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With the demand for social workers due to grow by more than 35 percent in West Texas in the next few years, the University of Texas at El Paso will launch a Master of Social Work program in 2010 called Social Work in a Border Region. Though UT Pan American offers a program in Social Work with Hispanic Families, UTEP’s will be the first in the nation to specialize in border issues. Courses will focus on traditional social-worker problems — domestic violence, drug addiction, physical and mental health, unemployment, poverty — but in a binational context, where identity is based on culture and language rather than citizenship. Students will also receive training in how to deal with problems specific to the region, such as human trafficking and life in families which have members dwelling on both sides of the border.

“This environment requires us to adjust our curriculum to deal with these problems specifically; we need more professionals who understand these problems,” says Mark W. Lusk, UTEP professor and chair of the Department of Social Work and associate dean of the College of Health Sciences, who will direct the program. Lusk notes that in El Paso — as in other border cities from San Diego to Tucson to Brownsville — poverty rates are double and triple the national average, more people lack health insurance, salaries are much lower and the risk of health and economic insecurity much higher. “But these problems are increasingly evident elsewhere, in states such as Iowa and Georgia, where the Hispanic populations are also growing rapidly. This program will serve Texas in important ways, and we’ve been getting tremendous support for it from all over the state, but it’s being watched in other places as well.”

In The Number Cruncher, former state demographer Steve Murdoch documents the stunning growth of the Hispanic population in Texas, and explains some of its potential consequences. In Faces of the New Texas, educators from UT El Paso, UT Brownsville, UT Pan American and Texas A&M discuss why it’s essential to all of us that these new Texans have equal access to higher education.

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An agreement between Merck & Co., Inc., and both UT San Antonio and the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio sets at least two precedents. The pharmaceutical giant will fund (and work with) scientists at the two UT institutions as they develop a vaccine for the sexually transmitted disease chlaymydia. Merck will then have an exclusive license on that vaccine. Researchers Guangming Zhong, professor of microbiology and immunology at UTHSCSA; Bernard Arulanandam, UTSA professor of microbiology and immunology; and Ashlesh Murthy, a UTSA research assistant professor, have already shown that a vaccine made up of a select group of recombinant Chlaymydia trachomatis (the bacterium that causes the disease) antigens can accelerate bacterial clearance in animal models while preserving female reproductive function. Chlaymydia is the most common STD caused by a bacterium, and its symptoms, especially among females, are often so mild that it’s hard to detect. But there are some 2.3 million infections yearly, and in females they can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, serious complications for newborns, and infertility.

This represents the first revenue-producing license for any technology developed at UTSA. It’s also the first exclusive license negotiated and executed by South Texas Technology Management, the regional technology transfer office affiliated with UTSA, UTHSCSA, UT Pan American and UT Brownsville. STTM’s mission is to aid the public by facilitating widespread distribution of new discoveries and breakthroughs by the four South Texas UT institutions, while also generating revenues for these intellectual properties.