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 for viewers in Washington Parish. The Southeastern Channel’s live 24/7 webcast and video on-demand are available at 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 or email

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 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