Best College Radio Station, TV Station, and More: Southeastern Earns Top Awards at SEJC

Southeastern Louisiana University earned the high praise of judges at the Southeast Journalism Conference earlier this month, bringing home first place awards in categories for both radio and television.

Southeastern media placed in the following categories: KSLU News ranked first for Best College Radio Station, Northshore News ranked first for Best College Video News Program, and The Southeastern Channel ranked first for Best College TV Station.

Students who placed in the Best of the South categories include the following: Connor Ferrill of Mandeville, first for Best Radio Journalist; Tyler Rogers of Hammond, first for Best Broadcast Advertising Staff Member; Parker Berthelot of Denham Springs, second for Best Television Hard News Reporter; Andrew Scherer of Mandeville, third for Best Television Feature Reporter; and Jessica Bowen of Denham Springs, seventh for Journalist of the Year.

Professor of Communication Amber Narro, past chair of the conference, said Southeastern’s team participated in onsite competitions during the conference, and students benefitted from workshops and networking with professionals who shared their work and experiences in photography, multi-media journalism, data driven journalism, and investigative reporting.

“The competitions evolve every year,” Narro said. “The workshops are geared for real jobs where students could develop their skills so it is relevant to the work they’ll be doing in the field.”

Participants from Southeastern Louisiana University who attended the Southeast Journalism Conference included, from left, Philip Trahan of Metairie, Raeleigh Joshlin of Deridder, Jessica Bowen of Denham Springs, Southeastern Professor of Communication Dr. Amber Narro, Peyton Sawyer of Robert, Victoria Rocquin of Gramercy, Connor Ferrill of Mandeville, Emily Garrett of St. Amant, Lorraine Weiskopf of Covington, Lily Gayle of Greensburg, and Elizabeth Benedict of Slidell.

Excellence in Theatre: Students Receive Awards and Training Opportunities at Kennedy Center Festival

Above image: Southeastern production of She Kills Monsters. Photograph by Rande Archer.

After competing at last year’s Region 6 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF), two Southeastern students, Miranda Miller and Matt Doyle, earned the opportunity to study with some of the best in their field.

Fourteen Southeastern students traveled with three faculty members to Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, to compete in a variety of categories including performance, directing and design, and technology. Doyle received two awards, the Barbizon Award for Excellence in Sound Design and the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas (SILV) Award for Excellence. Miller also received the SILV Award for Excellence. Three additional students placed as finalists.

Doyle and Miller both won for their sound design work on the highly-acclaimed Vonnie Borden Theatre production of She Kills Monsters.

Matt Doyle and Miranda Miller at the Region 6 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival
Matt Doyle and Miranda Miller

“This was one of our most successful years at the KCACTF Regional Festival,” said Jim Winter, associate professor of theatre. “I am incredibly proud of how admirably our students represented our university and our theatre program.”

As a result of winning the SILV Award, both Miller and Doyle had the opportunity to travel to Las Vegas for a one-week masterclass—an experience they’ll never forget. For winning the Barbizon Award for Excellence in Sound Design, Doyle additionally was afforded the chance to work with prominent theater professionals during an intensive week-long masterclass in Washington, DC, at the Kennedy Center.

“It was one of the best academic experiences I’ve ever had,” DoyIe said of this program. “I got to meet a dozen of the best college sound and lighting designers from across the country. Every night after the masterclass we would get together and share notes and thoughts until late, late, late, which was incredibly inspiring and helped me develop all kinds of new skills and ideas to take to my next design. We all still keep in touch and regularly bounce ideas off each other and get feedback. The networking opportunity was one of the best you can hope for, as I now know both established and up-and-coming professionals based around the country.”

Doyle graduated from Southeastern this past summer, bringing into his new career the skills and professional network that he acquired during both the program and his time at Southeastern. He is now an assistant news director at Louisiana Radio Network in Baton Rouge, producing NPR’s Talk Louisiana and Ask The Governor.

