Category Archives: Uncategorized

MSU creates precision tool to improve forest management

Contact: Reagan Poston

 

STARKVILLE, Miss.—An assistant research professor in Mississippi State’s Department of Forestry is leading a collaborative team in creating a precision tool to help increase profits for timber producers and wood-mill consumers.

 

Bruno da Silva (Photo by David Ammon)

 

Bruno da Silva, also a scientist in the university’s Forest and Wildlife Research Center, is studying timber supply modeling as part of a $100,000 grant awarded by International Paper, one of the world’s leading producers of fiber-based packaging, pulp and paper.

 

The team is working on a model to aid timber producers in better understanding the impact of market variables and streamlining decision making for forest sector stakeholders.

 

“Our forestry market has become increasingly fragmented over the years,” da Silva said. “What we’re seeing is less room for error and the need for a more precise approach. Our goal is to make a model that can show how different variables like distance to the nearest mill, harvest costs and management practices will affect the timber supply, so forest market players can make informed decisions.”

 

The team aims to design a model that is user-friendly and freely available. Once the finishing touches are made to the model’s programming, the app will be available for download in QGIS, or open source GIS software, as well as in python. See https://www.qgis.org/en/site/ or https://www.python.org/ for more information.

 

“The model functions through mass amounts of regional data, both past and present, to predict future trends in the timber supply. Its output is dynamic and inherently linked to the needs of its user,” da Silva explained.

 

Shaun Tanger, assistant professor at MSU’s Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi, is also on the project and looks forward to seeing how the model will help him as a forestry specialist.

 

“Part of my job with the MSU Extension Service is to make sure small forest landowners are able to keep a position in the market that remains sustainable and profitable. This model will show landowners how variables impact profitability based on their specific circumstances. This is precision timber production,” Tanger said.

 

The team is collaborating with several faculty from North Carolina State University including Frederick W. Cubbage, Robert C. Abt and Rajan Parajuli. Jesse Henderson with the U.S. Forest Service also is a collaborator.

 

For more information on MSU’s College of Forest Resources, visit www.cfr.msstate.edu.

 

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.

 

Students Help Grow University’s Commercialization Efforts

Student workers gain valuable experience while helping advance technology transfer goals

JUNE 10, 2019 BY SHEA STEWARTFacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailCopy LinkSMSPrintFriendlyShare

Ashay Shukla (left), Torkel Nord Bjaerneman, Chandler Carpenter and Jacqueline ‘Sophie’ Jernigan Pettey are among the student workers who have assisted the UM Office of Technology Commercialization in its work during the past academic year. Photo by Shea Stewart/University Marketing and Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The Office of Technology Commercialization at the University of Mississippi is a small staff covering a lot of ground.

The office, part of the university’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, is responsible for stimulating, protecting, managing and transferring intellectual property created by Ole Miss employees from campus to the private sector for commercialization.

The work is multifaceted. Office of Technology Commercialization, or OTC, staff fulfill a number of duties, including helping employees identify commercial opportunities for intellectual property, preparing invention disclosures and other necessary documents, managing the university intellectual property process and supporting business development efforts on campus and elsewhere.

Assisting the small staff with these big tasks is a group of student workers, both undergraduate and graduate, from various backgrounds and majors.

“The growth of the OTC student team is an important part of the university’s commercialization efforts,” said Michael Mosher, associate director for the office. “The students gain valuable work experience, as they are involved with projects that are actually in development, and through this work, we are able to increase our reach and customer service efforts.”

Gregory Sechrist, the office’s licensing associate who manages the student workers, understands the connection between the importance of the student workers to the office and the experience they gain, as he worked in the office as an extern in the spring of 2017.

“My goal, by incorporating intellectual property, research, business development and my own experiences as an extern in the office, is to provide our students with the guidance and opportunities they need to develop a valuable skill set that will assist them throughout their future careers,” he said.

Here is a glimpse at four current or recent graduate student workers in the Office of Technology Commercialization:

Torkel Nord Bjaerneman

Torkel Nord Bjaerneman

Hometown: Gothenburg, Sweden

Year in School: Pursuing a master’s degree in engineering science with an emphasis on structural and materials engineering

Bjaerneman started working with OTC as an undergraduate in spring 2018. He’s a graduate engineering student analyst with a multitude of tasks, including conducting prior art searches – which involves researching publicly available information on products, inventions and concepts similar to an idea being considered for patent or commercialization – and market/industry research on developing university technologies, and engaging in technical writing for business development efforts.

