Wednesday, March 13




Select the sessions below to view presenter abstracts

Marsal Family School of Education

10:30-11:30 AM

Cassandra Arroyo

Doctoral Student/Candidate

Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education | Twitter: @FutureDrArroyo

Title: Exploring Institutional Capacity Building at Puerto Rican Hispanic-Serving Institutions through the Title V Program

While all Puerto Rican colleges and universities are considered part of the United States’ postsecondary system, Puerto Rican institutions are grossly excluded from policy priorities. This erasure has historical roots in the United States’ acquisition of Puerto Rico in 1898. Rather than providing Puerto Rico with increased self-governance, the United States’ colonial project created a more restrictive system built on the centralization of United States interests and the disposability of Puerto Ricans (Go, 2000). This colonial legacy has resulted in a second class status for Puerto Rico’s citizens and its postsecondary institutions, which has become especially salient these last several years. Puerto Rican institutions have encountered severe infrastructure damages, austerity measures, campus consolidations, and other challenges within a short period of time (Santiago et al., 2023). Many of these challenges are not new to Puerto Rican institutions, however their compounded effects reveal the longstanding forms of structured colonial violence and neglect that have created a persisting state of uncertainty for Puerto Rican students pursuing a postsecondary education. Given these inequities and the contexts that have created them, identifying the barriers to and opportunities for increased investment in Puerto Rican institutions and the students they serve, offers an important avenue for further exploration. For these reasons, this research study will examine the ways enduring colonial and racial violence influence Puerto Rican institutions’ structures for serving their Puerto Rican students and their capacity to compete for limited resources to improve these structures through the Title V, Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) grant program. 

Valeria Ortiz-Villalobos

Doctoral Student/Candidate

Combined Program in Education and Psychology

Title: Can the Simple View of Reading Inform the Study of Reading Comprehension in Young Spanish Heritage Language Learners?; ¿Puede el Modelo Simple de Lectura informar  el estudio de la comprensión de lectura en niños y niñas que tienen el español como lengua de herencia?

This study investigates the development of reading comprehension in Spanish heritage language (HL) learners in the U.S. Reading comprehension (RC) is crucial for successful reading and cultural integration. However, Spanish HL learners in the U.S. face the challenge of acquiring RC in Spanish in an English-dominant environment. This study pioneers investigating the Simple View of Reading (SVR) framework within a sample of 74 young children (ages 4-9) in their HL, Spanish, rather than the dominant societal language at two stages of reading development—readers and pre-readers. The study aims to (1) assess the concurrent contribution of decoding and linguistic comprehension to RC in readers and (2) explore the relationship between precursors of decoding and linguistic comprehension, and their impact on listening comprehension and word recognition in pre-readers. Results both converge with and diverge from previous SVR studies conducted with English and Spanish monolinguals. In readers, linguistic comprehension, but not decoding, predicted significant unique variance in RC, yet both components jointly explained most of the variance. Pre-readers showed a high correlation between linguistic comprehension and decoding, indicating their intertwined nature at earlier reading stages. Morphosyntax, but not vocabulary, significantly and uniquely predicted listening comprehension in pre-readers, while only letter recognition significantly predicted word recognition. These findings are discussed in light of the substantial methodological and conceptual diversity in SVR studies. Findings guide parental and educator strategies for supporting Spanish RC in HL, thus contributing to equity-based research and education strategies that support minority(-language) children.

Berenice A. Cabrera

Doctoral Student/Candidate

Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education

Title: Understanding the Skills and Knowledge Emphasized in Undergraduate Industrial Engineering Courses

In an effort to characterize how, if at all, core courses in industrial engineering (IE) facilitate students’ development of sociotechnical engineering skills, this research examines the general content of core IE courses at a predominantly white institution in the Midwest. This research draws on data generated for a larger research study that leverages Holland et al.'s Figured Worlds framework to explore the messaging undergraduate engineering students receive in their classes around valued knowledge in their field. In this study, we analyze observation data leveraging recordings of seven required undergraduate courses in IE. We analyzed three randomly selected sessions from each course, with a total of 21 unique sessions observed. Our findings describe the practices that are and are not emphasized within and across required IE courses and the ways these practices are discussed. Our characterization of emphasized engineering practices provides an important foundation for understanding what is communicated to students about the nature of engineering work in their field, messaging which has substantial implications for the population of students who enter and persist in the field beyond their undergraduate studies.  

