Meet our 2020 speakers!
Born in Accra, Ghana, Kingsley “Fifi” Baiden is a former professional soccer player and founder of the Fifi Soccer Foundation – a charitable organization that empowers orphaned children of Ghana through education and sport. Despite a rough childhood, Baiden persevered and earned himself scholarships to Dunn School and UCSB respectively. He was drafted to play for Columbus Crew in MLS. Fifi recently wrote a book, The Hope You Can Have, which highlights his personal journey from Ghana to the U.S. The book reveals how a change in our attitude and mindset can help us to endure any obstacle in life. As Fifi puts it, "live your life through your hard work and success will follow wherever you go. When we work hard, when we are honest, and when we help others in need, we display our desire to bring hope.
Asmau Ayub holds a degree in Psychology, Masters in Counseling Psychology and multiple training certificates in child protection, human rights, and youth development. Asmau also holds two U.S. Department of State Alumni exchange awards. She is a passionate leader in her local community and beyond. Her commitment to create and participate in volunteer initiatives speaks to an altruistic personality. She carries a charisma and confidence that makes her a magnet for young people. The time and effort she puts into getting to know her students on a personal level earned her the nickname "Teen-Queen" and speaks to her talent as a school counselor.
Ms. Asmau is a highly sought after speaker in Ghana with engagements across colleges and high schools that focus on a wide range of topics including mental health, religious tolerance, unwinding gender stereotyping and promoting Inclusiveness as a tool for global citizenship. Asmau is keen on engaging young minds on rewriting narratives about global misconceptions on African culture, unlearning toxic conditioning and reimagining openness on global perspectives.
Dillon Eisman is the Founder and CEO of Sew Swag, a nonprofit that up-cycles damaged and donated apparel for homeless youth in Southern California. After visiting a homeless youth shelter and discovering that not everyone has the privilege of deciding what they want to wear, Dillon set out to ensure that no one who receives second-hand clothing ever feels second-rate. For the past 5 years, Dillon has worked with major retail corporations such as Abercrombie & Fitch to reduce textile waste and youth shelters such as Covenant House to deliver clothes and confidence to those who need it most. Dillon currently attends Cornell University where he studies Business Strategy and leads a professional entrepreneurship fraternity, Epsilon Nu Tau, through which he works with his peers to launch and manage endeavors that aim to make the world a better place.
Stunt girl, Ninja Warrior, and modern-day Wonder Woman, Jessie Graff is known for breaking records, smashinging stereotypes, and defying the impossible. Her continuous record of placing among the top six MEN on strength-based obstacles, has shown the world that women can be stronger than we ever imagined.
She attributes her success on the seemingly impossible obstacles to her education in Engineering, Theatre, and her decade long career in stunts. Awarded the Action Icon Award for “Stuntwoman of the Year,” her credits include: Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Transformers, Die Hard, The Dark Knight, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and Leverage. She was an elite pole vaulter, trains in martial arts, high falls, wipeouts, sky diving, motorcycles, stunt driving, fire, wirework, and trapeze. She is most proud of her ability to push beyond her limits, and transform setbacks into opportunities.
Dr. Bradley Onishi is an author, speaker, and associate professor of religion at Skidmore College. He writes and teaches about life's most important--and most confusing--aspects: love, sex, death, birth, politics, and religion. He has published three books, the most recent is The Sacrality of the Secularfrom Columbia University Press. He has also written for outlets such as Huffpost, the LA Review of Books, the American Book Review, Religion & Politics, and The Conversation. He is co-host of the Straight White American Jesus podcast, which investigates the history, culture, and politics of the Religious Right in the United States. He holds an MPhil from the University of Oxford, a postgraduate diploma from L’institut catholique in Paris, and a PhD from the University of California Santa Barbara. He and his wife Kendra live in San Jose with their dog Animal.
