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Gambit’s 40 Under 40 (2015) 

The class of 2015: 40 New Orleanians you need to know

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Yelena Zaitseva McCloskey, 29
Vice president, Deposit and Product Management, IBERIABANK

Book currently reading:
Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis
Favorite local band: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
Favorite restaurant: Commander's Palace
What do you do in your off time? Play tennis, see live music.

  At 14 years old, Yelena Zaitseva McCloskey packed her bags for the U.S. and left Kazakhstan to begin a student exchange program. She landed in Shakopee, Minnesota. "You could barely find it on a map," she says.
  She was selected among 3,000 students to receive the scholarship as part of the Soros Foundation and Rotary Secondary School exchange program, which allowed her to live with three families throughout the year. She graduated high school at age 15 and graduated from Pennsylvania's Franklin & Marshall College at 20 after studying in Bulgaria and Germany. She worked as an auditor at Ernst & Young in New York for a year after graduating, transferred to Moscow, then returned to the U.S. to receive her Master of Business Administration degree from UCLA.
  "I'd always been a big numbers person," she says. "My favorite classes were mathematics. ... Everything seems so logical. ... The banking industry overall, it's so dynamic. Every day is a new day. You always need to learn to adjust. I'm also passionate about providing economic opportunity to communities."
  After completing an 18-month development program under Citigroup, McCloskey was promoted to the banking company's vice president of Citi Treasury Investments at age 26. She now is vice president of deposit and product management at IBERIABANK, creating and overseeing programs like Bank at Work, which extends the benefits given to corporate accounts to employees of those account holders, from loan assistance to mortgages.
  She moved to New Orleans in March 2014 with her husband, who introduced her to the city six months after they started dating. She's a big fan of live music — her family is made up of pianists.
  "There's so much to do," she says of New Orleans. "It's astonishing how much the city has grown and changed." — ALEX WOODWARD


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Crystal D. McDonald, 34
Co-founder and CEO, GoToInterview;; @go2interview;

Book currently reading:
The Clock of the Long Now: Time & Responsibility by Stewart Brand
Favorite new album: Beauty Behind the Madness by The Weeknd
Favorite Twitter account:
Favorite local band: Hot 8 Brass Band
Favorite restaurant: Dooky Chase and Irene's Cuisine
What do you do in your off time? Nothing makes me happier than spending time with my husband and 2-year-old son. The days that we cook, play, or explore together are my best days.
Cocktails or beer? Cocktails, of course.

  Crystal McDonald is changing the way businesses hire workers while also giving jobseekers the platform they need to reach employers. She and her husband Todd created GoToInterview to address the hiring challenges they experienced as fast food franchise owners. The company is a web-based employment service that saves employers and jobseekers the resources typically spent on a first interview. Employers post questionnaires online, and candidates respond.
  Through a partnership with Job1, the company offers prospective employees assistance in refining their responses to interview questionnaires and shows them how to market their skills.
  "We want to literally transform the way employers and jobseekers think about the hiring process," McDonald says.
  The entrepreneur also is active in the community, serves as vice president of the Women's Professional Council, is on the Contemporary Arts Center Audience Advisory Committee and is an advisor for the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans. — Kate Watson


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Trixie Minx, 34
Burlesque producer & entertainer; @TrixMinx

Book currently reading:
Memoirs of an Elusive Moth by Adele Friel Rhindress
Favorite Twitter account: @RuPaul
Favorite local band: That's not a fair question in a city that is literally made of music.
Favorite restaurant: Jacques-Imo's
What do you do in your off time? Catch up with friends over coffee, cocktails and cheese or take my puppy to the dog park.
Cocktails or beer? Champagne!

