Nicholls Professor Awarded Grant to Improve Science Education

Students in the Bayou Region will soon be able to learn first-hand about DNA and molecular structures thanks to a grant awarded to a Nicholls professor, according to a press release from the school.

The Louisiana Board of Regents, the state agency that coordinates all public higher learning institutions in the state, has recently awarded Nicholls assistant professor of teacher education, Dr. Aimee Hollander, $69,056 for a project that will serve to educate local students and faculty about molecular structures through the creation and displaying of models.

In addition to being a Nicholls assistant professor, Dr. Hollander serves as the program director for the Center for Teaching Excellence and science secondary education, making her the perfect liaison to bring this valuable resource to Nicholls’ campus for both university and high school students and faculty to benefit from.

Now that it’s funded, the project aims to house an impressive collection of magnetic 3D molecular models at Nicholls’ Ellender Memorial Library so that it can be used by local biology and chemistry faculty for their courses. The models will be available for checkout to faculty at Nicholls as well as local schools, potentially impacting thousands of students. In addition to the models, the grant is also set to fund professional development for faculty so that the models can be used as effectively as possible.

The professional development will ensure that teachers know the full functionality and set of uses for the models, with the development being aligned to the Louisiana Science Standards. The State Standards require Louisiana educators to incorporate “the developing and use of models” to teach matter structure, chemical reactions, and information processing, so not only will the models available at Nicholls be useful but the professional development will be as well.

When it comes to certain subject matter in Chemistry, many students struggle with imagining abstract subject matter like DNA, due to its minuscule size. The conceptualization can often be a roadblock or a deal-breaker for students majoring in the sciences or those simply taking science courses as part of a general education degree plan. This can often lead to students seeking out videos of digital molecular models on Youtube, which can be helpful for some, but students that identify as tactile learners will have a lot more success with the physical 3D magnetic molecular models soon to be found at Ellender Memorial Library.

Housing the 3D models in the University library follows the long-standing collegiate tradition of the library being the centerpiece of all facets of research, information gathering, and in more recent years: educational resources. The internet is widely known to be a source of information, but with Youtube offering resources as well as uncertified curricula on its platform, many science majors might be tempted to take the “easy way out” and learn about Chemistry concepts from a content creator instead of their professor, which can have systemic problems and detrimental consequences down the line.

Ellender Memorial Library offers a maker space that will be able to be used in conjunction with the models to advance learning and modeling, which might lead to future 3D modeling competitions being brought to the Bayou Region some years in the future. These events are a unique blend of hybrid education and competitive spirit that students with interests in both the sciences and engineering can benefit from.

When asked about the impact of this grant in the coming years, Nicholls professor, Dr. Hollander said, “I have always wanted to provide my students with a more hands-on experience when learning biology and chemistry. These models will be accessible to regional teachers for use anytime during the semester and provide an experience that cannot be provided otherwise.”

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Nicholls Professor’s Book Poses Societal Questions About Life Outside Earth

A professor from Nicholls State University is looking to the stars and answering large social questions in a new book, so reports a press release from the university.   Dr. James Gilley, a political science assistant professor from Nicholls wrote and recently published the book, Space Civilization: An Inquiry into the Social Questions for Humans Living in Space. The book focuses on furthering the conversation on social ramifications of life in space, as the international advancement of various space exploration programs moves forward.

All across the globe, several countries have launched various projects that take a serious, research-based look at settling Mars, due to the planet’s proximity and similarities to our own, and while many qualified experts are focusing on the technology involved in the transportation to the planet and the technology involved in sustaining life, the Nicholls professor’s book poses questions on the human component. Space Civilization poses questions on topics such as identity, conflict, and governance, as the societal impact of colonization is set to be just as important as sustaining out-of-orbit life.

Dr. Gilley believes that his book will appeal to social scientists, though he wrote the book with a broader audience in mind, with him believing that Space Civilization will appeal to anyone interested in just how human society would function in different ways in space, off-world, and just outside Earth. Many are interested in continuing that conversation, and he hopes that his book can satisfy that curiosity.

“While a few answers are explored, this book is meant to kickstart a larger conversation about what social and human questions we will face as we attempt to become a multi-planetary species,” Dr. Gilley explained.  “Until now, most of that discussion has focused on the nuts and bolts engineering and technical questions. But the fact that we are talking about having human beings live and work in space and on other celestial bodies makes this a much more interesting question. Humans are much less predictable, and that makes the human questions much more difficult to answer.”