Contemporary Art Gallery

Louisiana is a state rich with culture. A state that does not simply embrace the arts at its surface, but is deeply intertwined with them in its soul.

While the first thoughts of many may jump to iconic locales such as New Orleans, with its distinct architecture and multitude of galleries and museums, the deep-seated, vibrant arts culture of Louisiana’s Northshore region is one that should not be overlooked. Its jewels may be more hidden away within the local communities, but for those who embrace them, they shine just as brightly.

Tucked away on Southeastern’s campus, at 100 East Stadium, is one such gem: the Contemporary Art Gallery. An extension of the Visual Art + Design Department, the gallery serves not only students and faculty but the community as well.

The gallery is devoted to presenting contemporary art exhibitions, lectures, and workshops and to providing a forum for contemporary art for students, the city of Hammond, and residents of the Northshore.

“Part of our mission is to bring contemporary art to campus, to the gallery, to show students and the public what is going on in the art world today in terms of cutting edge, new ideas,” explained Dale Newkirk, the gallery’s director and curator in addition to the department head of Visual Art + Design. “We bring in regional, national, and international [art]. There is more of a national focus, but we have also had artists from Europe, Africa, and Canada. We try to bring in people that the university and the community would be exposed to that they normally wouldn’t have access to.”

Dale Newkirk
Dale Newkirk

Upon passing between the gallery’s sandy columns then stepping though its unassuming glass front doors, a façade that blends seamlessly with the traditional red brick and concrete architecture of the surrounding buildings, a shockingly large 7,000 square feet of modern gallery space greets visitors. The gallery is actually the largest art space in the area and one of only two devoted to showing contemporary art.

While some stop in for a respite from their busy day or to take advantage of the quiet, serene environment to read, the exhibitions—which switch out eight times per year—are at the foundation of what draws people in. Popular past exhibitions have included Real to Not Real, a paintings show comprised of 20 artists “working in the gap between representational and nonrepresentational visual languages, bringing the two together”; a cell phone photography show that featured over 300 images taken by people all over the world; and a national tattoo arts show. Many of the exhibitions are not only innovative, but they feature topics that are relatable to Southeastern’s students—meeting them where they are and thus helping to better engage them and draw connections between objects and ideas, creating more meaningful learning experiences.

The other part of the Contemporary Art Gallery’s mission is, in fact, to serve these students and open up new possibilities for them. Each semester an exhibition is held showcasing the work of graduating art majors. This exhibition serves as the students’ thesis show and is part of the capstone course in their curriculum, with students putting everything they have learned over the years into it. This dedication has paid off for many of the students active with the gallery throughout their college careers by landing jobs at galleries and museums across the country, allowing them to continue to follow their passion.

Southeastern student installing artwork for an exhibition

The gallery is also used as a learning tool by groups across campus. “A lot of the art faculty bring their students over to talk about the shows and do various projects with the artwork,” said Newkirk. “The drawing classes come over and draw in the gallery. Faculty will come over and talk about content of the work. But other departments come over as well. The English department comes over regularly to have students write about work. Foreign language classes use the space a lot, and some of the teachers are devoted to coming over and having the students engage by using the works as a vehicle for exploring language.”

For students, faculty, and the general public alike, the gallery also hosts several events a year that provide a deeper insight into the current world of contemporary art. Evening opening receptions celebrate each new major exhibition and allow attendees to be among the first to explore the works on view while mingling with fellow art lovers.

Consisting of either a lecture or exhibition and tying in with both Fanfare and Homecoming activities, special programming is held each year in October for Southeastern alumni. The gallery additionally organizes an active and robust visiting artists program, which brings in about 10 artists each year. These reputable artists travel from all over the country to provide workshops and seminars at Southeastern.

