Our 2002 and 2006 HHMI professor grants supported the development of a strategic approach to mentoring through a hierarchical model that provides an academic support system for students from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. The model includes several initiatives designed to help students advance in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.
Central to the model is a "mentoring ladder," which allows enthusiasm for science and research to be transferred from one group to the next. Beginning with my team at the top, particularly Zakiya Wilson and Saundra McGuire, the ladder flows to faculty to secondary school teachers and graduate students then to undergraduates and high school students. The ladder provides a supportive environment for entering students to improve their academic standing through mentoring activities that encourage development of higher order thinking skills according to Bloom's classical learning hierarchy. The goal is to help these young students achieve academic success and learn how to mentor their peers and younger students.
The main vehicle for this is LSU's HHMI Scholars program. Freshman and sophomore STEM majors who have a grade point average between 2.5 and 3.0 are eligible to apply. We look for underachievers who are ready to change their academic careers and are committed to helping others do the same. The students are assigned faculty and graduate student mentors, who they meet with regularly. They are also paired with other undergraduates to provide peer support. The HHMI Scholars, who receive a stipend, are required to seek out research opportunities and mentor high school students. The students also take a series of four courses to help them improve their learning strategies, time management, and mentoring. If they improve their GPA to 3.5 or higher, the scholars can move into a sister program, Louisiana-STEM research scholars. This program, which is for students committed to pursuing a STEM Ph.D., provides research opportunities and mentorship for high achieving students. The graduation rate for HHMI Scholars is twice that of all LSU STEM students. Significantly, the graduation rate for students from underrepresented minority groups is three times that of all underrepresented minority students who start STEM. These outcomes are especially noteworthy taking into account that HHMI scholars are selected because of their academic underperformance.
The LSU program also focuses on preparing precollege students for academic success. Since 2002, over 100 secondary students have taken part in the Saturday Success program, which provides supplemental math and science instruction, test preparation, and research skills during all four years of high school. In this program, high school students are mentored by LSU undergraduates, primarily HHMI Scholar mentors. When they are seniors, they may join LSU research teams, where they work with a graduate student mentor throughout the year. In this next phase of funding, we will expand this program by engaging a local network of high school teachers to assist in identifying students for the program.
In conjunction with Louisiana-STEM, we also support a summer bridge program that prepares incoming freshmen and community college transfer students with the tools they need for college through an intensive orientation to undergraduate research. Since the program's inception in 2002, 88 LSU undergraduates and 13 community college students have participated.
With our new HHMI professor grant, we continue to use our mentoring ladder model to help students excel in STEM disciplines. But we will extend the model to additional educational settings, including the following:
- Work with Randy Duran, program director for LSU's HHMI undergraduate program grant, to develop an international research experience for LSU undergraduates through a collaboration with HHMI's new KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH) in Durban, South Africa;
- Extend the mentoring ladder model to international partners, beginning with the University of the Western Cape in South Africa; and
- Introduce a new undergraduate research minor for STEM undergraduates through LSU's Honors College that will expand academic preparation for students interested in pursuing research careers.
My research has focused in two distinctly different areas of analytical chemistry: molecular spectroscopy and separation science. My early work involved the development of novel instrumentation for rapid acquisition of fluorescence measurements as well as the development of novel algorithms for processing and interpreting these data. My research has led to many applications of fluorescence in analytical measurements. Several commercially available fluorescence instruments from leading manufacturers now use many of my earlier studies as patterns for hardware and software development.
The current research emphasis of my research group is the development and application of improved methodology (chemical, mathematical, and instrumental) for studies of complex chemical systems. My research interests include fluorescence spectroscopy, guest/host interactions, studies in organized media, development of novel nanomaterials for analytical measurements, chromatography, environmental analyses, and mathematical analyses and interpretation of chemical data by using chemometrics (chemical data analysis techniques).