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. 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 Kokontis (History and Social Studies) Founding Academic Studio Faculty member and Assistant Chair, earned her B.A. from Yale in Theater Studies and Visual Art (2004), a post-baccalaureate certificate in Painting from Studio Art Centers, International (2005), and her Ph.D. from U.C. Berkeley (2011). At Berkeley, she taught undergraduate courses about critical race studies, representational practices, knowledge production, and writing, and her visual artwork has been shown at galleries in New Haven, Florence, and the Bay Area. She is working on a book project emerging from her dissertation, Performative Returns and the Rememory of History: genealogy and performativity in the American racial state. At NOCCA she also co-facilitates the Plessy Project Student Working Group and the Academic Studio Leadership Council.
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.
Dr. Thomas Spreelin “Spree” MacDonald is the Chair of Humanities and founding faculty member of the Academic Studio. Since joining NOCCA in 2011, Spree has helped develop many core aspects of the Academic Studio, including the Integrated Humanities curriculum, the Academic Studio’s team-teaching and mentorship models, dual-enrollment initiatives, and essential rituals such as the yearly Student Orientation, Black History Month festivities, and the End of Year Symposium. For this work, he was recognized as a 2015 finalist for the New Orleans Excellence in Teaching Award, and has received NOCCA’s Spotlight Award three times for outstanding service to the institution.
A lifelong teacher and scholar, Spree originally attended college to become a high school English teacher, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary English Education from Northern Michigan University. After subsequently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa, he went on to earn an M.A. in International Affairs/African Studies and a Ph.D. in African Arts and Literatures from Ohio University. Throughout his career, he has taught and mentored students at all levels, including with the American Reads Program, the Upward Bound Program, the U.S. Peace Corps, the Country Day Creative Arts Program, Ohio University, and Nunez Community College.
As a poet, Spree has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has published poetry in journals throughout the world, such as Transition Magazine, Berkeley Poetry Review, Mandala Journal, and New Coin. He has also performed his poetry in venues such as Snug Harbor and the U.S. Mint in New Orleans. As a scholar, Spree has published a number of essays on Africana literature, performance, and philosophy, and has held several research fellowships.
Mrs. Haley Holt Mehta (Integrated Sciences) is 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.
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.
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.
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.