The gallery also manages the Southeastern Fine Art Collection, which consists of over 350 works of art. These pieces are not only kept in the gallery’s collections storage room, but are installed around campus in public spaces where all can enjoy them. Portraits of former university presidents in the library and sculptures by world-renowned artists John Scott and Robert Warrens situated outside near popular student walkways are just a few examples of pieces that have been made highly visible. While the collection’s focus is on contemporary art of the Southeast, a wide variety of artworks and objects—from
works on paper and ceramics to sculpture and video—comprise the entire collection.

Furthering its efforts to serve students and expose the entire community to the current world of contemporary art, admission to the gallery and its popular public events is free of charge.


While many unfamiliar with Southeastern’s campus may not realize this vibrant, impactful resource exists, its ever-flowing reach permeates the artistic soil of the Northshore area, and of those who engage with it. As Newkirk remarked, “It’s part of creating a more rich life in this region.”

By Sheri Gibson

Celebrating Women’s History Month and More with Timely History and Political Science Lecture Series

Southeastern Louisiana University’s Department of History and Political Science hosts lecture series throughout the year, celebrating seasons and timely topics through the lens of history and political science.

The department sponsors of co-sponsors a program nearly every month of the year, including a Constitution Day Lecture in September, “Then and Now” lectures during Fanfare in October, a Veterans Day Lecture in November, the Southeastern Louisiana Historical Association Winter Meeting in December, Black History Month in February, Women’s History Month in March, the Matheny Lectures in Science and Religion in April, the Southeast Louisiana Historical Association Spring Meeting in May, and the Deep Delta Civil War Symposium in June.

Last month, the department provided a trio of talks in recognition of Black History Month. Topics included “Obstruction: African American Golfers and Southern Resistance in the Twilight of Jim Crow” by Chad Duffaut, “African Philosophy: Past and Future” by Peter Gratton, and “Mary Seacole: Breaking all Boundaries in the Victorian Age” by Samantha Cavell.

This month the tradition has continued with a series of three lectures in honor of Women’s History Month. “We have a diverse and interesting list of presentations this year,” said Bill Robison, head of the Department of History and Political Science. “We encourage everyone to join us in celebrating Women’s History.”

This current lecture series kicked-off on March 13 with a discussion by Professor of Political Science Margaret Gonzalez-Perez on female genital mutilation and the recent US legislation banning it. On March 19, Heather Duncan, a history and political science graduate student, delivered a presentation titled “Patrons of Prophecy: Oracular Practitioners in Ancient Greece.”

Rounding out the series is the final lecture by Lauren Doughty, instructor of history and political science, titled “Royal Women: Sexual Politics and the Gendering of Royal Authority.” Scheduled for March 27 at 1 p.m., the lecture will take place in Pottle Auditorium.

“Often marginalized or ignored, the women of West Saxon royal court nevertheless played a valuable role in securing and expanding royal authority. Limited by geography, politics, and economics, Anglo-Saxon kings increasingly relied on women of the court to secure their ascension, legitimize their reign, and retain dynastic power,” Robison explained. “Dominated by fraternal succession struggles, the West Saxon court relied on women to both produce heirs and rule as regent if necessary. The increasing power of the nobility through the ninth and tenth centuries threatened royal security, thus making the role of queen a vital component of a successful reign.”

For additional information about Southeastern’s Women’s History Month or other department-sponsored lectures, contact Robison at 985.549.2413 or

Lions Connected Earns National Honor

Lions Connected, a Southeastern Louisiana University Department of Teaching and Learning program that provides personalized, post-secondary educational experiences for individuals with intellectual disabilities, has received national recognition.

A comprehensive transition and post-secondary program approved by the US Department of Education, Lions Connected was named the Exemplary Program for Vocational Training and Transition from the American Council on Rural Special Education (ACRES).

Gerlinde Beckers, program coordinator and associate professor of education at Southeastern, said Lions Connected works closely with on-campus inclusive vocational opportunities, community partnerships, parents and college-age peer mentors. Socialization with typical peers, independent living and self-advocacy, career development and experience, knowledge, personal health, skills and enrichment are some specific goals with the ultimate goal to increase the quality of life for students through a college experience, she added.

