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Hierarchical Mentoring: An Academic Support System that Integrates Research, Education, and Peer Mentoring

Research Summary

Isiah Warner has created a "hierarchical mentoring" model that fuses research, education, and mentoring to give undergraduates an opportunity for advancement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines.

Our 2002, 2006, and 2010 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 Gloria Thomas and Saundra McGuire, the ladder flows from 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 primary vehicle for this is the LSU-HHMI Professors Program. Freshman and sophomore STEM majors who have a grade point average between 2.5 and 3.25 are eligible to apply. We look for underachievers who are ready to change their academic careers and who 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 other OSI programs. These programs, which are for students committed to pursuing a STEM PhD, provide 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. In conjunction with the National Science Foundation-funded, LSU Innovation through Institutional Integration (I3) project, HHMI scholars participate in outreach programs throughout the metropolitan Baton Rouge area. Such programs include science fair mentoring for high school students, SAT preparation, and tutoring initiatives. Our students have dedicated more than 400 hours and have assisted more than 200 local students.

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. With our new HHMI professor grant, we continue to use our mentoring ladder model to help students excel in STEM disciplines. We will extend the model to additional educational settings, including the following:

  • Work to develop an international research experience for LSU undergraduates through collaborations with international institutions
  • Extend the mentoring ladder model to international partners
  • 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

Research in the Warner Lab

My research has focused in two 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 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).

I have been performing research in the more specific area of analytical measurements using ionic liquids (ILs) for several years. This research on ionic liquids has led to the recent conceptualization and implementation of a group of uniform materials based on organic salts (GUMBOS) as novel materials that can be exploited for a variety of applications. Novel nanoparticles (nanoGUMBOS) have been derived from these materials, which can primarily be classified as frozen ILs. However, some GUMBOS are not ionic liquids since they do not fit the traditional definition of ILs. The utility of these materials is that they provide solid phase materials with the same tunability of ionic liquids.

As of May 2014