Nicholls to Partner with Michigan State to Research the Spotted Gar

A grant offered by the National Science Foundation has recently awarded two professors from Nicholls State University $1.6 million to partner with Michigan State to study the spotted gar fish in an effort to better understand the evolution of vertebrates, a Nicholls press release indicates.

This grant, offered by the NSF has been awarded to a trio of researchers, inducing Nicholls’ own Dr. Allyse Ferrara, distinguished service professor and co-principal investigator of the Bayousphere Research Lab as well as Dr. Solomon David, assistant professor of biological sciences and principal investigator of the Gar Lab, who is also expected to take the lead on the garfish spawning efforts. The team will produce spotted gar embryos for genomics research and help increase the availability of gar embryos for use by the greater scientific community at large.

The Enabling Discovery through Genomics grant offered by the NSF is set to fund advancements in the captive spawning (or observed birth) of the spotted gar, a species with ancient ties dating back 150 millions years. Many believe that garfish have the potential to play a highly significant role in the understanding of vertebrate evolution due to the genome of the garfish being so similar to that of land vertebrates, such as humans. Garfish are colloquially known to be a possible “Rosetta Stone” in the eventual connecting and translating of genetic information from more commonly used fish for various applications in the biomedical research community.

The Nicholls’ professors chosen to study the spotted gar will be working in collaboration with a third researcher, Dr. Ingo Braasch, Michigan State University assistant professor of integrative biology and principal investigator at the Braash Fish Evo-Devo Geno lab.  He will conduct the genomic research using CRISPR techniques.

Nicholls’ Dr. Ferrara, who is also the Ledet Foundation Endowed Professor of Environmental Biology, remarked, “we have worked on the ecology and production of spotted gar and other gar species for many years and with colleagues from multiple institutions including the University of Oregon and Michigan State. Together, we have discovered that gar are genetically more similar to us – humans – than are other fishes that are more commonly used as biomedical models. We are lucky to have the opportunity to continue working with these ecologically important and unique native fishes.”

Out of the various goals set forth by the researchers, one project aim is to refine garfish husbandry as well as spawning techniques and to develop a variety of models to test gar gene functions while making the spotted gar embryos and research outcomes available to vertebrate biologists worldwide. For, by making the findings widely usable and available, the team hopes to greatly improve biomedical understanding of vertebrates.

In addition to these project aims, the project is set to train both undergraduates and graduates from Nicholls State University and Michigan State University to take the lead as the next generation of vertebrate evolutionary biologists and fish conversationalists and to raise awareness about the ecological and biological significance of the spotted gar, thus placing a much-needed investment in our collective, scientific future.

Nicholls’ Dr. Solomon David spoke of the project by saying, “we are using an abundant natural resource, right out of our local bayous, for cutting edge science, while also providing our students with valuable opportunities to work onNSF-funded research,” said Dr. David. “ Through continued conservation and biological research at Nicholls and evolutionary developmental studies at Michigan State, we can highlight the value of a fish that has long had an undeserved negative reputation.”

The project is set to begin in 2021 and the implications of the efforts of the research trio cannot be understated in the scope of vertebrate advancement and understanding worldwide.

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Former Nicholls’ Football Player Named Athletic Director

The Athletics Department at Nicholls State University just announced their newest Athletic Director, former Colonel football player and coach Jonathan Terrell (BA ‘98), as reported by a NSU press release. 

Terell played quarterback and wide receiver for the Colonels from 1993-1996, and he returns to his Alma Mater as its new Athletic Director, aiming to take over the program that has continued to achieve new heights both on and off the field.

Other than his experience as a student athlete, Terrell has more than two decades of proven sales and coaching success, making him the school’s first Black athletic director in Nicholls history.

“I am grateful to Dr. Clune and the committee for giving me the opportunity to work at a place that I love,” Terrell said in a recent statement posted on the school’s website. “I am honored to be able to lead this department and continue the climb. Whether it’s in the classroom, on the field of play or in the community, we will be one team with one goal in mind, winning.”

