Catching the Storm

Southeastern student Coby Sanchez has turned a fear of storms into a passion for understanding them and sharing information to help others—becoming “Southeastern’s first meteorologist.”

When Southeastern freshman and Baton Rouge native Coby Sanchez was a small child, storms were the boogeyman. As the wind roared and the tinny sound of rain reverberated off the windows and roof, little Coby would become more and more frightened, the outside world seeming to slide into dangerous, uncontrollable chaos. “Momma, I don’t want there to be a tornado!” he would cry inconsolably.

Then in 2008, Coby experienced a storm that would forever change his life: Hurricane Gustav. Gustav tore across Hispaniola, Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba before making landfall in the U.S. near Cocodrie, Louisiana, as a category two hurricane. It lashed the Gulf Coast, creating about $6 million (in 2008 dollars) in damages in the U.S., 1.5 million power outages in Louisiana alone, and a spark in one local boy who lived through it.

After hours of white-knuckled fear, watching towering trees fall and roofs ripped off of homes, the pounding rain and roaring winds finally subsided—and Coby knew that if he were to ever conquer his biggest fear, he would have to better understand it. Eventually, instead of cowering from storms, he would seek them out, chasing them and studying their mysteries. No longer just to put himself at ease, and above even an unquenchable thirst for more knowledge, his ultimate mission has evolved to help others better prepare for and survive the wrathful monsters that so terrified him as a child.

Coby Sanchez

“The importance of studying storms and meteorology to me is saving lives,” said Coby. “As humans, we’re curious about nature. We want to have a visual within a storm to see what’s going on, what’s happening. But being prepared and preparing other people, residents in cities and states that will be impacted, that’s the whole point of meteorology. Because these are dangerous storms. They can take lives. I’d love to help prevent that.”

Over the ensuing years, Coby has pursued countless storms, from riding them out and investigating their aftermath to studying their characteristics and patterns from afar. While still in high school, he even received certification as a National Weather Service (NWS) SKYWARN® storm spotter, a program that, according to NWS, allows volunteers to “help keep their local communities safe by providing timely and accurate reports of severe weather to the National Weather Service.” He additionally shares the information that he gathers as a certified member of the Spotter Network.

Coby plans to one day turn his passion for storm chasing into his career, informing mass audiences by becoming a meteorologist and television weatherman, hopefully even following in the footsteps of renowned Weather Channel on-camera meteorologists like Jim Cantore and Tevin Wooten. So when it came time to begin choosing a college, the opportunities presented by Southeastern and the Southeastern Channel—winner of over 400 awards since its inception in 2002 and the only university channel in Louisiana to have ever won an Emmy, let alone have done it 20 times—immediately caught his attention. The Southeastern Channel has won first place in the nation 11 times at the National Student Production Awards given by College Broadcasters, Inc. and has been named “Best Television Station in the South” eight times by the Southeast Journalism Conference. Southeastern’s strong reputation of caring was also a plus for Coby.

“I heard a lot of great things about Southeastern,” said Coby. “At Southeastern, in my experience, they care. They definitely care to help and better you as a student and as a person for the future.”

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Along with this, he recognized how the Southeastern Channel would be a perfect fit with his career goals. “After college, I’d love to go straight into meteorology, if possible. Working with the Southeastern Channel will give me that experience which would better my chances of getting a job.”

So in the fall of 2020, as the most record-breaking hurricane season ever recorded was still gearing up, Coby enrolled at Southeastern.

The Southeastern Channel, which Coby knew would be the perfect way to gain invaluable, hands-on experience while also sharing some of his own expertise, did not currently have a weather segment. Undaunted, he approached Southeastern Channel General Manager Rick Settoon about incorporating one.

“I’ve always wanted to have a weather segment for student training and experience at the Southeastern Channel, especially for those who would like to do the weather, and a lot of things have come together to make that happen,” said Rick. “One is having a student who’s knowledgeable enough about weather with a strong career focus of becoming a TV meteorologist, someone who’s dedicated to developing a regular segment. Coby has that laser focus and can become the real trailblazer in this regard.”


Rick and Coby are partnering together to begin building a program for adding weather segments to the Southeastern Channel, identifying and learning the appropriate programs, tools, and approach. Since Coby is not yet a certified meteorologist, he will convey rather than create weather predictions in order to effectively bring local forecasts and weather reports to Southeastern students and the surrounding community.

“I tell students all of the time that at the Southeastern Channel our mission is to help make their dreams come true,” said Rick. “We’ve done that for students who’ve become professional news anchors and reporters, sportscasters, producers, writers, directors, videographers, editors, and filmmakers. We plan to do that for Coby with weathercasting. So it’s the perfect fit.”

Although he’s still in his first year at Southeastern and the weather segment at the Channel is still taking shape in development, Coby, who plans to one day round out his experience at Southeastern by attending meteorology school, has already learned a great deal.

“Working with the Channel has given me first-hand experience of working for a news channel. That’s the closest I’ll get until actually landing a job like that,” he said. “It’s taught me how to work programs like Premiere Pro, which is a computer-based program for video editing. And most importantly, it’s taught me to be more open and step out of my comfort zone. Because when interviewing people or anchoring segments, you can’t be scared. You’ve got to just do it. And if you mess up, you keep going.”

