When researchers, developers and policymakers want to make productive environmental changes to the Gulf coastline, they ask Ehab Meselhe and his team for guidance. Ehab was born in Egypt, where he developed a fascination with waterways like the Nile, a curiosity that would drive him halfway across the world to the Mississippi River. One of Louisiana’s leading experts on coastal systems, Ehab holds a PhD in engineering from the University of Iowa and has more than 20 years of experience researching coastal wetland hydrology, sediment transport and computer modeling of coastal wetland systems. His work in predictive modeling has contributed heavily to Louisiana’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan. Today, he is the Vice President of Science and Engineering at The Water Institute (http://thewaterinstitute.org/), the Baton Rouge-based independent research organization dedicated to providing science and solutions for challenges coastal communities face around the world. He’s working with a team of researchers and engineers on large-scale projects to divert water and sediment from the Mississippi to create new land along the marshes of southeast Louisiana, and exploring how 3D modeling of coastal systems can help Louisiana win its ongoing battle against erosion.
Jazz-based cellist, singer, composer and improviser Helen Gillet (http://helengillet.com/) grew up in Belgium, Singapore, Chicago and Wisconsin, but has set deep roots in New Orleans over the past decade and a half. Performing her own eclectic mix of French, contemporary jazz, North Indian, blues and classical styles, Helen has forged a path for the cello in the Big Easy music scene since her arrival in 2002. The native of Belgium launched her career as an improviser, singer and cellist with the North Hindustani vocal ragas of the late 90s, which introduced her to the world of improvisational jazz, funk, rock and French music — all of which are major components of her music stylings today. She has performed extensively across the United States and Western Europe, collaborated with some of the biggest names in popular music and recorded music for several films. Her compelling live performances can shift seamlessly between layered loops of cello lines and rhythms to a understated French song from her Belgian childhood.
Designer Jacob Jolibois wants to make the world a more beautiful experience. He believes the tenets of good design - empathy, clarity and simplicity - are powerful tools to solve human problems. He applies these beliefs through his work as the Director of Digital Strategy at MESH (https://www.meshbr.com/), a nationally-recognized marketing agency. Outside of MESH, Jacob helps people cross-apply these same principles to their own lives, designing a life of purpose, clarity and joy. He regularly offers his insights on design on stages ranging from Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal to local events in Baton Rouge. His passion for beautiful design bleeds into his motivation to make Baton Rouge, as well as the larger world, better for everyone. He is the co-founder of parachute.fm (https://www.parachute.fm/), a podcast network focused on progressing social good, and hosts a podcast called altBR (https://www.parachute.fm/show/altbr), aimed at telling the stories of the people who are in the trenches making Baton Rouge a better place.
Fish behavior scientist Julie Butler (https://juliembutler.weebly.com/) is helping illuminate the fascinating social lives of some of the most interesting creatures in the ocean. A PhD student in Biological Sciences, Julie is working to better understand how the tiny and charismatic African cichlid fish navigates social interactions — and how humans are potentially impacting those communications. Julie’s own communication skills earned her the top prize in the LSU Graduate School’s Three Minute Thesis competition. She also employs storytelling techniques to share in-depth research about the sensory systems and social communication of fish on her blog (http://burtoniblog.wordpress.com/). When she’s not focused on the underwater world, Julie is an accomplished artist, creating paintings of nature and developing cartoon fish to enhance her writings on fish behavior. Her unique combination of science, art and outreach is raising the profile of important issues related to the ever-changing world of underwater ecosystems — an issue she believes deserves much more attention from her fellow humans.
LSU Geography and Anthropology Assistant Professor Juliet Brophy peers back in time for new insights into the origins of humanity. A paleoanthropologist who specializes in the study of teeth, Juliet has been involved in excavations at several fossil localities in South Africa since 2003 and previously served as the Director of Bovid Studies at the Evolutionary Studies Institute (https://www.wits.ac.za/esi/) at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. She played a lead role in a 2015 effort at the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star Cave (http://ewn.co.za/Features/Naledi/Rising-Star-Caves) near Johannesburg, South Africa, that turned up homo naledi, a human-like species that lived alongside the first modern humans. Her work included the “tooth booth,” an international collaboration of scientists who studied teeth that are tens of thousands of years old. Currently, Juliet is working on developing an open-access database that examines similarities between the teeth of early human species to other hominins, comparisons she believes can answer some of the most pressing questions about the fascinating evolution of the human animal on our planet.
Kevin Harris is a firm believer in the transformative power of public art to instill a sense of hope, history and creative expression in inner cities. A Baton Rouge orthodontist by day, Kevin has carved out a space as one of the city’s staunchest supporters of creative endeavors through The Museum of Public Art (http://www.museumofpublicart.org/) , a nonprofit organization dedicated to the creation of community-inspired murals in the Old South Baton Rouge community. The museum has commissioned a series of vibrant murals from some of the most renowned street artists around the globe — and gained international notoriety in the process. The Chicago native is also a photographer with a passion for documenting communities and art in action. Kevin strives to facilitate public art that is relevant to the needs and lives of the local residents while also serving as a force for positive community development in underserved communities where creativity and work development are often stifled.
