Southeastern Biologist Awarded Prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Grant

The National Science Foundation has awarded a biologist and specialist in evolution, computational biology, and phylogenetics at Southeastern a grant of $1,125,000. Phylogenetics is the study of evolutionary relationships among biological entities—often species, individuals or genes.

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences April Wright received the five-year grant to integrate information from the fossil record with data collected from living species to infer phylogenetic relationships.

The grant was one of only two CAREER grants awarded in the state. The National Science Foundation CAREER awards are in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through research and education, and the integration of these endeavors in the context of their organizations’ missions.

“This is a big deal. CAREER awards are the most prestigious grants awarded by NSF, and they typically go to researchers at Research I universities, not at a regional principally undergraduate university like Southeastern,” said College of Science and Technology Dean Daniel McCarthy. “This is a testament not only to the world-class level of Dr. Wright’s research, but also to the novel educational approach she is taking with this project.”

The project will focus on the use of posterior predictive methods for assessing which models are most appropriate for a particular dataset. The work will provide practical guidance and research software tools for researchers to perform more complex model assessment in systemic biology, Wright said.

“I will be working with statistical methods to integrate fossil data with extant molecular data to estimate dated phylogenetic trees,” said Wright. “Phylogenetic trees are one of our key ways of understanding the evolution of organisms, form, and function. And fossils are often our only direct source of information about past organisms. What we’ll be doing in the lab is evaluating different mathematical models for estimating phylogenetic trees from joint fossil and molecular data.”

“This grant will allow us to grow into a nationally recognized university for Computational Biology, which is an exciting and rapidly changing field,” McCarthy said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for Dr. Wright, Southeastern, and especially for our students.”

Wright said she is looking forward to the educational component of the grant.

“To do the work I do, researchers have to be competent at statistics and computation,” she said. “We’ll be taking a look at ‘code-to-learn’ approaches where students use code to discover insights about biology. This should help us integrate more crucial skills development into lower-level curricula without losing biological information.”

Wright intends to formally study if teaching lower division coursework using code-to-learn principles causes students to learn less biology. She also plans to study if early exposure to computation in the classroom can lead to improved student retention by helping students develop important research skills early in their careers.

“Retention of underrepresented minority students is at the heart of my educational plan. As an assistant professor, I observe very clearly the issues with retention of vulnerable students,” she said. “I propose to leverage existing recruitment networks for vulnerable students to identify those who are interested in scientific computing.”

Both the research and educational missions of the project will substantially improve their respective fields, Wright added.

“The research objectives of the project will inform researchers of how to appropriately model complex and heterogeneous data in a hierarchical model,” she explained. “The educational components also address key gaps in the literature on how to incorporate computation in undergraduate biology education. In particular, code-to-learn approaches are currently understudied in biology.

Students Take Home Emmy Awards

Students at the Southeastern Channel have been honored by the Emmys with three college division Student Production Awards given by the Emmy Awards’ Suncoast Region of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

John Sartori of Mandeville won in the “Talent” category, while John Williams of Denham Springs won for “News: General Assignment: Light News.” Also receiving a student Emmy honor was the Southeastern Channel’s October 12, 2019 football broadcast of Southeastern vs. Incarnate Word in the “Sports-Live Event” category.

The students and their productions were honored in the Emmy Suncoast Region comprised of television stations and production companies in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Puerto Rico. Students at the Southeastern Channel have now been named Emmy winners 20 times with 67 nominations.

“Being recognized by the Emmys is the highest honor you can receive in television,” said Southeastern Channel General Manager Rick Settoon. “These student awards are measured against the Emmy standard of excellence. If no productions in a category achieve that standard, then no award is given. Since so few are given, we’re absolutely thrilled that John Sartori, John Williams, and our entire football game broadcast crew are deservedly joining such elite company with this highest reward for their talent, creativity and hard work.”

“It’s a very special honor, and it validates the hard work I put into my broadcasts,” Sartori said. “Winning an Emmy award goes far beyond simply being a newscaster or a sportscaster. It’s a universal language of excellence in our field, and it means a lot to have my name attached to such a prestigious honor.”

