Research Associate Professor, Department of Surgery
Sonia Hernandez studies the interaction of the Notch pathway in tumor progression and drug delivery in pediatric tumor models. Recent findings include the use of ultrasound and microbubbles (a technique called sonoporation) to target chemotherapy uptake. She is also interested in vascular complications of diabetes, having studied potential protective factors in patients with 50 years or more of type1 diabetes (Medalists).
Since 2018, Sonia and Oscar Pineda-Catalan have organized the annual Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Innovation Outreach (STEM-Out) Mexico program, funded by the Provost's Global Faculty Awards, which provides training for UChicago graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in STEM communication and outreach in an international environment. Each UChicago participant is paired with a Mexican co-instructor to develop a remote, four-week course curriculum geared toward Mexican high school and early college students. Curricula are designed to emphasize basic research methods and prepare students to complete a Challenge portion in which teams develop and propose scientific projects to address real-life questions. In the first four years of the project, a total 25 courses have been developed by eighteen UChicago-based scientists-in-training with their Mexican counterparts, and the program is planned to expand in future years.
"The pandemic made us shift our in person program to an online version. Although we miss the contact and interactions, it has made us appreciate some disproportionate opportunities from the in-person program. Before, we offered this program in 9 cities in Mexico, and we only now realize that many women in particular did not feel safe traveling to those places although they really wanted to participate. Therefore, we plan to maintain an option for remote learning in the future. It also made us appreciate and value the friendships we’ve made during this program - we continue to meet by Zoom, email, and chat."
STEM-Out Mexico has opened opportunities for UChicago graduate students and postdocs to get formal training in how to develop and implement scientific curricula in an international setting. Sonia and Oscar know from their own experience the positive impact these opportunities have in the professional career of scientists. Both of them have been able to strengthen their resumes, develop new collaborations, attract resources, among other relevant impacts in their careers.
Q: Why is international collaboration important in your field?
International collaborations have already resulted in a Mexican PhD student contributing to a research project in my lab, recruitment of a postdoctoral fellow, and generating new questions and approaches to research that would not have been possible otherwise.
Q: How has your work with international partners been beneficial to you and your career, personally?
A: Participating in this program has allowed us to make more friendships, not just collaborations. We continue to meet not just talented but “twin spirits” in a common goal to motivate, mentor, and develop science into a collaborative effort. We have been able to find solutions to different obstacles, in creative ways, collaborating with our friends. That has been a very rewarding experience.