A positive force

Teachers College grad Mitzi Vilchis chosen as Fulbright grantee to teach English in Mexico


May 5, 2016

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

Mitzi Vilchis, a secondary education major, was recently named a Fulbright grantee and will be teaching English to school children in Mexico this fall. Mitzi Vilchis named Fulbright grantee Mitzi Vilchis was named a Fulbright grantee and will teach English in Mexico this fall. Download Full Image

“I am still waiting for my official assignment to a state and city, but I am very excited about my side project that I will do while there,” said Vilchis, who is graduating from Arizona State University's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College this spring.

Her “side project,” a requirement of the Fulbright application, will involve working with her students in Mexico and helping them create digital stories (video documentaries on social justice issues) as inspired by her participation in CompuGirls, an ASU entity within the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology.

She is also the winner of the Roberto L. Pastor Student Award for academic achievement. Vilchis was born in Phoenix and grew up in Tempe.

“I knew I wanted to be close to home and close to my family, so ASU was a natural choice for me for college. And, teaching, well, I chose teaching because I want to be the positive force in kids’ lives. I want to be the one person, and for some kids it might really be just one person, in a kid’s life, who encourages them to be more than they think they can be,” she said.

In five years she envisions being midway through a doctoral program, but she will always teach in some way.

Vilchis took some time to answer a few questions.

Question: What three things are always in your fridge?

Answer: Tortillas, serrano peppers and eggs.

Q: Coffee or Tea?

A: Coffee.

Q: Last movie you watched that made you cry?

A: “I Learn America.”

Q: Last book you read?

A: “Things Fall Apart.”

Q: Teaching is the most important profession because ... 

A: As teachers, we are able to be our students’ cheerleader day in and day out. We can be the voice that tells them they can achieve anything they want and help them along the way.

Q: The real-life teacher who most inspired you was ...

A: Ruben Montalbo, my second-grade teacher at Holdeman Elementary School, because he pushed me to do my best even when I doubted myself.

Q: Favorite fictional teacher?

A: Snape.

Q: What are you most grateful for?

A: My family.

Q: Why did you choose education as a major?

A: I knew of too many young people who had been given up on by teachers and told, “You’ll never amount to anything.” As a result, I wanted to be the one who told my students that they can do whatever they set their minds to, even if there are challenges in the way.

Q: Who inspired you when you were young, and why?

A: My sister because she was always hard-working and super creative.

Q: Who inspires you now?

A: Maria Chacon at Central High School in Phoenix, because she’s the teacher I want to be. She’s also so proud of being Hispanic and is a great leader. She talks to everyone and always has amazing words for me when I’m having a hard day at school. She is also very knowledgeable on how to help our kids, especially if they are undocumented. I want to know as much as she does so I can help my future students in any way I can.

Q: What was the biggest risk you ever took, and what did you learn from it?

A: Working and studying at the same time. Both things required me to take work home, but hey, I can’t complain. It’s been great, and I’m proud of a lot of things.

Q: Three historical or fictional people you would have over for dinner?

A: Monet, Frida Kahlo and President Obama and his family.

Q: What’s your favorite mode of transportation, and why?

A: Car. It’s very convenient.

Q: What’s your go-to food?

A: Mom’s food, or anything that’s easy to make.

Q: ASU moment to remember?

A: Staying at Hayden Library till 6 a.m. (when I had a 9 a.m. class) with my friend Courtney Besaw (also graduating this spring, and my friend since middle school).

We were working on our chapter. We had a lot of adventures. Mainly they included finding great spots to do homework.

Q: Biggest change in classrooms from when you were a child to today?

A: There are no overhead projectors!

Q: If you could only listen to three songs for the rest of your life, what would they be?

A: “Corazon Atomico” by Zoe; “Days” by The Drums; and “Running Up That Hill” by Placebo.

Q: Biggest mistake?

A: Quitting ballet folklorico when I was younger.

Q: Biggest accomplishment?

A: Chapter I co-authored with Dr. Kimberly Scott (associate professor at ASU and founder/executive director of ASU's Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology and CompuGirls) and my friend Courtney.

Q: Most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?

A: Applied to Fulbright and everything that awaits!

Q: What advice would give your 18-year-old self?

A: Minor in something! Transborder Chicano Lit, Women and Gender Studies or any other ethnic studies.

Q: Favorite movie quote?

A: I don’t think it’s from a movie, but: “Nothing is impossible. The world itself says, I’m possible.” — Audrey Hepburn

Q: Pet peeve?

A: Giving up easily on something. Come on, people. Problem-solve!

Q: App you can’t live without?

A: Facebook — all the groups help so you can talk to everyone and ask any questions you have.

Copy writer, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

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Tiny genetic switches discovered in lizard tail regeneration

May 5, 2016

ASU, TGen findings from lizards may impact future therapies to regrow organs in humans

Any kid who pulls on a lizard tail knows it can drop off to avoid capture, but how they regrow a new tail remains a mystery. Now, researchers at Arizona State University and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) have identified tiny RNA switches, known as microRNAs, which may hold the keys to regenerating muscles, cartilage and spinal columns.

In a study published today in the scientific journal BMC Genomics, ASU and TGen scientists for the first time identified three microRNAs — which turn genes on and off — that are associated with the regeneration of tails in the green anole lizard, Anolis carolinensis

Using next-generation genomic and computer analysis, this interdisciplinary team of scientists hope their findings, following nearly six years of research, will help lead to discoveries of new therapeutic approaches to switch on regeneration genes in humans.

"Since microRNAs are able to control a large number of genes at the same time, like an orchestra conductor leading the musicians, we hypothesized that they had to play a role in regeneration," said senior author Kenro Kusumi, professor in ASU's School of Life Sciences and associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "Our earlier work found that hundreds of genes are involved in regeneration, and we are very excited to study these three new microRNAs.”

Elizabeth Hutchins, a post-doctoral fellow in TGen’s Neurogenomics Division and co-lead author of the study, said she hopes this investigation eventually enables such things as regenerating cartilage in knees, repairing spinal cords in accident victims, and reproducing the muscles of injured war veterans. 

“It is the translational nature of this work — how it could eventually be applied to people — that led to my interest in this study,” said Hutchins, who graduated from ASU's Molecular and Cellular Biology Program. “For example, we currently don’t have the ability to regrow knee cartilage, which would really help someone like my grandmother.”

“This work highlights the importance of tiny RNA molecules in the tissue regeneration process, and showed for the first time an asymmetric microRNA distribution in different portions of the regenerating lizard tails,” said Marco Mangone, a co-author and assistant professor with ASU’s School of Life Sciences and Biodesign Institute. “It seems like microRNAs may play an active role in this process and are potentially able to shape the regenerating lizard tail like playdough.”

The research team also included: Justin Wolter of ASU’s Biodesign Institute and School of Life Sciences; and Walter Eckalbar at the University of California, San Francisco.

This research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission.

Top photo by Kenro Kusumi

Sandra Leander

Manager, Media Relations and Marketing , School of Life Sciences

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