Tulane Expanding its Translational Science Institute

Tulane University’s Translational Science Institute is set to expand significantly thanks to a major investment from the school, according to a recent press release.

The University’s Translational Science Institute (TUTSI) was initially established in 2016 as a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) that was focused on the training and development of scientists devoted to clinical research that was specifically aimed at helping patients who suffer from high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and other related conditions. When created, the COBRE was funded by the National Institutes of Health, but thanks to the latest efforts by Tulane University, TUTSI will expand its impact tenfold.

Tulane University is committed to investing $5.7 million to expand its Translational Science Institute into a “university-wide center” that will be focused on finding more effective ways of diagnosing, treating, and preventing a multitude of diseases. In addition to this central aim, they also plan to focus on translating any scientific discoveries made into actual medical practices that will improve both public health and the overall care of patients.

Tulane University President Michael Fitts said of the initiative, “the goal is to expand research across the university and increase the impact of scientific discoveries on the well-being of individual patients and society as a whole. This investment will help Tulane grow in its role as a national powerhouse of clinical and translational research. Better equipping and serving the needs of the university’s research community will translate into better medicines, diagnosis, treatment, and care for patients. This past year has underscored the need for such investment like never before.”

The funding will allow the institute to offer new training programs for clinical research coordinators, new graduate degree programs aimed to develop the next generation of clinical investigators, and a shared research “biobank” freezer farm so that various researchers from across multiple studies and institutions can use various samples stored and preserved by TUTSI. In addition to the new offerings, the investment will also improve infrastructure to support large-scale patient recruitment for clinical trials, data analysis, and the design of research studies.

Speaking on the need for infrastructure improvements, Tulane senior vice president for academic affairs Robin Forman stated, “We have to grow our research infrastructure to keep up with the extraordinary growth in the research activity and ambition of our faculty. This added support for translational and clinical research will help energize all of our health-related research by making more seamless the transition from basic research to translational research to clinical research to improved clinical care.”

Dr. Jiang He, Joseph S. Copes MD Chair and Professor of Epidemiology at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine will lead the Translational Science Institute as its director, and Dr. Lee Hamm, Senior Vice President and Dean of the Tulane University School of Medicine will be serving as Dr. He’s co-director.

After the investment goes into effect, TUTSI will include researchers from multiple schools at Tulane, including the School of Medicine, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, School of Science and Engineering, and School of Social Work.

These researchers from the school will primarily focus on three areas of research: clinical research, translational research, and implementation research. Clinical research can include the administration and analysis of clinical trials for new drugs, surgical advances, or medical devices. Translational research is often referred to as the rewriting or translating of basic scientific findings “from bench to bedside” or into layman’s terms, so that patient health can be improved and understood by those outside the field. Implementation research focuses on integrating evidence-based practices, interventions, and other policies into existing, routine health care and disease-prevention measures.

TUTSI director Dr. Jiang He shared his vision of the initiative’s impact by saying, “the new and enhanced TUTSI core services that we will offer should go a long way in fostering this spirit of collaboration here at Tulane.”

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Tulane to Purchase Electric Shuttle Buses with Awarded Grant

Soon Tulane University will introduce five electric shuttle buses to their campus transportation fleet, as reported by the University’s press.

The United States Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) approved the initiative that was presented by Tulane University. The EERE awarded the school and its partners $737,500 to make the enterprise a reality, and as a result, Tulane will be purchasing five Grande West Vicinity transit buses equipped with electric vehicle technology (EV) along with five private charging stations.

One of Tulane’s partners in this innovative effort is the Southeast Louisiana Clean Fuel Partnership, which works with local fuel providers, vehicle fleets, community leaders, and other stakeholders to not only save energy but also promote the use of advanced vehicle technologies and domestic alternative fuels when it comes to transportation.

The SLCF Partnership’s director, Courtney Young, said of the school, “Tulane was one of the first universities in the region to install EV charging stations on campus for students, faculty, and staff. Similarly, the electric shuttle bus project is the first of its kind in our area, so we’re looking forward to understanding and showcasing results to comparable fleets as a potential replicable solution to replace the older model, highly polluting diesel shuttles in our communities.”

The project is set to begin with the five EV shuttle buses joining Tulane’s existing university shuttle route that links together the school’s affiliate programs with its uptown and downtown campuses. Though the approved project is set to last three years, the ultimate goal is for the University’s staff to monitor the efficiency, operating performance, and general costs of the EV shuttle buses and share their findings with public transportation fleets across the Crescent City and other Universities.