Sartori won Emmy recognition for the second time in two years for “Talent” with his composite of on-camera work at the Southeastern Channel.

Sartori’s composite included anchoring and reporting for The Big Game sportscast, hosting and producing the “Lion Tracks” coaches’ talk show, and play-by-play announcing of live Southeastern game broadcasts.

A May 2020 graduate of Southeastern, Sartori is now a sports anchor-reporter for KTAL-TV Ch. 6 (NBC) in Shreveport, where he reports on sports in Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas.

“The Southeastern Channel rounded me into a sports broadcaster who could do it all and gave me real-world experience in a collegiate setting,” Sartori said. “We had deadlines and had to produce broadcast quality stories and segments. I did live shots, live anchoring, reporting, and live play-by-play. If you are a student interested in broadcast journalism, there is no better place for you in this country than in Hammond, La., at the Southeastern Channel.”

Williams won for his news feature story, “July Fourth in Baton Rouge,” produced for the channel’s student newscast Northshore News the summer before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“Winning an Emmy is a surreal feeling, especially while being a college student,” Williams said. “This places me in a category of individuals who have displayed a level of talent unmatched by most. I am forever grateful to receive that honor and will cherish it for a lifetime.”

Williams researched, wrote, reported, shot and edited his July 4 production that featured dazzling cinematography and captured the sizzling energy and atmosphere of Baton Rouge’s annual celebration on the Riverfront, Settoon said. Williams has also won Associated Press College Broadcasters, WorldFest International Film Festival, and College Broadcasters, Inc. national awards for his videography and cinematography.

“I decided to shoot the story with a more cinematic film-style as opposed to the typical ‘news look’ we usually see on television,” Williams said. “I wanted the audience to feel like they were actually there experiencing the event instead of viewing it on a screen as an outsider.”

“As a Baton Rouge native, I’ve attended numerous July 4 celebrations downtown, and I’ve always left with a feeling of togetherness, pride, and admiration for the city,” he explained. “This was the driving force that led me to produce the story. Those not from the Baton Rouge area are generally unaware of this event, and I wanted to spread awareness to a wider audience of a celebration all Louisiana citizens should attend at least once.”

Both Williams, as high end zone camera operator, and Sartori, as play-by-play announcer, played key roles on the crew of the Southeastern Channel’s winning live game broadcast of the October 12, 2019 Southeastern-Incarnate Word football game. The broadcast was produced and announced entirely by students and streamed live on ESPN+.

Dylan Domangue of Houma produced and directed the live broadcast, while the announcers were Sartori, Richie Solares of New Orleans as color analyst, and Gabrielle Cox of Hammond as sideline reporter.

“An Emmy award is what everyone in television strives for in their career,” Domangue said. “Some people work a lifetime trying to achieve the goal of winning this award, and I was part of a broadcast that won an Emmy while still in college.”

Other crew members contributing to the game broadcast were Jermaine Kelly of Shreveport, Ross Chauvin of Houma, Lily Gayle of Greensburg, Tyler Thomas of Bogalusa, Taylor Tabb of Luling, Richie Cruz of New Orleans, and Logan Graffia of Slidell.

“We had great graphics and replays, tremendous announcing and camera work. The entire broadcast from start to finish on all levels was technically sound, and that’s why I think the judges were so impressed,” Domangue said.

In addition to its three winning entries, the Southeastern Channel was nominated for an Emmy Student Production Award in the “Sports Program” category for the November 21, 2019 live sportscast, The Big Game. Sartori and Cox co-anchored the episode, while Solares served as a guest anchor. Domangue produced and directed the show that featured contributions from students Graffia, Tabb, Chauvin, Lauryn Jackson of Baton Rouge, Josh Hodgeson of New Orleans, and Angela Imbraguglio of Destrehan.

“The Southeastern Channel has given me opportunities I would not have had anywhere else,” Williams said. “I was a part of collaborative real-world productions, had individual projects of my own, and worked alongside other students who shared similar passions. Credit for my Emmy award and preparation for my first job, I happily attribute to this establishment.”