Zahira V. Flores-Gaona

Doctoral Student/Candidate

Combined Program in Education & Psychology

Title: “Palabras Mágicas” Enriching the vocabulary development of Spanish heritage language children in SE Michigan; “Palabras Mágicas” Enriqueciendo el desarrollo del vocabulario de los niños con lengua de herencia española en el sureste de Michigan.

Latino children learning their heritage language (HL) form a stronger bond with their families and cultural identity, while demonstrating improved academic achievement and well-being (Arredondo et al., 2016;).  However, despite strong family ties, US Latino families typically do not engage in reading with their children before they start school at age 5 or 6 (Childs Omohundro 2012). In this study, we report on the effectiveness of ‘Proyecto World’ a culturally responsive, vocabulary-enriching curriculum adapted from the Words of Oral Reading and Language Development (WORLD; Pollard-Durodola et al., 2011ab)), Proyecto WORLD is implemented concurrently through parent-child home-based shared book readings and a Saturday HL Spanish immersion program. The curriculum provides explicit Spanish instructions for discussing target words ("Palabras mágicas") in both home and classroom interactive reading sessions. Study participants: 62 HL learners, ages 4-6, in two Saturday classrooms (additional data on children with language impairments are included). Results from 2021 - 2023 (48 weeks)  indicate significant growth in all participants’ expressive and receptive vocabulary. Children with higher Saturday school attendance had higher expressive vocabulary scores. Additionally, children whose families engaged in Proyecto World’s home readings demonstrated greater growth in expressive vocabulary compared to those participating only in the Saturday classroom readings. Our results not only support findings that early vocabulary development lays the foundation for successful language and literacy (Sénéchal et al’s. (2007)), but also demonstrate  the significance of prioritizing early HL Spanish literacy and acknowledging the crucial role of parents in the learning process.

LSA Interdisciplinary Topics

12:00-1:00 PM

Ashley Crooks-Allen

Post Doctoral Scholar

Department of AfroAmerican & African Studies | 

Title: “Mestizaje Undone: A Qualitative Social Media Analysis of Afro-Latinx Identity  & #BLM Activism”

What does it mean to exist as a Black person in a community that is notorious in its anti-black reputation? In the U.S., those who identify as Afro-Latinx, do so at the intersection of a Latinx community that often rejects them and an African American community that often does not understand them. They share a linked fate with both groups in the form of inequality, discrimination, and state-sanctioned violence. So they likely march alongside their people in social movements, but who are their people? How do they understand themselves in racial movements like Black Lives Matter? 

This work examines the relationship between Afro-Latinx identity and the #BlackLivesMatter movement via social media. My research questions include: 1) How do Afro-Latinx social media users understand the Black Lives Matter Movement in relation to their identity? 2)How do social media users utilize these platforms to assert and affirm their identities? And how does gender impact or intersect with this process? 3) How might #BlackLivesMatter have impacted the proliferation of #AfroLatinx*? I use a combination of hashtag coding, content analysis, and in-depth interviews with social media users to pursue these questions.

For Afro-Latinx individuals experiencing “ethno-racial dissonance”, social media provides an essential avenue to disrupt the anti-Black discourse that surrounds Latinidad. The data suggest that online participation is an impactful component in the development of their Afro-Latinx identity. Through their participation in online discourses, communities, and activism, Afro-Latinx individuals are able to build up protective factors in the face of continued anti-Black messaging and erasure.

Cecilia Solis-Barroso

Doctoral Student/Candidate


Title: A generational analysis of variation and change in the Noun Phrase Morphosyntax of Huasteca Nahuatl

With approximately 1.5 million speakers in México (SIC México, 2020), Nahuatl is one of the most widely spoken indigenous languages of the Americas. However, this statistic disguises the intricate challenges faced by the 30 recognized varieties of Nahuatl, some of which have historically received unequal visibility and support. The aim of this study is to contribute to documentation and pedagogical efforts of the language by establishing the exact inventory and distribution of nominal morphology (i.e., the structure of nouns) in ‘Chicontepec Huasteca Nahuatl’, a variety of Nahuatl  spoken in Northeastern Veracruz. In addition, an intergenerational analysis (i.e., the comparison of speakers from different generations) is used in order to explore possible variation and change in the language. The data for this project will come from speech productions elicited from semi-structured interviews with 80 native speakers of Nahuatl in Chicontepec. In this presentation I present some preliminary analyses of data collected from four participants.  