The wide-accepted notion is that clean, electric vehicle technology-equipped transportation is more environmentally healthy and cost-efficient than traditional means; therefore, the project team at Tulane will test that hypothesis to see if using electric vehicles as public transportation would be a more viable option for other campuses and the larger New Orleans area.

Tulane’s initiative to purchase and incorporate the five Grande West Vicinity EV shuttle buses was one of 55 research and development projects accepted by the EERE. All of the selected projects aimed to further advance vehicle technologies in exciting and innovative ways with assistance from the EERE’s Vehicle Technologies Office.

This total collaborative project is between Tulane’s ByWater Institute and University Campus Services as well as local partners, the Alliance Bus Group, Entergy, and the Southeast Louisiana Clean Fuel Partnership. The Southeast Louisiana Clean Fuel Partnership. Shelley Meaux and Liz Davey of the Tulane Bywater Institute are the principal investigators of the project, and Davey expects the project’s short-term effects to involve the elimination of air pollutants that cause local health issues such as heart and lung damage. Additionally, according to Davey, “In the longer term, especially as electricity generation moves to more clean and renewable sources, the use of electric vehicles will also reduce our carbon footprint.”

While the project is still in its early stages by being awarded this opportunity, it’s obvious that Tulane University and its partners have their eyes and well-intentioned perspective set on the future of New Orleans and the planet at large. Tulane University’s Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Patrick Norton shared his hopes, saying, “This is an exciting opportunity for Tulane as we work to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that result from university operations. Tulane’s shuttles are highly visible in the greater New Orleans area and [w]e are confident that the impacts of this project will extend beyond the boundaries of our physical campuses. By sharing our operational, financial, and environmental impact experiences and data, we hope to serve as a blueprint for other institutions in our region.”

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Tulane Introduces Louisiana Promise Program

Louisiana high school students attending Tulane University next year from low and middle-income families will be doing so without the burden of student loans, with the introduction of the Louisiana Promise Program, as reported by Article from WWLTV.   

These students admitted to Tulane as full-time freshmen will be meeting the school’s “full financial need,” a program with an income threshold of $100,000 in adjusted gross income. However, this is not simply to say that Tulane University, the New Orleans-area private research institution, will be giving each freshman who meets the threshold a “full ride.” Instead, this achievement traditionally means that the families of those qualifying will only pay the amount determined by FAFSA, the Free Application For Federal Student Aid.

The amount that families of those applying will be expected to pay is determined by the family’s income, as each year families fill out the FAFSA, listing their adjusted gross income, obligations, and assets. A formula determines the amount that a family can afford to pay toward a college tuition, with the cost being as low as $0 in some cases.

However, starting with next year’s incoming class, these families will be paying toward their freshman’s education without applying for or taking out student loans, which many in the state rely upon.

Louisiana Promise No Loan Assistance Scholarship is the name of Tulane University’s comprehensive plan to make higher education institutions more accessible to all Louisiana students. In addition to the financial aid commitment, the initiative also establishes a new college prep center in New Orleans as well as access to Pre-College Summer Programs. Said programs provide 50 full scholarships to select students who have been nominated by a counselor, teacher, or community-based organization to attend the two-week residential program.

Applicants to the Louisiana Promise program need only be Louisiana residents who have graduated from a Louisiana high school and whose families make less than $100,000 a year. Those applying will have to first be admitted as a first-time, full-time freshman for a Fall Semester, beginning in Fall 2021, and they’ll need to qualify for Tulane need-based Scholarships by April 15th.

In addition to the scholarship aspects of the program, Tulane University is also expanding its reach in the New Orleans metro area by establishing a new college prep center aimed at engaging first-generation students as well as those who have been underrepresented, never considering attending Tulane or other selective universities as a viable option for them.

This center will run a free program directed at teaching students about the college application process, navigating the financial aid process, and preparing students to take standardized tests, such as the ACT and SAT. The center will also educate interested parents about the university application process while connecting them to other families who are new to the process and well-versed in what is required.

Highlighting the program’s mission, Tulane President Michael Fitts said, “Louisiana Promise is a commitment to our state and community to make higher education more accessible, if a Louisiana student’s dream is to come to Tulane, we don’t want financial concerns to be a barrier for them to become a part of the Tulane family. These programs will help keep the state’s best and brightest students in Louisiana.”

As only 11 percent of all Tulane undergraduate students come from Louisiana, the program is also an effort to raise that number by expanding the school’s reach to new demographics.