In its 18 years of existence, the Southeastern Channel has won over 400 national, international and regional awards. The Channel can be seen on Charter Spectrum 199 in Tangipahoa, St. Tammany, Livingston and St. Helena parishes and on mounthermonTV.com for viewers in Washington Parish. The Southeastern Channel’s live 24/7 webcast and video on-demand are available at www.thesoutheasternchannel.com. The Southeastern Channel can also be seen on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Roku and AppleTV.

Top image: Southeastern Channel students were recently honored by the Suncoast Emmys of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences with three Student Production Awards. Shown is student John Williams of Denham Springs, who won in the “News: General Assignment: Light News” category for his production, “July Fourth in Baton Rouge.” Also winning (not shown) were John Sartori of Mandeville in the “Talent” category and John Williams of Denham Springs  for “News: General Assignment: Light News.”

Providing $5.29 Million in Student Relief Funds through the CRRSA Act

Southeastern received $5.29 million from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA Act) for student grants associated with increased costs of attendance due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are hopeful that these funds will provide relief to students who have struggled financially over the last semester due to the pandemic,” said Southeastern President John L. Crain. “It is our hope to get these funds into the hands of students quickly to help reduce some of the financial stress they are experiencing.”

Populations eligible to receive grants include degree-seeking full and part time graduate and undergraduate students, as well as students enrolled in 100 percent online programs.

Eligible students received an email from Southeastern the week of March 22 notifying them of the grant award with directions on how to access the funds. The deadline for students to accept the funds is the last regular class day of the spring semester, Friday, May 7, 2021.

Southeastern has established a webpage to address questions about the emergency relief grants provided by the CRRSA Act. For more information, visit southeastern.edu/caresact or email finaid@southeastern.edu.

Providing Summer Programs through the Southeastern Community Music School

The Southeastern Community Music School is hosting a series of summer programs for young musicians.

The 2021 summer programs include a middle school band camp, a chamber music workshop, and seven weeks of individual lessons, said Community Music School Director Jivka Duke.

“We are pleased to offer a normal summer semester despite the challenges of the pandemic. We will adhere to all COVID-19 safety protocols during all of the events.” Duke said. “Summer camps provide a way for school-aged musicians to get a glimpse of Southeastern’s wonderful college music programs. These camps are filled with fun and friendships, while they significantly enhance the participants’ instrumental skills and musicianship. Learning, exploring through creative collaboration, and sharing our love for music performance is what these camps are all about.”

The middle school band camp is scheduled June 14-18, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Friday, with a concert at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, June 18. Lunch is provided Monday through Thursday. Tuition for the camp, scheduled in Pottle Music Building on Southeastern’s campus, is $250. Registration is open until the first day of camp; however, a $20 late fee will apply to registrations postmarked after May 20.

Coordinated by Paul Frechou, the camp is open to students in fifth through ninth grades during the 2020-21 school year, although high school students are also welcome to attend. Camp activities include concert band, private lessons and masterclasses, jazz combos, lessons in improvisation and theory classes.

The chamber music workshop is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., June 7-11, with a concert at 11:30 a.m. on June 11. Tuition cost for the workshop is $170. Registration is open until the first day of the workshop; however, a $20 late fee will apply to registrations postmarked after May 20.

The CMS will also offer private instrumental and vocal lessons from June 7 to July 22. Lessons are scheduled according to the instructors’ availability and with consideration of the students’ family vacations. Individual lesson fees vary according to the instructor’s qualifications.

For more information on any of these programs, visit www.southeastern.edu/cms or call 985-549-5502.

Green Talks Lecture Series Returns

Sims Library and the Sustainability Center will present a series of Green Talks about timely environmental issues affecting Southeastern Louisiana. The Green Talks series, now in its third year, is part of a campaign to promote ecological awareness at Southeastern.

“The talks will last only 30-minutes, followed by a question and answer session,” said Alejandro Martinez, Sustainability Center manager.

This year, due to COVID restrictions, all Green Talks are presented via Google Meet. Recordings of the presentations will be available to all who register.