Terrell rejoins the program while Nicholls is in the midst of historic academic and athletic success:

  • This past spring the combined Colonel athletic programs held a school-record 3.31 GPA and 10th year in a row of successful NCAA Academic Progress Rate scores.
  • The NSU Football Program has won back-to-back Southland Conference Championships and participated in the NCAA Playoffs three years in a row.
  • Nicholls’ Softball team won the 2018 regular season conference championship and played in back-to-back Southland Conference Tournament finals.
  • Nicholls’ men’s basketball team won the 2017-2018 regular-season conference championship.
  • Nicholls’ womens’ basketball team won the 2018 Southland Conference and participated in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the school’s long athletic history. In 2018, the team was invited to the Women’s Basketball Invitational postseason tournament.

Over the past decade, due to its successful sports teams, Colonel Athletics have been growing largely in popularity with season ticket sales on the continual rise. In addition to increased sales, the athletic department received the largest single gift in Nicholls history to renovate and expand Baker Hall.

“An athletic director doesn’t win a single game,” said Nicholls President Dr. Jay Clune. “You need someone of superior judgment to put the right team of coaches in place to be successful. Jonathan Terrell has that judgment. Going into the search, I was looking for someone of unquestionable integrity and character who could raise money. I couldn’t be happier with our selection.”

“Jonathan Terrell set himself apart early in the process because of his love and passion for Nicholls. He is the right person to keep the momentum we have going and built upon it,” Lindsey McKaskle, interim athletic director and chair of the search committee said.

Terrell had returned to the Colonels once before in 2004 to coach quarterbacks during the 2004 season under coach Darrell Daye. This is about a decade after his time as a quarterback and wide receiver for the 1993-1996 Colonels with head football coach Tim Rebowe.

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Culinary Medicine Partnership

In partnership with LSU Health New Orleans, Nicholls State University proudly announced its latest offering– a two-week course in culinary medicine beginning in the summer session of 2019. The program began July 1st. Nine third-year LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine students are enrolled. They are currently studying the possible preventative effects that nutrition can have in treating chronic diseases, as well as the crucial, fundamental culinary skills and recipes to promote good nutrition. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, eating patterns and specific foods have proven to be effective treatments in some cases of epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and acute cough.

Dr. John La Puma, the founder of ChefMD and Chef Clinic, defined culinary medicine as: an evidence-based field that blends the art of cooking with the science of nutrition. It is multidisciplinary in its way of blending art and science, which are arguably very similar in that they both take time, craft, and attention. Culinary medicine promotes the teamwork of physicians and nutrition professionals to prevent and treat patients’ illnesses by learning more about the food we eat.

“The Office of Undergraduate Medical Education is excited to offer this career planning elective to the Class of 2021. While students are taught the science of nutrition during their first and second years of medical school, the Culinary Medicine CPE gives them the opportunity to translate this into practical knowledge,” Dr. Catherine Hebert, the associate professor of clinical medicine and co-director of clinical sciences curriculum at LSU Health New Orleans stated. She continued, “It is not just about telling a patient to cut out salt and fat. It is about teaching them how to do this in a way that is realistic given the time and money constraints that we all face.”

During the course, students begin the day in the classroom. Here, they learn nutrition theory through lectures, case studies, and simulations that focus on such ailments as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, heart disease, and obesity. In the afternoon, the third-year will move from classroom to kitchen in order to learn fundamental culinary skills and related recipes from chefs and other culinary professionals. What is learned in the morning is then created in the afternoon, meaning that the nutrition content learned at the head of the day is used in relevant recipes in the afternoon. The Culinary Department Head Chef John Kozar gave the example, “Let’s say they learn about diabetes in the morning, we will work on dishes appropriate for the diabetic patient in the afternoon.”

The learning does not stop at the walls of the classroom or kitchen. Students will also take field trips to Rouses Supermarket with a Registered Dietician (RD), tour the kitchen at Thibodaux Regional Medical Center, and test their new nutritional knowledge at local restaurants.

“This is an exciting opportunity for both Dietetics and the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute to have an even bigger impact on the community,” expressed Dr. Brigett Scott, associate dean of the College of Science and Technology and associate professor of dietetics. “What people eat has one of the biggest impacts on their health. Ultimately, the goal is that these future doctors will practice in Louisiana and promote the nutrition and culinary skills they learned to make an impact on the health of our community.”

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Nicholls Summer Camps to Enjoy

Nicholls Performing Arts Camp has put on another show! This magical performance transported its viewers to the magical world we all have experienced, Dr. Seus’s world. The Fifty-three campers, ages that range from as low as 7 to 17, participated in the production of “Seussical, Jr.”. The performances were held at the Mary and Al Danos Theater on June 13-15 at 7p.m. and June 16th at 3p.m.