“Lions Connected serves five parishes in southeast Louisiana, four of which meet rural population indicators,” said Beckers. “The program aims to address students from high poverty, rural parishes with limited resources and opportunities. I am thrilled Lions Connected received this award. So many people at Southeastern have worked very hard for Lions Connected to become a program worthy of being considered exemplary.”

Southeastern middle school special education / social studies major Emma Beckers has been working with Lions Connected since she was a high school student.

“I have been involved with Lions Connected since its first year through high school service learning. It only seemed natural for me to become a peer mentor when I started at Southeastern last fall,” she said. “Being involved with Lions Connected is like having a very diverse second family, where we all belong and help each other succeed.”

Now in its third year, Lions Connected is certified by the Department of Education and must meet student academic progress goals set according to the federal standards in the areas of class attendance, class participation, assignment completion, and life skills curriculum.

Theresa Danos, mother of Lions Connected charter member Adam Danos, said her son completed the program and has now moved on to employment.

“Adam is on the autism spectrum and although he functions at a very high level, he would not have been successful attending a traditional college program. Adam really expressed a desire to attend college, and the program provided him with this avenue. We are thrilled!”

Danos added that the inclusive vocational opportunity is a vital part of the program.
“Having the students leave with job skills and experience will benefit them for the rest of their lives,” she said. “So many individuals with learning issues end up unemployed, and we are so happy to support a program that provides hope and life-long learning skills.”

For more information on Lions Connected, contact Gerlinde Beckers at

Above image: From left are Chair of American Council on Rural Special Education Tina Hudson, Lions Connected Program Coordinator and Associate Professor of Education Gerlinde Beckers, Southeastern middle school special education  /  social studies major Emma Beckers, and Southeastern Teaching and Learning Department Head Colleen Klein-Ezell.

Department of Biological Sciences at the Cutting Edge of Uncovering Ants and Saving Salamanders

When you think of cute and cuddly critters, leafcutter ants and three-toed amphiuma are probably not the first creatures that come to mind. But members of the Southeastern Department of Biological Sciences have developed a true love for learning more about these little guys, as evidenced by their recently published research. Thanks to their highly-acclaimed, impactful work, we now know more about the extent to which ants cultivate their own food—and have possibly found the key to saving amphibians from extinction.

The leafcutter ant packs a lot of might in its tiny frame. Endemic to South and Central America, Mexico, and parts of the US—including western Louisiana and Texas—leafcutter ants can carry 20 times their own body weight. They can build underground nests that include over 1,000 chambers, with millions of ants living and working together, each with their own role. Leafcutter ants can strip a tree of its foliage in less than 24 hours. They bring this foliage back to their underground nests where they cultivate it in “gardens” to grow fungi, which they eat.


Southeastern Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences April Wright, along with collaborators from Rice University and the University of Texas–Austin, set out to prove another interesting aspect of these ants by providing factual evidence on the range of funguses that they actually cultivate. “For many years, it was thought that one species of ants would cultivate one type of fungus,” Wright said. “This work shows that different species of ants may share funguses, and may farm multiple types of fungus in their nests.”

April Wright 1
April Wright

Wright specializes in computational and mathematical methods for understanding the history of life on Earth. “The work I did sits at the intersection of statistics and biology,” she explained. “My collaborators used specialized technology to get DNA sequences from funguses grown by ants. I used several methods to estimate the phylogenetic relationships between these sequences.”

“To me, the most exciting part of this research was getting to participate in uncovering something that people have long suspected,” Wright continued. “While the dominant narrative has been that one ant will cultivate a narrow range of funguses, people who have carefully observed ants for a long time have known that the story is probably more complicated. It was my pleasure to be able to help represent the complexity that natural historians have observed in hard numbers and statistics.”

