UL Lafayette Among the Nation’s “Best Colleges & Universities”

Many of Louisiana’s colleges and universities received some national recognition recently as the U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 edition of “Best Colleges” was released and awarded numerous top rankings to the state’s institutions of higher learning. UL Lafayette was listed amongst the top 391 colleges and universities in the nation, making its student body, faculty, and staff quite proud– according to a press release from the school.

In total, 1,466 four-year colleges and universities were assessed by U.S. News & World Report, where they considered the academic reputation of an institution, retention and graduation rates, social mobility, facility resources, student and faculty ratio, ACT and SAT scores of admitted students, and alumni giving. This particular ranking is of “national universities,” which is defined as being a post-secondary learning institution that emphasizes research and offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

In addition to this, the U.S. News & World Report’s Best National Universities are founded on the basis of considering the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. With that being said, in addition to UL Lafayette, the Louisiana colleges and universities below made the following placements on the list for Best National Universities:

#42                  Tulane University | New Orleans, LA

# 172               Louisiana State University–Baton Rouge | Baton Rouge, LA

#202                Loyola University New Orleans | New Orleans, LA

# 277               Louisiana Tech University | Ruston, LA

# 299-#391     University of Louisiana at Lafayette | Lafayette, LA

# 299-#391     University of Louisiana–Monroe | Monroe, LA

# 299-#391     University of New Orleans | New Orleans, LA

When news of UL Lafayette’s placement was made public, many of the university’s various programs received additional acclaim such as the school’s undergraduate business program, undergraduate nursing program, undergraduate computer science program, and their undergraduate engineering programs at schools that grant doctoral degrees.

When UL Lafayette’s vice president for enrollment management, Dr. DeWayne Bowie, was interviewed about the school’s placement, he commented, “the rankings underscore the University’s success in many areas, including its quality, academically challenging degree programs, dedicated faculty members who deliver those programs, and ongoing commitment to providing a campus and learning environment that attracts high-caliber students.”

In addition to the annual guidebook, US News also recently released their list for the “Best Value School,” which ranks universities on the quality of the program vs the cost of attendance, and they’ve also ranked the nation’s Liberal Arts Colleges.  These rankings are paired with several other resources from the news publication such as articles on how to “make college cheaper,” “how to apply to college,” and many other much-sought-after articles and guides. These resources and lists are ultimately put together in the 2022 edition of the U.S. News Best Colleges Guidebook, an invaluable guide to all things postsecondary from prospective students and families.

Outside of Louisiana’s most notable National Colleges, the state’s “best colleges,” as indicated by U.S. News & World Report are:

The publication made a distinction of the state’s mixture of research universities, mid-sized colleges, and small liberal arts colleges not only being located in various areas state-wide but also within its larger cities. For instance, New Orleans was heralded for being a centerpiece hub of higher education institutions with the city having ten colleges and universities on the list within the Crescent City’s limits.

There’s never quite been a time like the present to be benefiting from an education from the great state of Louisiana, and it’s encouraging to see that sentiment be shared on the national stage.

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Several Louisiana Schools Welcome Students Displaced from Hurricane Ida

Several Louisiana school systems, colleges, and universities are stepping up to help students that were affected by the detrimental impact of Hurricane Ida, according to several articles from the Acadiana Advocate.

On August 29th Hurricane Ida had made its way to the southern Louisiana Coast through Port Fourchon before it headed through northeast Louisiana leaving much destruction in its wake.  When this occurred most Louisiana public school systems and universities had just started the new school year earlier that month.

As a result, many schools were badly affected by the storm, and hundreds of students had evacuated across the state, but thanks to the generous spirit of several Louisiana Universities and school districts that weren’t as significantly impacted by Hurricane Ida, those displaced students will be welcomed into a new school or college with open arms.

For instance, on the Wednesday following the storm, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette had welcomed 61 student evacuees from the University of New Orleans. These students will be staying in on-campus housing and be able to utilize student facilities such as the University’s computer labs, science labs, food services, and gymnasiums. In addition to the UNO students, ULL’s campus also opened its doors, gyms, and facilities to student-athletes from McNeese so that they can continue to practice for the fall season.

These students enrolling at ULL are resident students at UNO, and they will continue to take their courses virtually while utilizing the atmosphere, resources, and facilities at UL Lafayette. The UL Lafayette Dean of Students Margarita Perez commented on the situation saying, “We were fortunate we did not see any impacts from Hurricane Ida. UL Lafayette will accommodate the visitors for “as long as it takes.”