Astrid Hurtado

Undergraduate Student


Title: How Children Learn With Artificial Intelligence: A Study of Dialogic Story Listening

As AI becomes more common, its effects on the development of children come into question. The goal of this study is to examine how children learn with artificial intelligence (AI), specifically with an AI voice agent, which functions similarly to other popular smart speakers like Alexa. Given that dialogic reading has been shown to increase the reading comprehension of children, we were interested in exploring how the benefits of this reading technique might differ between reading with humans versus with an AI counterpart, and whether different kinds of story components yield different effects. This study consists of a 2×2 (human vs. AI voice agent) x 2 (mental questions vs. non-metal questions) factorial design. We used a story listening task where we interspersed 12 reading comprehension questions, mental and non-mental, throughout an audio recording of Henry Huggins, a children’s book written at a 3rd-grade reading level. We then captured audio-video recordings and behaviorally coded the responses of 60 children aged 8-12. The children’s verbal engagement was evaluated by analyzing 5 subcomponents; language productivity, lexical diversity, topical relevance, accuracy of the response, and intelligibility of the child’s utterances. We predict that children will demonstrate a similar level of reading comprehension with either a human or AI-voice counterpart, but that they’ll exhibit greater verbal engagement with a human, implying that human interaction fosters a more engaging learning experience. We are extending our project to incorporate both Spanish-English and Chinese-English bilingual children to better understand how language influences children’s interactions with AI across diverse child populations. 

SACNAS Sponsored Session: Investigaciones en Español

1:30-2:30 PM

Zaira Pagan Cajigas

Doctoral Student/Candidate

Industrial and Operations Engineering

Title: Estimating Tropical Cyclone induced Power Outages in Future Climate Scenarios' Impact on Socio-economically Vulnerable Populations and Racial and Ethnic Minorities

This study provides a basis for understanding if future climate scenarios will increase the frequency or produce longer-lasting outages for the Gulf and East Coast of the US. Our work estimates the fraction of customers without power in each census tract due to tropical cyclones, considering changes in intensity and frequency caused by future climate change scenarios. The outage projections are used to assess whether future climate scenarios will have a disproportionate impact on socio-economically vulnerable populations and racial minorities residing along the Gulf and East Coast of the United States. For this, we will analyze whether communities with specific socio-demographic and socio-economic characteristics are more likely to reside in areas at higher risk of experiencing power outages compared to other groups. Furthermore, by evaluating current and projected outages using seven climate models, we aim to identify which communities will experience the most significant increase in power outages based on generalized climate model projection. 

Lisbeth Iglesias-Rios


Epidemiology | Twitter: @Lisglesias  

Title: Precarious work, labor exploitation, and health: The Michigan Farmworker Project; Empleo Precario, Explotacion Laboral y Salud: Proyecto de Trabajadores Agrícolas en Michigan 

Precarious employment is an important social determinant of health inequities. Through in-depth qualitative interviews (n  =  35), we examine precarious employment and labor exploitation, their potential impact on the working environment, and, ultimately, the health of farmworkers. We present results from the community-based participatory Michigan Farmworker Project. Our analysis identified dimensions of precarious employment and labor exploitation that involved lacking access to fundamental labor and social rights—including dehumanization—discriminatory occupational practices, and insufficient access to health care and social benefits. Policy reform is needed to address precarious employment and labor exploitation among farmworkers due to their potential long-lasting health effects.

Ana Morcillo Pallares



Title: Politics of Balance: Architecture, Negotiation and the Potential Outcomes; Políticas de Equilibrio: Arquitectura, Negociación y Resultados Potenciales

Today, contexts of impermanence and crisis challenge our role as architects and researchers and question the values that political powers play in urban development. My ongoing career reflects on the exploration of the architectural project as an urban mediator and political form, expanding the agency of design among professionals, regulations and citizen demands. As a member of Taubman College, my research and creative practice critically engage the constructed reality of our cities as an ongoing process of continuous agreements among the diverse networks of people who are part of them. 