While fungus may be vital fuel for leafcutter ants, two types—Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, which cause the disease chytridiomycosis—have contributed to diminishing amphibian populations around the world. However, thanks to the research of Kenzie Pereira and her fellow team members, the future may now be brighter for these vulnerable species.

Pereira was a master’s degree student at Southeastern when she began this potentially life-saving study on the three-toed amphiuma alongside Southeastern faculty Brian Crother, David Sever, and Clifford Fontenot Jr; John Pojman Sr. of LSU; and Damian Wilburn of the University of Washington. She is now continuing her research as a PhD candidate at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Kenzie Pereira
Kenzie Pereira

The three-toed amphiuma, an eel-looking salamander, sports four vestigial legs that each have three toes, giving it its name. It is commonly found in Louisiana and several additional states in swamps, ponds, lakes, and other permanent bodies of slow moving water. Importantly, this slimy salamander also secrets antimicrobial substances onto the surface of its skin.

Image courtesy of Peter Paplanus

The potential properties of these substances intrigued Pereira, who began to study them with encouragement and guidance from her advisor Crother and thesis committee members Sever, Fontenot, and Pojman.

Pereira gently prodded salamanders to collect their skin secretions. She then sent these to Wilburn—who determined that they were probably antimicrobial—while also testing their effect on the growth of the two types of fungi in question in test tubes. Pereira was amazed to find that at certain doses the salamander’s skin secretions completely killed the potentially lethal fungi.

“Fungi are killing off amphibians at an alarming rate. If these secretions hold secrets to fungus resistance, her work could be responsible for helping save amphibians from extinction,” said Crother.

“Being able to explain why some salamander species are more vulnerable to the pathogen than others allows us to develop conservation strategies to better protect salamander biodiversity,” continued Pereira. “It is also exciting to be reminded that there is so much left to learn about animals that are found in our own backyards!”

Pereira, who plans on training another Southeastern master’s degree student to aid in additional studies on the role of skin secretions in protecting amphibians from disease, reflected on how her time at Southeastern led her to this impactful work. “Southeastern’s Department of Biological Sciences played a pivotal role in making this research possible by giving me the freedom and encouragement to explore my own curiosities and passion for amphibians. Further, without the abundant natural history collection within Southeastern’s Vertebrate Museum, the histological portion of this research may not have been possible.”

Wright has also taken an interest in the problems facing salamanders, recently co-authoring a study on the endangerment of 13 salamander species in Central Texas due
to overexploitation of groundwater. Conservation efforts are currently underway to help save these little critters.

Ants and three-toed amphiuma may not be the largest—or to many, the cutest—of creatures, but they are still an important part of our ecosystem. And thanks to the love for them demonstrated in the monumental research of Wright and Pereira, along with their team members, others may also begin to see them in new ways, getting a glimpse of their unique, amazing characteristics. The work of these members of our Southeastern family is not only important for increasing a scientific understanding of nature, it is additionally important for aiding a human understanding of the world around us and the other creatures that we share our planet with—including creatures that may have otherwise become lost to us forever.

By Sheri Gibson

College of Science and Technology Project is Helping Save Our Wetlands

Southeastern is no stranger to the marsh in the Lake Maurepas and Pass Manchac areas. In fact, the biology department has conducted many projects over the last few decades to study the decline of the area.

The problem was brought to light several years ago through the research of scientists, including Southeastern Professor of Biological Sciences Gary Shaffer. Shaffer has been studying Louisiana wetlands for years and has compiled a significant body of research on the impacts that logging of native trees, erosion, nutrient starvation, saltwater intrusion, herbivores such as nutria, and other factors are having on the deterioration of wetlands of southeast Louisiana.

He explained that the establishment of levees over the last century along the Mississippi River to eliminate natural flooding removed a once reliable source of fresh water, sediments, and nutrients that swamps require for healthy growth.