Delta_2020-10-06_1340Z“A weather segment will help students like Coby who plan to eventually attend meteorology school and also those who can get jobs at local stations where they don’t require a meteorology degree to do weather,” said Rick.

In addition to helping build the weather segment so that future students with a similar passion can also gain such an experience, Coby dove into the chance to capture the historic, seemingly endless, 2020 hurricane season, reporting on Hurricane Zeta from the field for the Channel’s Northshore News program. He chased a total of five hurricanes that came into the Gulf and was in Hurricane Sally and Hurricane Zeta as the eyewall actually came ashore.

While the season was one that he will definitely never forget, his venture into Zeta was particularly eventful. Coby described how, despite careful planning, downed equipment left him and his aunt, who shares his love of storm chasing, to ride out the hurricane in their vehicle.

“I went to Slidell and was getting some footage for the Southeastern Channel, and a Doppler radar temporarily lost signal, so I was not able to get that radar feed from my velocity radar like I wanted. By the time it updated and came back online, it was too late. The eyewall was hitting, so we had to pull over at a gas station near the Twin Spans. And when it hit, it came with a punch. There were winds that topped off at maybe 100 miles per hour. I was actually planning on getting out to get footage for the Channel of me in that wind. I could not open the door. I actually tried using my feet to open it. I could not push the door. The car was shaking.”

With nothing else around but a gas station, Coby and his aunt moved to hunker down behind the gas station, away from the awning which Coby feared could be snapped off and lifted away like an umbrella at any moment.


Despite the precarious situation that Coby found himself in during Zeta, which certainly also caused some nail-biting worry and fervent prayer on the part of his parents, Coby did say that safety is at the top of his mind when planning to go out into a storm.

He begins the process by watching the news, checking the radar, plotting where he will be and where all of the exits and alternate routes are, and checking to see which radars he will use and if any are damaged or out of service. Food, water, and battery for recharging his phone are packed. Throughout the storm he uses RadarScope, which has two radar feeds—velocity radar for understanding the wind speed and identifying spinups or tornados and a precipitation depiction for seeing the rain.

B6485CA3-B71F-4C62-BA0D-1A57AA1A0F06Coby mentioned that there is always an unpredictable aspect to storms, which is why preparing as much as possible is so important. However, it’s also part of their beauty. “It’s always a new experience with each storm. Each storm has its own feeling—own unique aspect, or character, within it.”

By the time it was over, the 2020 season produced 30 named storms, 13 hurricanes, and 6 major hurricanes (with top winds of 111 mph or greater). Records were broken for the most named storms, the most named storms to make landfall in Louisiana (five), the strongest storm (Hurricane Laura) to hit Louisiana since 1856, the first time a hurricane eye has passed over New Orleans in more than half a century (Hurricane Zeta), the most storms to form in a single month (five in September), only the second time in history forecasters had to move to the Greek alphabet for names, and more.

Coby has experienced and tracked other storms, including being caught in a few isolated tornados and interviewing survivors in the aftermath of an EF4 tornado in Southern Mississippi. But hurricanes remain the most intriguing to him. And he sees plenty of opportunities in the future for studying them.

“For future hurricane seasons, or any type of weather, I do think they could potentially get stronger over time,” commented Coby. “I think it will be years, maybe even decades, but I do believe climate change and global warming will eventually fuel future hurricanes. I think they will strengthen in size and category. I believe even the way meteorologists predict the weather or the way we learn about the weather could eventually change.”


But for now, Coby is continuing to soak in all he can about meteorology while gaining real-life experience on how to effectively inform others of what may lie ahead.

“I wake up, and I’m excited to go to work and learn something new,” Coby said of being at Southeastern and a part of the Southeastern Channel. “I’m excited to get this thing started, working on the green screen and eventually adding that weather segment. It’s a dream come true.”

Through a yearning for knowledge and a desire to help others, Coby has transformed his dark, incomprehensible monster of wind and water into what appears to be a radiant and deeply fulfilling future.

By Sheri Gibson

Southeastern Graduates Have Least Student Loan Debt in the State

Southeastern graduates have the least student loan debt out of all the universities in Louisiana, according to statistics recently released by LendEDU. The average debt per borrower for Southeastern’s graduating class of 2019 was ranked No. 1 for least debt and No. 36 for lowest debt nationwide.

In Louisiana, the average debt per student borrower is $23,855, the seventh lowest in the nation. Fifty-one percent of Louisiana students graduated with debt.

Southeastern graduates reported an average debt of $19,356, 1.93 percent less than the previous year.

“For over 95 years now, Southeastern has been dedicated to our students’ success,” said Southeastern President John L. Crain. “Part of that focus on student success is sensitivity to the cost of a college education. A Southeastern education is an incredible value and always has been. We have a long-standing tradition of programs and initiatives that help keep a Southeastern degree accessible and affordable.”

He pointed to two examples: the Southeastern Promise, which provides a four-year path to degree completion that comes with a fixed net tuition guarantee for participants, and the university’s textbook rental program, which saves students thousands of dollars while attaining their degrees.

