Dr. Katherine Brooks (Integrated Sciences) earned her B.S. in Psychology with minors in Animal Science and Wildlife and Fisheries from Texas A & M University in College Station, Texas. While at Texas A & M she focused her studies on ethology (animal behavior) especially in domesticated animals. She then continued her education at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln to earn her Masters degree in Biological Psychology. Her thesis research examined sexual selection and vocal communication in songbirds. Dr. Brooks worked and studied as a researcher and graduate student for several years in Conservation Biology at the University of New Orleans. She has recently completed her Ph.D. in Science Education at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her dissertation examined the graphical components of popular college textbooks for their adherence to Tuftian good graphics principles and their incorporation of systems-based thinking. She has taught college students for more than a decade at Our Lady of Holy Cross College covering a variety of courses including genetics, zoology, botany, ecology, animal behavior, nutrition, and human sexuality. She enjoys conducting research with students and furthering her research on the effects of problem-based and experiential learning. Dr. Brooks’ spend many years as a dancer, particularly ballet, and in drama but also enjoys cooking, photography and theater.
Dr. Richard Collins joins NOCCA after serving as the founding Dean of Arts and Humanities at California State University Bakersfield. With a BA in English from the University of Oregon and an MA and PhD from the University of California, Irvine, he has taught at LSU Baton Rouge, the American University of Bulgaria, Xavier University of Louisiana, LSU Alexandria, and CSU Bakersfield. In addition to NEH fellowships to the School of Criticism and Theory and to Columbia University, he received a Leverhulme Commonwealth/USA research and teaching fellowship in American Studies to the University of Swansea in Wales, a Fulbright research fellowship to London, and Fulbright Senior Lectureships at the Universities of Bucharest and Timisoara in Romania. His publications include critical studies of Victorian and modern world literature, as well as poetry, fiction, translations, and creative nonfiction. His books include John Fante: A Literary Portrait (Guernica Editions) and No Fear Zen: Discovering Balance in an Unbalanced World (Hohm Press). He returns to New Orleans after a nine-year absence.
Dr. Jean-Marc Duplantier (Integrated Humanities) holds a bachelors degree in Comparative Literature (Colorado College, 1996), a PhD in French Studies (LSU, 2006), and a master’s degree in Library and Information Science (LSU, 2010). He was awarded Fulbright and Social Science Research Council grants to conduct dissertation research in Haiti. He has extensive experience teaching English at the high school level in the New Orleans area, and he continues to pursue research interests in the history and culture of Louisiana and the Caribbean.
Dr. Travis Haas (Integrated Sciences) earned his Ph.D. from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University in 2014. His dissertation research examined the evolutionary implications of dam construction on the fishes of the Southeastern United States. He holds a B.A. in Biology and Music (Piano) from Lawrence University (2007), where his piano studies culminated in an interdisciplinary lecture-recital entitled, “The influence of birdsong in the literature of the piano.” He also holds an M.S. in Biology (Ecology and Evolution) from Tulane University (2010). Before joining the Academic Studio faculty at NOCCA, Travis was a Visiting Professor of Urban Studies at Bard Early College New Orleans, where he taught an interdisciplinary science course about biodiversity and human well-being. In recent summers, he has taught a field biology course for gifted and talented rising high school freshmen as part of the Duke Talent Identification Program (TIP) at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. Travis’ research examines the evolutionary and ecological implications of dam construction in the Southeastern United States, with the majority of his fieldwork conducted in the rivers and reservoirs of Alabama. In addition to his work as a scientist, Travis continues to maintain a private piano studio and performs on a limited basis.
Social Studies & Assistant Chair of the Academic StudioAcademic Studio
Dr. Kate M. Kokontis (Integrated Humanities: History) is a Founding Faculty member of the Academic Studio and Assistant Chair of Integrated Humanities. She earned her B.A. from Yale, a post-baccalaureate certificate in painting from the Studio Art Centers, International / Florence, and her Ph.D. in Performance Studies from U.C. Berkeley. Additionally at NOCCA, Kate co-facilitates the Student Leadership Council; enjoys creating collaborative projects with her colleagues across departments; and is involved in the Plessy Project. Right now she is working on a novel and an academic book project emerging from her dissertation, “Performative Returns and the Rememory of History: genealogy and performativity in the American racial state.” She has been a nominee for the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s National History Teacher of the Year award, and recently participated in two NEH summer seminars: on Mississippi Delta music, history, and culture, and on Reconstruction after the Civil War. She has presented at several universities and national conferences and on WWNO about critical, interdisciplinary humanities pedagogy and curriculum for high school students.
