Board Members

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President: Theresa Dardar

Theresa Dardar is a resident of a small American Indian community of Pointe-aux-Chenes in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, one of the most fragile coastal areas in the world.

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She is a strong local leader advocating for the restoration and protection of not just the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico and its coastal areas but also for the people and communities who call coastal Louisiana home. As a tribal member of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe, she is a powerful voice for her community, serving as a representative and spokesperson for her tribe at local, state, national and international forums, such as the United Nations' Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples Conference. She has participated in the Intertribal Agricultural Council and has represented the Gulf Coast in various capacities.
She works as the Diocesan American Indian liaison at the Catholic Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux and serves as President of St. Charles the Roch, Kateri Circle, which is a branch of the Tekakwitha Conference. She is a board member of South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center and Go Fish, a multi-parish alliance of fisher families. Theresa serves as well as the President of First Peoples’ Conservation Council. She is a member of The Grail, movement supporting the human rights of women. Theresa has been a participant/leader in Church Women United, an ecumenical women’s movement that fights against racial prejudice. She spends most of her time traveling between political, professional, academic and organizational realms to voice justice concerns for her tribe and for the greater native community. When she does find herself at home, Theresa enjoys cooking special local bayou dishes and being out on the water and shrimping with her husband, Donald.


Vice President: Rosina Philippe

A lifetime resident of coastal Louisiana, and an Elder/Member of the Atakapa-Ishak/Chawasha Tribe, Ms. Philippe is an advocate for preservation of traditional cultural and heritage practices and a grassroots activist.

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Her work is focused on partnering with leaders from other communities, and various organizations/groups, to work for environmental sustainability of coastal, traditional and historied communities. These alliances are forged to address issues of: Climate Change, Economic Instability, Environmental Justice, Gentrification and Coastal Restoration/Preservation; issues that are familiar to most of our communities and have plagued its peoples for generations. As a guest lecturer, she speaks on recognizing accountability, and identifying contributing factors and entities in relation to these issues. Ms. Philippe is a firm believer that people facing similar problems, through informed education and information sharing, have the power to affect positive long-term changes; and through collaboration, take charge of their own destinies, building toward a more resilient and sustainable life.


Treasurer: Evan Ponder

Evan is currently a graduate student in Social Work focusing on Community Health and Urban Development at the Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago. Evan works at the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA).

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Evan was a Community Liaison for Project Homecoming, Inc. from 2012-2014, collaborating with community groups around affordable housing and neighborhood recovery and planning efforts. from 2010-2015, Evan worked as a wetland communities advocate through the Coastal Communities Collaborative and Bayou Blue Presbyterian Church to support and strengthen connections between coastal communities in Louisiana around environmental justice and community resilience.

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Acting Secretary: Louise Fortmann

Louise Fortmann is a retired professor of natural resource sociology in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California at Berkeley.

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Her most recent article relevant to the work of the Lowlander Center is Daniel Sarna et al. 2017. "Where are the Missing Co-authors: Authorship Practices in Participatory Research" Rural Sociology. DOI: 10.1111/ruso.12156


At Large: May Nguyen

Nguyen is the Community Outreach Director at Tulane Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic and practices law part time at Garcia Law Firm
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In 2013, Nguyen received the Rishwain Social Justice Entrepreneur Award for designing and implementing a novel “impact claims” campaign strategy to demand recognition and calculate damages for lost subsistence use due to the BP oil drilling disaster. After Hurricane Katrina, Nguyen created culturally competent small business assistance programs and organized partnerships among diverse stakeholders to attract over $4 million in grants and low-interest loans to rebuild neighborhood businesses in New Orleans east. Her work was detailed in “Coming Home to New Orleans,” published in 2013 by Oxford University Press. Nguyen is fluent in Vietnamese and proficient in Spanish.

J.D., UCLA Law School

M.A., Johns Hopkins University

B.A., Amherst College

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At Large: Michele Companion

Michèle Companion is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado - Colorado Springs and a food and livelihood security expert.