New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell celebrated this effort made by Tulane to bridge the gap between the University and low income Louisiana students by saying, “I want to applaud Tulane University for its launch of the Louisiana Promise program, which will create pathways for Louisiana high school students to attend Tulane. This builds upon their investment that I have the honor of committing to through the Mayoral Scholarship program.”

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Tulane University Reaches Record Early Decision Applications

Tulane University has become the preferred university for a rising number of the United State’s top students. Since the program was launched in 2016, Early Decision admissions applications have risen 35% of the last year and have doubled since the program launch according to undergraduate admissions data.

Tulane President Mike Fitts said. “Tulane’s growing academic reputation, its innovative, interdisciplinary curriculum, its world-class faculty, its unique academic structure and its location in one of the nation’s most culturally rich cities are some of the many reasons that Tulane is becoming the first-choice, dream school for so many students. We’re also ‘right-sized.’ We’re large enough to support a major research mission, yet small enough to foster one-on-one mentor relationships between students and faculty.”

Tulane’s vice president of enrollment management and dean of undergraduate admission, Satyajit Dattagupta, projects that in 2024, about half the class of the first-year students this fall, will be Early Decision applicants. If a student is accepted as an Early Decision applicant, they agree to enroll in the school they were accepted, which means turning down any offers from other universities.

“Tulane is a brand that is recognized nationally and worldwide. It’s one of the best investments students can make, because the return is exponentially higher than the investment.” said Satyajit Dattagupta.

He also stated that today’s students require a higher level of standard from their preferred colleges and universities. Students who excelled in school have more options for their higher education, and want to be sure that universities live up to their projected standard. Of the accepted Early Decision applicants, about 10% will be international students, which demonstrates another area of growth for the university.

“It’s not surprising, but very reassuring to see that students consider Tulane as their first preference,” he added.

Overall, Tulane has seen a rise in undergraduate applications, with more than 43,000 applications for the incoming fall semester. This is up from 41,365 from last year. Dattagupta projects that the number of students accepted into Tulane compared to the number of who applied to the university will be around 12 percent.

Last year, Tulane was ranked in number 40 in the country’s top national universities in the most recent edition of the U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges rankings, which was released in September of 2019. U.S. News and World Report also ranked the university’s undergraduate business program 43rd in the nation, and ranked Tulane in 3rd place in Service Learning, number 18 for best college for veterans, and number 42 for most innovative schools.

“There’s no ‘perfect’ university, but there are certain institutions that can be a ‘perfect’ fit for some students. The transformational journey that Tulane provides is unparalleled: academic flexibility, excellence [and] access — combined with our commitment to community service, in the most interesting city in the whole world — I think that message has resonated with our students.”” Dattagupta added.

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Tulane University Provides Hands-On Experiences For The Visually Impaired

Tulane University Geologist, Nicole Gasparini and her undergraduate and graduate students brought visually impaired students from Louisiana Lighthouse a learning experience of a lifetime. Part of a $230,600 National Science Foundation Grant, Gasparini and her students were awarded, the goal is to study how soil is produced in different environments.

In the project proposal, Gasparini included service-learning, which is an academic requirement for all Tulane students. The idea was to help create a unique learning experience for special needs children so they could experience different types of soil and typography.

“The depth of soil is likely closely linked to the soil production rate and how rivers erode,” she said. “How rivers and soils interact has practical consequences for river infrastructure and human impacts on landscapes such as deforestation or forest fires.”

The first service-learning class, where students apply classroom knowledge to assist community organizations or address societal problems, was spent working with young visually impaired students and encouraging them to feel and touch models of volcanoes, waves, and other natural phenomena. The activities included whipped cream, wet sand, and play dough.

Alongside Gaspirini, four of her students at Tulane University participated in this exciting project; George Pratt, Kristina Leggas, Jenni Riggen, and Haily MacDonald.

“The students were worried about being able to hold the attention of the kids,” said Gasparini. “But the kids absolutely loved the experience.”

“This was my first experience teaching in a classroom setting, but I really enjoyed teaching the kids and also learning from them.” said Tulane senior George Pratt

The project included 3-D printing at the Scot Ackerman Makerspace at Tulane in order to create synthetic landscapes so the children could experience simulated volcanoes, tsunamis, and earthquakes.

One of the projects, lead by Kristina Leggas, centered around surface waves. She created this experience by incorporating sand and water to create a wave tank, and then invited the children to feel the different materials so they could understand how waves move over different types of soils and surfaces.