“This has enabled saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico to make further inland intrusions,” he said. “Combined with rising sea levels and the construction of massive canals, such as
the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), the intensity and frequency of saltwater intrusions has only grown worse. Consequently, most of the Maurepas Swamp appears to be in transition to marsh and open water.”

The findings are based on comparisons of selected groupings of sites in the southern wetlands of Lake Maurepas. The sites had three different levels of water quality: including stagnant and nearly permanently flooded areas, sites with severe saltwater intrusion, and sites that receive some freshwater runoff. Salinity levels appeared to be the major factor causing sites to rapidly deteriorate, with the most degraded areas located near Lake Pontchartrain or along the margin of Lake Maurepas.

Recently, Gerard Blanchard, professor of physics and undergraduate coordinator, and Southeastern physics / electrical engineering dual degree student Fawaz Adesina have
joined in the research efforts to study groundwater salinity in the Turtle Cove area, located on Pass Manchac between lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas. Encouraged by Rob Moreau, manager of Southeastern’s Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station, and aided by two grants through the Southeastern Center for Faculty Excellence, Blanchard and Adesina designed and installed at Turtle Cove the first of four groundwater salinity monitors that will be deployed in a line that is perpendicular to Pass Manchac. The monitors take daily readings at three different depths—10 cm, 20 cm, and 50 cm—to get a two-dimensional view of the salinity profile. “This improves on the current method, which uses manual weekly readings that do not distinguish the variations in salinity with depth,” Blanchard said. “The scientific goal is to build a physical model of the salt transport.

Blanchard has been collaborating with Shaffer on the project. Shaffer currently has wells in the marsh, where salinity levels are checked once a week to study the health of the marsh. “The higher the salinity levels in the marsh, the harder it is for things to grow, or for what used to be out there to grow,” said Blanchard. “Getting the salinity down is a big part of the restoration efforts.”

Blanchard said an equation is used to measure how the saltwater flows from one position to another and up and down. The data collected will hopefully identify the factors that cause the salt levels to change at different locations and help scientists determine if the levels are getting worse. Scientists are working on diverting the water from the Mississippi River into Lake Maurepas that will then flow through that area to try to preserve the marsh.

“When we get our information, we are going to try to fit the data with this equation. There are some unknowns and some constants that specify the exact type of soil, the sources, and how much evaporation exists,” Blanchard said. “With the data, we can specify the equation to that particular time and place. If we do it well, we can use that to predict future levels.”

Blanchard said the educational goal of the project is to give Adesina practical experience with electronics, instrument calibration, data analysis, and presentation of results. Adesina gained more experience than he bargained for with this project. Originally from Kenya, it was his first time in a boat when they installed the instrument.


“I was not prepared for that journey,” Adesina said. “It was a cold morning and we were on a boat in the middle of a cold lake going at high speed. The blowing air froze my face,
my nose was running and my fingers were so cold. But the opportunity of installing a device that I helped build was worth the whole experience.”

Adesina also expressed his excitement about the project helping prepare him for a career in his field.

“As a student, this project is an opportunity for me to prepare for the real world and to gain some research background,” he explained. “The knowledge of the electronics part of the project will be immensely helpful to me in my engineering classes and labs. The project also put me on the path of finally overcoming my fear of coding.”

The project, Adesina said, has not only helped him academically, but personally as well.

“I have learned to ask questions when I don’t understand things; I never used to ask questions,” he said. “It has taught me that patience is the key to success—or you’ll get burned by a soldering iron. This project has given me many experiences that I would not have gotten in a class, and that is the main purpose of working on research as an undergraduate. It is the extracurricular activities that help you in class and help you
decide what you want to do in the future.

“Southeastern has a way of making you feel at home, while also training you to venture into the real world and how to communicate with people from different backgrounds and break down barriers,” he said. “Through conferences, on-campus job interviews, seminars, and even talking to professors on campus, my communication skills, as well as my people skills, have improved.