In Northern Louisiana, the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts (LSMSA) in Natchitoches reopened its admissions process mid-semester in order to support and accommodate families and students who were impacted by Hurricane Ida and had to evacuate South Louisiana. Students enrolling into LSMSA will receive supplies and tuition assistance from donations made to the LSMSA Foundation.

LSMSA’s executive director Dr. Steve Horton said of this opportunity, “we want to encourage families to apply regardless of any cost concerns. We are fortunate to have generous donors who know the value of a Louisiana School education and who prioritize helping families — most recently, those affected by Hurricanes Laura and Delta. We can’t rebuild houses, but we can offer students the best education possible, and we can offer their families the peace of mind in knowing their children have a safe and secure residence and a strong foundation for academic success.”

Other than colleges and universities, public school students displaced by Hurricane Ida were able to enroll in school districts across the state. For instance the Lafayette Parish School System organized an opportunity for displaced families to look into enrolling their child at one of the many schools in the district. The enrollment event was a week-long orchestration with LPSS staff members assessing students’ levels of education, importing grades from their previous district, and getting them acclimated to their new learning environment.

Students and families who arrived at the LPSS Vermillion Conference Center to see about the enrollment opportunity were assisted by members of the district’s displaced and homeless education services team. Members of this team were on staff to assist students in receiving uniforms and school supplies as well as locating any necessary documents for enrollment like birth certificates, social security information, and vaccination records. Specific support teams like this help to make the transition and assimilation process as seemless a possible, which further assists families in such tough times.

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LSU Students Create an Automated Robotic Arm for Crawfish Harvesting

For every pound of delicious Louisiana crawfish, there is a talented and exhausted crawfish farmer whose strenuous, intensive crawfish harvesting labor might soon be aided by a robotic arm designed by students at Louisiana State University, as reported by The Advocate.

When crawfish farmers are harvesting the crop of crustaceans in the summer months, they are oftentimes operating their boat with one foot while leaning over the side, grabbing traps from the waters. Then in an efficiently choreographed, rheumatic motion, they flip the trap at an angle, toss in more bait, and set it back in the water with tactical precision. This method yields 100 million pounds of crawfish every spring, but it is incredibly labor-intensive.

Advocate reporter Caroline Savoie spoke to David Vercher, one of the six LSU biological engineering students who helped to bring an automated crawfish trap-retrieving arm to life. Vercher worked many, many seasons on his family’s farm where they harvested 300,000 pounds of crawfish a day, and he reported that “experienced crawfish farmers get the job done pretty quickly, but it’s hard on their bodies. If they have a device that will make their jobs easier and more sustainable“that makes all the difference.”

Vercher designed, coded, and manufactured the device, which can lift, empty, and re-bait crawfish traps just with a tap of a Playstation 4 controller. The engineering team at the helm of this project are all natives of the state of Louisiana, and they believe that this harvesting arm could save time, money, and potentially prevent back injuries. Funding for the device came from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Tests conducted using the prototype, which is about ⅓ of the size of a commercial crawfish trap, show that it can complete the harvesting task of crawfishing in an average of about 18.3 seconds, which is comparable to a person’s speed.

After she became aware of high costs and labor shortages in the crawfish industry, senior project advisor Professor Chandra Theegala suggested the idea to create the robotic harvester as one of several options for her students’ final assignments. She said of the prototype, “it’s a high-tech project. I originally planned to have a graduate student working on this, but COVID restrictions prohibited that. So I decided to put a team of undergraduates together, and I was extremely impressed with their dedication and interest.” Professor Theegala hopes that the completed project will provide proof of concept to eventually build a harvesting arm to scale.

The project team had worked mostly through Zoom meetings and group messages to delegate the project’s responsibilities according to their enterprises. Vercher has designed the bait reloading device, Ben Thomas programmed and coded the arm’s motion, Damien Glaser constructed the budget and ordered parts, Bryan Tassin conducted background research and managed the team so that everyone was on task, and Sarah Mitchell brought the project to life.

Mitchell accomplished this through the use of her personal 3D printer, which allowed her to produce the harvesting arm’s trap tops, grips, “crawfish,” and “bait” out of PETG plastic, a material that is used in single-use water bottles.

After its completion, the only component of the design that isn’t automatic is aligning the hand with a crawfish trap. This slight incompatibility fuels Thomas’s goal to make the arm entirely automatic so that it can align itself on an actively moving boat. He said that to make his goal a reality, the device would have to also be waterproof, adding, “it would be much quicker. Ideally, the boat would keep moving, and the arm would be able to sense and grab traps at the front of the boat.”

