UBRP’s Busy Transition: Jennifer Cubeta Takes the Reins

“Life is exciting in UBRP,” declares new Director Jennifer Cubeta.  Wrapping up a successful annual conference and finalizing selections for the 2018 cohort, she has a lot to be excited about.

“I started out in the program as a student,” says Cubeta. “I realized that I really like science education. How people get to know stuff—learning how to learn.”

The world-renowned Undergraduate Biology Research Program (UBRP) has been providing students with unique opportunities to pursue their passions through paid summer research for nearly 30 years. On January 20, the 2017 UBRP cohort presented their research projects to the public at the program’s Annual Research Conference.  On display were posters on topics ranging from tattoo ink to opioid receptors, toddler sleep patterns to cell quiescence regulation.

“At the start of the morning, the students are dressed up, sweating bullets,” Cubeta shares. “Two hours later, they’re beaming. I think in sharing their research they realize how much they’ve learned. UBRP supplements their education in a really unique way.”

They had a varied audience for their presentations: State Representatives Rosanna Gabaldon (D-4th) and Vince Leach (R-11th), Ventana Medical Systems Chief Medical and Scientific Officer Eric Walk, and UA leadership, as well as faculty mentors from across the university and UBRP alumni, among others.

“I think it was important to the students to see how private and public money comes together to support their wages,” Cubeta explains, noting the importance of continuing to secure funding. “I want to continue to make UBRP as accessible to as many students as possible.”

Cubeta jokes she has “big sandals to fill” with the retirement of long-time UBRP Director (and Birkenstock aficionado) Carol Bender, who was recognized at the conference for her 29 years of service to UBRP.

“She’s made the program what it is,” Cubeta underscores. “Taking it over is a privilege.  She is the hardest working person I know. It is so much work, but for me it’s all worth it to see the students grow and understand the science—to see them start to ask their own questions.”

Cubeta is happy to keep the status quo during this busy period, while hiring a new assistant director to fill the role she has held for the past five years.

“I am hoping in the future to write a grant to support students who are academically talented but in financial need,” Cubeta shares. She is also considering adding a ‘data-blitz’ of short oral presentations to the Annual Conference to further help UBRP students develop their speaking and communication skills.

Fresh off of selecting the 2018 UBRP cohort, Cubeta enthuses “It’s a diverse group with representation from all kinds of students.”

Next she turns her attention to reviewing applications for special programs under the UBRP umbrella, including the Native American Cancer Prevention and Training (NACP), Environmental Health Science (EHS-TRUE), and Beckman Scholars, which she aims to complete before Spring Break.

Then, it’s on to preparing for UBRP orientation, which starts on May 14, the Monday after graduation.  Cubeta is likely to emphasize the importance of the learning experience of UBRP.

“The importance is in the trying,” Cubeta says. “People are always looking to find out what they’re passionate about, but you also need to figure out if you can do it, too. If you don’t like it [research], you can articulate why. UBRP students have that scientific mentality regardless of what they end up doing—it’s good to be curious!”

We look forward to seeing what their curiosity uncovers at next year’s UBRP conference.  In the meantime, read more about the 2017 cohort’s research and the conference here.

Zoja Bazarnic
Publish Date: 
Feb 28, 2018