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Her work has focused on Native American reservation nutritional dynamics, including impacts of low income diets on overall health and on reservation food security issues. She has been documenting tribal participation in the food sovereignty movement to reclaim cultural aspects of traditional foods. More recently, she has been focusing on food security and long-term health implications of food access for urban Indian populations by examining cultural barriers to healthy eating among low-income urban Indian populations. She is currently interested in examining the impacts of climate change on indigenous communities and their long term cultural survival.

Dr. Companion works as a food and livelihood security consultant to international humanitarian aid organizations. She has worked extensively across Africa in countries including Malawi, Mozambique, Angola, South Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Somalia and in Japan. Her current work focuses on the expansion of food security indicators to increase local sensitivity to food crisis triggers, especially in local markets and urban areas, and on population displacement, migration, and resettlement. She has numerous publications. She edited the volume Disaster’s Impact on Livelihood and Cultural Survival: Losses, Opportunities, and Mitigation (CRC Press, 2015), which includes contributions from a number of Lowlander Center team members, and co-edited Responses to Disasters and Climate Change: Understanding Vulnerability and Fostering Resilience with Miriam S. Chaiken (CRC Press, 2017) and Street Food: Culture, Economy, Health, and Governance with Ryzia de Cassia Vieira Cardoso and Stefano Marras (Earthscan from Routledge, 2017).

Team Members


Kristina Peterson

Kristina Peterson, is an aspiring permaculturalist and is working towards the integration of nature into all she does.

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She has been a champion of justice related issues be they human or environmental and an advocate for peace. She has a passion for finding new ways or creative ways of problem solving by hearing stories of place and people. Understandings from our past, our ancestors (human and non) can help us live into the future with gentleness of spirit and the rejuvenation of our lived world.


Alessandra Jerolleman

Alessandra Jerolleman is a subject matter expert in climate adaptation, hazard mitigation, and resilience with a long history of working in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
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Dr. Jerolleman is the Vice President of Louisiana Water Works where she works on projects related to integrated water management and resilience. She is also currently supporting the flood recovery efforts in Baton Rouge with FEMA and supporting climate adaptation efforts for local communities along the Gulf Coast with the Lowlander Center. She currently teaches for Tulane University, the University of New Orleans, and Jacksonville State University. Dr. Jerolleman’s experience includes the following: working as the lead grant writer and emergency planner for the First Peoples’ Conservation Council, working with the Lowlander Center on coastal community resettlement, community based resilience planning across the United States, serving as a Program Specialist in the Gulf Coast with Save the Children USA, working on a resilience initiative around children’s needs in emergencies; hazard mitigation planning at the local, state and campus level; community education and outreach regarding mitigation measures and preparedness; development of collaborative networks and information sharing avenues among practitioners; and, delivery of training and education to various stakeholders. Dr. Jerolleman is one of the founders of the Natural Hazard Mitigation Association (NHMA) and served as its Executive Director for its first seven years. She is involved in various aspects of planning and policy and the national and local level, including participation in several workshops each year. Dr. Jerolleman speaks on many topics including: hazard mitigation and climate change; campus planning; threat, hazard and vulnerability assessments; hazard mitigation planning; protecting children in disasters; and, public/private partnerships. PHD, MPA, CFM


Shirley Laska

Shirley Laska, PhD, completed 35 years of academic work, principally as a research manager at the University of New Orleans, before retiring in 2009 and transitioning her efforts to full-time applied research.

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She is a community/environmental/disaster recovery sociologist with significant time spent on interdisciplinary teaching, interdisciplinary research and service on interdisciplinary advisory committees both regionally as well as nationally—namely the National Academy of Sciences.

Shirley co-founded the Lowlander Center with Kristina Peterson in 2009. Their goal was (and is) to commit their time fully to the support of coastal and bayou communities of Louisiana through service to community goals and applied research similarly to support their successful sustainability. The challenge of supporting communities so threatened by land loss and powerful riverine flooding, coastal storm inundation and oil spills is that sustainability adjustments may in the end be inadequate to these communities being able to remain in place. The Lowlander philosophy is that the sustainability skills developed in their effort to remain in place can be used to resettle inland if conditions warrant, i.e. “between now and then.”

Shirley was educated at Boston University, Tulane University and a Post-doc with the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in Cali, Colombia. She has taught at Dillard University and the University of New Orleans where she created two research centers, one directed toward environmental sociology and the other applied disaster mitigation and served as Vice President of Research for eight of the 35 years. She is (almost) a lifelong resident of coastal Louisiana.