Nicholls website states that the show will:

“Transport audiences from the Jungle of Nool to the Circus McGurkus, the Cat in the Hat narrates the story of Horton the Elephant, who discovers a speck of dust containing tiny people called the Whos. Horton must protect the Whos from a world of naysayers and dangers, and he must also guard an abandoned egg that’s been left in his care by the irresponsible Mayzie La Bird. Although Horton faces ridicule, danger and a trial, the intrepid Gertrude McFuzz never loses faith in him.  Ultimately, the powers of friendship, loyalty, family and community are challenged and emerge triumphant!”

Seussical” originally debuted in 2000 and has done two U.S tours. It was written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty who have both won Tony Awards.  “Seussical” is often also a pick for school productions and regional theatre productions.

Not only were there multiple performances, but on Saturday, June 15th there was a brunch that was hosted by the cast. This brunch only cost $25 and the cast actually performed skits from the production. The general admission tickets were only $10.

This is not the only summer camp that was offered by Nicholls. Their Continuing Education page has an entire list of all of the camps that are offered this summer. Here are a few that might be as enjoyable as the Performing Arts Camp:

Cooking with Chemistry Camp 

This camp will teach campers how to use chemistry and biochemistry to make materials that are edible and it is done in an actual science lab

Greek-Roman Mythology Camp

Who doesn’t enjoy learning about all of the ancient Greek and Romans gods and goddesses. Their myths will be explored and games and crafts will also be included.

Optical Illusion Art Summer Camp

The idea of an optical illusion is to present something that actually isn’t there. This camp will teach the campers how to apply this to the aspect of creating art.

Chess Camp

Mike Papa, was awarded the title of National Master from the United States Chess Federation in 1985, will be the instructor of this camp. Beginners are welcomed and so are those who are on a more advanced level.

Coding Wizard! Computer Coding Summer Camp

This camp not only dables in the use of coding over 70 apps, but campers will use their own wands to control them. This Hogwarts themes coding camp is perfect for those who love computers but also love the magical.

Colonel Artist Summer Camp

This camp is not the typical art camp, it included multiple different types of materials and concepts to create multiple different pieces of art. This week long camp will end with a gallery show!

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Benny Cenac of Houma Donates to the Oh La La Theatre Series at Nicholls State University

Benny Cenac, CEO of Cenac Marine Services of Houma, Louisiana, was happy to announce a donation to Nicholls State University’s second annual popular Oh Là Là theater series. The event, which has attracted a variety of audiences in the region, includes music originating in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s from the beaches of California to the heart and soul of Motown, all held at the Mary and Al Danos Theater.

Thanks to the gracious gift by Benny Cenac, a Houma native, the donations were puts towards several funds and projects necessary to make the show a reality, including renovations on the Mary and Al Danos Theater totaling upwards of $9.6 Million. In addition, Benny Cenac, who has always been a major proponent for the arts and education, was grateful to see the growth of the event that started the year prior.

In a statement by Dr. Bruce Murphy, Nicholls State University President, the name Oh Là Là is an homage to Al Danos, who enjoyed conversing in French. The Danos family, whose parents graciously donated $1 million toward the theater’s renovation, released a statement in support of Nicholls’ upcoming series.

“Mom and Dad would have loved this and attended every show,” The Danos family said. “Oh Là Là is exactly what Dad had in mind when he started raising money for the theater.”

Benny Cenac: Supporter of the Arts & Conservation Efforts in Houma

Benny Cenac, who is a graduate of Nicholls State University himself, expressed his gratitude to his alma mater in putting on this incredible event for the community members of Houma, and is always grateful for the opportunity to contribute to events that bring the community together. Benny Cenac has also served on the Nicholls State Foundation board, Nicholls State College of Business Advisory Board, and previously donated golf carts to the Nicholls State University Bridge to Independence Program.

Benny Cenac Houma donates to Nicholls State Oh La La Theater Series in Louisiana
The first half of the Series began in October of 2018, featuring Sail On: The Beach Boys Tribute, The Victory Belles, and The Diamonds who performed an incredible holiday

The first half of the Series began in October of 2018, featuring Sail On: The Beach Boys Tribute, The Victory Belles, and The Diamonds who performed an incredible holiday show. The second half of the series will kick off with The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16. Then it’s The Chipper Experience: Where Comedy and Magic Collide at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 13 before the series closes with Shadows of the 60’s: A Tribute to Motown at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 16.