As an architect educated in a European polytechnic school, I strongly believe that architecture is a means of communication. Therefore, the architect in order to be able to express, must have a command of materials, processes of fabrications and means of assembly. The material is the medium which delineates space and it is also intrinsically tied to the economic and sociopolitical progress of the city that I write about. Since 2008, I have been a co-partner at MPR Architects, with Jonathan Rule, assistant professor of practice at Taubman College. This creative/practice platform has inspired me to become a passionate advocate for the empowerment of craft and materiality. Our funded research focuses on developing a dialog through different research directions allowing for the possibility to participate in the spectrum of conversations in current architectural discourse through our built work, exhibitions, writings and installations. 

En la actualidad, contextos de inestabilidad y crisis desafían nuestro papel como arquitectos e investigadores y cuestionan los valores que los poderes políticos juegan en el desarrollo urbano. Mi investigación actual reflexiona sobre la exploración del proyecto arquitectónico como mediador urbano y forma política, ampliando la agencia del diseño entre los profesionales, las normativas y las demandas ciudadanas. Como miembro de Taubman College, mi investigación y mi práctica creativa abordan de manera crítica la realidad construida de nuestras ciudades como un proceso continuo de acuerdos bilaterales entre las diversas redes de personas que forman parte de ellas, lejos de ser una realidad estática e inmutable en el tiempo.

Como arquitecto formado en una escuela politécnica europea, creo firmemente que la arquitectura es un medio de comunicación. Por lo tanto, el arquitecto para poder expresarse debe tener dominio de materiales, procesos de fabricación y medios de montaje. El material es el medio que delinea el espacio y también está intrínsecamente ligado a los aspectos económicos y sociopolíticos. Desde 2008, soy socia de MPR Arquitectos, junto al profesor Jonathan Rule de Taubman College. Esta plataforma creativa/práctica nos ha inspirado a convertirnos en unos apasionados defensores del empoderamiento de la artesanía y la materialidad. Nuestra investigación académica se centra en desarrollar un diálogo a través de diferentes direcciones de investigación que permitan la posibilidad de participar en el espectro de conversaciones en el discurso arquitectónico actual a través de nuestras obras construidas, exposiciones, artículos académicos e instalaciones.

Copresenter: Jonathan Rule

Vianey Rueda

Doctoral Student/Candidate

School for Environment and Sustainability | LinkedIn

Title: Modeling Transboundary Water Treaty Provisions to Understand Compliance: The Rio Grande and the 1944 Water Treaty; Modelado de las disposiciones de los tratados de aguas transfronterizas para comprender su cumplimiento: el Río Bravo y el Tratado de Aguas de 1944

Water rights granted by legal agreements have created unstable socio-hydrological systems as water sources are pushed beyond their carrying capacity. A well-known example is the Colorado River, where overallocation has forced users into renegotiations. The Rio Grande experiences similar stress. The 1944 Water Treaty between the United States (US) and Mexico was signed to encourage transboundary cooperation in the management of the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers. For the Rio Grande the treaty primarily outlines Mexico's delivery of water to the US and for the Colorado River it outlines the inverse. While subsequent amendments for the Colorado River have encouraged cooperation, the treaty is a source of contention for Rio Grande water users as Mexico struggles to meet its obligations. The treaty's inability to cope with the system's variability is exemplified by ongoing tension as Mexico grapples with its local needs and international duties amidst ongoing drought. This study models the treaty's provisions and uses scenario analysis to understand how alternative water allocation mechanisms affect Mexico's compliance under different streamflow regimes. Analyzing the effect of different streamflow patterns on Mexico's deliveries informs the ability of alternative allocation mechanisms to create a more sustainable system that can cope with the basin's variability. Results indicate that under the current treaty Mexico's compliance will continue to be contingent on the timing of droughts and rainstorms given that irregular precipitation cannot offset deficits incurred during extended periods of drought. 

LRW Interdisciplinary Session

2:45-3:30 PM

Julianne Armijo

Doctoral Student/Candidate

School of Nursing

Title: The Impact of Sleep Instability on Quality of Life in Registered Nurses with Bipolar Disorders