How has your experience in the OTC helped you prepare for the next step in your career?

“Working for the OTC has been a great experience since my goal is to join an organization in the future where I can work cross-functionally, using experience reaching across engineering, research and development, and business. I am really interested in bridging the gap between academia and industry – especially when it comes to graphene; that is the subject of my master’s thesis – so experiencing that directly at the OTC is really exciting.”

What’s next for you?

“I still have another year to finish up school and to work on my master’s thesis. After that, I would like to stay in the U.S. and start my professional career by working in an innovative industry, such as developing advanced materials for industrial/consumer/sporting goods, for example, and/or technical consulting.”

Chandler Carpenter

Chandler Carpenter 

Hometown: Chicago

Year in School: May graduate with a Master of Business Administration

Carpenter spent the 2018-19 academic year working in the OTC and finished her duties in May. While working for OTC, Carpenter gained experience creating social media posts and marketing materials, conducting market/industry research and developing company profiles for potential partners.

How has your experience in the OTC helped you prepare for the next step in your career?

“It has helped me see the intersection of business and law because I have always had law school in the back of my head. I’ve started looking more into patents and I’m really interested in the potential there. With my marketing background, it could be a unique career path.”

What’s next for you?

“I’m currently job searching in Dallas and Nashville. I hope to find something where I can work with the business development and research side of marketing.”

Jacqueline Jernigan Pettey

Jacqueline “Sophie” Jernigan Pettey

Hometown: Hattiesburg

Major: May Juris Doctor graduate from the UM School of Law

Pettey worked for OTC in the 2019 spring semester on an externship to earn class credit while also juggling her law school duties. She finished law school this spring in two years instead of the usual three. Some of her work included prior art searches, background searches for proposals, budget research and market/industry researching.

How has your experience in the OTC helped you prepare for the next step in your career?

“Having an externship with the OTC has helped me gain much-needed practical experience so that I am better suited to find a job after graduation. During law school, I have taken Intellectual Property Survey, Transformative Works, Internet Law and many more classes that relate to this field.

“However, having this externship has been invaluable to me because the practical side of this field is different than what we learn in the classroom. I now have the advantage of getting a job in this field with the much-needed experience that I gained during my semester here at OTC.”

What’s next for you?

“Since my husband recently got back from deployment, we are trying to find a job in a major city with a good graduate program he would like to pursue so that we can be together. I am very excited to enter the intellectual property field of law.”

Ashay Shukla

Ashay Shukla

Hometown: Indore, India

Year in School: Graduated in May with a master’s degree in pharmaceutics and drug delivery

Shukla finished his term as a student worker in OTC in May. During his time in the office, he gained experience in prior art searching, conducting market/industry research and engaging in technical writing for business development efforts.

How has your experience in the OTC helped you prepare for the next step in your career?

“It has been a great learning experience for me (where I have) learned and read about some great novel research, which will help me in the future.”

What’s next for you?

“I am on the lookout for a full-time role as a formulation scientist with a contract research organization or a pharmaceutical company.”

Project Search Program at USM Sees 11 Interns Meet Graduation Requirements

Main ContentARTICLE | FRI, 05/31/2019 – 2:41PM | BY JERRY ALLISTON

Project Search program graduates for 2019.

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The words of English author A.A. Milne, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think” were once again featured as the inspirational message for the fourth annual Project SEARCH Southern Miss graduation.

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Eleven interns met all criteria of the Project SEARCH employment program with 10 interns participating in the actual graduation ceremony at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) on Tuesday, May 22. 

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Project SEARCH is a 10-month training program administered by USM’s Institute of Disability Studies (IDS) that consists of daily employment preparatory skills training, community development, mentoring services and work internships. The interns participated in daily employment training and then completed three work internships with the outcome goal of young adults with intellectual, cognitive and other developmental disabilities obtaining competitive, community-based employment.

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“These interns have been very dedicated over the last year and have worked on improving their employment skills,” said Dr. Jerry R. Alliston, associate director at IDS. “Several interns have already acquired community-based employment positions prior to graduation which demonstrates the impact of this program.”