Upon the project’s completion, team member Sarah Mitchell expressed her satisfaction, saying, “I never expected to work on a school project that could make a real difference. It was just our little robot.”

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Louisiana Preserves French Language Roots with New International Hires

Louisiana is once again investing heavily in the preservation of the French Language, according to The Advocate.

The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) recently partnered with the Louisiana Department of Education to attract and hire 80 international teachers to teach both French and Spanish immersion programs in public school systems this upcoming school year.

Operating in the third decade since its installation, CODOFIL is a collaborative partnership between the Consulate General of France in New Orleans and the Ministry of Education in Spain. CODOFIL’s mission is to not only preserve the state’s French-language origins but to also prepare Louisiana students for an increasingly globalized economy through the learning from international faculty.

Matt Mick, a spokesman for CODOFIL, had told reporters at the orientation event at the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center about the difficulty in teaching traditional languages. Mick had said, “traditional language education is really hard to do well. A lot of it ends up being conjugating verbs and learning grammar rules, stuff that’s not necessarily practical in a real-world setting. The research is starting to (show) that neuropsychologically, (immersion) is how humans learn languages — by being dropped into them and letting them learn that way.”

The 80 new hires came from ten total nations, including Canada, France, Spain, West Africa, Mexico, and Guatemala. The selected teachers who had agreed to their dedicated involvement in the three-year program are certified teachers in each of their home countries. The educators had also taken part in extensive background checks prior to their hiring.

After the international faculty’s orientation sessions that took place in Baton Rouge over a four-day period, Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Bill Nungesser arrived to formally welcome and support or exhort the participating teachers. Lt. Governor Nungesser had said in his speech, “these immersion teachers coming from all over the world to teach our kids is so important, especially today. When children learn a second language, it opens up the doors to the world for them. Everything is international now, so I just wanted to be here to say ‘thank you’ to (these teachers) and let them know we’re going to continue to do everything we can to encourage young students to take foreign languages that will give them opportunities beyond the borders of America.”

Despite Louisiana having deep ties to Creole traditions, only 198,784 or 3.5% of Louisianians over the age of 5 reported that they speak French or Creole French as their primary language at home. This statistic comes from 2000 census data, which is the most recent available at the time of The Advocate article.

Since 2000 there have been many strides to increase the preservation of the French language in the state with the installation of new French Immersion programs in public and private school districts across Louisiana. Additionally, Louisiana was formally accepted into the International Organization of La Francophonie in 2018. This is an international organization that represents French-speaking sections of the globe. Also, as of February 2021, renewed accords had been signed by Lt. Gov. Nungesser with France and Belgium, allowing the enlisting of more teachers from those countries.

The latest efforts by the LADOE and CODOFIL to preserve the French Language through immersion education is a wonderful stride for the conservation of our multilingual roots. As of 2021, over 5,500 students are enrolled in 26 French immersion schools across eight parishes. According to CODOFIL, over 100,000 students across the state in schools of all types are studying the French Language.

Mick expressed the importance of CODOFIL’s efforts saying, “it’s not just something that’s beautiful and unique in our history — it’s something we can carry into the future that’s practical and that presents really significant, concrete opportunities for Louisiana’s young people. We like to say it’s not a question of revival or even renaissance, but a question of maintenance, because that stuff never fully disappeared. It’s always been here.”

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Measure to Adopt Year-Round Academic Calendar Clears House Education Committee

A measure that recently cleared the Louisiana House Education Committee without objection aims to alter the academic calendars of select public school districts according to an article from The Advocate.

House Bill 538, which is supported by the Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley, would have six or fewer public school districts change their annual academic calendar to a 12-month model that includes periodic breaks. This model, which has already been adopted by international school districts, would replace the current, traditional 9-month academic calendar that is followed by a summer break.

While the measure passed the House Education Committee without objection, House Bill 538 wasn’t met with a warm reception by all, which is to be expected of any chance to an academic calendar. The proposed change already received vocal opposition from the state’s two teacher unions: the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT). Additionally, a member of the House Education Committee, Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge expressed his concern that the calendar change would disrupt the lives of his constituents and set traditions, thus requiring serious adjustments.

With this level of large systematic change, it’s expected to have some level of “push back,” but as detailed by Superintendent Brumley before the committee, the proposed calendar change is ultimately in service of students and teachers. In addition to this, the proposal is also in response to what has been known as the “summer learning loss” that occurs between once school year’s last day of classes and the next year’s start date.

