Dean’s Circle Projects

A portion of your Dean's Circle gift goes toward the college endowment. The other portion is designated for faculty research. Many of these proposals and funded projects become larger grant proposals from regional and national entities. Your gift is an essential part of our research mission and improving quality of life across the lifespan.

2019/2020 Dean's Circle Funded Projects*

*Note: Due to COVID-19, some projects may be extended and/or temporarily suspended. 

Examining the Efficacy of a Worksite Yoga Intervention to Improve Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Among Firefighters

Firefighters routinely experience traumatic events as a function of their daily occupational duties, which increases their risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress symptomatology (PTSS). Firefighter post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) prevalence rates are estimated to range between 17% and 22%.13  Comparison of these estimates with the lifetime (6.1%) prevalence of PTSD among US adults indicates that firefighters are a high-risk group for experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTSS).  Prolonged exposure to stress, such as the case with the current COVID-19 pandemic, further compounds the issue and emphasizes the relevance of this study.  COVID-19-related stressors for firefighters include an increased workload (i.e., upsurge in medical calls), fear of infection, lack of personal protective equipment, and time spent away from families. Mindfulness-based physical activity, specifically yoga, potentially offers a culturally appropriate and effective treatment modality for PTSS experienced by firefighters.  A growing body of empirical evidence suggests that yoga is effective in reducing PTSS and may address the neurobiological consequences of trauma. Though yoga programs are gaining traction with the fire service, research examining the outcomes of these programs remains scarce. 

This study will aims to examine an interdisciplinary approach to ameliorating firefighter PTSS and may provide information on how firefighters respond to and recover from prolonged stress resulting from COVID-19.  Using four validated instruments to assess levels of PTSS, baseline measures will be assessed at two time points prior to the intervention.  Then an 8 week intervention of twice weekly yoga classes will be administered at 6 fire stations. A total of 120 firefighters will be recruited for the study. Semi-structured interviews of purposefully selected participants will be conducted at the midpoint of the study.  At the conclusion of the intervention, post test levels of PTSS will be assessed. Eight weeks later a follow-up assessment of PTSS will be administered and focus group interviews will be conducted.  Quantitative data will be analyzed to assess the effectiveness of the intervention in lowering PTSS, and analysis of the qualitative data will provide insight into the firefighters' perspectives of the strengths and weaknesses of the intervention. Taken together, the findings will provide evidence that will inform efforts to promote mental health in first responders.

Neighborhood Assessment for Closing the Homework Gap: Providing Mobile Homework Help and Wifi for East Baton Rouge Parish Underserved and Homeless Children and Teens

This proposal is for preliminary work necessary for writing an external grant proposal for an expansion of public library resources to include outreach to children and teens in Baton Rouge’s poorest neighborhoods to begin to bridge the “homework gap” between those students who have internet access at home and those who do not. The current global coronavirus pandemic, which has largely confined residents to their homes and away from the school and public library resources on which they depend for homework assistance and resources, has exacerbated the existing gap. The proposed expansion of services would be a collaboration between the East Baton Rouge Parish Library (EBRPL) and LSU. It will include sending one of the library’s bookmobiles to selected sites in these neighborhoods, including homeless shelters that shelter children and teens, to provide onsite homework help and information literacy instruction. The library would be staffed by at least one children’s and one teen librarian, would include a collection of homework-relevant materials, and would include laptops and mobile wifi hotspots for use and possibly circulation (depending on library policy).

Under normal circumstances, the public library meets at least some of this need, with free public access computers. However, in this time of nationwide “stay at home” orders, such access is unavailable. Even under normal circumstances, public library computers are frequently unavailable to homeless children and teens, who may lack transportation to and from the library. Research also indicates that low-income persons in particular lack the necessary digital information literacy skills to make effective and efficient use of information technology (Vogels & Anderson, 2019).

When Senior Year is Cancelled: Assessing resilience and meaning making among High School Seniors of the class of 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created disruptions in many areas of life. One of the most notable disruptions is the early end of the 2019-2020 academic school year across the country. For the graduating class of 2020, it was an abrupt and unexpected end to their high school career. The purpose of this research is to identify common threads of resilience and meaning making among high school seniors in the graduating class of 2020. Seniors will complete an open-ended questionnaire discussing their experiences and perceptions of events related to the abrupt end of their senior year of high school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They will answer questions related to the milestone events they are missing, their future plans, the academic disruption they are experiencing, and their response to challenges, as well as a HOPE scale set of questions. They will also be asked if they are willing to participate in a follow-up interview at a later time.

