Research Experiences for Undergraduates program and summer institute for early-career faculty and national hazards engineering community members.
“Dr. Vielma provides the critical link between the technical expertise in an engineering program and the pedagogical knowledge from her education background to develop our engineering education program at UTSA,” said Browning. “Her research experience and connections will provide critical leadership in COE to further develop educational grant opportunities within UTSA and across institutions.”
Both Flores’ and Vielma’s hires were enabled through the Accelerating Faculty Diversity Hiring Program (FDP), a component of the Strategic Faculty Hiring Initiative launched in 2019. The FDP facilitates—in addition to traditional organized searches for faculty—the hiring of diverse full-time, tenured/tenure-track faculty who will advance inclusive excellence at UTSA through enhancing student success, research and academic distinction outlined in the President’s Vision and Strategic Plan for UTSA. Since the FDP program was implemented in 2019, UTSA has successfully hired five additional diverse T/TT faculty scholars to date.
“UTSA is recognized as a leader among U.S. universities in advancing high-quality education outcomes for Hispanic students, and as an HSI, the university has an outsized opportunity and particular responsibility to promote the success of faculty who identify as Hispanic/Latino,” said Kimberly Andrews Espy, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “Dr. Vielma and Dr. Flores are exceptional scholars who will greatly impact our research prowess. Further, as faculty who are at the cutting edge of their fields and who identify as Hispanic/Latino, they will contribute to enhancing the inclusive support system for COE faculty and students, of whom 22% are female and 50% identify as Hispanic/Latino.”
Also joining the college is Sergio Alcocer, a professor of civil engineering. Alcocer is a fellow of the American Concrete Institute, former president of the Academy of Engineering of Mexico, and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2017 for his work on enhancing seismic safety of buildings in developing countries through improved design standards and government policies.