  Trixie Minx — founder of Fleur de Tease and co-founder of Creole Sweet Tease burlesque shows — is at the forefront of New Orleans' modern burlesque scene. Minx is quick to call burlesque's growth in popularity over the past 10 years a collaborative effort. "There's not just one 'Queen,'" she says. "There's a huge focus on the individual, and it's important to me people look at the whole as well."
  Minx produces and stars in burlesque shows such as Fleur de Tease and Creole Sweet Tease throughout New Orleans. Her admission-free Burlesque Ballroom show at the Royal Sonesta Hotel is credited with helping to bring burlesque back to Bourbon Street.
  The productions may vary in theme and setup, but Minx says they all "pay homage to the living legends who laid the groundwork" for modern burlesque.
  An advocate for the local arts culture in New Orleans, Minx currently is working to get health coverage for burlesque performers through the New Orleans Musicians Clinic & Assistance Foundation. — Kate Watson


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Megan Mouton, 32
Owner, Clue Carre: New Orleans' First Live Escape Game;; @cluecarre

Book currently reading:
Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
Favorite Twitter account: @mattbellassai
Favorite local band: Better than Ezra
Favorite restaurant: Brigtsen's Restaurant
What do you do in your off time? Hang out with my husband and daughter.
Cocktails or beer? Mocktails (she's pregnant with twins)

  Megan Mouton became an entrepreneur when she found a form of entertainment in Europe that she hadn't seen in Louisiana and opened the first live escape game venue in New Orleans.
  Before launching that business, Mouton worked as a vice-president at Event Rental for five years. On a visit to London in September 2014, she experienced her first live escape game in which participants are locked in a room and have 60 minutes to break out using puzzle pieces, logic, keys and codes to find the exit. Upon returning to the U.S., she thought the experience would be popular in New Orleans and opened her first location in January. She already is opening a second location near her original spot.
  "We are adding three additional experiences," Mouton says. "This gives us the ability to have a larger repeat customer base. With five total rooms, we can accommodate 43 people per time slot which is perfect for large corporate team-building groups." — Dena Marks


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Paul Michael Noel, 39
Commander, 2nd District, New Orleans Police Department (NOPD)

Book currently reading:
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Favorite new album: GoGo Juice by Jon Cleary
Favorite local band: Bag of Donuts
Favorite restaurant: Vincent's Italian Cuisine (St. Charles Avenue)
What do you do in your off time? Anything outdoors, softball, jogging. And Netflix.
Cocktails or beer? Cocktails

  As a commander in the NOPD's 2nd District, Paul Noel is spearheading reforms to the way the department handles sexual assault cases. The department's Special Victims Section came under fire in 2014 after the city Inspector General found dysfunction, mismanagement and more within the department. NOPD appointed Noel to head the newly formed Sex Crimes Special Task Force and reinvestigate 360 cases originally reported between 2011 and 2014.
  Noel says he has high expectations for himself and the four officers assigned to the task force. First and foremost, he says, he wants the unit to help victims — and he doesn't want the reforms to stop at New Orleans.
  "My goal is for the New Orleans Police Department to serve as a model for law enforcement agencies across the country in the way they investigate and interact with victims of sexual assault," Noel says.
  He has an impressive background to call upon. He earned a master's degree in criminal justice from Loyola University New Orleans and graduated from the FBI National Academy, the DEA's Drug Unit Commanders Academy and the FBI's Law Enforcement Executive Development Program. Noel regularly lectures at Tulane University and teaches ethics in criminal justice classes at the University of Phoenix. — Kate Watson


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Michele Oelking, 39
Director, Academic Success Center, Tulane University; @TUPeerEducators

  Michele Oelking's academic and life-coach counseling efforts are successfully helping at-risk Tulane University students, including those with learning difficulties, to overcome obstacles. Her cutting-edge approach is increasing student retention and earned her the President's Staff Excellence Award from Tulane in 2012.
  Oelking works with students to help them set their goals, as well as understand what might be standing in their way — all in a neutral place and without pressures from parents and teachers. She uses neurologically based strategies, while getting the students to focus on their strengths and identify ways to overcome their obstacles. For example, in people with ADHD, interests and motivation are closely related, so she helps students connect those dots. She also believes in what she calls "body doubles," or students who help each other, such as a roommate who will help a student get up in exchange for assistance in subjects with which they need help. She also urges accountability by setting up weekly activities and leaving it to students to gradually take responsibility for moving the meetings forward.
  "There is such an emphasis on metrics in education and often the human element is overlooked," she says. "I think we really need to rethink education and some of our approaches to it." — Laura Ricks


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Holly-Anne Palmer, 32
Producer/owner, Wine Lovers — The Musical and Happy Hour Entertainment;

Book currently reading: Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson
Favorite new album: Anything by Saint Bernadette or Angela McCluskey
Favorite local band: Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles
Favorite restaurant: Muriel's Jackson Square, Dick & Jenny's
What do you do in your off time? Host parties, hit up live music venues, travel with my husband and stepson, hang out at my dear friend Oliver Manhattan's parlor on St. Claude Avenue testing out new cocktails and costumes, volunteer as the New Orleans Cub Scout Pack 48 event leader — my stepson is a Bear Scout this year.
Cocktails or beer? Definitely a cocktail queen."

