LSU Combines Undergraduate Science, Engineering, Arts, Humanities to Benefit Coastal Communities
October 06, 2022
With support from the National Academy of Sciences, LSU will build a new undergraduate research and creative works program focused on supporting people, ecosystems and industries in and around the Gulf of Mexico. Projects will bridge all disciplines and encourage students to combine multiple perspectives as not just experts, but problem-solvers.
A large, interdisciplinary team of LSU faculty has received $450,000 in funding from the National Academy of Sciences to build a Gulf Renaissance Scholars Program. The effort will increase opportunities for undergraduate research, regardless of major, and culminate in both research and creative projects to positively impact coastal communities.
Linda Hooper-Bùi, professor in the LSU College of the Coast & Environment and former director of LSU EnvironMentors, will direct the program.
“Our goal is to develop a shared sense of place,” Hooper-Bùi said. “While some of our students maybe grew up hunting and fishing along the coast, others will come from a completely different background. Through this program, students—and not just science students—will learn to benefit from diverse perspectives to become better problem-solvers.”
Her leadership team, which spans science, engineering, arts and humanities, includes Jacqueline Bach, professor of education and acting vice provost; Clint Willson; professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of LSU’s Center for River Studies; Brandon Ballengée, visual artist and biologist; Debbie Goldgaber, director of the LSU Ethics Institute; Margaret Reams, professor of environmental sciences; and Sarah Ferstel, associate director of LSU Discover, the university’s leading undergraduate research program.
“LSU has assembled a really solid and interdisciplinary team, which should be extremely valuable to preparing students for the complex challenges facing the region.”
Timothy Filbert, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Gulf Research Program Division program officer
The Gulf Renaissance Scholars Program, or GRSP, expands the resources and reach of LSU Discover by recruiting sophomores, and in some cases freshmen and juniors, who are interested in sustained research, service and creative endeavors that protect and support local populations, ecosystems and industries, such as fisheries and offshore energy, in and around the Gulf of Mexico. The program will begin with 25 scholars and grow to include more than 100 by the third year. Since much of the students’ time will be spent in collaboration with, and in service of, local residents and community organizations, Hooper-Bùi and her team hope to extend what they call students’ “moral imagination.”
“What imagined communities you are part of matters, not just for your identity, but whom you feel like you’re in solidarity with,” Goldgaber said. “By shifting the map and centering it on the Gulf of Mexico, where we in Louisiana have a lot in common with Texas and Florida but also Mexico and Cuba, students are likely to experience how we’re all in the same boat. We tend to train our students to think of themselves as experts, but they also have a lot to learn from the communities they’ll be serving.”
The LSU team aims to equip students with skills and toolsets to solve many of the urgent problems that come from “the increasingly complex relationships humans face with land, sea and air,” according to the program description.
“A lot of the challenges facing the Gulf region are also growing global issues,” Hooper-Bùi said. “We see this as an opportunity for transdisciplinary work, meaning not just interdisciplinary—involving all of our various colleges and schools and offering the opportunity to look at something through various lenses—but involving communities, from the sea to our coastal dunes, to the swamps and salt marshes.”
This spring, the first cohort of LSU GRSP students will be able to participate in a new seminar, The Gulf South, introducing them to the arts and sciences of the Gulf and laying the foundation for what will become their Gulf impact projects as early as next summer.
By providing up to $6,000 in support per scholar per year, the LSU team wants to help retain students at LSU and stay on track toward completing their degree. Persistence in academic programs can be a particular challenge for minority students and gifted students from low-income backgrounds.
“Our program was designed to fill gaps in support, especially over the summer, so we don’t lose connection with students who have to make money to support themselves or contribute to their families,” Hooper-Bùi said.
Her team also wants to anchor students to Louisiana and the diverse communities who live and work on the coast.
“Hopefully, encouraging and building these connections for students while they’re at LSU will have some impact on them staying in the state and doing impactful work after they graduate,” Goldgaber said. “To tackle challenges and build a sustainable future, we need certain kinds of expertise in the state, and not just for emergencies.”
“Our hope is that students gain a sense of appreciation and deeper understanding by becoming participants in something meaningful, both inside and outside of the classroom,” Bach added.
Hooper-Bùi, Willson and Ballengée will also lend their expertise to fellow LSU faculty as on-call “coastal coaches.” Colleagues interested in joining or supporting the program can bring their existing classes under the umbrella of the LSU GRSP by making them more Gulf-centric through peer mentorship, reimagining courses in engaging ways, whether in music, chemistry, health or any discipline.
The GRSP supports LSU’s Scholarship First agenda, which places coastal research as among the top five of the university’s strategic priorities. It also aligns science and engineering with arts and humanities toward better outcomes in each focus area, a key aspect of the evolving LSU 2030 Strategic Plan.
The National Academies’ Gulf Research Program is an independent, science-based program founded in 2013 as part of legal settlements with the companies involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. It seeks to enhance offshore energy system safety and protect human health and the environment by catalyzing advances in science, practice and capacity to generate long-term benefits for the Gulf of Mexico region and the nation. The program has $500 million for use over 30 years to fund grants, fellowships and other activities in the areas of research and development, education and training and monitoring and synthesis.
Gulf Research Program Announces Second Cohort of Gulf Scholar Program Institutions: https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2022/10/gulf-research-program-announces-second-cohort-of-gulf-scholar-program-institutions
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Gulf Research Program, or GRP, recently announced awards to five universities, including LSU, for the creation of interdisciplinary architectural studio design courses that engage with the unique features of the Gulf of Mexico region. Traci Birch, assistant professor of architecture and managing director of the LSU Coastal Ecosystem Design Studio, now offers a new course, called Grand Isle Studio: Exploring Barrier Island Design, about coastal resilience and nature-based risk reduction strategies. Read more and meet Traci Birch.