Despite an estimated prevalence of 125,000 to 229,000 registered nurses (RNs) with bipolar disorders (BDs) in the U.S., knowledge regarding biological, gender, and work-related factors affecting sleep instability (SI) and quality of life (QoL) is limited. This study will address gaps regarding the effects of biological, gender, and work-related factors affecting SI and QoL among RNs with BDs. This study will employ an exploratory secondary analysis of the Nurses’ Health Study 3 (NHS3) longitudinal cohort study. The NHS3 contains data from U.S. and Canadian participants (n=38,016). We will capture measures related to SI (i.e., Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index and Epworth Sleepiness Scale), work environment (i.e., participant demographics, work shift, area of nursing specialty), and QoL (i.e., 36-Item Short Form Survey). After focused data cleaning, the sample will be stratified, comparing RNs with BDs to those without BDs, controlling for age, gender, chronotype, work environment, and other co-morbidities. The estimated sample size is 330 to 1,064 based on Canadian and U.S. prevalence rates. Descriptive frequency analysis will address demographics. T-tests, Chi-squared tests, and Cox regression analysis will address variable associations. Mixed modeling will address missing data. Study findings will delineate gaps in knowledge about complex interactions between multiple factors affecting sleep instability and quality of life among registered nurses with bipolar disorders. Results will inform future research that addresses the identified gaps regarding sleep instability and quality of life among registered nurses with bipolar disorders. 

Elisa Bravo

Doctoral Student/Candidate

Mechanical Engineering 

Title: Cultural Forms of Making: Integrating funds of knowledge in academic makerspaces; Formas Culturales de Creación: Integrando Fondos de Conocimiento en Espacios Académicos de Creación

Engineering-oriented makerspaces are established with the intent of supporting classroom instruction and providing students with experiential learning opportunities. These spaces aim to enhance essential skills for the job market that may not be fully cultivated in traditional academic settings. Academic makerspaces, in this context, refer to locations where users actively participate in learning, sharing ideas, and creating new knowledge by physically constructing objects using tools. According to Kim et al., the true impact of makerspace engagement goes beyond merely accessing equipment. Instead, its transformative potential lies in fostering a culture that encourages learning through creation, collaboration, and autonomy (Kim et al., 2019). However, these advantages are contingent upon active involvement in the makerspace environment and community. Disparities in participation, particularly from non-dominant groups, can perpetuate inequities within the engineering field. Research indicates that a significant barrier to diverse participation in makerspaces is the perpetuation of a hegemonic and marginalizing culture within engineering institutions (Vossoughi et al., 2016; Villanueva Alarcon et al., 2021). Vossoughi et al. criticize the mainstream makerspace movement for being centered on "white, middle-class male" forms of making, positioning working-class communities of color as targets for intervention and reinforcing the notion that dominant communities are more advanced (Vossoughi et al., 2016). In alignment with inclusive makerspaces literature, this work critically examines the concept of being a maker and advocates for the inclusion of diverse forms of making in engineering-focused spaces. The focus is on defining cultural forms of making and exploring ways to integrate these practices into formal makerspace environments. Utilizing funds of knowledge as a theoretical framework, this work seeks to categorize the making practices that students were exposed to or engaged in during their upbringing as valuable forms of knowledge that should be leveraged in educational spaces. 

Space Science Session

4:00-5:00 PM

Edgard Rivera-Valentín

Senior Scientist at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

Planetary Science

Title: Balancing Family, Community, and Planetary Science

Working in a field whose culture, work ethos, and values was primarily developed without the input from historically excluded communities can many times lead to feelings of isolation and estrangement. These can contribute immensely to the imposter syndrome folks face when in STEM spaces. How we navigate these experiences can be deeply personal, but sharing some of these paths with each other can help our traverse. In this talk, I will lean in to familismo by sharing my own experiences as a queer Latine planetary scientist so that we can together reflect on and reimagine a transformed planetary science community.

Rackham Graduate School Sponsored Mass Oral Session


Buffet Menu

Tostada Bar

Rajas Poblanas

Ground Beef

Salsa, Sour Cream, Pico de Gallo, Cheese, Lettuce, Avocado, Limes

Refried Beans

Arroz Rojo

Mango Cheesecake

Watermelon Agua Fresca

Elena Crosley

Doctoral Student/Candidate

Educational Studies

Title: Role of Gendering in Undergraduate Mathematics Advising

As part of a dissertation in Mathematics Education, I explore the function of gendering in one-on-one undergraduate mathematics advising sessions at a research-intensive university. In this talk, I’ll discuss what I mean by gendering in a mathematics context and provide examples showing how this analytic lens may make visible the ways in which these micro-level advising interactions function as important levers in moving students towards or away from mathematics and futures in STEM before they even enroll in first-semester coursework. 