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Project SEARCH is a collaborative effort among three strong Hattiesburg community partners. USM serves as the host business and provides training space and internships. The Hattiesburg Public School District provides a full-time teacher and the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services supplies two job coaches. In addition, all interns are recommended to apply for Mississippi Division of Medicaid Waiver Services for long-term support.

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Originally developed at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1996, Project SEARCH offered employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities in a medical setting. IDS received a grant through the Mississippi Council on Developmental Disabilities (MSCDD) in 2014 to plan and implement Mississippi’s first program, making Project SEARCH Southern Miss a reality.

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For more information about the Institute for Disability Studies, call 601.266.5163 or visit http://www.usm.edu/disability-studies.

The University of Southern Mississippi Joins Newly Formed $94-Million Ocean Exploration Institute

Main ContentARTICLE | MON, 05/06/2019 – 2:30PM | BY JAMES SKRMETTA

In joining the Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute, USM is initially set to receive $11.25 million over five years to fund a multitude of ocean science projects including much needed exploration of the Gulf of Mexico.

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The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) is joining four other nationally renowned ocean science institutions to form The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute (OECI).

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USM’s School of Ocean Science and Engineering (SOSE), Ocean Exploration Trust, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of New Hampshire, and the University of Rhode Island will work with NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) to survey an estimated 3 billion acres of submerged U.S. territory.

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“The partnership with these four other nationally renowned ocean science institutions speaks volumes about The University of Southern Mississippi’s reputation in ocean science and engineering,” said Dr. Gordon Cannon, Vice President for Research at USM. “We’ve worked hard to build this reputation and are grateful to have received strong support from the State of Mississippi, the Gulf Coast and our own University leadership.”

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In joining OECI, USM is initially set to receive $11.25 million over five years to fund a multitude of ocean science projects including much needed exploration of the Gulf of Mexico.

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“The collaborative partnership with NOAA and the four other institutions as well as the associated funding will allow USM to advance our research in developing advanced underwater technologies that fit well with our current international research profile,” said Dr. Cannon. 

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SOSE harnesses elements from key areas of USM, including the Division of Marine Science (DMS) at the John C. Stennis Space Center, the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, and the University’s fleet of research vessels, to create a regionally, nationally and internationally recognized leader in marine science.

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“I am proud of how The University of Southern Mississippi’s research profile continues to expand, especially as it relates to our ocean science and engineering programs that support our state’s ‘Blue Economy,’” said University President Rodney D. Bennett. “This new partnership validates why USM is classified as an R1 institution and confirms our ability to conduct meaningful research with some of the leading institutions in the nation. I look forward to the work that will emerge from this partnership and how it will impact our state and beyond.”

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The primary goal of OECI is to provide NOAA access to powerful academic research capabilities located at the individual institutions. In this program, researchers are focusing on areas that will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of ocean exploration in deep and remote areas of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. This will be done through new robotics and telepresence approaches.

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“The Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute will be the next quantum leap for USM and the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast in ocean science and engineering,” said Dr. Monty Graham, SOSE director and USM Lead-Investigator for OECI. “We are rapidly becoming one of this country’s elite oceanographic centers, and the growth we are experiencing should give the USM community, the Coast and the state great pride in how we have all worked together to increase our ‘Blue Economy’ and all the opportunities around it.”

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OECI’s research data and information will be readily usable by the public, which aims to increase participation of underrepresented populations in ocean exploration.

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“This program will be transformative to our ongoing efforts at USM to move Mississippi’s ‘Blue Economy’ forward by providing STEM-related education that feeds STEM-related economic growth,” Dr. Graham said. “The innovative new research capabilities will also help USM attract the best and brightest ocean science faculty and students.”

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Some of the educational benefits for South Mississippi include: technical training for autonomous vehicles, information technology and telepresence, STEM education opportunities for local schools, and telepresence of ocean exploration to USM’s Marine Education Center and the Mississippi Aquarium through USM’s ongoing partnership. 

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“I am pleased to hear of NOAA’s selection of The University of Southern Mississippi as one of the institutions that will perform research as part of the OECI,” said Gov. Phil Bryant. “I welcome these funds to help us continue to focus on building a strong foundation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Mississippians have embraced the Blue Economy with all our energy and ingenuity.”