The question of humans becoming Martians, or at least Mars-bound, isn’t necessarily a question of “if?” for many experts, but “when?” Dr. Gilley estimates that the possibility of Mars colonization could take place in as little time as 15 years, depending on how human society invests in the project. So, with such a quickly-approaching possibility advancing on us, questions such as governance and societal ramifications of off-Earth living demand complex answers.

Nicholls Professor, Dr. James Gilley’s Space Civilization: An Inquiry into the Social Questions for Humans Living in Space proves that smaller institutions like Nicholls can be at the forefront of such cutting edge topics. Speaking on the impact of such institutions, Gilley stated, “At four-year universities like Nicholls, the social sciences are often relegated to the role of simply teaching students. While I deeply believe that that is the core mission of any educational institution, we have more to offer. Nicholls can be at the forefront of big human discussion, and the political science department can attract high-quality students and faculty willing to research and discuss the big questions about humanity’s future.”

The Nicholl’s professor’s book was published in the fall of 2020 by Lexington Books, and is available via bookseller outlets like Amazon, as it focuses on the questions of social sciences that must be answered in the likely event that humanity begins to earnestly move towards becoming a multi-planetary civilization. SpaceCivilization highlights the most pressing economic, political, and societal questions of space civilization.

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Nicholls Professor to Present at NCTE Conference

This month a professor from Nicholls State University will be presenting during the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention, as reported by a Nicholls press release.

The Nicholls Professor, Dr. Anthony Kunkel, will be speaking on the power of poetry during the national educator’s conference by way of a roundtable discussion when the annual convention meets in Baltimore in late November. The discussion is titled, “The Power of Poetry to Enhance Inquiry in the ELA Classroom.”

When speaking to the Nicholls press, the Nicholls Professor stated that “students today process their world at a fast pace. Sometimes phrasing can get lost in text-speak and memes,” Dr. Kunkel said. “Kids appreciate poetry and lyrics even more today. But they are often ignored as a means to help students write to express themselves. With all the tech available today, we want to give future teachers a way to engage students on a very creative and relevant level.”

Dr. Kunkel is no stranger to the NCTE, as he presented on utilizing the medium of “visual poetry” in the classroom at the previous year’s gathering. His discussion touched on outlining the benefits of visual poetry, which challenges students to use phrasing, visual effects, and technology in addition to the traditional poetic forms. This informative talk invited other interested parties as the English Language Arts Teacher Educators organization invited him to join their talk.

Dr. Anthony Kunkel is a professor at Nicholls State University in the Nicholls College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, a college that produces approximately 80 percent of the teachers for the Bayou Region, which is made up of cities like Thibodeaux, Houma, and Morgan City. Many alumni from the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences are award-winners in the educational field, holding such titles as teachers, principals, administrators, and legislators.

In addition to producing impressive graduates and faculty, the college also oversees some of Nicholls State’s most impactful campus programs, including but not limited to their pre-K program, the Louisiana Center for Dyslexia and Related Learning Disorders, Little Colonels Academy, and the Bridge to Independence Program. The later is a transformative program for students with autism and other intellectual disabilities to engage in the full college experience while also gaining valuable leadership and social skills needed for independent living and future employment.

When Nicholls Professor, Dr. Kunkel presents at the roundtable discussion, it will be at the first virtual NCTE Annual Convention. Each year the convention hosts thousands of educators to come together to collaborate and discuss a wide variety of learning strategies, curriculum planning, and research that informs their teaching, and despite being held virtually, the convention’s remote location allows for the organizers to offer approximately 400 sessions for attendees to engage in, and all attendees will have access to the sessions for up to 60 days following the convention.

For the past century, the National Council of Teachers of English has been seen as a great friend to educators, as the organization offers and provides teachers with in-class materials to support their professional success as well as publishing journals and other publications to advance the voices of educators nationwide at both the local and federal levels.

Their mission statement, which was adopted in 1990, perfectly encapsulates their supportive goal-orientated, objective which is stated as: “promot[ing] the development of literacy, the use of language to construct personal and public worlds and to achieve full participation in society, through the learning and teaching of English and the related arts and sciences of language.”

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