“I have always loved to take things apart and see how they work, and the chance for me to actually build something with my own hands is like a dream come true.”

Student Fawaz Adesina (front) and Physics Professor Gerard Blanchard (back) install a groundwater salinity monitor in Pass Manchac.
By Tonya Lowentritt

New Book Co-Edited by Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Raul E. Diaz Jr.

Southeastern Assistant Professor of Biology Raul E. Diaz Jr. has co-edited a new book titled Heads, Jaws, and Muscles: Anatomical, Functional, and Developmental Diversity in Chordate Evolution. The 303 page tome, published by Springer, was designed to be straightforward and easy to understand while increasing understanding of the vertebrate head in a unique multidisciplinary manner.

Dr. Raul E. Diaz Jr.

Publisher’s Summary by Springer:
The vertebrate head is the most complex part of the animal body and its diversity in nature reflects a variety of life styles, feeding modes, and ecological adaptations. This book will take you on a journey to discover the origin and diversification of the head, which evolved from a seemingly headless chordate ancestor. Despite their structural diversity, heads develop in a highly conserved fashion in embryos. Major sensory organs like the eyes, ears, nose, and brain develop in close association with surrounding tissues such as bones, cartilages, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. Ultimately, this integrated unit of tissues gives rise to the complex functionality of the musculoskeletal system as a result of sensory and neural feedback, most notably in the use of the vertebrate jaws, a major vertebrate innovation only lacking in hagfishes and lampreys. The cranium subsequently further diversified during the major transition from fishes living in an aquatic environment to tetrapods living mostly on land. In this book, experts will join forces to integrate, for the first time, state-of-the-art knowledge on the anatomy, development, function, diversity, and evolution of the head and jaws and their muscles within all major groups of extant vertebrates. Considerations about and comparisons with fossil taxa, including emblematic groups such as the dinosaurs, are also provided in this landmark book, which will be a leading reference for many years to come.


Professional Sales Education Growing and Earning Accolades

With an eye to the dynamic nature of business today, Southeastern’s new marketing concentration in professional sales provides real-world experiences in what many executives call the single most important function in any business—sales.

According to statistics produced by the Sales Education Foundation, sales as a discipline plays an important role in both the economy and the professional lives of today’s college graduates. A recent Harvard Business Review article stated that nationally, over 50 percent of college graduates will take on a role in professional sales at some point in their career. That percentage grows to 88 percent for marketing majors. However, only three percent of colleges in the United States offer a professional sales program. In 2017, Southeastern moved forward to enter this growing area with its own program.

Students who graduate from university sales programs, when compared to their non-sales educated peers, fare better in the workplace. They receive an average of 2.8 employment offers before they graduate; experience, on average, over 90 percent job placement; ramp up 50 percent faster with standard company training; have a current average starting salary of $60,000/year; and 77 percent report high career satisfaction.

Southeastern prides itself on working with regional companies to respond to industry needs—the development of curricula in industrial technology and welding inspection are recent examples. The professional sales program is no different.

“Our Marketing Degree Advisory Board was instrumental in confirming the need for graduates with specialized sales training. We also had many companies reaching out to us looking for students interested in going into sales positions,” said Dean of the College of Business Antoinette Phillips.

Once it was obvious that the need was high, Dr. Tará Burnthorne Lopez and Ms. April Field Kemp, marketing faculty members in the College of Business, worked to get the program started. The program helps students differentiate themselves in the job market by enhancing their analytical and tactical skill sets, focusing on consultative selling, relationship building, and developing trusted long-term partnerships with clients.

According to Phillips, “The professional sales concentration was approved to begin in the fall of 2016, but real momentum began in Spring of 2018 when the first Advanced Professional Sales course was offered, and Southeastern students began competing in on-campus and regional sales competitions. We had been teaching an Introduction to Personal Selling course for many years, but we wanted to offer a deeper level of sales
training for our students.”

