UL Lafayette researcher earns prestigious fellowship for coastal work


The Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has selected the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Dr. Heather Stone as one of five early-career research fellows.
Stone, an associate professor in UL Lafayette’s College of Education & Human Development, is among the 2023-2025 cohort for NASEM’s Education Research track announced Tuesday. The fellowships bring a $76,000 award and mentoring from the nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. Established in 1863, NASEM provides expert advice to address international challenges and to advance science, engineering and medicine.
“Our early-career research fellows are exceptional professionals pursuing innovative and applicable research with the potential to address complex issues challenging the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska regions,” stated Karena Mary Mothershed, a senior program manager for the Gulf Research Program, in a press release.
The five fellows will contribute to the advancement of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education and to environmental education, Stone said. “The fellowships are designed to further education and research that contributes to the understanding of coastal issues and incorporate that knowledge into K-12 classrooms and the community,” she explained.

Stone brings a proven track record of scholarship and research – and unique perspective – to the effort. Much of her recent work blends elements of education with coastal issues. That includes through a range of grant-funded research that has involved educating middle and high school students about effects the environment has on coastal communities.

As part of one recent project funded by the National Science Foundation, Stone is helping to coordinate a program that pairs undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members and community mentors with high school students. The focus is examining geosciences content relevant to addressing environmental challenges and research-based service-learning.

Students learn about interactive web-based mapping software, and conduct activities such as deploying kites developed by NASA that are equipped with devices to capture images of Earth. Students examine water movement and implement design variances and control structures.

Another project, funded by the Louisiana Board of Regents, is centered on researching social, economic and environmental sustainability through oral history and virtual reality. Stone’s research centers on Isle de Jean Charles in Terrebonne Parish. Coastal erosion has wiped out more than 98% of the ancestral home of the Jean Charles Choctaw Nation of Native Americans.

Stone’s research includes collecting oral histories from members of the tribe that will be featured in a forthcoming book about the story of the fractured island, its people and its history. Her research has also yielded information that is educating students in area K-12 classrooms.

A virtual reality lesson that included 360-degree videos of tribal members speaking about how the land has changed over their lifetimes has enabled middle school students to learn about land loss over the last 50 years.

“The work is all based on a sense of place. For me, it’s helping students understand communities around them so they can become more knowledgeable about what’s happening along the coast and how that’s going to impact them,” Stone said.

Photo caption: UL Lafayette’s Dr. Heather Stone, an associate professor in the College of Education & Human Development, is one of five early-career research fellows selected by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine for its Gulf Research Program. Photo credit: Doug Dugas / University of Louisiana at Lafayette