Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Jose Soria Named “Emory Williams Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award” Winner

As Senior Lecturer for the Department of Chemistry, Dr. Jose Soria has taught lectures and laboratories ranging from introductory 100-level courses to 400-level advanced courses. His sees the classroom as a space for scientific discussion and the sharing of ideas, an approach which has been well-received by his students and undergraduate TAs. Dr. Soria’s dedication to his student’s and unique teaching style were recently recognized with the Emory Williams Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award. The award is given in recognition of a record of excellence in teaching, contributions to curriculum development in the awardee’s academic discipline, and pedagogical innovation.

As a young child growing up in Mexico, Dr. Soria was curious about science. He recalls playing with fireworks and doing “experiments” with his neighbors during his grade school years before he even knew what chemistry was. In middle school chemistry courses, he was fascinated by the changing structures and properties of compounds. After taking his first laboratory class, he was totally captivated.

Dr. Soria earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in chemistry from Universidad Nactional Atonoma before moving to the United States to pursue is doctorate degree here at Emory University. Following graduation, Dr. Soria opted to apply for his green card, allowing him to stay at Emory to complete a postdoc in the lab of Dr. Dennis Liotta. During this time, he became interested in teaching. He took a part-time position at a local two-year college where he could teach classes in the evenings. His experiences in the classroom lead him to apply for more permanent teaching positions, ultimately landing him back at Emory as a member of chemistry’s lecture-track faculty.

His classroom now is based primarily on free-flowing discussions. “When I go into the classroom, I have a plan of what we are going to discuss, but the way that it is discussed is not planned. It is not rehearsed because each community, each group, is different,” says Dr. Soria. He values creating a space that encourages students to speak up about their ideas, ask their questions, and grow as scientists together. Reflecting on an early experience during his teaching career, Dr. Soria explains that a group of minority students approached him and expressed their appreciation for the way he explained his research. That interaction influenced the way he continues to structures his class, with a focus on making the complex concepts more approachable through discussion and application.

Dr. Soria’s willingness to mentor also resonates with his students. “I think the thing that really stands out to me about Dr. Soria’s teaching style is his dedication to mentoring his students. When I told him I was going to be applying for grad schools, he asked to meet up with me so that we could talk about the process, what I should look for in a school, what questions I should ask, and what kinds of programs would be the best fit for me,” says recent chemistry graduate Daniel Salgueiro (EC’18, Blakey Group). “All in all, Dr. Soria is a very supportive and helpful professor, and I recommend all of his classes to anyone who asks me.”

Dr. Soria’s most recent undergraduate TAs, Eddy Ortega (EC’18, Liebeskind Group) and Nilang Shah (EC’18, Levin Group) also have wonderfully positive things to say about his teaching. “Dr. Soria values the environment of his class, the spirit of discussion, and teamwork,” says Eddy. “He loves pushing students to achieve their full potential and promotes students to give concise and well thought answers,” added Nilang.

Dr. Soria remembers seeing a colleague win the Williams Award twelve years ago and thinking “I want to be like him”. He worked hard to build his credentials since then, developing the courses that are now so greatly appreciated by his students. Support for his ideas from chemistry chairs—five in his career, so far!—and collaboration with other faculty and staff have also contributed to his development. The supportive community has helped Dr. Soria during his ongoing project of building a supportive, and now award-winning, classroom.

 

Graduate Student Spotlight: Anthony Prosser

Tony Prosser. Photo provided by Tony Prosser.
Tony Prosser. Photo provided by Tony Prosser.

“Thinking about it as a marathon—it’s halfway there, but that last half is pretty grueling.”

Ph.D. candidate Tony Prosser uses the metaphor of a long distance run to explain the future trajectory of his research. But recently, he seems to be progressing at more of a sprint. In the past few months, Tony’s thesis research has received a poster prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), been profiled by Science Daily, and brought him a first place prize in the narrative category of Emory’s annual Three Minute Thesis competition.

In the race Tony is running, the stakes are high—seeking future treatments for HIV that address concerns about cost, side effects, and drug resistance seen with currently available drugs.

Specifically, Tony’s focus is on increasing the potency of a compound he designed that has the potential to offer a more robust treatment for HIV. The disease attacks initially by fusing with two receptors—CCR5 and CXCR4—on human cells. Currently available treatments have been shown to be effective at blocking HIV entry in one or the other of these proteins. This new compound shows the ability to block HIV entry in both. Additionally, the compounds have activity against HIV reverse transcriptase an anti-HIV target post cellular entry.

“We suspect compounds with “activities” against both receptors will be more effective,” says Tony. Perhaps more importantly, this compound focuses in on the “human machinery” rather than the disease itself. “HIV mutates very quickly,” explains Tony, “and because it mutates very quickly it develops resistance to viral targets very quickly. Whereas, if you target the human machinery, which essentially doesn’t mutate, HIV drug resistance should arise much slower. ”

The proposed treatment also targets another major factor that can make HIV difficult to treat—cost. “Fewer than half of the people with HIV in America are actually on treatment,” says Tony. “It’s expensive and has side effects—that’s what keeps people from seeking treatment.” He initially sought a compound that could target both CCR5 and CXCR4 for this reason: “if you target multiple things, [patients] can take fewer drugs” reducing cost and the potential for side effects.

At the AAAS meeting in Washington, D.C. where Tony won his poster prize, he also had the opportunity to share his research with a multidisciplinary audience. AAAS brings together clinicians, scientists, and physicians working in medicine and public health. Tony describes the vibrant meeting as “almost an endurance contest,” a challenging but welcome opportunity to “learn more about policy and make connections with people completely outside my field.

Tony’s trip was made possible by support from Emory’s Professional Development Support (PDS) program, which provides up to $2,500 for conference travel over a student’s Emory career. Tony’s work at Emory is supported by a Robert W. Woodruff Fellowship, Emory’s most competitive internal fellowship for entering PhD students, as well as an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

As evidenced by his win at the Three-Minute Thesis competition, part of what makes Tony’s research so powerful is his ability to tell stories about his science. He has a way of making the smallest details part of a bigger narrative picture, for instance, when he talks about teaching the undergraduates he mentors how to fold filter paper: “Most people fold it once, but I’ve learned to do an accordion fold, which drains like sixteen times faster! It’s such a small thing, but when I explain it to students, it affects their work flow for the rest of their science career.”

Mentoring students and collaborating with fellow grad students and postdocs is central to Tony’s approach. “Even [if] they aren’t specifically on my project, it’s an important part of my design protocol—having someone to bounce these ideas off of.”

Dr. Liotta praises Tony’s research as well as his collegial spirit:

“When he started at Emory, Tony already had substantial research experience,” says his research mentor, Dennis C. Liotta. “During his time here, he has grown tremendously  in both an intellectual and professional sense.  He is an excellent experimentalist, a fine speaker and an outstanding mentor to the undergraduate students who work with him.  He’s made very important contributions to three of the major projects that are ongoing in our lab.  We’re very fortunate to have him in our program.”

[Science Daily Article]

Anthony Prosser Featured in ScienceDaily

Essentially, we took a step back and said instead of creating yet another cocktail of multiple drugs to stop the different mechanisms of HIV, we thought we could design one that hit multiple targets at once.

Anthony Prosser, a PhD Candidate in the Liotta Group discusses his research with ScienceDaily. [Full Article]

Tony also received first place for a poster on his research at a recent AAAS competition in the category of Medicine and Public Health. Congratulations, Tony!