When LSU student and storyteller Madelyn Smith set out to document the environmental changes to Louisiana’s coastal areas, her training in coastal science enabled her to intellectually comprehend the natural processes at play. But witnessing first-hand the people and places impacted by coastal erosion inspired her to tell the story of coastal land loss in a much more personal way - by leveraging her skills in storytelling. Her work seeks to humanize the problem of coastal land loss and illuminate the traditions and culture that will be lost without a comprehensive action to save Louisiana’s endangered coast. Madelyn spent a year traveling across the bayous and wetlands of coastal Louisiana photographing and writing about the communities and cultures threatened by coastal erosion for Louisiana Gone (https://www.louisianagone.com/), her book (coauthored by Trent Andrus) dedicated to telling the stories that are disappearing with the state’s coast. A natural resource ecology and management major with a minor in painting and drawing, Madelyn leverages the powerful opportunities that occur at the intersection of art, social science and science.
Information technology security consultant Mohamad Qayoom is on a mission to help people take a more active role in protecting their most sensitive personal data from the growing number of cybersecurity threats. A security expert at LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans (http://www.lsuhsc.edu/), Mohamad has extensive experience protecting the most sensitive data from cyber attacks while keeping the information readily available to users. He currently serves as the principal investigator for a National Science Foundation (https://www.nsf.gov/) grant aimed at helping LSU Health overhaul computer systems in research buildings to create a high-speed science network for researchers as well as a powerful security buffer around the system. When he’s not focusing on cybersecurity, Mohamad is the volunteer director of District 68 of Toastmasters International (http://d68tm.org/), a nonprofit organization that focuses on developing public speaking and leadership skills. The University of New Orleans graduate holds two master’s degrees in his field, but his most recent accomplishment was earning his certificate in improv comedy. He plans to continue his comedic studies to improve his leadership skills and creativity, while also giving back to the community through performance.
When faced with the challenge of investigating potentially deadly virus transmission, Rebecca Christofferson started with a familiar face - the mosquito. An assistant professor in Pathobiological Sciences with the Vector-borne Disease Laboratories (http://www.lsu.edu/vetmed/pbs/research/vector_borne_diseases/index.php) at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, a large part of Rebecca’s research focuses on how and when mosquitoes carry viruses to uncover the patterns that dictate why and when humans get sick. Her mosquito-related work began a decade ago when tropical viruses such as dengue began to emerge in the continental United States. Today, Rebecca is a leading researcher on the Zika virus, which has spread to more than 60 countries in South and Central America, as well as the United States. In 2016, Rebecca was awarded a $1.2 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences/National Institutes of Health to study the transmission of the Zika and chikungunya viruses. She is currently investigating how environmental factors affect mosquito lifespans and their ability to transmit viruses to susceptible hosts, such as humans. Rebecca and her lab hope their research will help inform methods for controlling and preventing the spread of infections through human populations.
Rebekah Monson’s career is a study in the possibilities that lie at the intersection of technology, storytelling and civic engagement. A graduate of the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication (http://www.lsu.edu/manship/), Rebekah worked as an editor, design director and reporter at multiple publications before landing in South Florida to pursue an advanced degree in interactive media. It was there where she started to explore the power of technology and “civic hacking” to increase community engagement and improve the way citizens interact with their local governments. She co-founded Code for Miami (http://codefor.miami/), a Code for America group of volunteers working to transform civic technology in Miami-Dade County, and Hacks/Hackers Miami (http://www.meetup.com/Hacks-Hackers-Miami/), a grassroots organization of journalists, designers and developers dedicated to reinventing media. Rebekah is co-founder and chief operating officer for WhereBy.Us (http://whereby.us/), a local media startup that connects people to their cities through storytelling and experiences. Its publications, Miami’s The New Tropic (https://thenewtropic.com/) and Seattle’s The Evergrey (https://theevergrey.com/), produce email newsletters, original stories and events that reach more than a million locals each year. For Rebekah, encouraging community interest and involvement drives civic engagement, which makes for better cities and citizens.
Over the past 60 years, Richard Lipsey has built a remarkable career spanning everything from firearms distribution to searsucker suits to civic and philanthropic service. Richard has earned multiple accolades, including the Anti-Defamation League’s Humanitarian Award following Hurricane Katrina. What most people don’t know is that at age 24, Army First Lieutenant Lipsey found himself at the epicenter of one of the most pointed days in United States history: November 22, 1963.
Xin "Shane" Li
LSU computer engineering professor Xin (Shane) Li leverages the power of computer graphics and artificial intelligence to make the unreal possible. As the head of the Geometric and Visual Computing Group (https://www.ece.lsu.edu/xinli/GVC/GVCindex.htm) at LSU, Shane works with his team to develop and apply 3D visual data processing and analysis technologies to various forensic, medical, and health tasks. Through his work with the LSU Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services (FACES) (http://www.lsu.edu/faceslab/) Laboratory, Shane strives to digitally restore human skulls and reconstruct faces of unidentified bodies, to help forensic investigations. A native of China and graduate of SUNY Stonybrook, Shane joined the LSU faculty in 2008 and today is an associate professor jointly in the Division of Electrical & Computer Engineering and the Center for Computation & Technology. He also serves as an adjunct professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center (https://www.pbrc.edu/). Through his use of computer graphics, medical modeling, geometric modeling, and large-scale data processing and visualization, Shane takes the complex and makes it workable for any challenge thrown his way.