The statistics stem from a voluntary survey conducted annually by Peterson’s College Data. The complete study can be found online here

By Tonya Lowentritt

TikTok Cop


Community policing is a challenge for every police department across the United States. This is no different for campus police departments. They deal with the same challenges as every police department in the country when trying to connect to the community. Southeastern, through the work of one dedicated individual, has found itself at the forefront of community policing in the digital age.

Officer Madison “Madi” Morse had an idea back in March of 2020. With the University shutting down because of COVID-19, the University Police Department (UPD) was presented with a challenge. How were they going to stay connected to a community that was experiencing a shutdown like never before? One Word: TikTok.

TikTok is a short-form video platform that allows users to upload videos of any subject imaginable. The user can then edit the video, put music to it, and add effects and stickers. Creativity is the limitation of the platform. TikTok has over 800 million users as of January 2021, 41 percent of whom are between the ages of 18 and 25.

With those demographics in mind, Officer Madi saw that TikTok was the perfect platform to reach students while they were working from home. The options were limitless in ways she could connect with students. From dancing in Friendship Circle to offering a 60-second tour of campus and everything in between, Officer Madi started to build up the platform as a great tool for UPD. Students loved to see the places they knew around campus and what Officer Madi was going to do next. Then a fellow officer dared Officer Madi to put a traffic cone on her head for a video.

Big, small, and every color you could imagine. Officer Madi had a cone for every situation. Through quick wit and some creative replies, Officer Madi became known as the “Cone Cop.” She is a viral sensation with some of her videos seen as many as five million times.

Officer Madi put Southeastern and UPD on the map in the law enforcement world when it comes to community policing. Departments from across the country have been reaching out to UPD to find out how it reached 170,000 followers.

Chief Michael Beckner believes that this sort of interaction is crucial when it comes to developing a rapport with the people you police. It “humanizes the badge” and shows that police officers are just men and women doing a job and trying to keep the public safe. Southeastern UPD also has the “Blue and You” initiative, which is a program that encourages a partnership between campus police and the Southeastern community. Campus officers encourage interactions with students by patrolling high pedestrian areas and conducting events such as handing out water the first week of classes.

As the University has opened back up, Officer Madi has used her new platform to expand awareness of the goings-on at the UPD by producing videos on safety classes, campus events, and community awareness. For her efforts Officer Madi was recently named Southeastern Police Department Officer of the Year.

So whether it’s online or on campus, take a moment to congratulate our very own “TikTok Cop,” Officer Madi Morse. You can also follow Officer Madi and the Southeastern UPD on TikTok via @SoutheasternUPD.

By Allen Cutrer

Commemorating 100 Years of Grit and Grace

Sims Memorial Library is hosting the popular traveling exhibit Determined to Rise: The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Louisiana, commemorating the challenges and triumphs of the women’s suffrage movement up to the 100th anniversary of ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

The exhibit, which will be on view at Sims through Aug. 31, features eight panels focused on Louisiana suffragists, the African-American woman’s experience with women’s suffrage, a timeline of significant events, laws pertaining to women’s rights after gaining the vote, and federal and Louisiana female advocates who have made their mark on history.

The Centennial Women’s Suffrage Project team at Southeastern developed the exhibit with grant support from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Rebirth grant program.

The project launched at Southeastern in 2019. The team partnered with the National Women’s History Museum, Preserve Louisiana, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, and the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources regional program. The project leaders have engaged in scholarly discourse through presentations, panel discussions, a one-day conference, a virtual institute for K-12 educators, and a traveling exhibit.

“Our future plan is to look at funding a documentary on Louisiana suffragists,” said Angela Dunnington, librarian and project team member. “We want to tell the Louisiana story and air that documentary on local television channels.”

For more information, contact Dunnington at 985-549-3485 or at

By Tonya Lowentritt

Cypress Trophy Dedicated to Two Southeastern Alumni

The first women’s softball game between Northwestern State University and Southeastern Louisiana University was played in 1985, but it wasn’t until three and a half decades later, in 2019, that the Southland Conference rivals established an official rivalry and its trophy.

With their passion to promote and advance women’s collegiate athletics, specifically softball, Marcia and Cameron Barr approached the two universities with their idea for The Cypress Trophy to be awarded to the winner of the annual softball series between the Lady Demons and Lady Lions.

The bald cypress is the official state tree of Louisiana, beautifully landscaping scenic bayous, lakes, and waterways stretching between and beyond the state’s oldest settlement and its strawberry capital. The needles of the bald cypress are flat and yellow-green in summer, turning rusty orange in autumn, reflectively symbolic of the respective athletic programs. The Barrs graciously donated a young cypress tree to both universities for planting at their softball facilities.

Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity, of which Cameron was a member and major influencer before his passing in December 2020 made the inaugural presentation of The Cypress Trophy on March 30, 2019, to the Lady Demons who swept the three-game series.

May 7-9, 2021, several members of the Sig Tau Family traveled to Natchitoches for the three-game series and dedication of the trophy in honor of Marcia and Cameron Barr.