On Wednesday, April 28 at 1 p.m., the topic will be “The 2020 New Orleans Nurdle Spill – Tracking the Path of Hundreds of Millions of Plastic Pellets.” In August 2020 a container ship called the MV Bianca was moored in New Orleans. During a storm, it lost four shipping containers. One of those containers was filled with polyethylene resin pellets called nurdles. An estimated 750 million pellets entered the river. Dr. Mark Benfield of LSU’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences will describe the events around the spill, the fate of the nurdles, and the questions that this event raised regarding how we deal with plastic spills. (Click to Register)

For more information, contact Angie Balius, Outreach Librarian, at phone (985)-549-3898 or Angie.Balius@Southeastern.edu.

Lion’s Code Summer Camp

Southeastern’s College of Science and Technology is hosting a virtual computer science camp this summer for students entering eighth through 12th grades this fall. The Lion’s Code Summer Coding Camp is free and open to students with any level of coding experience.

Sponsored by Southeastern’s Department of Computer Science, the camp is one week long. Two separate sessions are available July 19-22 and July 26-29. Students may register for the session that best fits their schedules. Both sessions are online and take place each day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“The Lion’s Code Camp provides an enjoyable summer camp experience for high school students that challenges students academically in the foundational concepts of computer science and builds the skills of teamwork, public speaking and relationship building,” said Instructor of Computer Science and Camp Coordinator Bonnie Achee.

Achee said students will be introduced to several aspects of computer science including cyber security, cyber literacy, and python programming.

“Students will participate in a virtual capture the flag and work together in teams as cyber-sleuths to solve a cybercrime. They will have the opportunity to learn about career opportunities in computer science and cyber security, as well as work with the Southeastern’s Career Services to begin creating a professional resume.

Registration is available at southeastern.edu/registerlionscodecamp. Each camp session is limited to 100 students on a first come, first served basis. Pre-registration opens on April 1, 2021.

For more information, contact Achee at lionscodecamp@southeastern.edu.

Lion Pride Career Closet

Southeastern and the Wesley Foundation have collaborated to create the Lion Pride Career Closet (LPCC), an initiative that supplies clothing for interviews and other career-related events for Southeastern students.

The LPCC provides access to new and gently used professional attire for interviews, career fairs, networking events, and graduations, said Director of Programs at the Southeastern Wesley Foundation Melissa Guerra.

“Recently, members of the Hammond-Ponchatoula Sunriser Rotary provided career clothing to support our new initiative,” she said. “We are thrilled they chose to Lion Up and help Southeastern students to be more confident for interviews and other career related activities.”

Guerra said they are seeking donations to help supply the LPCC. Items needed include business suits, blouses, skirts, dress shirts, professional slacks, blazers, ties, belts, shoes, and professional bags and purses. All donations are tax-deductible.

Several drop off locations are available in the northshore area from Walker to Slidell. Drop off locations include the following:
• Amite City Chamber of Commerce,
101 SE Central Ave., Amite, La.
• First United Methodist Church,
203 North Jefferson Ave., Covington, La.
• Livingston Parish Literacy Center,
9261 Florida Blvd., Walker, La.
• Ponchatoula Chamber of Commerce,
160 W. Pine St., Ponchatoula, La.
• Southeastern Alumni Center,
500 University Ave., Hammond, La.
• St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce,
610 Hollycrest Blvd., Covington, La.
• St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce,
2220 Carey St., Slidell, La.
• Tangipahoa Chamber of Commerce,
400 NW Railroad, Ave., Hammond, La.
• The Southeastern Wesley Foundation,
307 W. Dakota St., Hammond, La.

For more information about the Lion Pride Career Closet, contact Guerra at 985-345-6175 or at melissa@sluwesley.org.

Top image: Members of the Hammond-Ponchatoula Sunriser Rotary recently provided career clothing to support the new Lions Pride Career Closet, a partnership between the Wesley Foundation and Southeastern Louisiana University. The initiative supplies clothing for interviews and other career-related events for Southeastern students. Rotary members Deek and Lisa DeBlieux (left) met with Melissa Guerra of the Wesley Foundation (second from right) and Vice President for University Advancement and Executive Director of the Southeastern Foundation Wendy Lauderdale (far right) to provide the donation.