Madeleine Nicks is a sophomore at Laguna Blanca School. She loves writing and the arts, and is thrilled to be participating in her second year on The Fourth Estate staff, where she is the Op-Ed and Co-Managing editor. Madeleine is a dedicated member of the drama department, and made her high school stage debut last year as the Jester in Once Upon a Mattress, and recently starred as June Muldoon in Anatomy of Gray in December. Madeleine also loves taking on leadership positions, and was a member of Student Council, both for the Middle and Upper school, for four years.
She published an article on period empowerment entitled The Bloody Truth in The Fourth Estate, and then wanted to take this topic even further and so she did a research-based project for Biology on the hormonal cycles connected to menstruation. She then decided that if she was celebrating the importance of talking about periods, she should do so publicly, and her TED talk began to take form.
A motivational tour de force, Chef Jeff Henderson is an award-winning chef, critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author, philanthropist, television personality, and highly sought-after leader in personal and professional development. Known around the world for his dynamic and life-changing teachings, he illuminates audiences with proven, high-impact strategies that empower change, inspire fulfillment, and motivate millions to live the lives of their dreams while realizing their fullest potential. From incarcerated manto world-renowned chef, author, television star, and authoritative life strategist, Jeff’s inspiring story of life transformation has been featured on Oprah's Life Class, Good Morning America, Today Show, ABC World News Tonight, CNN, The Steve Harvey Show and in major publications such as The New York Times, Newsweek, USA Today, People Magazine, the Washington Post, and many others. Jeff delivers uncommonly original and useful insights that lead to long-lasting success for individuals, businesses, and corporations alike. As a premier speaker on leadership and personal mastery, he empowers people from all walks of life to believe that if they can see it, they can be it. When Jeff is not traveling the world
teaching his life-changing lessons, he resides in Las Vegas with his lovely wife Stacy and their five children.
Victoria Strong is a wife, mother, and the Executive Director of the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation, formed after her firstborn was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). When Gwendolyn was diagnosed at 6-months-old, there was no treatment, no cure, and nothing to slow the progression of the degenerative disease. Believing everyone can make a difference, Victoria and her husband immediately began advocating and working alongside researchers to change the dire landscape. In just a few short years, they created an innovative emerging investigator program to fund new approaches, got legislation passed that streamlined clinical trials for all rare diseases and makes them more effective, awarded more than 500 practical support grants to SMA and rare disease families across the world, and raised millions to fund progressive research. SMA now has multiple treatment options and a potential cure -- changing the future of the disease forever. Featured in NYTimes, the Today Show, and on NPR, the Strongs have shared Gwendolyn's story to educate about the everyday lives and needs of people with disabilities and to help change the policies affecting them. Victoria also created and operates the NEVER GIVE UP. nonprofit apparel brand, offering courage and strength for whatever you are facing and promoting the celebration of kindness and inclusion. Now, spearheading the creation of Gwendolyn's Playground, the first inclusive playground in Santa Barbara, Victoria is once again reimagining the status quo -- this time elevating play to be more foreveryone.
Aydin is a seventh-grader at Laguna Blanca School and he is very inquisitive about many subjects but especially artificial intelligence. He is extremely interested about how producers of food can be connected to local restaurants and can help lower the food miles between a consumer and a producer; more specifically, malnutrition and AI. AI can create a diversity of foods in one area so that the area does not need imports from other places. Aydin is captivated by how different things work together and he views AI as a way to solve problems whereas some people believe it creates problems. In addition to his academic interests, he also enjoys playing sports such as soccer and basketball.
Marcy Darnovsky, PhD, is Executive Director at the Center for Genetics and Society, a Berkeley, California-based public interest organization that works for a world in which human genetic and assisted reproductive technologies benefit the common good. Darnovsky speaks and writes widely about the social justice and human rights implications of human biotechnologies. Recently she has focused on the prospect that heritable genome editing could undermine our chances for a fair and inclusive future. Her articles on this topic have appeared in publications including The New York Times, Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Hill, National Geographic, and Nature. She is co-editor, with Osagie K. Obasogie, of Beyond Bioethics: Toward a New Biopolitics (University of California Press, 2018). She has been interviewed by hundreds of television, radio, print, and online outlets.
