Nathan Ponder, Ph.D.
Dr. Nathan Ponder is a native of Ruston, Louisiana, and holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Tulane University. He has been Chair of the Mathematics and Physical Sciences Department at LSUA since 2010. He has also served in interim leadership positions in the Office of the Registrar, the Department of Biological Sciences, the Department of Arts, English, and Humanities. Dr. Ponder was co-PI on two successful NSF grants totaling almost $2 million.
The Louisiana State University of Alexandria has been awarded a $432,033 grant by the Board of Regents of the State of Louisiana. The grant is part of the Departmental Enhancement Program and will be utilized for enhancing the biology curriculum through undergraduate research productivity.
Dr. Nathan Sammons and Dr. Carol Corbat, both professors in the LSUA Department of Biological Sciences, co-authored (with contributions from all of the faculty within the Department) the grant proposal submitted last fall for review by a discipline-based panel of out-of-state consultants. Of the 173 proposals submitted to the Board of Regents, LSUA was pleased to be ranked second, just behind Tulane University.
“I’m still so stunned,” said Corbat. “I never in the world thought we’d receive this award the first year we applied.”
The grant is to be awarded over the next five years and, per the Board of Regents final report, will enhance the undergraduate research program at LSUA through curriculum modification, infrastructure changes to support cellular-molecular biology research, and the creation of a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE).
The Department faculty will spend the first year developing the curriculum logistics and purchasing research equipment. Implementation of the programs will begin in year two.
The upgrade to equipment in the Department will provide more opportunities for students and faculty to have research published in high-profile research journals. Current LSUA equipment has been a hindrance because of its age. The instrumentation to be purchased is the “Next Generation” of its kind which includes the ability to sequence and quantify DNA at a high level of precision.
The revamp in the undergraduate curriculum seeks to attract those students who aren’t initially research driven.
“The goal is to reach a new demographic. As a University, we will always have students who know they want to do research before they ever come to campus. We want to attract those students who don’t realize this is something they can do, or have interest in, until they get here,” said Sammons.
The first step in implementing this new curriculum includes a modification to the introductory biology course which will incorporate a research component. Students can then choose to take a research intensive path throughout the rest of the degree program.
Another one of the driving factors for the creation of this advanced program derives from data.
“Data has shown that increasing the opportunities students have for undergraduate research, increases student success. This includes higher graduation rates, deeper engagement in science, and the continuation to advanced degrees,” said Sammons.
The grant funding will have a significant impact on the students and faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences, but also the University as a whole.
Per the consultant’s comments, “It (the proposal) directly supports the departmental and institutional missions to provide quality instruction, experiential learning, and innovative teaching to LSUA students, to ensure student success and to provide a robust academic environment.”