Forged in Family

Hear Jenkins’ story and explore what it takes to become a “Forged in Fire” champion.

While some students start their college journey wondering what their purpose in life will be, others have it all figured out, with a stop at university as just part of the game plan. But even then, life can be full of surprises.

While a freshman at Southeastern in the College of Science and Technology, industrial technology major Cade Jenkins earned the title of Champion on History Channel’s hit reality show Forged in Fire thanks to his incredible blacksmithing skills and his decision to continue a family legacy.

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In January, the Loranger resident competed against three other bladesmiths in four rounds to create the best blade and was crowned Champion of the episode titled “French Pioneer Sword,” winning a grand prize of $10,000.

“My grandfather was a full-time blacksmith for 30 years, and he is unable to continue because of health issues,” said Jenkins. “So, I decided to carry on the legacy.”

However, Jenkins’ decision to join the show was not an idea he came up with on his own. It was really his mother’s.

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“I was watching the show with my family, critiquing the contestants and the things they were doing wrong,” said Jenkins. “My mom said, ‘Why don’t you do it then and show them how it’s done?’ So, I applied for the show.”

Jenkins calls his time on the set of the reality show the greatest experience of his life.

“I competed against three great smiths and even better men,” said Jenkins. “We are still friends to this day. It was a huge challenge to complete, but in the end it was so worth it.”

When Jenkins was announced the winner, he and his family were excited, of course. However, the best reaction he received was from his grandfather.

“I was still in New York, which is where we filmed the show,” said Jenkins. “I called my grandparents and said ‘I just wanted to let y’all know I won,’ and heard my grandpa in the background holler like a little girl.”

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Jenkins started out as an architectural blacksmith, but he has since come to specialize as a bladesmith. He started learning blacksmithing at the age of 12, after spending much of his childhood doing carpentry and woodwork with his father, who works as a hobbyist carpenter. Woodwork would not turn out to be Jenkins’ niche, but it would lead him on the path to blacksmithing.

“I love making things,” said Jenkins. “When I was a kid, I started learning different crafts. I started casting metal, which is a little different. I actually learned how to crochet and how to sew. I just started picking up things really, really easily.”

Jenkins would soon seek out his grandfather to learn how to forge and would eventually master the skill, creating items like stair railing furniture, hinges, and custom knives.

“With blacksmithing, I never stopped learning,” said Jenkins. “So that’s why I fell in love with it—I just couldn’t stop learning new things.”

Jenkins is currently taking some time off from school to manage the demands of his business, but he is committed to completing his degree in industrial technology with a concentration in welding technology at Southeastern. He’s noted that his time at Southeastern has helped him learn even more about his craft. His future plans are to merge his skill set as a blacksmith with the new information he learns in his program at Southeastern to create works of art.

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“When learning how to blacksmith, I learned how to heat, treat, and temper metal, but I never knew the science behind my craft,” said Jenkins. “I only knew how to physically do it. In the little time I was at Southeastern, I have learned so much information that I have brought to my shop, and it has made me a better bladesmith and blacksmith.”

After graduating from Southeastern in the future, Jenkins hopes to combine his current knowledge of metallurgy through blacksmithing to become the best in the business.

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As for now—business is booming! Since the episode’s airing in early 2020, Jenkins’ blacksmithing business, Jenkins Blacksmithing, has received much exposure, which gave the business a major increase in customers and in Jenkins’ workload.

Jenkins expressed that during the taping of the show, he learned many new skills, most importantly time management and getting out of his comfort zone.

For many 18-year-olds, running a successful business solo at such a young age could be seen as “out of your comfort zone.” However, in Jenkins’ case, it seems more like something that comes with the territory of doing something you love. When it comes to Jenkins’ favorite thing about blacksmithing, he explains that it is his passion, along with the desire of his inner child.

“I may be 18, but like every man, I still have a 13-year-old boy inside of me who loves fire and beating on things,” said Jenkins. “It is a passion of mine, and every project has its own little story, because everything I make is made from scratch by hand.”