Amy Burkman is a live art entertainer, muralist, animal lover, philanthropist, and a cancer survivor. As a commissioned artist, Amy’s portfolio includes personal portraits, pet portraits, landscape and realism pieces, caricatures and abstract imagery. Although she takes pride in her personal artwork, above all Amy strives to use her creative passions to help others. Her motto is “Art with Heart” and in her experience using art alongside business and social initiatives can help raise money to benefit communities all around the world. Amy raises money for organizations including animal rescue groups, cancer research, children's hospitals, and many others.
Sean was nearly killed by his next-door neighbor when he was 13 years old. In the hospital that night, realizing death can take us at any time without warning, he made a vow to himself that he would never take life for granted again. He dove into the world of personal development and now owns a self-help speaking and coaching company that supports people around the world in achieving their biggest goals and dreams. He has published thousands of articles, audios and videos related to success, happiness and achievement. His first book about self esteem and parenting, “Daddy, Are You Proud of Me?” will be released in early 2020. He resides in Southern California with his wife Cybil, daughter McKenna, and son Ecksley.
Misha Sra is the John and Eileen Gerngross Assistant Professor and directs the Perceptual Engineering Lab in the Computer Science department at UCSB. Misha received her PhD at the MIT Media Lab in 2018. She has published at the most selective HCI and VR venues such as CHI, UIST, VRST, and DIS where she received multiple best paper awards and honorable mentions. From 2014-2015, she was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wellbeing research fellow at the Media Lab. In spring 2016, she received the Silver Award in the annual Edison Awards Global Competition that honors excellence in human-centered design and innovation. MIT selected her as an EECS Rising Star in 2018. Her research has received extensive media coverage from leading media outlets (e.g., from Engadget, UploadVR, MIT Tech Review, and Forbes India) and has drawn the attention of industry research, such as Samsung and Unity 3D.
Gabriel Falzone is a Research Scientist in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. As a member of the Laboratory for the Chemistry of Construction Materials (LC2) headed by Prof. Gaurav Sant, he has authored over 25 peer-reviewed publications. His research works to extend the service life of concrete, improve its thermal performance, and develop new concrete materials that absorb carbon dioxide. To this end, he is part of team CO2Concrete, a Finalist in the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition for carbon capture and utilization technologies. He teaches courses related to concrete, construction management, thermodynamics, and MATLAB programming. A Bay Area native, Gabriel relocated to Los Angeles to attend UCLA, where he earned his degrees in Materials Science & Engineering (B.S. ’14; Ph.D. ’19).
Forrest Galante was born in California, but within the first few months of his life moved to Harare, Zimbabwe. In 2001, Galante’s world was turned upside down when terrible political turmoil in Zimbabwe caused their farm to be seized. They were forcefully evicted from their home in the middle of the night and fled the country, eventually ending up in Santa Barbara. Galante turned to freediving and spearfishing as a way to adjust to his new life in California and pursued a career in high-risk wildlife biology fieldwork, always focusing on animals on the brink of extinction. In 2014, he participated in Discovery’s hit show, Naked and Afraid and scored one of the highest PSRs (primate survival rating) ever on the show. Galante’s hands-on approach to wildlife, passion for nature and extraordinary background eventually led to the development of his own television show, Extinct or Alive, on Animal Planet. Galante continues to conduct field expeditions and surveys, working not just with believed-extinct animals but also with a wide range of other wildlife. His mission is to inspire and educate people about animals and adventure through the media. To learn more about his discoveries, read here.
This year, our amazing Laguna Blanca teachers will be participating in a panel at our event! Featuring (from left to right) Brooke Green, Erik Faust, Katharine Piller, Zack Moore, and Lindsay Woodard, our staff will love getting to know our audience and the broader Santa Barbara community!