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Loyola biological science majors selected as CREST Scholars

Loyola press release - May 7, 2007

(New Orleans)—During 2006-07, two Loyola University New Orleans biological sciences majors, Randy Englert and Rachel Nuwer, were selected as Coastal Restoration and Enhancement Through Science and Technology (CREST) scholars.

Loyola is one of the partner institutions from southeastern Louisiana and Mississippi that form the alliance known as the CREST Program. Funding for the program comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). CREST makes $10,000 available to each of its constituent institutions to support research by students. The goal of the program is to, “Help policymakers, planners and coastal resource managers use the latest science and best technologies to ensure sustainable and productive coastal habitats and communities.” A portion of the funding provides stipends and research expenses for graduate and undergraduate students involved in coastal restoration research; these students are known as CREST scholars.

“This is a great way to actually keep interest in the program, particularly among the small institutions. It’s nice to think that students can get something out of it for a relatively small amount of money,” said Piers Chapman, Ph.D., director of the CREST Office.

Randy Englert is a junior biology major CREST scholar from Chalmette, LA, working with biology professors Don Hauber, Ph.D., David White, Ph.D., and Craig Hood, Ph.D., on a project evaluating the impact of the common reed (Phragmites australis) on coastal marshes in the Mississippi River delta. One of the distinctions of this variety is its aggressive growth behavior which has made it a particular nuisance in coastal marshes on the East Coast. Englert’s research, “Development of molecular markers to identify genotypes of common reed in the Mississippi River delta,” is part of an effort to help manage the valuable, productive interior marshes of the delta by differentiating the invasive, Euro-Asian reed from other non-invasive varieties.

Rachel Nuwer is a senior biology major CREST scholar from Biloxi, MS, working with professor David White on, “Primary productivity within the marshlands of the Mississippi River delta,” to understand the details of plant growth processes on recently formed lands. Nuwer’s research will give managers of the lands information on food sources for resident and migratory waterfowl. In addition to the field and lab effort, Nuwer is completing a thorough literature review on the subject of the methodology used in marshland plant production studies. The results of Nuwer’s research will enhance the field technologies that are used to understand the importance of Louisiana’s wetlands.

Both Nuwer’s and Englert’s research projects are focused on the lands of the “bird foot” delta, about a two hour automobile/boat drive from Loyola University. Both projects take place on Delta National Wildlife Refuge, one of the oldest national wildlife refuges in the nation. The wetland ecosystems of this area are a microcosm of the larger Louisiana coastline impacted by both human presence and Mother Nature. The technologies used in the Loyola research will therefore be easily applied to the greater good of wetland protection and understanding. The NOAA supported CREST scholars program focuses on this greater applicability and to that end each CREST scholar has to report their results at a scientific meeting to the benefit of a larger community of wetland biologists.

White comments that many of Loyola’s biology students at Loyola focus solely on the pre-health world of biology. He feels that the opportunity to be a CREST scholar and to do work in coastal restoration, work which so closely ties to the world in which Loyola students live, will be a draw to those students interested in the non-health related aspects of biology.

Most of the other institutions that are involved in the CREST program have graduate programs. White says there is difficulty in capturing students for this kind of work at the undergraduate level. The location of Loyola, however, makes it an attractive institution for wetland research and strongly weighs in its favor, making its scholars competitive even with graduate institutions.

“The Loyola biology faculty are so well positioned to do our research at the mouth of the Mississippi relative to the other institutions,” White said.

“This is a good way to get students interested in the problem [of wetland restoration],” said Chapman. “I’m really pleased that we can do this.”

Loyola University New Orleans is a Jesuit-Catholic institution with a total student enrollment of 4,724 including 800 law students.