Megan Gross

Master's Student

School for Environment and Sustainability | LinkedIn 

Title: Sembrando Juntes: Seeding Sovereignty, Together

Research around transformative food systems questions the drivers, circumstances, and outcomes of social change by analyzing the institutions, actors, and environments that hold their respecting relationships and processes. However, this literature tends to emphasize our food systems’ structural failings far more often than it distinguishes the producers at the center as capable of their own emancipation from oppressive food regimes. In response, agroecology has been accepted globally as a tool to articulate steps for positive transformation of food systems. In Puerto Rico, a modern colony where food sovereignty is at once threatened by external economic dependence, colonial trade agreements, and climate disasters, the social organizing of agroecological farmers can provide a model to examine the potency of agroecology as a solution. I trace forms of social organization around natural and cultural resources in two case studies of agroecological collectives. Through interviews, focus groups, and participant observation, I characterize the constitutive elements of solidarity economy practice as representative of the growing agroecological movement in Puerto Rico and evaluate their efficacy based on established indicators of food sovereignty. I find that agroecological practice can potentially strengthen food sovereignty when farming collectives have access to additional social and institutional networks. However, the research suggests that agroecology might only be possible when certain conditions are met. In enhancing nuanced understandings of collective practices of smallholder farmers in Puerto Rico, this research hopes to fuel bottom-up mobilizations for food sovereignty and augment the literature on social processes of agroecological movements.

Savannah Sturla Irizarry

Doctoral Student/Candidate

Environmental Health Sciences

Title: Prenatal metal(loid) exposure and child neurodevelopmental outcomes in Puerto Rico

Low levels of toxic, nonessential metals and metalloids (metal(loid)s), and either insufficient or excess levels of essential metal(loid)s, can pose a variety of public health risks, particularly at sensitive stages of early-life neurodevelopment. Metal(loid)s usually exist in the environment as a mixture and exposure in humans can interfere with neurotransmitter function, essential metal ion processes, oxidative stress, or endocrine function. However, little research has studied the impact of prenatal exposure to complex mixtures of metal(loid)s on behavioral and emotional development in children, especially in Puerto Rico. This study aims to understand how prenatal exposure to a mixture of 21 different metal(loid)s in blood and urine affects child neurodevelopment measured using the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) at 18 months, 2, 3, 4, and 5 years. We examined the association between measurements of prenatal exposure to metal(loid)s in blood and urine, both as single pollutants and as a mixture, and repeated neurodevelopmental outcomes in children in 418 mother-child pairs from the PROTECT birth cohort in Northern Puerto Rico. Additionally, we tested if the association of prenatal metal(loid) exposure on neurodevelopmental outcomes is modified by fetal sex and time point of exposure during gestation. We anticipate that prenatal metal(loid)s in blood and urine will be associated with poorer CBCL scores across the nine subscales, internalizing behavior, externalizing behavior, and total problems scores. Particularly, we expect that prenatal Pb, Zn, and Mn will be important predictors of CBCL scores in our population. Future studies may then utilize these findings to further assess other neurodevelopmental endpoints, mixture effects of metal(loid)s and other chemical and non-chemical stressors, and biological mechanisms related to metal(loid)s and emotional and behavioral outcomes.  

Genesis Rodriguez

Doctoral Student/Candidate

Neurology | LinkedIn

Title: Molecular Mechanisms Underlying VPS13A Disease

Chorea acanthocytosis (ChAc) is an autosomal-recessive neurodegenerative disorder caused by mutations in the gene encoding vacuolar protein sorting factor 13A (VPS13A). Studies show that VPS13A aids in the transport of lipids between organelles and that some domains are homologous to evolutionarily conserved autophagy proteins, suggesting a function for VPS13A in specialized branches of autophagy. Using HEK293T cells in which the native VPS13A has been knocked out (VPS13A KO), we found that VPS13A loss only moderately autophagic flux. Furthermore, mass spectroscopy failed to demonstrate an upregulation of autophagy substrates in VPS13A KOs - arguing against an essential role for VPS13A in these processes. Therefore, we broadened our approach and found that candidate proteins that that were consistently affected at the protein level also demonstrated changes at the RNA level, implying transcriptional regulation upon VPS13A KO. To investigate whether VPS13A may regulate transcription, we conducted next generation RNA-sequencing in VPS13A KO HEK293T cells and controls. These findings imply that VPS13A may be regulating RNA expression, through secondary effects on mRNA transport or transcription factors. Concurrent with these studies, we observed an elevated risk of death in iPSC-derived neurons from ChAc patients through longitudinal analyses. Future studies will examine cell type-specific functions of VPS13A in human neurons compared to HEK293T cells, with a focus on pathways that mediate neuronal survival. Collectively, these investigations will help define a function for VPS13A in neurons, outline disease mechanisms, and highlight pathways that may be targeted to prevent neuron loss in ChAc.

