CPEX is staffed by an extraordinary team that includes community planners, landscape architects, policy experts, scientists, communications specialists, advocates and strategists.   


 

Ryan Benton

Designer

Ryan, a native of south Louisiana, is a Designer with CPEX’s Planning and Implementation team, where he contributes an analytical and holistic approach to projects in communities throughout Louisiana. He has experience in a number of different areas including campus and urban planning, bike and pedestrian planning, and streetscape design.

Prior to joining CPEX in 2014, Ryan completed an internship at Reed Hilderbrand, an award-winning landscape architecture and urban design firm in Boston, where he worked on design projects at a range of scales. Ryan holds a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from Louisiana State University’s Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, and is pursuing his Professional Landscape Architect (PLA) license.

Outside of CPEX, Ryan spends time riding his bike, tending to his front stoop garden, and helping his grandfather sell his flowers and veggies at the Red Stick Farmers Market.

Expertise: site design, campus planning, bicycle and pedestrian master planning, digital representation

 
 

Haley Blakeman, AICP, PLA

Director of Implementation

Haley is the Director of Implementation for CPEX’s Statewide Planning initiative, which assists our communities to grow more sustainably by facilitating citizen-driven planning processes, building planning capacity, and working with them to implement projects from their plans. Haley has worked on planning and implementation projects throughout Louisiana including Jena, Thibodaux, St. Francisville, St. Charles Parish, and Vernon Parish. In addition, Haley led the Better Block BR demonstration on Government Street in Baton Rouge, which showed how the street could be reconfigured to accommodate all modes of transportation, street trees, pop-up businesses and urban parks.

Since 1999, Haley has been practicing urban planning and landscape architecture at a variety of scales, from comprehensive planning to detail site design. She has contributed to projects ranging from residential master plans, commercial and institutional site designs, hike and bike trail designs, open space and greenway plans, and stream restorations.

Haley holds a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degree from Louisiana State University and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree from the University of New Orleans.  She is a licensed landscape architect and a certified planner.

Haley is involved in both the American Planning Association and American Society of Landscape Architects, where she has held many leadership roles including state chapter president and national Chapter Presidents Council Chair. She has also helped implement Complete Streets policy at the state and local level through the Complete Streets Implementation Workgroup. 

Expertise: Implementation, Landscape Design, Site Design, Land Use, Project Management, Community Engagement

 
 

Jennifer Stenhouse David, AICP

Director of Development

Jennifer oversees the annual Smart Growth Summit, additional outreach and education initiatives, as well as CPEX membership. In her previous role as Community Planner she also worked on Plan Baton Rouge Phase Two. She works out of CPEX's New Orleans office.

Before coming to CPEX, Jennifer interned for N-Y Associates, Inc. in New Orleans in their planning department. Jennifer also worked for the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture.

A native of Baton Rouge, Jennifer earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Tennessee in 2006. In 2008, Jennifer completed her Master of Architectural Design and Urbanism degree from the University of Notre Dame, also participating in their Rome Studies Program.

In addition to her work at CPEX, Jennifer is the current Vice President of Membership for the Louisiana Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA LA), a board member of the Big River Economic & Agricultural Development Alliance (BREADA), an Executive Committee member of the Louisiana Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers Transportation & Development Institute (ASCE T&DI), and serves on the planning committee for Building Blocks: If Kids Ruled the City.

Expertise: Strategic Partnerships, Planning Education, Fund Development, Community Outreach, Urban Design

 
 

Rachel Diresto, AICP

Executive Vice President

Rachel has been with CPEX for over seventeen years since its inception as Plan Baton Rouge and she has played an integral role in building the organization into what it is today. Rachel has overseen numerous CPEX initiatives, and she is dedicated to cultivating progressive planning practices for the future livability and economic vitality of Louisiana communities.  Specializing in transportation issues, Rachel has developed policy platforms and proactive strategies for advancing solutions to complex community and regional planning issues. She currently spearheads the CONNECT Coalition, which is a regional transportation coalition advocating for improved connectivity between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She currently serves on the DOTD Statewide Complete Streets Advisory Committee and the Baton Rouge Complete Streets Advisory Committee which are both working to implement complete streets policies at the state and local levels. She also served on the Community Advisory Committee for the DOTD Statewide Plan update and the Capital Region Transportation Safety Coalition.  In these roles, she has contributed research, policy expertise and practical solutions while advocating for more multi-modal investments at every scale.  

Previously, Rachel led the update of the downtown master plan called Plan Baton Rouge Phase Two. Rachel also played a central role in coordinating the Louisiana Speaks process, a regional long-term recovery plan for Southern Louisiana following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. 

Rachel has an M.S. in Urban and Regional Planning from UNO, and a B.A. in Art History from the University of Dallas. In 2005, she received the 40 Under 40 award. Rachel has served on the Forum 35 Board of Directors, Arts Council Board of Directors and currently serves on the Baton Rouge Gallery Board of Directors.