Mr. Byron Lilly (History and Social Studies) moved to New Orleans in 2003, following a two-year commitment to the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in American Studies from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA (2001) and a Master’s Degree in U.S. History from Tulane University (2009), where he is currently a interdisciplinary doctoral candidate. In addition to his scholarly pursuits, Mr. Lilly is a master carpenter who, in the years following Hurricane Katrina, operated a contracting company while also pursuing an interest in urban farming.
Mrs. Haley Holt Mehta (Integrated Sciences) teaches Integrated Sciences I. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology Department at Tulane University studying Mesoamerican Archaeology. She holds an M.A. in Anthropology from Tulane University and a B.A. from the University of California, San Diego. Mrs. Mehta has taught undergraduate archaeology courses at Tulane and has instructed environmental studies and archaeology students in the field. Her dissertation research focuses on the archaeology of central Mexico, and she also is interested in the geologic and cultural prehistory of the southeastern United States. In addition to teaching and research, Mrs. Mehta enjoys the culinary arts and dances with the Sirens of New Orleans
Jayur Madhusudan Mehta just finished his PhD in archaeology at Tulane University. He is interested in a variety of fields from environmental studies to anthropology to archaeology. He is passionate about conserving coastal environments and protecting endangered and threatened coastal habitats. He is also interested in studying the modes of economic production among small-scale and complex societies and the degree to which ritual is intertwined in manufacturing, leadership, and power. His theoretical interests are in defining the role of religion and ideological power within prehistoric polities.
In his dissertation, Mehta wrote about environmental dynamics at the Carson Mounds site, located near Clarksdale, MS. Once containing over 88 earthen mounds over the extent of one-mile, the site now has only 6 large mounds, 2 of which are double-conical. His research interprets mound chronology, site occupation and labor investment, and defines the engineering principals that made occupation and construction possible in the floodplain. Carson is unique in this aspect – whereas most Mississippian sites in the LMV were built in lacustrine environments, it appears portions of the Carson site were built adjacent to an active channel of the Mississippi river.
Dr. Kit Nelson (Science) is the Chair of Integrated Sciences for the Academic Studio. She earned her Ph.D. from Southern Methodist in 2001. Following a post-doctorate research position with noted Anthropologist Lewis Binford, she worked for Tulane University for 9 years. During this time she taught undergraduate and graduate classes, mentored students, and conducted archaeological fieldwork in Egypt, Peru, and the American Southwest. For her dedication to students in the classroom and the field she was awarded the Newcomb Distinguished Faculty Award (2010). She continues to publish and is currently carrying out archaeological research in the American Southwest at a Puebloan site near Taos, New Mexico in association with Southern Methodist University.
Dr. Millicent Schmidt moved to New Orleans from Florida where she taught chemistry at Santa Fe College. She completed her PhD at Stony Brook University in New York (2014) studying the unique mineral structures and properties of calcium carbonates. She also examined the presence of heavy metals in the lung tissues of veterans. For her MS at the Colorado School of Mines (2008), she studied the dissolution of clay minerals in lung fluid. She completed her BS in Engineering Physics at Colorado School of Mines with areas of special interest in petroleum engineering and liberal arts and international studies (2003). She graduated from the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts in 1999.
Mrs. Amy Tilling moved to New Orleans in July of 2005 and despite being welcomed by Hurricane Katrina only a few weeks later, she is here to stay in New Orleans. Mrs. Tilling earned her Bachelors of Science in Secondary Mathematics Education from the State University of New York College at Cortland (2000) and has just earned her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Texas at Arlington (2014). After teaching in traditional high schools for the past 14 years and having to pursue her love for the creative arts on the side, Mrs. Tilling is extremely excited to join the NOCCA team and experience the arts on a daily integrated basis.
Before joining the NOCCA team, Dr. Angela Watkins taught college composition and literature for six years. She earned a B.A. in English from DePaul University, and an M.A. and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Iowa. Her dissertation examined the literary representation of Vodou in fiction by black women writers. Within this context, she explored the historical significance between New Orleans and Haitian culture. Dr. Watkins recently published an article titled “Restoring Haitian Women’s Voices and Verbalizing Sexual Trauma in Breath, Eyes, Memory in the Spring 2016 issue of the Journal of Haitian Studies. Her research areas include postcolonial studies and the African diaspora. When she is feeling creative and inspired, she writes short stories. She recently self-published a short story collection, titled Sunflowers: Surviving Girlhood.
Dr. Russell Wolfe moved to New Orleans in 2007 from Nebraska, where he studied Physics, Biology, and Mathematics. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Tulane University for research focused on understanding how stem cells respond to the physical forces that occur during large-scale bioprocessing. While at Tulane, he also taught hands-on undergraduate engineering courses in robotics, electronic circuits, and medical device design, in addition to mentoring undergraduate students in research practices, public presentation, and professional career development. Dr. Wolfe’s artistic endeavors include ceramics and digital photography.