Natalia Crystal Ubilla Rodriguez

Doctoral Student/Candidate

Biological Chemistry | LinkedIn 

Title: Enterobacterial encapsulin nanocompartments release their peroxidase cargo under acid stress; Los nanocompartimentos de encapsulina enterobacteriana liberan su carga de peroxidasa bajo estrés ácido

Intracellular compartmentalization is a fundamental feature of cells. Prokaryotes primarily utilize protein-based nanocompartments such as encapsulin nanocompartments (Enc). A defining feature of encapsulins is their ability to self-assemble and sequester cargo proteins that encode either C-terminal targeting peptides (TPs) or N-terminal encapsulation-mediating domains. Dye-decolorizing Peroxidases (DyPs) are well-known cargo proteins of encapsulins. Major enterobacterial pathogens, including Salmonella, Shigella, and Escherichia species, that can cause extraintestinal and gastrointestinal diseases, encode a conserved Enc-DyP operon within a mobile genetic element. The molecular function of this encapsulin nanocompartment and its influence on the fitness and virulence of enterobacterial pathogens has remained elusive. Here, we set out to (i) determine the molecular architecture of the cargo-loaded encapsulin, and (ii) examine the influence of DyP encapsulation on its stability and activity. Using cryo-electron microscopy, we determine the 2.8 Å structure of the DyP-loaded encapsulin. We identify the molecular basis for cargo loading, revealing that the TP of DyP interacts with three hydrophobic pockets located at the luminal surface of each encapsulin protomer. In our kinetic activity assays, we observed DyP to be more active at lower pH ranges regardless of whether it was encapsulated or not. Furthermore, dynamic light scattering (DLS), and negative stain transmission electron microscopy indicate that the encapsulin shell is more sensitive to acid stress than its cargo. Although the physiological function of this peroxidase-loaded encapsulin remains to be elucidated, our results expand the current understanding of encapsulin cargo loading in general and suggest a potential function of DyP encapsulins in combating oxidative stress as encountered during infection.

We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Rackham Merit Fellowship and NIH (R35GM133325). 

Sofia Ruiz-Sierra

Undergraduate Student

Biopsychology, Cognition and Neuroscience // Psychology (Personality and Social Contexts), and Women’s and Gender Studies | LinkedIn 

Title: Familismo and Mental Health Among Latinx College Students

While familismo has been linked to positive mental health outcomes for Latinx college students, studies have fallen into the assumption that Latinx communities exist as a monolith. Familismo, a cultural value emphasizing strong familial loyalty, closeness, and collective responsibility, holds particular significance among many Latinx communities. Among college students, it may provide a sense of belonging and support, likely protecting against certain forms of psychopathology. Yet, significant methodological challenges arise when investigating familismo and mental health outcomes among Latinx college students. This study focuses on the major limitations and concerns surrounding familismo in research. We used PubMed and APA PsycInfo to search peer-reviewed articles using the terms “familism” or “familismo,” “college,” “Latin” or “Hispanic,” and “mental health.” Our findings suggest that studies are often hindered by factors such as lack of disclosure of participants’ national origin, undermining the generalizability of findings. Notably, no studies included participants from Central America, highlighting a major gap in the current literature. Additionally, the omission of participants’ immigrant generation status in most studies poses a significant limitation, as it may define how they relate to their Latinx identity. Moreover, the vast reliance on the Mexican-American Cultural Value Scale (Knight et al., 2010) to measure familismo poses internal validity threats, as it assumes a level of homogeneity within the Mexican and Mexican-American populations, overlooking its diverse nature. Familismo as a cultural value plays a major role in many students’ college experience, and as such, should be accurately measured. Future research should address these limitations by refraining from generalizing results to all Latinx communities, incorporating generational dynamics, and employing culturally sensitive measurement tools. This will contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the Latinx communities and will help change the narrative through data, and embrace the complexity of Latinx communities that are oftentimes treated as a monolith.

Click on the dates below to see the detailed event program for Latinx Research Week 2024