NSU awarded more than $500K in grants

Nicholls State University is expanding its educational impact in the Tri-parish region through grants from the Louisiana Board of Regents.

New computers, training for St. Mary Parish math teachers, support funds for marine biology master’s degree students and the beginnings of the Bayou Studies curriculum are among the projects made possible with the $500,000 in grants.

“The core academic mission of Nicholls depends in large part on these types of projects,” said Debi Benoit, Nicholls director of research and sponsored programs, in a printed statement.

In total, Nicholls will receive more than $537,267 in research grants, almost $300,000 more than in 2011.

Project NUMBER 2012, a program to help train fourth-eighth grade math students in St. Mary, has been awarded $133,369, and the Petroleum Services Laboratory Enhancement Project will receive $184,894. These two projects received the largest amount of grant money.

“The NUMBER project – Naturally Understanding Mathematics by Exploring and Reasoning – will help teachers and ultimately students to focus on numbers and their relation,” said Dr. DesLey V. Plaisance, assistant professor/graduate coordinator for the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. “One of the requirements for a proposal is that at least one of the included school districts be a high-need local educational agency, and St. Mary Parish is.”

The NUMBER project is part of the state’s Systemic Initiatives Program, which promotes learning and achievement through a high-quality curriculum, teaching and evaluation and the use of technology in the state’s math, science and English language arts classrooms. Nicholls has been involved in LaSIP since the early 1990s, and the university’s LaSIP program is one of nine projects in the state to receive funding for the program this year.

“I have worked with St. Mary Parish schools since I have been at Nicholls and the collaborative efforts on their part were a tremendous help in putting together a proposal [for this grant],” Plaisance said. “The parish also helps with the program, providing teachers some travel assistance and some materials.”

According to Plaisance, grants are more important than ever as Nicholls faces budget cuts. Even with grants, the university’s money problems are far from solved.

“I don’t like the perception that these grants are easing budget woes at NSU,” Plaisance said. “The pool of money available for these grants is much less than it was five years ago. The funds are federal and organized by the Board of Regents. The funds used to come from Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, but they cut the funds and no longer see fit to fund this for the state’s teachers.”

In the biology department, $15,000 in computer technology grant money will help purchase new computers and other new technology that would not have been added without the awarded funds.

“These grants were essential,” said Dr. John Doucet, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The university could not afford to replace the computers, especially with the cutting of funds. The Board of Regents endowment that was established a few years ago has paid off in dividends.”

Biology students at Nicholls are currently using computers that were purchased with money from the department’s first Board of Regents grant in 1998, and with the latest grant, 30 new computers, a new projection screen and computer desks will be purchased.

“Students will use the computers to analyze data, compile statistics and access bioinformatics – databases that allow them to learn the molecular sequences and compare the data they collect with what is already known,” Doucet said. “The new projection system will help students to learn good communication skills and practice presentations. We are also using 8-foot tables for computer desks, so we will be buying authentic computer desks.”

Nicholls also hopes to grow one of its newest curriculums with $50,250.

“We wrote two grants to develop the Bayou Studies Resource Center, which will be available for staff, students, community and other schools,” said Dr. Robert Allen Alexander, associate professor of English, head of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies and director of Retention, Advisor, Training and Assessment. “The university’s Bayou Studies minor curriculum will focus on the area west of the Atchafalaya and will consist of classes in biology, English, history and culinary arts. We have not had any graduates of the department yet. It’s in its infancy. I am hoping the resource center will jump-start the birth of the department.”

The department is housed in the Center for Advancing Faculty Management, and once the university’s new culinary arts building is completed next fall, the department will have dedicated space there. Grant money will be used to buy computer equipment and other technology to assist with research.

“Dr. Doucet and I started discussing the forming of this curriculum during the last few years,” Alexander said. “We are working to record stories from people down the bayou, the older generation. We don’t want to lose these great resources. This fall, we will start bringing in resources and grad assistants to help.”

Like Plaisance and Doucet, Alexander sees the grants as essential. “Bringing in this external money [is significant], we wouldn’t be able to have this department without the grant,” he said.

Another of the university’s smaller curriculums – the marine biology master’s program – hopes to use its $30,000 grant to recruit students and remain in the school’s catalog for years to come.

“Our funds are a fellowship stipend grant to support students while they are pursuing a master’s degree,” Dr. Aaron Pierce, assistant professor of biological sciences said. “These grants are helping so these students don’t have to teach or do anything besides work on their master’s project. They help us compete with larger schools with bigger marine biology departments.”

Twenty-one students are pursing marine biology master’s degrees at Nicholls, including local, out-of-state and international students. The grant will support one student per semester.

“We have received this grant several times in the past few years,” Pierce said. “We won’t get this money until 2013, so we haven’t picked the student yet.”

Other projects that will receive funds include Enhancing E-Learning Technology for students of Biological and Social Sciences, which will receive a $15,300 grant; Enhancing Core Facilities in Biological Sciences, which was awarded $15,000; and Enhancing Anatomy Laboratory Experiences, which will get $49,000.