Sales Coach

The core sales curriculum consists of courses in Personal Selling, Advanced Professional Selling, and Sales Management, and is supported with other marketing courses in Consumer Behavior, Marketing Research, and Marketing Strategy. Because the current goal is to prepare students for success in the sales profession, the program has been developed for marketing majors with a future goal of including those majoring in areas outside of business who wish to pursue a sales certificate.

“We know that professional sales is not only a starting point for careers, but is becoming more and more important across all sectors of the economy. With the proliferation of technology, data analytics, and CRM applications, the role of the salesperson has become significantly more sophisticated as have the skills needed to be successful. The Southeastern professional sales program will help train the next generation of sales leaders,” said Phillips.

The success of an academic program can be seen in several ways—student interest, industry interest, and third party accolades. After only one year up and running, the professional sales program has achieved all three.

The strength and effectiveness of the program is already being recognized. This past year Southeastern’s sales concentration was named one of the top professional sales programs by the Sales Education Foundation. Student numbers were immediately strong and businesses from all over were looking to participate through support, sponsorships, and recruitment for interns and graduates. “We’ve been very fortunate that the program started off so strong with so much support,” said Kemp.

As the program got off the ground well over 30 companies have shown interest in participating in some way, many making financial commitments. Most recently Northwestern Mutual has sponsored the program at a significant level. Through a generous financial commitment, professional sales students will learn in a new Northwestern Mutual Training Room, to be located in Garrett Hall, with renovations to the existing space set to begin early this year. Steven Dugal, managing partner of the Mississippi and Louisiana offices, as well as Paul Hodge, managing director of the Mandeville and Gulfport offices, are supporting the initiative. “We are excited to get involved in Southeastern’s sales program. From our experience at other universities, sales students ramp up faster than non-sales students, have lower turnover, and are more prepared for the workforce” said Dugal.

“The investment that Northwestern Mutual is making demonstrates that the program is on the right track. We are really appreciative of their support,” concluded Phillips.


Sales Team Earns Awards at Bayou Sales Challenge

A team of seven Southeastern Louisiana University students successfully competed in the Bayou Sales Challenge, a role-play competition held recently at Nicholls State University.

Members of the sales team included Mary Graves of Kentwood; Alee Hess of Belle Chasse; Austin Rogers of Denham Springs; India Williams of Baton Rouge; and Garrett Buras, Danyel James, and Taylor Windom, all of Covington.

In only Southeastern’s second time participating in the competition, Hess won the Individual Sales Competition, the highest honor of the sales challenge, while Buras and Graves won the Team Selling Competition, said April Kemp, marketing and sales instructor and professional sales program coach.

Overall Southeastern earned three of the top five spots after the first round of competition and four of the top 10 spots after the wildcard round against six other universities, including Florida State, LSU, Nicholls, Southern, University of Louisiana – Lafayette, and Xavier.

“I am so proud of our students’ performance at the Bayou Sales Challenge. Their hard work and preparation did not go unnoticed,” Kemp said. “Having success in these competitions brings recognition to what we are doing at Southeastern to prepare students for sales careers.”

During the competition, Kemp added, the participants gain real-world sales experience through complex role-play scenarios.

“It encourages the students to develop essential sales skills and business acumen, while interacting with business professionals who sponsor and judge the event,” she said. “It also gives them an opportunity to interview with companies who are looking to hire graduates to work in sales.”

Kemp said 44 students competed in the event. Students engaged in a series of 15-minute sales calls, taking on the role of sales personnel for Gartner, the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company. Participants advanced through a series of three rounds of role-playing, each increasing in difficulty and competition.

For more information about the professional sales program, visit

Above image: From left, are Tara’ Lopez, associate professor of marketing; sales team members India Williams, Danyel James, Mary Graves, Alee Hess, Austin Rogers, Garrett Buras, and Taylor Windom; and April Kemp, marketing and sales instructor.