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    Katrina then COVID-19: First-gen graduate, Jason Williams, leaves SUNO Honore Center ready for urban classroom

    New Orleans native Jamon Williams said his life’s calling is to teach and help others prosper by learning. In 2015, Williams answered that call by enrolling in Southern University New Orleans and joining the Honoré Center for Undergraduate Student Achievement, a program designed to guide Black male students through undergraduate studies through the College of Education. The Center and its staff lead scholars into urban classrooms as educators.

    May 9, 2020, would have been the day of commencement for Williams who plans to teach middle school in New Orleans. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what would have been a time of celebration and interviews has become a time of lock-in for Williams and countless 2020 graduates around the globe who must celebrate the culmination of successful educational journeys in isolation.

    “I imagined my commencement to be a groundbreaking final hurrah, but that isn’t the case. I won’t be walking across the stage to receive my degree anytime soon, so it feels like winning a marathon with no finish line,” said Williams, who is his family’s first college graduate. He is also a member of the Honore Center’s eighth cohort.

    “I know that the impact of COVID-19 has affected everyone in the world in many ways and that this is a time for us to focus on how we as a world can overcome this pandemic together. That is most important to me. We must protect and educate ourselves, stay at home, help others when we can, adhere to social distancing, and remain hopeful,” said Williams.

    He has seen the toll COVID-19 has taken on SUNO and his community and plans to do all he can to educate others to protect themselves. To date, according to the Louisiana Department of Health, 6753 cases and 481 deaths have been reported in Orleans Parish and its impact has created a new way of living, communicating, and surviving. It is a feeling of change and readjustment eerily familiar to Williams who relocated to Alabama with his mother and four siblings during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and returned to the Ninth Ward in 2009. Together they rebuilt their lives, but now he says he is greatly concerned about COVID-19′s impact on his family and community although he expects the best because his experiences at the Honoré Center have allowed him to stand tall and face our changing world.

    “I know that the dedication and hard work that I have put in while at the Honoré Center will soon pay off and I will be able to continue to pursue my passion to educate others and to build knowledge,” he said.

    As a scholar of the Honoré Center, Williams received academic and social support from fellow students of his cohort and from director Morkeith Phillips. That support did not stop when the university moved to distance learning in response to the coronavirus. “It was never a question if the Honoré Center would continue to ensure our students had the support they needed to complete this academic year. When they start the program, they all have stories that have impacted their lives. They are here because they are fighters and have made it through. We never doubted their fight for success – even during these times,” said Phillips.

    Named after retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré, the Center recruits male students into a highly structured campus living and learning environment designed to ensure their academic and personal success as college men and future leaders. Embedded on the SUNO campus in 2012, the Center addresses the important national challenge of increasing the number of male classroom teachers in urban settings while reversing the trend of fewer Black males graduating from college. All Honoré scholars commit to serving as classroom teachers in the New Orleans area for at least two years following graduation.

    By Shonda Y. Wessinger
    The Drum Contributing Writer

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    SUNO researcher partners with PBI to continue DNA forensic research

    Pressure BioSciences, Inc. announced it has entered into a Collaboration Agreement with Southern University at New Orleans to focus on improving and extending the applications of the Company’s unique and patented pressure cycling technology platform for the detection of DNA in forensic samples.

    Pam Marshall,Ph.D., interim director, Forensic Science Program SUNO is an expert on sexual assault kit examination and collection practices and will lead the program with Pressure BioScience Inc.

    While a graduate student in the laboratory of Professor Bruce Budowle (a recognized key opinion leader in forensic science) at the University of North Texas’ UNT Health Science Center, Marshall and her colleagues showed that incorporating PCT into the testing protocol for poor quality bone enabled more DNA to be detected as compared to standard methods. As part of the collaboration, Marshall will continue this pioneering work. She and her team at Southern University also will investigate other important areas in which PCT might enhance forensic sample testing.

    “A critical yet often difficult task in forensic analysis is the extraction of high quality DNA from challenged or inhibited samples,” said Marshall. “My previous work with the PCT platform gave me an appreciation for this powerful and enabling technology. My published research established that improved quality and quantity of DNA could be extracted from human bone samples with PCT, as compared to bones not treated with PCT.”

    Marshall said she believes that several projects undertaken during the collaboration could help establish PCT as a standard method in forensic science. For example, in an effort to reduce poaching, the extraction of DNA from seized African Elephant ivory samples is an important yet very difficult challenge at the present time. “We believe PCT might enable the recovery of greater amounts of DNA compared to current methods,” she said. “If successful, this could lead to the use of PCT for the extraction of DNA from a variety of difficult samples. This will be one of the first projects undertaken.”

    “We are pleased to support Dr. Marshall and her team in their development of new, improved, and expanded applications of the PCT platform in the testing of forensic samples. We believe their efforts will result in commercially profitable PCT-based products for PBI, possibly before the end of 2015,” said Nate Lawrence, vice president of marketing and sales for PBI.

    “In addition to the possible development of new PCT-based products, we are pleased that the collaboration also will support the Forensic Science program at SUNO,” said Mr. Richard T. Schumacher, President and CEO of PBI. “This program provides students with the course work, skills and experience necessary for success as a forensic scientist. This role is critical to our criminal justice system, since investigators, courts, and the public depend on forensic scientists for accurate and timely information.”

    Mr. Schumacher continued: “Our country needs well educated, professionally-trained, forensic scientists. “The Bureau of Labor Statistics currently estimates an approximate 20% increase in job growth in the forensic science field over the next six years. However, although the number of forensic science graduates nationwide is high, the number of graduates among underrepresented minorities is highly inadequate. That is why we are pleased to support educators like Dr. Marshall and universities like SUNO who are at the forefront of developing the next generation of highly skilled forensic scientists, with a vast majority from underrepresented populations.”

    Southern University at New Orleans was founded in 1956 to expand academic opportunities for Blacks. Today, SUNO still serves as a beacon for those looking for educational advancement in an environment that provides the personal attention some students need for success. With our mission in mind, we plan to be America’s premier urban institution of higher learning in the field of Forensic Science, providing educational access to students ready to contribute to our city and nation. In 2013, SUNO successfully implemented the Forensic Science Bachelor of Science degree program. SUNO is the only Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Louisiana to offer this degree and one of four nationwide. The BS in Forensic Science degree program is committed to producing technically knowledgeable and skilled graduates equipped with the basic foundational science and laboratory problem solving skills necessary for success in the crime laboratory. Upon completion of the Forensic Science program, graduates will be prepared to function as forensic scientists, or for advanced study in such areas as forensic science, biomedical research, medicine and law. Please visit the University’s Web site at www.SUNO.edu.

    Pressure BioSciences Inc. develops, markets, and sells proprietary laboratory instrumentation and associated consumables to the estimated $6 billion life sciences sample preparation market. PCT customers also use our products in other areas, such as drug discovery and design, bio-therapeutics characterization, soil and plant biology, vaccine development, histology, and forensic applications.

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