Mr. Travis Haas (Integrated Sciences) is a Ph.D. candidate at Tulane University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. 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 for 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 teach a small number of piano students and perform 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.
Thomas Spreelin “Spree” MacDonald is the Chair of Humanities and founding faculty member of the Academic Studio. He holds a Ph.D. in African Arts and Literatures from Ohio University’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts, as well as an M.A. in International Affairs/African Studies (Ohio University), and a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary English Education (Northern Michigan University). He has taught and mentored students at all levels, including with the American Reads Program, the Upward Bound Program, the U.S. Peace Corps in South Africa, and at Ohio University, where he taught courses in English and African Studies. As a scholar, Spree has published a number of essays on Africana literature, performance, and philosophy, and has held several research fellowships. As a poet, Spree has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has published poetry in journals in the U.S., South Africa, and the U.K.
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. Russell Wolfe (Integrated Sciences) earned his B.S. in Physics and Biology with minors in Mathematics and Biophysics from Creighton University (2007) in Omaha, Nebraska. While at Creighton he researched the physical properties of bone cells using lasers with a focus on improving cancer detection techniques. He received his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Tulane University (2013) where his research focused on understanding the effects of physical forces which stem cells are often exposed to during large-scale bioprocessing. While at Tulane, he taught hands-on undergraduate 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.