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Gov. Bryant said the OECI allows Mississippi to play a pivotal role in the future of ocean exploration and education.

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“This Institute will allow Southern Miss to collaborate with entities all across the country on ocean exploration and at the same time provide a holistic plan to strengthen Mississippi’s long-term blue economy strategy,” he said. “I applaud their efforts.”

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USM is also teaming with Tuskegee University to train STEM students from underrepresented communities in unmanned technologies for ocean exploration, including both maritime and aerial drones, and to provide experiences both on shore and at sea as a means to attract them into employment pipelines within and beyond the cooperative institute.

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Congressman Steven Palazzo believes the data from the OECI’s missions will be invaluable to the public understand of our seafloors, something that until now, has remained a mystery.

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“USM continues to lead in strategic data acquisition and advancing the understanding of our seafloors,” he said. “USM has proved they’re capable in developing purposeful usage of unmanned maritime systems, and I have no doubt they will continue to excel in this undertaking. They are very deserving of this selection to form the Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute and will continue advancing our understanding of America’s underwater territory.” 

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Dr. Robert Ballard, known for his 1985 discovery of the RMS Titanic, is the Lead Investigator for the Ocean Exploration Trust, and will open a third operating base at the Port of Gulfport for Dr. Ballard’s Ocean Exploration Trust, which also operates out of Rhode Island and California.

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“The University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Ocean Science and Engineering is playing a leadership role in helping to develop new applications for Ocean Exploration and Educational Outreach particularly for underserved members of our population,” he said. “The team we have put together is the present and future of ocean exploration.”

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Senator Roger Wicker believes this project isn’t just a great opportunity for USM, but for the entire Gulf Coast.

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“This partnership with NOAA is an example of The University of Southern Mississippi’s continued excellence in marine research and engineering,” Wicker said. “I was glad to support USM’s application for this project because I know the technology we develop in Mississippi will advance America’s knowledge of our ocean territory and improve opportunities for our brilliant faculty, researchers, and students on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

Research Day Encourages Collaborative Endeavors

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A UM student sets up for his poster presentation at the fifth annual University of Mississippi Research Day. The event brought together researchers from the Oxford campus and the University of Mississippi Medical Center to learn about one another’s research interests and possibilities for collaboration. Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

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OXFORD, Miss. – Encouraging communication among researchers no matter where they are – whether three doors down or two hours away – the fifth annual University of Mississippi Research Day was held Friday (April 26) in Oxford.

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Alternating each year between the Oxford campus and University of Mississippi Medical CenterResearch Day provides an opportunity for researchers at UM and UMMC to share their research and creative scholarship work and interests with colleagues to increase conversation and collaboration.

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More than 200 faculty, staff and students from the two campuses attended this year’s event at the Jackson Avenue Center in Oxford.

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“The purpose of today is to bring us together, increase awareness of what our colleagues do and discover mutual interests,” Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks said in his welcoming remarks. “Groundbreaking research is collaborative, and increasingly, it’s also interdisciplinary.

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“We’re at our strongest when we build upon each other’s connections, strengths and insights. I encourage you to seize all the opportunities you can today to get to know one another and learn about your shared interests. Please approach ideas with creativity and a confident view of what we can achieve when we work together focusing on outcomes that benefit the state and society in general because this is the work and this is our mission.”

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Noting the day was meant to foster collaboration and engagement, Josh Gladden, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, said previous Research Days led to success stories, whether co-authored papers being published or co-written grants being awarded.

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“The goal with starting this five years ago was to find ways to increase communication between the Medical Center and the Oxford campus on research activities where we might build some collaborations – where we have tools, we have assets, we have expertise that we can leverage on each other’s campuses to build something larger,” Gladden said.

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Beyond the information and idea exchanges, Research Day also is a celebration of what researchers do on both campuses, said Dr. Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research at UMMC.

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“One of the unique things about an academic institution is that while we have the mission of education as a primary function … what really makes an academic institution something unique and what they call a research university is exactly that – the fact that they do research,” he said.

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The event started with 90-second talks, where more than two dozen researchers succinctly broke down their projects, covering topics from heart attacks to the impact of sleep hygiene on learning and well-being to reminding people of opportunities to collaborate on the university’s M Partner initiative.