Parents of these seniors will also complete an open-ended questionnaire about their own perceptions and feelings related to the abrupt end of their child’s senior year, their perceptions of how their child is coping with these events, and their own response to challenges. They will also be asked if they are willing to participate in a follow-up interview at another time.

Teachers of senior classes will also complete an open-ended questionnaire about their own perceptions and feelings related to the abrupt end of their students senior year, their perceptions of how their students are coping, and how they are handling the challenges of continuing to educate and support graduating seniors. 

Special emphasis on Louisiana residents: Although participants will be recruited nationwide, additional questions will focus specifically on Louisiana residents. The 2016 flood that impacted a large portion of Louisiana occurred during the first week of freshman year for the majority of the members of senior classes of 2020. Thus, academic disruption bookended their high school experience. Additional questions for students, parents, and teachers will address these experiences as well.


Members of the 2018/2019 Dean’s Circle gathered to review proposals submitted by CHSE faculty members. Listed below are the proposals they recommended for funding. More than $46,000 was funded by Dean’s Circle for faculty research and outreach projects-thank you for your investment!

Baton Rouge Eating Disorders Pro-Recovery Support Group: A Partnership with The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness

More than 30 million Americans will experience an eating disorder during their lifetime. Eating disorders are biologically-based mental illnesses that know no bounds, affecting individuals regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, body shape and/or size. The National Institute of Health reports eating disorders are more common than Autism and Alzheimer’s disease, more deadly than drunk driving, and more costly than depression and anxiety, yet less than one third of people experiencing eating disorders ever receive any kind of specialized care. Barriers to care, such as affordability, provider expertise, and stigma can be detrimental to someone living with an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are highly comorbid with other mood and mental disorders, including depression, complex trauma, and anxiety, masking the nature of the disorder and furthering difficulty in detection and treatment. People experiencing eating disorders also tend to hide their illness, and the disease further intensifies due to isolation. Due to their unique nature and underlying symptoms, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. In fact, every 62 minutes, someone in the United States dies as a direct result of an eating disorder. The group will be open to adults 18 and older of all genders and will serve as a safe community for individuals who are experiencing or who have experienced an eating disorder. As individuals ages 18-25 are at particularly high risk for eating disorders, it is important to offer this group at a space that is convenient for them.

Middle School Students’ Physical Literacy: An Exploratory Study

Physical Literacy (PL) is a revived concept that has received worldwide attention in research, practice, and policy discourses in recent years. PL refers to the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life (Whitehead, 2013, pp. 29). Most of the existing studies that have comprehensively measured overall PL are based in Canada or outside of the U.S., while few empirical research studies in the U.S. have examined PL achievement and fewer have intervened the progress of promoting PL achievement in schools, especially through purposeful PE.

The PHinisheD Project

The purpose of Project PHinisheD is to provide a program that focuses on the retention and success of underrepresented graduate students in the College of Human Sciences and Education.  The overarching goal of the program is to provide an enhanced mentorship opportunity for underrepresented minority graduate students. In an effort to achieve this goal the following activities will be provided. 

The impact of herpesvirus infection on immune metabolism

Reduced physical activity and obesity have long been recognized as the main risk factors for the development of cardiovascular diseases, cancers and metabolic disorders. Sedentary behaviors alone are estimated to be responsible for 11% of aggregate healthcare expenditures in the US during the period of 2006-2011 and estimates of the costs associated with obesity and obesity-related diseases have ranged from $147 billion to $210 billion per year since 2009. As the continuous rise in obesity and physical inactivity prevalence raises legitimate concerns regarding the health of our nation, a significant amount of governmental and local policies and initiatives have been implemented to reverse those trends. Unfortunately however, those policies often fail to address the multifaceted components of cardiovascular diseases and other obesity-related metabolic disorders. Indeed, a great degree of variability exists in patients of varying body composition, as demonstrated by the increasing number of metabolically healthy obese patients, suggesting that adiposity and reduced physical activity may not be the only culprits behind the surge of metabolic disorders in the developed world.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a highly prevalent β-herpes virus infection affecting 50%-60% of the adult American population. Although mostly asymptomatic in the immunocompetent host, it establishes latency in the myeloid cells lineage, such as monocytes, and reactivates under periods of physical and/or psychological stress. The purpose of this study is to characterize the impact of CMV infection status on immune cells metabolism at rest, after an acute bout of exercise, and following 12 hours of immune cells co-culture with autologous serum in healthy individuals. This will be achieved by using state-of-the-art methodologies such as flow-cytometry and high resolution respirometry.