  Broadway producer Holly-Anne Palmer launched two theatrical companies with shows that have been seen by more than 2 million people worldwide.
  When the Broadway South tax credit program brought Palmer to New Orleans in 2009, she planned to a stay a month, but found an atmosphere conducive to creative experimentation in the Crescent City.
  "Because it is less expensive here, we can try things and fail," she says.
  In 2010, Palmer re-envisioned a show in New Orleans she originally had produced in New York: Wine Lovers — The Musical. "The audience has, like, six glasses of wine," she says. "Everyone is hammered at the end."
  The musical has played to 2 million people, including audiences on four cruise ships.
  Its headquarters are in New Orleans, as are the offices for Palmer's other company, Happy Hour Entertainment, which has several cocktail-based comedy productions.
  "We want to kick off the Wine Lovers tour in New Orleans in the fall, and we are trying to get onto a cruise ship based out of New Orleans for 2016," Palmer says. "We have been here seven years, and every year we grow by 30 to 40 percent. The company is based here, so all the money goes back to Louisiana." — MISSY WILKINSON


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Jonathan Rhodes, 36
Executive director, Louisiana Civil Justice Center (LCJC); community advocate

Book currently reading:

Our Only World by Wendell Berry
Favorite new album: Something More than Free by Jason Isbell
Favorite local band: Original Pinettes Brass Band
Favorite restaurant: Parkway Bakery & Tavern
What do you do in your off time? Spend time with family, renovate houses, volunteer
Cocktails or beer? Beer

  A busy three-day span last week for Jonathan Rhodes shows his dedication to improving life in Louisiana. On Monday, he was at Children's Hospital to provide legal counsel for children vulnerable to "health-harming legal issues" (asthma from substandard housing, for example) in partnership with LCJC, the nonprofit Rhodes has led as executive director for the past two years. During his leadership, the center has roughly doubled its services, now reaching 15,000 people annually in Louisiana's 64 parishes. After work Tuesday, Rhodes joined leaders of neighborhood organizations to discuss neighborhood-level solutions to the city's crime problem. He visited a senior center in Central City Wednesday as part of LCJC's program to help low-income elderly residents navigate estate planning and wills.
  "I'm motivated by a desire to serve my community," Rhodes says. "I'm fortunate I'm able to do that through my job, using my background as a lawyer to help promote social justice. Friends and family are helpful enough to allow me time to volunteer for causes outside of my job." — Frank Etheridge


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Amanda Rivera, 38
Architect, Eskew+Dumez+Ripple

Book currently reading:

We're Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt Their City by Roberta Brandes Gratz
Favorite new album: 9 Dead Alive by Rodrigo y Gabriela
Favorite Twitter account:
Favorite local band: Sweet Crude
Favorite restaurant: Domenica, Mariza, Shaya
What do you do in your off time? Travel, paint, plan for the next costume opportunity
Cocktails or beer? Champagne!

  "I might be the only half-Cajun, half-Guatemalan female architect that you will ever meet," says Amanda Rivera, adding she always knew what she wanted to do and loves creating spaces for people so that they can carry on their "mission."
  Rivera says she was naturally drawn to architecture, going back to when she was 13 and realized she was probably way too old to be playing with Legos. Though architecture is a field dominated by men, Rivera says she's had great mentors along the way, including one of her firm's founding partners, Allen Eskew. He made her the "co-pilot" on one of the city's most recent high-profile additions to the landscape, Crescent Park along the Mississippi River in Bywater and Marigny, a job that became more intense when Eskew died unexpectedly during the project. Rivera said it took "150 percent" over several years to complete the park, but she considers that kind of open space for residents to be one of the city's greatest assets.
  "I don't view architecture as work, I view it as a lifestyle," she says. "There's a saying that architects don't retire, and that even when they've left a job, they still keep drawing. I'm never going to say I've had enough. It's part of me." — Laura Ricks



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