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Josh Gladden, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, welcomes attendees to the fifth annual University of Mississippi Research Day. The event brought together researchers from the Oxford campus and the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

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A two-hour lunch was split into several events, including a speed networking event where people could converse with 10 other Research Day attendees. Sitting across a table from one another, the networking activity allowed for five-minute conversations between researchers – covering academic backgrounds, research interests and collaborative research undertakings or ideas – before rotating to new conversations with different people.

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The lunch period also included open information sessions with discussions on topics such as “Creating Your Evaluation Plan in 5 Simple Steps” from Sarah Mason, director of UM’s Center for Research Evaluation. Other group meetings explored technology commercialization at UM and the university’s Flagship Constellations initiative.

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The atrium at the Jackson Avenue Center was lined with information tables during lunch so attendees could learn more about organizations that can help with their research efforts.

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Following lunch, a poster session featured more than 40 posters from UM and UMMC faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students.

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Austin Conner, a second-year Ole Miss graduate student from Orange Park, Florida, working on her master’s in social work, presented a poster on “The Voter Empowerment Project: A Comparative Community Needs Assessment of Rural vs. Urban Barriers to Voting.”

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“Research Day appears to be a great place where you can network with students, faculty and organizations conducting or involved in research,” she said. “It is also a great place to become informed of other research topics and social problems. I was happy to learn about the Center for Population Studies (at UM) and all that they do.

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“Participants seem to be attending Research Day for a similar purpose, which makes it easy to meet and speak with various people from different departments and organizations. I learned that there are individuals with research interests and topics similar or related to my own. I also learned of ways I can collaborate with different individuals.”

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Jaret Lieberth, a junior biology major from Aurora, Ohio, also presented his poster on “Use of the Gal4/UAS System for Tissue Specific Analysis of Zebrafish Cardiac Development” during the session.

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“Presenting my research is important to me because it’s a chance to showcase something that I put a lot of hard work into,” he said. “Oftentimes the pace of a project can feel slow and it can be discouraging, so it helps to be able to culminate everything into a presentation to show just how far the project’s really come along.

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“Not to mention, I really enjoy taking the time to walk through my project verbally with people who show a genuine interest in it.”

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Andre Smith, another junior biology major, showcased his poster titled “South American Poison Dart Frog’s Diversity in Toxicity.”

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“It was very enlightening to walk around and see friends excelling in their majors,” said Smith, a native of Tylertown. “I learned that other Ole Miss professors and students are very supportive of me, providing me with the confidence and reassurance to keep pushing forward.”

Fish Innovation Lab at MSU awards $500,000 in ‘Quick Start’ grants for international research

April 22, 2019

Contact: Kristen Dechert

A woman with wild and aquacultured catfish, a market staple in Nigeria. (Photo by Joe Steensma)
A woman with wild and aquacultured catfish, a market staple in Nigeria. (Photo by Joe Steensma)

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STARKVILLE, Miss.—The international Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish has made the first round of awards for research, granting $100,000 each to five projects in four countries.

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Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by Mississippi State University, the Fish Innovation Lab supports sustainable and resilient aquaculture and fisheries systems by initiating and supporting research to enhance food safety and nutrition, improve fish production systems, and increase trade and domestic market opportunities to ultimately improve the nutrition and livelihoods of households and small-scale producers in developing countries. The lab will fund approximately $7.5 million in research grants through 2023 to researchers working with small-scale producers in Feed the Future focus countries.

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Known as “Quick Starts,” these early projects span one year and will provide valuable information to guide lab efforts over the next five years. Leveraging existing knowledge and expertise at Mississippi State, all Quick Starts include at least one MSU researcher. Additional details about the projects are provided below:

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Bangladesh: Use DNA sequencing to inform broodstock selection programs, thereby improving aquaculture production and livelihoods of farming communities using sustainable approaches. Partners: Bangladesh Agricultural University, Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, WorldFish

Kenya: Inventory and market analysis of coastal marine fish for food that maintain ecosystem functioning and address micronutrient deficiencies in vulnerable groups. Partners: Egerton University, Pwani University, University of Rhode Island, Washington University in St. Louis