Exploring the College Choice Process, Transition, and Overall Experiences of Black Students at HBCUs and PWIs

The purpose of this study is to examine the motivational factors behind Black/African American students’ decisions to attend either a Historically Black College/University (HBCU) or a Predominantly White Institution (PWI).  Thus far, much of the scholarly literature has examined the experiences of Black students at each institutional type separately, but few studies have examined the college choice process and transition of students at both institutional types. This study will examine the factors that contribute to selection and enrollment at a HBCU or PWI in an effort to gain further knowledge about pre-college influences among African American students. This study will also explore African American students’ college-choice process, transition to college, and overall experiences.

Transforming Education Through Development of Better Reading Teachers

Across the nation, there are more than 6.4 million students with disabilities, the majority of whom have documented deficits in reading. Approximately 100,000 of these students are served in Louisiana public schools. With these numbers it is imperative that teacher preparation programs train all teachers, and particularly teachers of students with disabilities, how to effectively improve students’ reading skills. Over the years, experimental research has consistently shown that direct or explicit instruction methods are the most effective approaches for teaching students whose skills are delayed. Moreover, direct instruction curricula, that is teaching materials that are systematically designed to be explicitly delivered, have also been demonstrated to be valuable tools in promoting meaningful teaching and student learning.

The Impact of a Faculty Mindfulness-Based Program on Symptom Distress, Burnout, and Empathy: A Mixed Methods Study

The purpose of this mixed method, sequential exploratory study is to determine if there is a difference in faculty stress, burnout, and empathy-based on time spent in meditation. The rationale for this study is that the university has a goal of making Louisiana a premier place to live and work with an emphasis on health based on LSU’s 2025 strategic plan. Yet, balancing work and life demands are difficult for faculty and faculty retention has become a concern for the university. Inflation, workload, and demands due to accreditation and accountability have all increased concomitant to historic disinvestment in higher education by Louisiana since 2008. The result has been fewer raises in the last 10 years, loss of faculty lines, and greater demands on faculty time.

Conklin and Desselle (2007) found that faculty workplace satisfaction is related to many factors, some of the most crucial included equity, autonomy to choose and design classes, collegiality, research resources, and climate. Conversely, increased stress may lead to burnout, feelings of emotional exhaustion, and disillusionment with one’s work. Workplace culture is critical to career satisfaction, and the ability to be mindful in the moment and non-reactive may help mitigate stress from the environment. Indeed, Mirkamali and Thani (2011) found that when comparing two groups of higher education faculty, the groups were nearly equal in poor quality of life related to workload, but one group fared slightly better due to workplace cohesion and social integration, underscoring the importance of workplace culture in higher education.

Impact of Low-Intensity Resistance Exercise with and without Blood Flow Redistricted (BFR) on Muscle Mitochondrial Oxidative Capacity – Pilot Study

Blood flow restricted (BFR) exercise has been shown to improve skeletal muscle adaptations to resistance exercise.  BFR uses blood pressure cuffs (i.e., tourniquets) to reduce skeletal muscle blood flow during resistance exercise.  One benefit of BFR is that skeletal muscle adaptations to resistance exercise training including muscle hypotrophy and increases in strength can be achieved at lower-loads (e.g., 25% 1RM), that are often comparable to more traditional resistance training loads (70-85% 1RM).  However, the impact that low-load BFR resistance exercise has on muscle quality and bioenergetics is unknown.  We propose to examine the impact of 6 weeks of low-load single-leg resistance exercise training with or without personalized blood flow restriction on measures of muscle mass, strength, quality, and mitochondrial bioenergetics. 

