Ibarra attends the SABR at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in El Paso as a student intern.
When Cordova Middle School (now Judge Armendariz Sr. Middle School) student Jose Ibarra attended the summer Developing Research and Early Aspirations for Medical Scholars (DREAMS) program nearly a decade ago, he decided then and there he wanted to be a doctor.
Every day after the program, he shared the information and topics he had learned with his family members including how to stay healthy and what not to eat to avoid obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
DREAMS was an educational awareness outreach program for 5th and 6th graders in the El Paso Independent School District’s Gifted and Talented Program in partnership with TTUHSC El Paso.
Rene Andre, coordinator for the Office for Promotion of Community Educational Achievement and school liaison in the Office of Admissions, Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, said DREAMS is an important stepping stone for students to realize their goals.
Andre just started his summer high school medical camps this week and currently has two high school students that were in the DREAMS program.
“As part of the pipeline, I still track students," Andre said.
This summer, Jose Ibarra, son of Imelda Ibarra, lead custodian housekeeping at TTUHSC El Paso, is attending the 10-week Summer Accelerated Biomedical Research (SABR) Program at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) at El Paso as a student intern.
The school offers students an opportunity to work with faculty involved in relevant, interesting research areas with state-of-the art labs and equipment. According to Jazmin Carrera-Blas, in the Office of the Associate Dean for Research, the SABR program is an excellent educational opportunity, with a commitment to fostering an intern’s desire for science and research.
“Our program is intended for undergraduate students or current graduates (with no graduate course-work) who wish to gain more research experience before entering graduate school,” she said.
SABR interns work a full-time, which can be a first-time experience for many, Carrera-Blas said. During the program, interns are exposed to graduate student life. They also learn to become more independent and self-autonomous. Interns are guided by faculty, graduate students, other lab staff members, as well as administrators. Interns are paid once they complete the program.
Ibarra, 19, attended Maxine Silva Magnet Health High School at Jefferson across the street from the TTUHSC/UMC El Paso campus and as well as the dual credit program at El Paso Community College during his junior and senior years, and the summer after his senior year. He graduated with a certification in vocational nursing. He is considering molecular biology as his major and actuary mathematics as a minor. Ibarra is technically a graduate vocational nurse, but needs to take his state licensure exam to become an LVN.
“It’s a great program to help wet your feet in research,” Ibarra said. “My ultimate goal is to concentrate in cardiology or endocrinology.”
Most who apply for the SABR program are either sophomores or seniors not students finishing their freshman year like Ibarra, who is currently enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, although applicants are accepted into SABR on a case-by-case basis.
He is on multiple scholarships and a school grant, however, he and his parents are still responsible for paying a little more than $1,000 a month for him to attend. He is hoping to learn more about the medical field as it relates to research through the SABR program, as well as help out with some of his college expenses in the fall.
DREAMS is an educational outreach program used as a stepping stone for helping children realize their dreams.
Ibarra is under the direct supervision of Olof Sundin, Ph.D., who is studying eye genetics.
“While in our laboratory, Jose has been working to understand the role of MFRP, a protein made by a thin layer of cells in the eye. Inherited changes in the DNA of the MFRP gene are the cause of a rare human eye disease that affects vision and often leads to blindness, Sundin said.
"Our experiments involve studies of a special mouse strain that has a genetic defect in the mouse MFRP gene. José’s work aims to learn why mutations in this gene cause an abnormal shape and an early death of the eye’s photoreceptor cells. These are the cells that detect light, and are central to health of the eye. We hope that this work will lead to better treatments of this and other, more common, eye diseases."
Ibarra is one of 14 students enrolled in the SABR internship program. Several SABR students have already gone on to graduate or medical school, Sudin said.
"For those who come from other parts of the country, the program has provided a favorable introduction to the school and El Paso. Several have chosen to stay, and enroll in our Masters of Biomedical Sciences graduate program," Sundin said. "These students are our future, and we are proud to have José for the summer.”
A Grand Future
Ibarra is proud of what he calls humble beginnings. He was born in Chicago, but his family moved to El Paso before he was 1 year old, so he considers himself a native El Pasoan.
He has an older sister who just graduated from The University of Texas at El Paso with a bachelor’s in psychology and also participated in the SABR program last summer. As a first-generation American, and a first-generation college student, Ibarra is excited about his future.
“Going to Silva, being in the nursing program that I was in, going to a research-heavy institution and participating in the SABR program has opened my eyes into the many, many possibilities the sciences and the health care field have available, not just medicine,” Ibarra said.
He said although becoming a clinician is his ultimate goal, especially an M.D./Ph.D. program as a professor at a research institution, he thinks all of the opportunities El Paso offers will help improve the health of the community.
"If it hadn’t been for all of the great windows of success the community has offered me, I don’t know what I would have chosen,” Ibarra said.
Although GSBS is no longer taking applicants for this summer’s SABR program, for information on applying for next year’s program, applicants may email Carrera-Blas, email@example.com.