Nigeria: Analyze the aquaculture post-harvest chain to better understand the fate of harvested fish from production to consumption. Partners: Washington University in St. Louis, WorldFish

Zambia: Investigate the effect of partially or totally replacing fishmeal by single-cell protein ingredients in a tilapia commercial feed. Partners: Aller Aqua Zambia, Meridian Biotech, Natural Resources Development College, Texas A&M University, WorldFish,

Zambia: Increase quality/quantity of fish benefitting nutrition and food security, especially for women and children in the critical first 1,000 days of life. Partners: University of Rhode Island, University of Zambia, WorldFish

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“The Fish Innovation Lab is an integral part of USAID’s goal to advance aquaculture and fisheries in Feed the Future countries, and these Quick Start projects are a key to our success because they will give us early results on which to build our larger research agenda,” said Mark Lawrence, director of the lab and professor at Mississippi State University.

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Results of these studies are expected later this year and will be shared at the global platform meeting the lab will host for stakeholders this summer.

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For more information about the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish, please visit www.fishinnovationlab.msstate.edu or contact Shauncey Hill, program manager, at Shill@international.msstate.edu.

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About USAID
USAID is the lead U.S. Government agency for international development and humanitarian efforts to save lives, reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance and help people progress beyond assistance.

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About Feed the Future
Feed the Future is the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future supports partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur economic growth and trade that increase incomes and reduce hunger, poverty and undernutrition. For more information, visit www.feedthefuture.gov.

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About the Fish Innovation Lab
Funded by the USAID, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish at Mississippi State University aims to reduce poverty and improve nutrition, food security, and livelihoods in developing countries by supporting the sustainable development of aquaculture and fisheries. For more information, visit www.fishinnovationlab.msstate.edu.

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This post was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Feed the Future initiative. The contents are the responsibility of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Virtual reality devices arrive as JSU launches Mississippi’s first university VR academy

JSU’s has 15 new VR stations that will help faculty and students build virtual worlds as well as to immerse themselves into virtual reality. (Photo by L.A. Warren/JSU)

JSU’s has 15 new VR stations that will help faculty and students build virtual worlds as well as to immerse themselves into virtual reality. (Photo by L.A. Warren/JSU)

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LA Warren NUByline2018

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After flirting with the idea late last year of incorporating virtual reality into the classroom, Jackson State University installed new equipment last week to launch Mississippi’s first “University VR Academy.”

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After just a mere few months of deliberating and consulting with virtual reality company Lobaki, JSU is now the state’s academic and research VR leader. This new development is poised to change teaching methods and spur academic, entrepreneurial and economic successes.

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The campus academy, which has 15 stations in the H.P. Jacobs Library, is the first for an institution of higher learning in the Magnolia state and the largest in the South.

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Whittaker

Whittaker

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Dr. Joseph A. Whittaker, associate provost and vice president for Research and Economic Development, said, “As one considers the pace at which the world is moving and the changing technology, it’s important that we prepare our students and faculty to potentially work in the landscape.” As such, JSU moved quickly to put the wheels in motion.‘WE want them to lead the university rather than playing catch up. With that in mind, we developed this facility so students and faculty can become critical thinkers and do things that 10 years ago we could only imagine,” Whittaker said.

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“This new academy allows us to assess, test ideas, build prototypes and reimagine what today and the future will look like.”

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Dr. Almesha Campbell, director of JSU’s Technology Transfer, Commercialization and Research Communications in the Office of Research and Economic Development, oversees the project.

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“We officially installed the virtual reality academy in the new innovation space on the second floor of the H.T. Sampson Library. We have 15 VR stations that we will use to train faculty and students on how to build virtual worlds as well as to immerse themselves into virtual reality.  VR is not new, but now it’s really taking off in the U.S., and we want JSU to be a leader in the area.”

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One of the systems has been loaded and ready for use. (Photo by L.A. Warren/JSU)

One of the systems has been loaded and is ready for use. (Photo by L.A. Warren/JSU)

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Campbell said she envisions a future of unimaginable growth on many levels.