“I just had to use different prompts and focus on the sensation of touch instead sight,” said Leggas, a junior majoring in environmental science. “Watching them get excited about science made it all worth it.”

The volcano activity, led by George Pratt, a senior majoring in geology and anthropology, encouraged the young students to examine volcanic rock samples and prompted a conversation about how they were formed. He also made a model of a volcano for the kids by using stacked laser-cut plywood. Then, he taught them how lava flows by having them mold homemade play dough along the sides.

“If there was one thing that was challenging, it was conveying information in a way that visually impaired kids could understand. But they asked a lot of questions, and I could tell they were having a good time.”

Gaspirini spearheaded the earthquake activity by utilizing graham crackers and Cool Whip. In a tweet following their service based learning class, Gaspirini tweeted “’I almost started crying when one of the kids said, ‘I wish I could stay here all day.’”

Overall, the project was a massive success.

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Violence Prevention Scholarship Begins at Tulane

The Pincus Family Foundation recently partnered with Tulane University to create a new interdisciplinary program: the Pincus Family Foundation Violence Prevention Scholarship. Tulane released the statement July 17th, 2019. The Foundation awarded Tulane University with $550,000 to establish this new, two-year graduate training program intended to train future leaders in community-focused violence prevention in New Orleans, with an emphasis on Central City. Beginning this summer, organizers will be designing the program elements and coordinating with up to 10 community partner organizations focused on child wellbeing and violence related issues. The first group of six scholars to participate in the program will begin their training in Fall 2020. Second-year students of the program will work directly with the community organizations involved in violence prevention work.

The Pincus Family Foundation was formed by Philadelphia philanthropists David and Gerry Pincus in 2005. These founders dedicated themselves to learning about the challenges faced by children worldwide and helping to address those challenges. The Foundation supports organizations and initiatives that promote children’s health, education, nutrition, recreation, safety, and the arts locally and globally. The daughter of the foundation’s founders David and Gerry Pincus graduated from Tulane’s Newcomb College in 1990. Now a Pincus Family Foundation Trustee, Leslie Pincus-Elliot explained why she and the Foundation chose to initiate this program at Tulane. “A year ago, I read ‘The 28,’ an article from The Children of Central City, a series in The Times Picayuneabout the devastating effect chronic exposure to violence has on children. Having spent four years living in New Orleans as a student of Tulane University, I felt compelled to find a way to give back to the city that had given so much to me.” Pincus-Elliot continued, “The Pincus Family Foundation is thrilled to be in partnership with Tulane’s VIolence Prevention Institute. It is our hope that the creation of this interdisciplinary program will develop tools to stem, reduce and one-day eliminate violence in communities throughout New Orleans and others like it.”

The program will be spearheaded by faculty from the Tulane Violence Prevention Institute (VPI) and its network of community partners to provide students with a two-year graduate training program. To remain consistent with the diverse representation of faculty in the VPI, the Pincus Family Foundation Violence Prevention Scholarship will integrate faculty from all schools at Tulane, notably the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, the School of Medicine, and the School of Social Work. It will be based within the Master’s in Public Health program.

Scholars in the new program will focus on building skills to collaborate with community organizations and co-develop programs designed to alleviate the effects of violence and in doing so, intercepting intergenerational transmission of violence and its health impacts. The training initiative will focus on the lives of children throughout the entirety of New Orleans, with an emphasis on Central City and areas where children are most affected by violence.

“The health of children, particularly those growing up in neighborhoods plagued by violence, is rooted not only in their individual-level experiences but also in those of their families and communities,” said Dr. Stacy Drury, Remigio Gonzalez MD Endowed Professor of Child Psychiatry. “The impact of negative experiences differs based on the developmental window in which the exposure occurs, such that younger children may be particularly vulnerable to the impact of violence. With this perspective in mind, our program will target a range of violence prevention efforts that originate through partnerships with community organizations focused on preventing violence across the lifespan.”

“The goal of the scholarship program is to provide enhanced training in the core skills needed for effective academic-community partnerships that address the far-reaching impact of violence on children and their families. . . Exposure to violence, both within the home and in the community, leaves biological, behavioral, cognitive and socio-emotional scars that alter the life course trajectory and health of youth within and across generations,” elaborated the VPI director and professor of Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences, Catherine Taylor. She continued to say, “We want our scholars to graduate feeling prepared to collaborate with communities and existing organizations to promote child well-being in a way that centers around each community’s unique needs and is rooted in cultural humility, evidence-based practice, sustainability and rigorous evaluations.”

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