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Gambit’s 40 Under 40 (2014) 

Our 2014 class of 40 accomplished people under 40

Every year Gambit's 40 Under 40 issue provides glimpses into the innovations, new developments, social improvements, science breakthroughs and artistic achievements of the young people in our area.
Here's our 17th annual 40 Under 40.

Ruhul Amin, 33
Electrical engineer, Stennis Space Center

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Book currently reading: The Future of the Mind by Dr. Michio Kaku
Favorite Twitter account to follow: @michiokaku
Favorite local band: Rebirth Brass Band
Favorite restaurant: Katie's Restaurant
What do you do in your off time? Play soccer, volleyball, do yoga, bike, cook and volunteer
Dancing or karaoke? Dancing

  Electrical engineer Ruhul Amin developed a technique that allows instruments in space to filter out clouds and other atmospheric interference to take pictures of algae blooms in coastal waters.

  He also is working on a process that will allow satellites to track ice from the polar cap as it moves and melts.

  "Most of the work I do is basically via satellite," says Amin, who commutes every day from his home Uptown to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where he works. "On the International Space Station there's an instrument that takes a picture. I developed an algorithm that extracts only useful algae information."

  An algae bloom can cause contamination of drinking water. It cuts off oxygen to plants and fish below it and causes them to die, and toxins from some algae are carried by sea spray and can cause disease in humans who inhale it. Amin has applied for a patent for that technique and one for detecting shadows and is working on another for ice, which from space looks the same as clouds and shadows.

  "We just want to see where that ice is broken in the ocean," Amin says. "It's obviously important information for the shipping industry, the fishing industry and everyone else, but also it's important for global warming. ... If we can successfully separate (the ice from the clouds in images) ... we can see how much ice is moving, how much is melting and all sort of things," including weather and climate patterns.

  In New Orleans, Amin serves as secretary for Slow Food NOLA and volunteers with the Rodrigue Foundation and NOLA Trash Mob. — KANDACE POWER GRAVES

David Armand, 34
Writer, instructor, editor, @darmandauthor

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Book currently reading: A Miracle of Catfish by Larry Brown
Favorite new album/CD: Nothing More's Nothing More
Favorite restaurant: Jazmine Cafe
Dancing or karaoke? Dancing


   Louisiana native David Armand is the author of two published books, The Pugilist's Wife, which earned him the George Garrett Fiction Prize, and Harlow, which has earned him comparisons to William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor from reviewers far and wide.    When he was in third grade, Armand started drawing comic strips. Even though they weren't examples of the kind of literary fiction he's made a name for himself creating, they did spark a love for storytelling. In high school and college Armand took writing more seriously and submitted stories for publication.    He teaches creative writing at South-eastern University in Hammond and just finished his third novel, The Gorge, which is forthcoming from Southeast Missouri State University Press.

  "I've gotten used to the idea of being called a Southern writer, and even more so a Southern gothic writer," Armand says. "The responsibility of that is to really capture what's unique about this area, Louisiana, New Orleans and even where I grew up, in Folsom. Place is very important to me."

  Armand says his future holds more storytelling. "I'd like to have a book come out every other year, and just kind of slowly build up an audience and readership, and be able to travel a little bit more and read in different places. I don't want to be overly successful right off the bat, because I think that puts a lot of pressure on you. But it would be nice to be a little more comfortable." — JEANIE RIESS

Andrea Armstrong, 39
Associate Professor of Law, Loyola University New Orleans

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Book currently reading: Punished: Policing Lives of Black and Latino Boys by Victor Rios
Favorite new album/CD: Lee Fields and the Expressions' Emma Jean
Favorite Twitter account to follow: @TalibKweli
Favorite local bands: John Boutte, Brass-A-Holics, Charmaine Neville and Herlin Riley
Favorite restaurants: Cafe Reconcile, Liberty's Kitchen, Il Posto
What do you do in your off time? "Dance and music. I have two small daughters that I adore. I'm with them quite a bit. Then it's really music."
Dancing or karaoke? "Dancing by far, though I've been known to rock 'Brick House.' Dance is a really important part of my life."

  Andrea Armstrong created a new certificate in Social Justice at Loyola Law that aims to distinguish to potential employers and fellowships, the exceptional students who have focused their training on serving the poor and marginalized.

