Dig Baton Rouge

Getting Connected

By Claire Salinas

Technology Engineering and Design, lovingly known as TED, is an organization devoted to “Ideas worth spreading,” and they have helped spread those ideas through talks that have taken place on every continent, even Antarctica.

Last Saturday LSU hosted one for the Baton Rouge area for the second time. Here’s a breakdown of the talks the twelve speakers shared, all of which were centered around the theme, “Connect.”

Logging Students into E-Libraries

Kurt Ristroph put the problem solving skills he has acquired from his engineering degree to use by connecting local school children with all the resources local public libraries have to offer.

Ristroph explained, “I’m sharing the digital libraries, they’re already there. A lot of students don’t know about them or have access to them because they don’t have library cards. The schools have the students but not the resources, so if I put the resources into the schools via the library, the public library can get to all the students.”

“Basically the thing is if I were to give a library card to every student at every school in East Baton Rouge Parish then in eight years you would have the same problem again, because all of those people would have aged out,” said Ristroph. “So what I’m doing is I’m giving each school library like 75 cards and then students can return as they come due, just like they do books, but in the meantime they can use that code on the front to get access to all these online books.”

Team Dynamics and how they affect decisions

Michael Hatfield is known as the community trivia guru and since leaving the DJ industry, has been working in trivia for around seven years. Hatfiled runs his own trivia business that creates trivia and hosts shows I various bars and venues throughout Baton Rouge.

“The interactions with the people, sitting down hanging out for two hours. I ask them questions, either they like them or they don’t. They’ll come up and explain how they know it or how they were right and their teammates made them change their answer.”

“You meet a lot of people a lot of different personalities you get to interact with. It’s not always intentional [how I influence people] sometimes we’ll have a question that people all gang up on me about. Then they have questions where people actually surprise themselves and they guess and they get it right.” 

Stitching Nature Together With Nature

Karen McKee is a wetland ecologist and scientist emeritus with the U.S. Geological Survey. She spoke next on the wetlands, the dangers of sea-level rise and how New Orleans is number four on the list of coastal cities at greatest risk for flooding globally.

McKee explained that one simple way to help alleviate this problem would be to create natural shorelines.

“Natural shorelines are flexible inexpensive and as an added bonus pull carbon dioxide out of the air and store it in peat below the surface,” said McKee. “The natural shoreline depends on a connection between land and sea and provides a nursery for fish and wildlife habitats.”

Connecting Through Food and With Food

John Besh is a successful chef in the Baton Rouge area who is passionate about cooking and serving others.

“My success is actually dependent upon my culture and my culture is also connected to my food ways. Neither one can exist without the other.”

Besh implored the audience to take heed to the current plight of farmers that may threaten the availability of the rich food Louisiana citizens have come to enjoy.

“We started working with a three or four generation family farm company. They go hit petty hard by Hurricane Katrina. This family was going nowhere fast until they struck a deal with a local school to provide milk for them. The local bank wanted nothing to do with local family farm,” said Besh. “We stepped in and made a microloan to them and partnered them with a team of MBA students form Tulane. They not only built a business plan around this dairy, but now they have almost paid back all their loan and have provided an inspiration for what can happen when we work with people in the right way.”

Repairing Race Relations

MaxineCrump was the first African American woman to live in a dorm on LSU’s campus, and it is her belief that the hard fight that was made to end racism needs to be finished.

“One of the problems we have around race in America is we think it’s simply impolite to talk about race,” said Crump. “We need to create a safe space to have and open and honest conversation about race that creates action.”

“If you break a traffic law you get a ticket. Why? Because there is someone watching to enforce the laws,” said Crump. “With race discrimination there is no one watching and no one to enforce it. The Civil Rights Movement didn’t set guidelines for institutions to follow so there’s no monitoring to determine where racial discrimination has occurred.”

Connecting Sculpture and Computer Science

Cole Wiley made his appearance next with an interesting angle on “Connect.”

Wiley studied both sculpture and computer science at LSU but it wasn’t until he had a eureka moment during one of his senior critiques, that he found an innovative way to blend the two.

