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LSU Hosts First Ever CAREER Forum, Bringing Together the State's Most Prominent Current and Future Researchers

LSU hosted the first-ever Early Career Development, or CAREER, Award Regional Forum in November 2011, bringing together Louisiana's current and past NSF CAREER award recipients, as well as participants from 17 of Louisiana's institutes of higher education.
Jim Zietz/University Relations

The LSU Office of Research & Economic Development and the Gordon A. Cain Center for Scientific, Technological Engineering and Mathematical Literacy, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, or NSF, sponsored the first ever Early Career Development, or CAREER, Award Regional Forum in November. The forum brought together the state's current and past NSF CAREER award recipients, as well as participants from 17 of Louisiana's institutes of higher education, including four Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs. The forum was held on Nov. 8-9, at the Lod Cook Alumni Center in Baton Rouge.

NSF's CAREER Program offers their most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. Such activities should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. LSU has been historically successful in the number of assistant professors who obtain this support, but the state of Louisiana is tremendously underfunded in this area overall.

"This forum really addresses what's at the core of the CAREER program, and that's people," said Randy Duran, director of LSU's new office of undergraduate research and Gordon A. Cain Chair in Scientific, Technological, Engineering and Mathematical Literacy. "It's about connecting researchers with K-12 educators, bringing together industry support and federal grant agencies, to develop a network right here in Louisiana."

Director of NSF Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation, or CMMI, unit George Hazelrigg presents his views how to write winning CAREER award proposals at the forum.
Jim Zietz/University Relations

More than 100 assistant professors attended, along with representatives from more than three dozen higher education institutions and 13 school districts; the Rapides Foundation; Exxon; Dow Chemical; NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR, representatives from the University of the U.S. Virgin Islands, New Mexico, Idaho, Mississippi, Alabama, Puerto Rico, South Carolina and Arkansas; Oak Ridge Associated Universities; NSF; and the National Institutes of Health.

"The CAREER grant really offers collaborative educational opportunities that have the potential to have a significant ripple effect," said Duran. "Take for instance LSU geologist and current CAREER award holder Sophie Warny. Her grant allowed her to collaborate with colleagues at Columbia University and to support University High [Baton Rouge] science educator Steve Babcock's pursuit of master's degree."

Warny, a recipient of the CAREER Award, shares her extensive research experience and knowledge with teachers like Babcock, LSU Laboratory School ninth grade science instructor, and Zachary Elementary School science teacher Breigh Rainey. Warny co-mentors Babcock and Rainey with Suzanne Carbotte, senior scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, or LDEO, and Frank Nitsche, associate research scientist at LDEO. Babcock trained with Nitsche during the 2011 CAREER Award Regional Forum.

"The NSF Career Award offers me an opportunity to guide instructors through the natural science graduate program and provide them with the support, research opportunities and mentoring they need to grow in this discipline," said Warny, who added that "in return, working with outstanding instructors like Steve Babcock and Breigh Rainey provides me with the opportunity to transfer the research of my group to the K-12 curriculum in a meaningful way."

LSU Chancellor Michael Martin opened the forum by welcoming attendees.
Eddy Perez/University Relations

One of the outreach components of Warny's NSF CAREER Award provides funding to mentor one other middle- or high-school teacher in addition to Babcock and Rainey. The teachers will have three summers to complete coursework and conduct research. They will also assist in building a professional development program for science teachers based on maps that they will construct of Antarctic paleovegetation and paleohydrology. The teachers will work with Warny, Carbotte, and Nitsche using Columbia University's GeoMapApp mapping software. They will also present their research findings at national conferences and serve as peer mentors in their schools.

Also, because Warny, whose research recently landed the cover of the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (see http://www.lsu.edu/ur/ocur/lsunews/MediaCenter/News/2011/06/item31234.html), conducts fieldwork in Antarctica, there's the potential that Babcock could travel to the frozen continent for research purposes. The impact of such a trip on his high school students could be tremendous.

LSU Chancellor Michael Martin gave opening remarks at the forum, followed later in the day by Elizabeth VanderPutten, a member of the leadership of NSF's Directorate for Education & Human Resources and Undergraduate Education, who gave a plenary talk on Integrating Research and Education. Deputy Director of NSF Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation, or CMMI, unit George Hazelrigg presented his views how to write winning CAREER award proposals. Hazelrigg's presentation was made available to universities in Arkansas, Idaho and Puerto Rico, as well as Louisiana Tech, Grambling, Xavier, Dillard, UNO, Tulane and Loyola through Access Grid technology provided by LSU.

"This was a rare gathering of a variety of groups, all with a vested interest in promoting good research outreach, which is a key element of the CAREER award," said Duran. "We believe that if, for instance, a teacher in a Louisiana school district is able to connect with a university researcher, there will be a huge impact over the next five years. The sky is the limit in this situation as far as student motivation goes. It's a huge opportunity for the state."

For the full event agenda, visit http://research.lsu.edu/NSFCareerWorkshop/item35167.html.