Dick Krajeski

Rev. Richard L Krajeski has served the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) and the ecumenical- interfaith community as an ordained pastor for over 50 years and the disaster response community as a scholar/advocate for over 30 years.
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He spent 40 years as a pastor in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia and 12 years in the delta - bayou area of southeast Louisiana – all places of ‘economic, environmental extraction and human exploitation’. He is actively engaged in environmental and social justice issues. Dick’s academic background includes degrees in philosophy, history and theology. His doctoral program was in applied technology, with concentration on sustainable development and ethics. He has been instrumental in introducing the concept of mitigation, vulnerability and resilience to the disaster and mission ministries of the religious community. He led the country’s largest VISTA program as a response to massive plant and mine closures and then helped the program engage in disaster mitigation work following the 1985 flood. Krajeski is a founding member of the international Gender and Disaster Network as well as a founding board member of the Natural Hazard Mitigation Association and the Lowlander Center where he was the founding president. He is a Fellow in the Society for Applied Anthropology and was awarded the distinguish service award by Church World Service Disaster Response for his work in developing justice based community disaster response and mitigation programs particularly in large scale disasters. His present interests include exploring the nature of just resilience and just collaborative co-creation of knowledge (research).

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Tony Laska

Anthony Laska has combined formal education in Louisiana coastal ecology, more than two decades of training and experience in environmental planning, building performance and energy management and a deep understanding of natural system elements and processes to support innovative and sustainable projects and programs to enhance community resilience.

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As a community volunteer helping New Orleans’ Parkway Partners with the city’s recovery following Hurricane Isaac, Tony took charge of teams of volunteers over several weeks, straightening and anchoring more than 70 of the 700 trees planted on public land that had been blown over and even uprooted. More than 20 years previously, as president of the Bywater Neighborhood Association he coordinated a number of early volunteer efforts to plant street trees that now shade several blocks in the Upper 9th Ward. At present he is public communications interface between the contractors, volunteers and sponsors of the S&WB-sponsored “WEB” green infrastructure project and the Broadmoor Improvement Association and neighborhood residents, explaining the value of containing and reducing rainfall runoff to decrease localized street flooding.

Tony was the New Orleans City Planning Commission’s Environmental Planner in the ‘80’s, immersed in process and public service, advising city officials on the impacts of federal and state energy and environmental regulations and proposing City actions. In this capacity he honed a talent for explaining complex technical concepts and drafting city and/or state legislation regarding energy efficiency, recycling, performance contracting, building codes and environmental management, and secured grant funding for recycling and energy demonstration projects.

Tony moved to Oregon in 1989 where he gained proficiency in cutting edge science of wetland assessment and energy management. At Clatsop Community College, he played an intergovernmental role, building a new campus and supported program design and funding for three innovative buildings to complement the new Maritime Sciences facility. He transferred “temporarily” back to New Orleans in 2007 to participate in the post-Katrina recovery, serving on pro bono committees and boards focused on sustainable re-development, citywide energy efficiency program development, regional water resource management and HVAC, while continuing to consult in energy and environmental management in Louisiana to the present day. His work with Lowlander emphasizes green design.

Tony’s undergraduate degree is from Harvard University; his MS, PhD and Post-Doctoral research with Tulane University.


Amy Lesen

AmeriCorps VISTA Members


Kandi Dardar

Hello my name is Kandi Dardar and I’m a memeber of the Pointe-Au-Chien Indian tribe.

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I’m a Volunteer in Service to America, VISTA for short! Under my VISTA work, my job is to help six tribes which five are located along the coast while one is near the middle of Louisiana. All the tribes have the same thing in common tribal resilience. The tribes are working to become federally and state recognized while still practicing their belief and ways of life. My job entitles to help the tribes to become recognized, their traditions, stories, and their disaster plans. I attended the Pre-service Oritentation with only a little run down to what I will be doing and starting the journey in August to where I am today! So far, I can speak for myself that I’m enjoying what I am doing because I’m learning so much of not just my tribe but other tribes in the surrounding areas. Thanks!


Katie Dehart


Carmalita Sylve