We will recruit and study up to 30, previously sedentary, healthy, college-aged adults (18-40 years).  We will measure muscle mass using Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry and muscle strength and endurance using isokinetic testing.  We will normalize knee extensor strength to lower limb lean mass to quantify muscle quality.  We will also use near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to measure mitochondrial oxidative capacity in the vastus lateralis.  Finally, we will measure markers of systemic inflammation and markers of muscle damage using commercially available ELISA assays.

Work-life balance among tenured/tenure-track faculty couples from diverse backgrounds

Universities can benefit greatly from promoting faculty diversity. Research shows that faculty of color are necessary for students to become better global citizens and social justice advocates in a diverse society (Robinson, Byrd, Louis, & Bonner, 2013). Faculty of color also enrich pedagogical approaches and curriculum that directly impact students’ learning outcomes (Robinson & Lewis, 2011) and increase the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in college, serving as role models or mentors (Oseguera, Locks, & Vega, 2009; Stanley, 2006). Overall, promoting faculty diversity is crucial to “tap the kind of intellectual power and innovation that comes from a professoriate that is racially and ethnically diverse (Moreno et al., 2006, p. 2). Considering these important contributions, many universities put diversity forward as part of their institutional mission and values. However, unfortunately, as of 2013, only 13% of faculty jobs were held by faculty of color and only 10% of tenured positions (Flaherty, 2016). Additionally, female faculty of color are even more marginalized holding just 2% of tenured positions (Evans, 2007).

Tenure-track faculty must undergo the complex and demanding process of promotion and tenure, and the awarding of tenure in research-intensive universities requires a strong record of research as well as in teaching, advising, and service. Recently, there is also a growing emphasis on grant awards. Considering the average age of 39 when tenure is awarded (European University Institute, 2018), many tenure-track faculty are also at the early family formation stage, starting or expanding their families. As a result, they often face multifaceted demands and expectations from playing different roles, and the work-life balance becomes a major challenge as they wish to achieve satisfying experiences and functioning between their work and life (Owens, Kottwitz, Tiedt, & Ramirez, 2018).

The work-life balance issue is critical in any workplace as it is deeply related to various workplace behaviors such as, organizational citizenship behavior (Pradhan, Jena, & Kumari, 2016), quality of life (Greenhaus, Collins, & Shaw, 2003), work engagement, organizational commitment, and turnover intention (Huang, Lawler, & Lei, 2007). Individuals’ work-life balance experiences are greatly embedded in a larger social system and complicated by related power dynamics. Gender, race, and ethnicity inevitably manifest as salient causes of the difference in work-life balance experiences (Özbilgin, Beauregard, Tatli, & Bell, 2011). Faculty of color face greater challenges in terms of work-life balance, for example, suffering from additional work responsibilities due to their ethnic-racial background that can impede their career progress and job satisfaction (i.e., cultural taxation) (Padilla, 1994).

Further, female faculty of color face double jeopardy as they reconcile traditional gender roles and demands of taking care of domestic work and family. Despite these challenges, importance, and the sense of urgency, literature that investigated the unique work-life balance experience of faculty of color during the tenure process is scarce. There is even less literature that focuses on work-life balance experiences of married faculty couples from diverse backgrounds. In this sense, this study is even more meaningful as it takes the perspective of diversity and intersectionality, which has been suggested as blind spots and gaps in the relevant literature (Özbilgin et al., 2011).

Recognizing these significant gaps, the purpose of the study is to explore the work-life balance experiences of tenured/tenure-track faculty couples from diverse backgrounds with the intent to 1) develop an understanding of how married heterosexual couples navigate their work-life balance through the tenure and promotion/promotion process at Tier One Universities; 2) develop an understanding of how gender, race, or ethnicity shapes their experiences (understanding the unique set of racial and gender barriers); 3) Compare and contrast the individual experiences of each couple (among each other); and 4) explore the role of institutional policies and culture on these experiences. Drawing on intersectionality theory (Crenshaw, 1989) and critical race theory (Bell, 1987), this study utilizes a qualitative methodology, taking a critical approach as the analytical lens in examining existing power structures and interlocking systems of oppression related to race, ethnicity, and gender.