This connection lead to, “The piece I was working on senior year. The concept was to allow people to explore the art of Chicago River Walk through three different forms of media,” said Wiley.

Wiley combined black and white images, small scale sculptures created via a 3-D printer and an 80 foot canvas that showed images from the Chicago River Walk based on the direction people walked.

“Once you can find one really solid branch, everything else will start connecting,” he said.

The Ties That Bind

Tracy Rizzuto spoke on the “Invisible threads that tie us to a great community tapestry.”

Rizzuto is an industrial organizational psychologist who uses her research in social network analysis to assist the successful Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination as well as to build organizational collaborations through the Choice Neighborhood Initiative.

“The bulk of violent crime in most communities is committed by a small handful of people, they commit crimes with and against each other. It becomes a lot easier to track violent criminals if you’re able to reduce them to interconnected groups.”

“We started to see an increase in requests for services. We started to see individual offenders were not seeking help but their younger siblings were. It has been shown its easier to change behavior when you surround someone with positive influences.”

Environment and Evolution

Ichthyologist Prosanta Chokrabarty is an associate professor and a curator of fishes at LSU. Prosanta’s research focuses on understanding how the relationship of fish to their environment have caused them to evolve. Prosanta’s take home message was, “We need these museums to be biodiversity hubs and records of where things are and where they have gone. Naturalists will never die as long as there’s science and as long as there is nature there will be natural historians connecting the two.”

Joining Brains with Computers To Overcome Alzheimer’s

Owen Carmichael was up next to talk about his passion for preventing alzheimers.

With a PhD in robotics and positions as an associate professor and the Director of Biomedical Imaging at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center Carmichael uses technology to understand how our actions and environment can affect the wiring in our brain.

“As an Alzheimers disease researcher I spend most of my days finding ways to ask, ‘Where are we in the fight against Alzheimers?’”

Carmichael’s research has lead him to consider, “Maybe we can fortify the brain so it doesn’t succumb to the devastational losses that come from those protein build ups [which are a common sign of Alzheimers]. Maybe we can train the brain to defy Alzheimers disease.”

Carmichael explained that as a parent he is not only asking himself and his wife if they are providing for their children’s basic needs but, “We’re asking are we setting our kids up to resist Alzheimers disease should it come for them?”

Bridging the disconnect between law enforcement and communities

Rashaud Red is a 17-year-old student at the Baton Rouge Mentorship Academy who is passionate about preventing future violence between African American youth and the law. He opened his talk by asking the audience “What if Darren Wilson knew Michael Brown before that fateful day? Think of the difference it may have made if they had met just once before.” Red started an initiative called I Am, in local schools that puts law enforcement officers in the same room as African American youth to have a conversation and create some familiarity.

“They take part in a question and answer question time where they can ask questions about each other. Slowly layers start to peel back and we are starting to look at a room full of human beings.”

Connections, Disconnections and Detours

BrianWolshon is a traffic engineer, LSU’s Edward A. & Karen Wax Schmitt Distinguished Professor and has provided his expertise to national news outlets throughout the country. Wolshon explained to the crowd that he and his associates work to, “Make incremental changes in the system.”

“We think roads are just built for us and people are in our way. To us a four or five percent improvement is good, which is about 35 or 40 seconds. You don’t see something that small, but we’re not looking just for you, we’re looking for something to benefit the entire system.”

Music Connects Ears to Brains and to Everyone to Everyone Else

John Gray is the director of the band at Dunham School and a proponent for musical activities throughout the Baton Rouge community, music pulsates through Gray’s veins.

Gray explained that the connection between culture and music education is vital not because it will necessarily raise test scores, but because it helps people to understand where they have come from and where they’re going.

“Cultural identity is important, cultural understanding outside of our own groups is important,” said Gray. “It might not be a measure in social status or higher test scores, however there is a value in this because it leads to an awareness. It can lead to us raising funds for various cultures and institutions, it can have an affect on us influencing public policy. You just think about what can, what does music connect you to?”


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