According to an article by Nicholls State University, The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is a full-scale symphonic orchestra located in New Orleans. Founded in 1991, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is the oldest full-time musician-governed and collaboratively-operated orchestra in the United States.

Chipper Lowell brings his popular show, the Chipper Experience, which combines clean, but edgy, comedy with quirky magic and hilarious banter with audience members. His shows, which have been admired by many, have been known to include a flying turtle, juggling medieval weaponry, tossing body parts, bizarre stunts, mind-reading and zany inventions. Lowell’s television appearances include Masters Of Illusion, Don’t Blink, The Tonight Show, Disney Channel, Empty Nest, The MDA Telethon, Show Me The Funny!, General Hospital, America’s Funniest People and Everybody’s Talking.

As an avid philanthropist and Houma native, Benny Cenac is always fortunate for the opportunity to support the arts and educational inspirations of those in his beautiful community of Houma. In addition to managing several local businesses, Benny Cenac also manages his own refuge in Houma where he cares for a variety of different animals at Golden Ranch Farms – Louisiana’s largest privately owned animal refuge.

In addition, Benny Cenac has also donated to conservation efforts in Houma, where he has taken a leading role in protecting the states’ pristine coast from coastal erosion. Even on several of his own properties in Houma, Benny Cenac has instilled these conservation efforts as he continues to protect the land with flood control structures.

In regard to this incredible event, upper-level season tickets are available for $150 and single tickets are $30, while lower-level season tickets are $180 and single tickets are $35. To purchase tickets for the upcoming series, call Jeanne-Morgan Gernon at 448-4270 or email at

For more on Oh La La, click here.

To learn more on Benny Cenac philanthropic efforts, click here.

To learn more about Benny Cenac’s conservation efforts, click here.

Nicholls State Online English Degree Takes Top Rank

Nicholls State University’s online English degree has been ranked one of the most affordable by an online education resource.

Nicholls degree was ranked No. 5 by SR Education Group, who considered the tuition rates of every accredited college offering fully online degrees to determine and rank the most affordable options. The results were published on The 2019 rankings looked at 861 schools across the nation to find schools committed to providing the most economical options for students. Nicholls was the only school in Louisiana to be ranked in the top 25.

“I think this new ranking indicates that we have an outstanding academic program that is also affordable,” said Dr. Ellen Barker, department of language and literature chair. “We have remained in the top seven, often in first and second place, for affordability in the last few years, so it is rewarding to maintain that ranking in this category.”

Founded in 2004 and headquartered in Washington, SR Education Group provides online resources to help prospective college students find the education that best suits their budget and career aspirations. The group provides over $250,000 annually in scholarships.

Online courses have expanded rapidly and have the potential to extend further the educational opportunities of many students, particularly those least well-served by traditional educational institutions. However, in their current design, online courses are difficult, especially for the students who are least prepared. These students’ learning and persistence outcomes are worse when they take online courses than they would have been had these same students taken in-person courses. Continued improvement of online curricula and instruction can strengthen the quality of these courses and hence the educational opportunities for the most in-need populations.

Online courses offer the promise of access regardless of where students live or what time they can participate, potentially redefining educational opportunities for those least well-served in traditional classrooms. Moreover, online platforms offer the promise, through artificial intelligence, of providing the optimal course pacing and content to fit each student’s needs and thereby improve educational quality and learning. The latest “intelligent” tutoring systems, for example, not only assess students’ current weaknesses, but also diagnose why students make the specific errors. These systems then adjust instructional materials to meet students’ needs.

Yet today these promises are far from fully realized. The vast majority of online courses mirror face-to-face classrooms with professors rather using technology to better differentiate instruction across students. As one new study shows, online courses can improve access, yet they also are challenging, especially for the least well-prepared students. These students consistently perform worse in an online setting than they do in face-to-face classrooms; taking online courses increases their likelihood of dropping out and otherwise impedes progress through college.

Online college courses are rapidly growing. One out of three college students now takes at least one course online during their college career, and that share has increased threefold over the past decade. The potential for cost savings and the ease of scaling fuels ongoing investments in online education by both public and private institutions. Online courses have grown in the K-12 sector as well. Florida, for example, requires each high school student to take at least one online course before graduation and the Florida Virtual School offers over 150 classes to students across the state. An estimated 1.5 million K-12 students participated in some online learning in 2010, and online learning enrollments are projected to grow in future years.