  Born and raised in New Orleans, Armstrong left the city to enroll at New York University. She later earned a master's degree in public affairs from Princeton University and a law degree from Yale.

  Armstrong, the first African-American woman to serve in the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan, has been an advocate for international human rights, prisoners' rights and abolition of the death penalty. She has been a member of Loyola University's law faculty since 2010.

  "As an academic, I have the freedom to think and write about deeper structural issues that may be politically unpopular but also helpful towards accomplishing change over the long term," she says. To that end, Armstrong has done extensive research on penal plantation slavery and has published articles calling for prison reform. She currently is working on an article about racial bias and findings from implicit association testing.

  Armstrong sees the certificate in social justice as just the first step in supporting a new crop of socially conscious attorneys and advocates.

  "As a Loyola faculty member I can help build the next movement of activists for social justice through teaching, advising, and fostering a space for students to embrace their role as future advocates. In addition to the new certificate, we are building a public service concentration in our skills curriculum, fostering an ongoing community of activism through hosting speakers and events, as well as building a Loyola Social Justice website that will host materials and videos to support social justice advocacy more broadly." — APRIL ISAACS

Ansel Augustine, 37
Director, Office of Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of New Orleans


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Favorite new album/CD: Anomaly by LeCrae
Favorite Twitter account to follow: @KermitRuffins
Favorite local band: Rebirth Brass Band
Favorite restaurant: Dooky Chase's Restaurant
What do you do in your off time? "I like to read and go to the gym and lift weights."
Dancing or karaoke? "Dancing, because I can't sing worth a lick."

  Ansel Augustine has spent his career rebuilding the community, advocating for social justice and equality and nurturing a new generation of black Catholics.

  He began working in ministry 15 years ago at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in his home parish. After Hurricane Katrina, he helped rebuild his church and the neighborhood that surrounds it, and continues to be an influential force in the community, advocating for equality in education and social justice.

  He is director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, which identifies and fosters the rich diversity of black Catholics. Previously he served as associate director and coordinator of the Catholic Youth Office's Black Youth and Young Adult Ministry.

  Augustine, who also is a member of The Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indian tribe, says one of his favorite things about his job is that it enables him to inspire new generations of New Orleanians.

  "I do what I do because our youth are our future," he says. — DELLA HASSELLE

Bridgeja' Baker, 17
Owner, Creative Jewelry by Bridgeja', @cjbybridgeja;

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Currently reading: King Lear by William Shakespeare
Favorite musician: Kanye West
Favorite subject in school: History
Favorite local band: Rebirth Brass Band

  At age 10, Bridgeja' Baker launched her own jewelry line, which has won national accolades and is sold on

  When 10-year-old Baker's new braces broke after hours, her father drove her to an orthodontist's office in Mandeville, which was located next to a bead shop. Smitten with the art of creating fashion accessories, Baker took 30 jewelry-making classes at the shop.

  "I loved the classes, and the owner was really impressed," Baker says. A friend's parent threw a party featuring her jewelry, and Baker sold $1,107 worth of items. "I was like, 'I have to make this a business.'"

  Now 17, Baker has sold her jewelry at Essence Market Place Arts Expo, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation and She has been recognized by first lady Michelle Obama's chief of staff. She regularly donates jewelry to silent auctions for nonprofit organizations, and a percentage of her earnings is donated to the LA/SCPA, Children's Hospital and Unity for the Homeless.

  A senior at Isidore Newman School, Baker hopes to attend Savannah College of Art and Design majoring in fashion.

  "My ultimate goal is to become a great fashion designer," Baker says. "As long as you have some drive, pretty much anything is possible." — MISSY WILKINSON

Robin Barnes, 27
Singer/songwriter; founder and CEO, Fit By You, @RobinMBarnes,

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Book currently reading: The Power by Rhonda Byrne
Favorite new album/CD: Sam Smith's In the Lonely Hour
Favorite Twitter account to follow: @Women_Fit
Favorite local band: "I can't put me, huh?"
Favorite restaurant: Mint Modern Vietnamese
What do you do in your off time? Play golf
Dancing or karaoke? Dancing!

  After a life-threatening health crisis, jazz singer Robin Barnes created fitness apparel with a local spin on wellness.

  Robin Barnes is a musician, so she knows New Orleanians like to move. What's missing, she believes, is awareness of what it means to live healthfully.

