Texas A&M University-Kingsville

High school teacher spends seventh summer training high school students on venom research methods

KINGSVILLE - August 03, 2006

Contact: Jason Marton
jason.marton@tamuk.edu or 361-593-4143

Editors Note: “Toxinology” in the last paragraph is cq. Toxinology is the specialized area of toxicology that deals specifically with biological toxins, such as venoms or poisonous plants.

High school teacher spends seventh summer training high school students on venom research methods

Teacher Thelma Quintanilla-Hernandez has a lot of personal experience with Texas A&M University-Kingsville, and has spent many hours of free time sharing its resources with potential students.

She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the university, and for the last seven summers, Quintanilla-Hernandez has come back to A&M-Kingsville to teach high school students about snake venom at the university’s Natural Toxins Research Center (NTRC).

The mission of the center has been to provide global research, training and resources that will lead to the discovery of medically important toxins found in snake venoms. The NTRC has the largest research collection of poisonous snakes in the United States, and an Internet database with information gathered from more than 450 poisonous snakes and their venoms. It’s this venom database that Quintanilla-Hernandez and a select group of high school students contribute to for six weeks during the summer.

The students are a part of the Upward Bound Math and Science (UBMS) program at A&M-Kingsville. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education and overseen by A&M-Kingsville Special Programs, the UBMS program identifies and selects students who have expressed a high interest in math and science careers and who meet income guidelines or are first-generation college students. These students are offered the opportunity to enhance their academic and social skills needed to succeed in post-secondary education.

 Quintanilla-Hernandez has been a science teacher at H.M. King High School in Kingsville since 1987 and the summer instructor for the A&M-Kingsville-based summer program since 1999. In that time, she has taught some 44 students how to analyze venom elements, record the data and operate lab equipment.

“The students and I call ourselves ‘The Profilers,’ as we check venom for interesting things. The kids work very hard for those six weeks,” said Quintanilla-Hernandez.

Quintanilla-Hernandez’s work is funded this year by UBMS. Prior to that, funding came from a grant from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

NTRC director Dr. John C. Pérez said he is confident in Quintanilla-Hernandez’s skills. “Thelma is a very capable researcher,” said Perez. “We’re lucky to work with someone of her caliber. She trains students in practical lab skills. In addition, we get valuable data that is shared worldwide.”

For Quintanilla-Hernandez, the summer stint at A&M-Kingsville has been rewarding for a number of reasons. “My life is working with students. This program opens a doorway to South Texas kids, to see Texas A&M-Kingsville. It’s such a great school—the student-teacher ratio is favorable, they can stay close to home and get a great education.” Personally, Quintanilla-Hernandez said she appreciates “getting to dabble” in the center’s research each year and keeping up with the latest technology.

Mary L. Gonzalez, assistant vice president of special programs at A&M-Kingsville, said of Quintanilla-Hernandez, “ Thelma has always gone the extra mile and assisted the students in preparing for their presentations at the banquet which highlights their research at NTRC.

“The ability for our UBMS program to collaborate so closely with Dr. Perez and Dr. Sanchez at NTRC brings real hands on research experience for our students and not just simulated research. This makes a difference in our students’ decisions to make A&M-Kingsville their home for higher education.”

As the students in the collaborative program near the end of their six weeks, they give a PowerPoint presentation and show a poster illustrating what they’ve learned to their family, friends, peers and mentoring professors at a banquet. Quintanilla-Hernandez brings the students’ posters back to display in her high school classroom, to encourage her science students to pursue higher education and learn of A&M-Kingsville, NTRC research and UBMS.

In September 2000, the students’ findings went beyond Kingsville, all the way to Paris, France. Quintanilla-Hernandez presented their work that year to the International Society on Toxinology XIIIth World Congress on Animal, Plant and Microbial Toxins. The teacher said she showed the database to world-renowned figures in this area of research, for what would be one of her proudest moments.

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