This time in between school years is approximately two months long for students, and while some may participate in summer school, tutoring, or other academically enriching programs, many simply place academics “on the shelf” until the next school year begins. Dr. Brumley shared this concern with House Committee members by saying, “what we know is that there is summer learning loss, we know that it is real.” Superintendent Brumley reportedly said that students can lose and forget up to 30% of what they had learned in their previous grade during the summer months.

As it’s currently written, the legislation would allow up to six districts to participate in the piloting of the new academic calendar on a volunteer basis, and those public school districts would receive a portion of federal stimulus dollars to assist in the overhaul. The proposal would have students attending classes for 42-43 day segments that are followed by two-week breaks (intersessions). During the intersessions, students would be able to receive enriched learning, tutoring, or other assistance.

The school year would end on June 30 with classes resuming on August 11, allowing students and teachers to have a summer break of approximately five weeks. The shortening of summer breaks is what has caused the most opposition thus far as many teachers and students with many students working throughout the summer to save money for college and many teachers working second jobs.

House Bill 528 will next face discussion in the Louisiana House of Representatives, and if approved it will move on to the state Senate. Though the measure has sparked a lot of discussion, it should be remembered that Louisiana lawdictates that students receive 360 minutes of daily instructional time over 172 instructional days. Those days may be organized and allocated in a variety of ways.

With this said, the centralized aim of this measure is currently presented as an effort to assist schools, leaders, and students- not to merely disrupt their sense of normalcy. Superintendent Brumley reiterated this sentiment by stating, “I am not here to tell you that a balanced calendar is a cure-all, but given where we are in outcomes we should be exploring all options that make a difference in the lives of our students and teachers.”

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LDOE to offer Free Virtual Therapy through Ochsner Health

After teaching during a pandemic and one of the most active hurricane seasons ever recorded, Louisiana teachers will soon receive free mental health virtual therapy visits thanks to a partnership between the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) and Ochsner Heath, according to this press release from the Louisiana Department of Education.

This partnership will offer four free virtual therapy visits to over 160,000 public school educators and support staff across the state, where they can connect with licensed mental and behavioral health providers through a secure virtual platform. The visits will be accessible through participants’ smartphones, tablets, and computers, and they can be booked after individuals browse profiles of healthcare providers and choose a clinician who best supports and serves their particular needs.

The four virtual visits will be available to Louisiana public school teachers and support staff at all K-12th grade school systems and early child care centers that serve children from birth to age four, including all traditional Louisiana public and public charter schools. After the four initial visits are booked and completed, participants can choose to continue their sessions by booking new ones at a discounted rate.

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley said of the state’s educators, “Louisiana educators have done hero’s work through a pandemic and one of the most active hurricane seasons on record for our state. They have been there for our children and families during this stressful year, and this partnership with Ochsner is one way we can be there for them.”

According to a survey published in August 2020 by  The Hechinger Report, approximately 40 percent of surveyed Louisiana early childhood educators reported clinically relevant signs of depression, likely caused by not only personal problems but also the uncertainties of the upcoming school year as a result of the Covid-19 landscape.

The initiative to offer virtual mental health services from Ochsner Health to the state’s educators is a part of a three year, a million-dollar initiative that’s funded by the LDOE’s allocated funds from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) to adequately respond to the health needs (both mental and behavioral) experienced as a result of the pandemic.

Governor John Bel Edwards said of the initiative, “It is critically important that the state provide mental and emotional support for our teachers and support staffs who unselfishly give so much of themselves to ensure that education continues for our students during this unprecedented pandemic. The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) is being used to fund the partnership between the Louisiana Department of Education and Ochsner, and I’m grateful that we are able to support our education workforce.”

Qualifying educators and support staff unfamiliar with virtual therapy visits will be surprised by how much they resemble in-person office visits and also be thankful for their convenience. When joining a secure video conference call with their selected, licensed provider, patients will be first asked about the medical history, current symptoms, and goals for therapy. Taking in this information, the provider will assess the situation and then develop and recommend a treatment plan. The visit is a part of Ochsner Health’s Anywhere Care, a private, secure, HIPAA-compliant tool that enables patients to consult online with a provider safely and confidently.

After a whirlwind year of uncertainty, confusion, and unfamiliarity, it’s helpful to know that the state Department of Education is supporting the mental health of its teachers. Ochsner Heath’s Vice President of Telemedicine, April Radford said, “We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique challenges to educators – both frontline teachers and administrative staff.”

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