  Her realization came two years ago, when the singer contracted a sudden illness. She thought it was jet lag, but it turned out to be a rare kidney infection. Her doctor was upbeat; it wasn't until after her recovery that she found out she was lucky to be alive.

  The close call convinced her that a positive mindset is essential to wellness. It also inspired her to create Fit By You, a line of fitness gear emblazoned with Carnival-themed motivational slogans. These days, she starts her morning with a 5 a.m. workout, spends the day managing her businesses and wraps up the week with regular music gigs. As a mentor to local high school and college students, Barnes is determined to spread a message of achievement through positivity. — ANNA GACA

G. Wogan Bernard, 34
Partner, Chaffe McCall LLP

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Book currently reading: Inferno by Dan Brown
Favorite local band: Rebirth Brass Band
Favorite restaurant: Clancy's
What do you do in your off time? "Spend as much time as I can with my wife and three kids."

 G. Wogan Bernard is helping redevelop New Orleans while also constructing a legal career of rising national prominence.

  In both his role as board member of New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity and his job fostering commercial developments in new construction as well as rehabilitation projects, Bernard is literally helping rebuild his hometown.

  A graduate of Jesuit High School, Bernard earned a degree in economics from Washington & Lee University. He got his law degree from Louisiana State University, where he served as a senior editor of the Louisiana Law Review.

  He accepted a position with Chaffe McCall law firm in May 2006, a time when the city was booming with commercial projects to meet huge infrastructure and housing needs. It was a daunting task for a recent college graduate, but Bernard brokered complicated deals, often using tax incentives, to help keep the flow of development active to this day.

  For his accomplishments, Bernard was one of the youngest fellows ever accepted by American College of Mortgage Attorneys. He also is a leader in the American Bar Association's Real Property Probate & Trust Section and an in-demand speaker at legal conferences across the country.

  "A lot of my success is based on support and mentorship from Chaffe McCall, as well as my family," Bernard says. "I take a lot of satisfaction in what I do, in being part of the continued redevelopment of New Orleans, of seeing the results of what we do." — FRANK ETHERIDGE

Patricia Besselman, 38
Managing Partner, Besselman & Associates
Chairwoman, Young Professionals, Jefferson Chamber

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Book currently reading: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Favorite local band: Rebirth Brass Band
Favorite restaurant: Galatoire's 33 Bar & Steak
What do you do in your off time? DIY projects
Dancing or karaoke? Dancing

  Patricia Besselman has worked to breathe new life into the Jefferson Chamber by pulling in more young professionals.

  In 2012, Besselman was in her late 20s when she became managing partner of her father's firm, Besselman & Associates, and attended her first Jefferson Chamber of Commerce meeting. She knew it was important to network with other business professionals, but she didn't feel she got much out it because she was so much younger than other members.

  Now, Besselman serves as chairwoman of the Young Professionals, which focuses on building relationships between business people under the age of 40. The committee hosts networking events, educational programs and facilitates community involvement.

  "I consider it a landing pad for young people," Besselman says.

  Besselman spearheaded an initiative to stage the first Fat City Fest this month in Metairie. The event, which she says is designed to showcase an area in the middle of a renaissance, will feature local bands, food and retail vendors.

  "My goal is to essentially make people aware of how unique the area is and highlight the resources we have," she says. — DELLA HASSELLE

Caitlin Cain, 38
Regional Advocate, U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy

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Book currently reading: Last Train to Paris by Michele Zackheim
Favorite restaurants: Boucherie, Patois, Bouligny Tavern
What do you do in your off time? Play tennis, walk my dog, hang out with friends and family
Dancing or karaoke? Dancing

  A trained economic developer and urban planner,  Caitlin Cain fosters grassroots growth across five states.

  If you're a small business owner, or aspire to be one, Caitlin Cain is your go-to person in Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. As an advocate at the Small Business Administration, Cain represents the interests of entrepreneurs, helping them gain access to resources, navigate regulations and voice their concerns to Washington.

  The most interesting part of her job, Cain says, is the opportunity to meet working people in every industry: independent fishers, small manufacturers and mom-and-pop hardware store operators. Her home base is New Orleans, where in her former job as economic development director for the Regional Planning Commission, Cain was instrumental in securing development of the Veterans Administration Medical Center and BioDistrict.

  In May, she hosted a symposium for small business leaders, encouraging them to make connections and share experiences as they build the base of the regional economy. — ANNA GACA

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