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“For us, it will mean infusing virtual reality into the classroom to provide for a more enhanced learning experience. Also, we will infuse it into innovation technology transfer and commercialization. For example, when students and faculty develop their own virtual reality experiences, an IP (intellectual property) is attached to it so that it can be copyrighted and placed on a platform for other people to purchase. The VR Academy is part of a larger plan to promote innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development at JSU,” she said.EVEN with all the advantages that come with VR, Campbell emphasized that “our main goal is to ensure that this is infused into the curriculum and will be available throughout the year to ensure that all students are engaged with the technology and better understand the value and capabilities of virtual reality.”

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Campbell

Campbell

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Campbell said, “When you look at students in gatekeeper courses, in particular, who may be having difficulty passing these courses, we can use virtual reality to immerse them in these lessons, such as Calculus. All this will be complemented with the appropriate faculty support and engagement.”

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Personally, Campbell has learned to tame her fear of heights. Now, though, after her habitual VR experience, acrophobia is almost a thing of the past. “With VR, we want to help people cope with such fears and learning disabilities. We want the possibilities to be endless”

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Vince Jordan is CEO of Lobaki and was contracted to develop JSU’s VR Academy. He commends JSU for becoming the first university in Mississippi to have a VR academy.

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Jordan said, “Universities dabble with VR, but what separates JSU is that this is a very focused effort to give young people access and an opportunity to learn how to become virtual-reality and augmented-reality developers.”IN addition, Jordan said, “The setup here in JSU’s Innovation Center is really gear toward helping the university community take advantage of this industry that is really starting to explode. JSU is not playing catch up. It’s really in a leadership role. Faculty, staff and students will be able to explore different applications that show what you can do in virtual reality. They can start thinking about what they might want to do in any particular discipline and field of interest, as well as create a business.”

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Anthony Gomes, a JSU graduate student in computer science from Bangladesh, is experimenting with various applications. He will train to become a VR curator and teach others. (Photo by L.A. Warren/JSU)

Anthony Gomes, a JSU graduate student in computer science from Bangladesh, is experimenting with various applications. He will train to become a VR curator and teach others. (Photo by L.A. Warren/JSU)

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Along with that, a variety of experiences have been placed on all the systems. Now, faculty and students can travel around the world, tour the International Space Station or the Anne Frank House in Holland. Another spectacular VR event is a history experience titled “I Am A Man.” It’s an “emotional, heart-thumping” experience that places individuals at the 1968 sanitation protest in Memphis and at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Other experiences will be placed on the machines, depending on the needs of students and facultyMEANWHILE, Campbell said between now and the summer, JSU will start its “train-the-trainer program” geared toward preparing students and faculty to teach others about VR in their specific disciplines.

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“We don’t want just 10 people to know how to use VR. Rather, we want the entire campus to learn. This is the key to sustainability. Starting in the fall, we would  like some aspects of VR to be part of JSU’s curriculum.”

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Generally, Campbell said when people talk about technology they instantly think of STEM. However, she reminds everyone that VR can be infused in journalism, health and any other discipline. “I have already started initial conversations with different program directions at JSU about infusing VR in their programs, such as art, history, journalism, public health and the sciences. We want professors to brings their classes to the VR Academy, so they can experience the power of VR and to come up with ideas for infusing VR in the curriculum.”

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Equally enthusiastic, Whittaker said he sees the potential for JSU to independently sustain itself and change the trajectory of people’s lives.

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“HBCUs, in general, have been under-resourced. We must find creative ways to position ourselves, stay ahead of the game and still remain current despite these challenges. We are able to level the playing fields in some respects by allowing students to demonstrate that they can create and become innovative,” he said.

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An official launch ceremony for JSU’s VR Academy will be announced soon.

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For more information about JSU’s VR Academy and the Innovation Center, contact Campbell at 601-979-1815.

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Jordan and Lobaki’s Garrison Gager, a VR curator, work to set up all the creator stations with top-of-the-line Dell Alienware desktops. The systems have been installed with the “unreal” engine development environment and other additional tools used for creating characters and digital models. They are paired with Oculus Rift headsets. (Photo by L.A. Warren/JSU)

Jordan and Lobaki’s Garrison Gager, a VR curator, work to set up all the creator stations with top-of-the-line Dell Alienware desktops. The systems have been installed with the “unreal” engine development environment and other additional tools used for creating characters and digital models. They are paired with Oculus Rift headsets. (Photo by L.A. Warren/JSU)