Immune Markers & Function during Periods of Caloric Deficit and Extended Physical Activity:  An Assessment of Cytokine Activity and Changes during the clinical OPS

The Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research stated that infectious diseases have accounted for more off duty days during major wars than combat wounds or non-battle injuries.   Therefore, exploring therapeutic avenues to decrease the time loss to infection and illness in warfighters during war time is of paramount concern.  Cytokine responses to prolonged physical activity in combination with calorie deficit deems investigation into whether a treatment such as exogenous testosterone injections could be an effective therapy for immune function sustainment in warfighters during combat operations.  Optimizing Performance for Soldiers (OPS) was a recently completed clinical trial conducted at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in partnership with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM), which investigated the effects of a 28-day period of calorie deficiency combined with prolonged bouts of exercise, mimicking observed settings of combat operations of military warfighters.  The primary paper for the OPS clinical trial is in review with Cell Metabolism and the proposed study will be an ancillary to the OPS study that will include already collected and stored blood samples. 

Besides traditional assessments of monocyte and specific T cell concentrations along with body composition and performance changes, which were previously assessed as part of the OPS clinical study, exploration of additional immune markers such as cytokines can provide great insight into the effectiveness, if any, of exogenous testosterone treatment during prolonged calorie deficiency and combat operations.  The purpose of the proposed investigation is to assess and examine cytokine production during a 28-day period of precisely controlled calorie restriction and accurately controlled physical activity in healthy young males resembling that of combat operations, and if a treatment of exogenous testosterone would elicit any significant differences in immune function versus controls.

The central hypothesis of the investigation is that in response to the clinical OPS study, soluble markers of immune function will be significantly different in participants who received exogenous testosterone versus placebo.

The effects of an aerial silks program on the joy and meaning of movement and depression levels among socio-economically disadvantaged African American middle-school students

The purpose of this community-based and culturally meaningful (phronetic) research project is to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of a performative aerial silks program in instilling the love and joy of movement as well as enhancing mental health among socio-economically disadvantaged African American middle-school students in an inner-city area (North Baton). This project is based on the results of last year’s research project (Kosma & Erickson, in press, in review), which was funded by the 2018 Dean’s Circle Research Grant.

Impact of welfare reform on employment patterns of low-income women in rural Louisiana

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act (PWRORA) was signed into law in August of 1996. PWRORA created a massive shift in responsibility for implementing welfare policy from the federal to the state level. Supporters of reform sought to overhaul the old system, which they believed incentivized welfare participation by rewarding idleness and out-of-wedlock childbearing. Many who opposed such a comprehensive overhaul cautioned of the policy’s adverse effects including a failure to recognize documented structural barriers such as stagnant rural economies with limited job opportunities especially for women and minorities, as well as individual barriers such as low educational attainment, poor job skills, physical and mental health problems including substance abuse issues, and domestic violence victimization.

PRWORA turned a laser-like focus on job preparation and work requirements, replacing a prior policy emphasis on education as a prelude to meaningful work. States had a timeline to establish the programs and infrastructure to manage the new policy, but some states, anticipating the change, were ready with their programs very quickly. Such was the case in Louisiana. We determined then to document through a mixed-methods approach the impacts of the new policy on the lives of women in the most disadvantaged places: remote rural communities with stagnant economies and limited employment opportunities; and to do so in ethnographic fashion by allowing women to describe in their own voices and perspectives what the policy changes meant to them and their families.

Beginning in 1998 through the early 2000s, we interviewed “women exiting welfare” three times, first at the job training sites to which they were assigned and afterwards in their homes. Through reports and scholarly publications (Blalock, Tiller, & Monroe, 2004; Monroe & Tiller, 2001; Monroe, Tiller, O’Neil, & Blalock, 2007), we shed light on the lives of women and their families in remote rural communities in ways not often brought to bear in policy debates. Twenty years later, we propose to conduct a follow up study with the goal of finding as many of the women as can be located who participated in the original study, asking them again to tell us in their own voices of the impacts of PRWORA on their lives. We believe this study makes unique contributions on several levels to the welfare policy literature. The purpose of the proposed study is to discuss the findings of the 20-year follow up work examining the longterm impacts of PRWORA on the lives of women forced to exit welfare under the policy conditions set forth therein, allowing the women to describe in their own voices the consequences of the policy. IRB approval was granted on 4/3/19 and assigned #E11648.