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Cade’s advice to others interested in blacksmithing? “Blacksmithing is not easy,” he says. “It’s really hard work. You’ve got to really love it to do it.” In terms of business advice, Jenkins advises to always remain focused: “Remember what your main goal is and keep that in mind.”

It’s evident in the craftsmanship and passion for his work at Jenkins Blacksmithing that he does love his craft. His main goal is clear: Even though he is a Champion, he will always work to become a better blacksmith than he already is.

For more information on Jenkins and his work, visit jenkinsblacksmithing.com.

By Brianna Hawkins and Ashley Richardson

Nationally Ranked OSH&E Program

Southeastern’s Occupational Safety, Health and Environment program has been ranked in the top 20 in the nation for affordability according to College Values Online. The organization ranks schools and programs, highlights features of the college experience, and provides career information for perspective students.

The only university in Louisiana included, Southeastern’s program was ranked ninth in the nation among 65 colleges and universities listed by the Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) College Navigator and reputable online sources that offer affordable occupational safety degree programs for less than $15,000 per year.

“This ranking can be attributed to the rigorous program that we offer, the standards that our faculty apply, the continuous improvement of curriculum and infrastructure, and the professional ties that we built with key industrial partners and employers,” said Mohammad Saadeh, Industrial and Engineering Technology department head.

“The collective impact of these efforts is manifested in this ranking, especially that the program was ranked 19th in 2015. It is remarkable to see this leap in a relatively short period. News like this brings attention to the great work that our faculty do in preparing qualified safety professionals equipped with relevant education according to the needs of the workforce.”

The criteria for ranking included regional or national accreditation, full or part-time completion pathways, and program and/or school rankings with U.S. News and World Report.

Southeastern’s program is nationally accredited by the Applied Science Accreditation Commission of ABET, Inc. The program grew from a two-year associate’s degree program to a four-year bachelor of science program following considerable input from managers at area industries that reported a significant need for health and safety professionals. The program prepares students for a variety of positions, including roles of safety engineers and safety supervisors.

For more information about the OSH&E program, email ietech@southeastern.edu or call 985-549-2189.

The full listing can be accessed here.

College of Nursing & Health Sciences Offering Two New Certificate Programs

Southeastern’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences has been approved by the Board of Regents to begin offering two new certificates within the college.

Beginning this fall, students can start taking classes toward earning certificates in Population Health Management and Digital Health Management.

“As a result of COVID-19, healthcare has demonstrated that it can innovate new delivery systems, such as telehealth, virtual care and home monitoring, technology, and population health,” said Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences Ann Carruth. “These certificates help prepare adults to be workforce ready and respond to these rapidly evolving delivery systems.”

Assistant Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences Ralph Wood said population health management has emerged as an important strategy for health care providers and payers.

“The Undergraduate certificate in population health management was developed to provide adult learners with job skills and knowledge that are in demand in today’s workforce,” he said. “The program is industry based, employer driven and was created to help fill the gaps in the current workforce talent pipeline. Certificate holders will be able to demonstrate needed labor skills supporting a growing health care industry.”

The certificate prepares adults to enhance skills to improve health within and across populations, Wood explained. Potential employment includes mid-level work settings, hospitals, health care clinics, consulting companies, government health services, insurance providers, community facilities, and not-for-profit, as well as managed care organizations.

The certificate requires 21 hours and includes course work in population health, chronic human disease states, health informatics, social determinants of health and health disparities, health coaching and behavior change, data management, and practical experience in interprofessional education and practice.

The Certificate in Digital Health Management is relevant for those seeking a degree or those who wish to enhance existing educational experience in digital health management, Wood said.

“The purpose of this certificate,” he said, “is to prepare adult learners for careers in healthcare with high demand knowledge and job skills related to electronic/personal health records, telehealth and remote patient monitoring technology, telecare, telemedicine, patient self-monitoring, ambient assisted living, and smart systems incorporating both on demand and scheduled telehealth visits in to daily clinical workflows, data management and analysis, and health informatics.”

The certificate requires 18 credit hours and includes course work in technology, chronic disease management, data analytics, health informatics, and project management.

For more information, contact the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at 985-549-3772 or cnhs@southeastern.edu.