Non-selective and for-profit higher education institutions have expanded online course offerings particularly quickly. These institutions serve a majority of college-aged students, and these students typically have weaker academic preparation and fewer economic resources than students at other more selective colleges and universities. As such, their ability to provide useful course work, engage students, and build the skills necessary for economic success is particularly important. Their use of online coursework is promising to the extent that it can reach the most students in need and serve them well.

While online course-taking is both prevalent and growing, especially in non-selective higher education institutions, relatively little evidence has examined how taking a course online instead of in person affects student success in college. A new study is the first of which to provide evidence on the effects of online courses at-scale at non-selective four-year colleges. It is also the first to assess the effects of online course taking at for-profit institutions. Nearly 2.4 million undergraduate students (full-time equivalent) enrolled at for-profit institutions during the 2011-12 academic year, and the sector granted approximately 18 percent of all associate degrees.

A new study uses data from DeVry University, a large for-profit college with an undergraduate enrollment of more than 100,000 students, 80 percent of whom are seeking a bachelor’s degree. The average DeVry student takes two-thirds of her courses online. The remaining one-third of courses meet in conventional in-person classes held at one of DeVry’s 102 physical campuses. The data include over 230,000 students enrolled in 168,000 sections of more than 750 different courses.

DeVry University’s approach to online education makes it particularly well suited for estimating the effects of taking online courses. Each DeVry course is offered both online and in-person, and each student enrolls in either an online section or an in-person section. Online and in-person sections are identical in most ways: both follow the same syllabus and use the same textbook; class sizes are approximately the same; both use the same assignments, quizzes, tests, and grading rubrics. Many professors teach both online and in-person courses. The contrast between online and in-person sections is primarily the mode of communication. In online sections, all interaction—lecturing, class discussion, group projects—occurs in online discussion boards, and much of the professor’s “lecturing” role is replaced with standardized videos. In online sections, participation is often asynchronous while in-person sections meet on campus at scheduled times. In short, DeVry online classes attempt to replicate traditional in-person classes, except that student-student and student-professor interactions are virtual and asynchronous.

Taking a course online, instead of in person, increases the probability that a student will drop out of school. In the semester after taking an online course, students are about 9 percentage points less likely to remain enrolled. This reduction is relative to an average of 88 percent of students remaining enrolled in the following term. Moreover, taking a course online reduces the number of credits that students who do reenroll take in future semesters. While this setting is quite different, we can compare the effects on online course taking to other estimates of effects of on college persistence. For example, the literature on financial aid often finds that $1000 in financial aid increases persistence rates by about three percentage points and college mentorship increases persistence rates by five percentage points.

The negative effects of online course taking are concentrated in the lowest performing students. As shown in Figure 2, for students with below median prior GPA, the online classes reduce grades by 0.5 points or more, while for students with prior GPA in the top three deciles we estimate the effect as much smaller and, in fact, we cannot tell whether there is negative effect at all for this higher-achieving group. Thus, while online courses may have the potential to differentiate coursework to meet the needs of students with weaker incoming skills, current online courses, in fact, do an even worse job of meeting the needs of these students than do traditional in-person courses.

These analyses provide evidence that students in online courses perform substantially worse than students in traditional in-person courses and that experience in these online courses impact performance in future classes and their likelihood of dropping out of college as well. The negative effects of online course-taking are far stronger for students with lower prior GPA. The results are in line with prior studies of online education in other settings such as community colleges and highly competitive four-year institutions that also show that online courses yield worse average outcomes than in-person courses.

The current negative effect of online course taking relative to in-person course taking should not necessarily lead to the conclusion that online courses should be discouraged. On the contrary, online courses provide access to students who never would have the opportunity or inclination to take classes in-person.[11] As one indication, of the 5.8 million students taking online courses in the fall of 2014, 2.85 million took all of their courses online. Moreover, advances in AI offer hope that future online courses can respond to the needs of students, meeting them where they are in their learning and engaging them in higher education even better than in-person courses are currently able to do.  Nonetheless, the tremendous scale and consistently negative effects of current offerings points to the need to improve these courses, particularly for students most at risk of course failure and college dropout.

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