Expertise: Strategic Visioning, Planning, Policy, Transportation, Coalition Building, Advocacy, Community Engagement, Facilitation, Non-Profit Finance

 
 

Jeanette Dubinin

Project Manager

Jeannette has been with CPEX since 2010, focusing on developing and providing planning and implementation tools with and for Louisiana’s coastal communities. She has co-authored several of CPEX’s publications and worked with numerous coastal communities to identify opportunities for reducing flood risk and increasing overall resilience.

Jeannette has a natural science background and earned a M. Sc. in Energy and Environmental Science from Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in the Netherlands, and B.Sc. in Biological Science from LSU in Baton Rouge.

Jeannette is married and has two daughters, two dogs, and an ugly cat that she likes to spend her time with. Her hobbies include horseback riding, gardening and carpentry.  

Expertise: Coastal Best Practices, Resiliency Planning

 
 

Heather Finke

Executive Assistant

Heather manages the day-to-day operations of the Center for Planning Excellence. She comes to CPEX with a background in national service, university life and state government.  For more than seven years she was involved with AmeriCorps, including one year of service as a member while in college. Upon graduation from the University of Louisiana Lafayette with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, her commitment to service continued as an assistant director at the UL Lafayette AmeriCorps program followed by the same role at the state office which oversees AmeriCorps. She was most recently the executive director of a program in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office responsible for retaining and attracting individuals over the age of 50 to Louisiana.

Heather’s organizational skills and attention to detail assist CPEX in board development and membership growth.

Expertise: Database Management, Fundraising, Communications, Meeting Facilitation

 
 

Alicia Hawkes

Director of Operations

As CPEX’s Director of Operations, Alicia supervises all operations and accounting functions for CPEX, out of the New Orleans satellite office.

Alicia’s work prior to CPEX included working as an Office Manager at an Employee Assistance Program in Chicago, and as an Administrative Assistant at a corporate banking office in Los Angeles. She has also had employment adventures as a proofreader, book store manager, temp, actor and camp counselor.

Alicia was born and raised in Baton Rouge, and attended Baton Rouge High School.  She has a bachelor’s degree in Theatre from Illinois State University.

Expertise: Non-profit Finance, Contract Management, Reporting

 
 

Jessica Kemp

Vice President, Policy + advocacy

As Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, Jessica is responsible for advancing CPEX’s mission in public policy for the CONNECT coalition and issues related to housing, equity and planning throughout the state. Her work includes the development, monitoring, coordination, implementation and evaluation of policy and advocacy efforts at the municipal, state and national levels. Jessica is also responsible for assisting executive leadership with strategic planning and resource development at CPEX.

Jessica’s professional and academic career has been focused on research, communications, fund development and social justice philanthropy. Before coming to CPEX in 2013, Jessica served as Vice President of Communications for the Foundation for Louisiana where she led communications and outreach efforts as well as resource development strategies to advance program and policy objectives focused on economic development, affordable housing and equitable access to opportunity.

Jessica completed a Ph.D. in English at Louisiana State University, specializing in critical theory and consumerism; a M.A. in English from the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York; and a B.A. in English from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. Jessica has served on the YWCA’s Public Policy Committee and participated in Habitat for Humanity’s Women’s Build. She currently sits on the boards of the Environment and Health Council of Louisiana and the Capital Area March of Dimes. She is a lifelong fellow of the Effective Leadership Program, a joint endeavor of Duke University, Southern University and the University of Cape Town to cultivate leaders committed to social justice in Louisiana and South Africa.

Expertise: Policy, Communications Strategy, Facilitation, Resource Development, Coalition Building

 
 

Lauren Michaud Knotts

Director of Communications

Lauren oversees communications strategy and brand position, manages CPEX’s visual identity and online presence, develops collateral materials, and consults on client projects. She serves as CPEX’s media liaison and provides support across CPEX’s programs for community engagement, membership, fund development, and special events.

Lauren is a Baton Rouge native with a Masters of Arts in Integrated Marketing Communication from Emerson College in Boston, MA and a Bachelor of Business Administration and French from Millsaps College in Jackson, MS. Before joining CPEX in March of 2016, Lauren worked for 6 years at The Emerge Center, a non-profit therapy center for children with developmental delays, where she was instrumental in executing a capital campaign and organizational rebranding. Prior to The Emerge Center, Lauren worked as Business Analyst at a non-profit focused on statewide technology-based economic development in Mississippi.

Lauren is a member of the Baton Rouge chapters of Public Relations Association of Louisiana (PRAL) and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), on whose board she has served as Vice President of Communication and Vice President of Education. She is currently on the Board of Directors for Forward Arts. Lauren was a Development Fellow through Baton Rouge Area Foundation in 2010 and was named the Baton Rouge AFP chapter's 2012 Chamberlain Scholar.

Expertise: Communications Strategy, Brand Management, Strategic Partnerships, Fund Development, Community Outreach

 

 
 

Justin Kozak

Researcher + Policy Analyst

Justin completed a PhD in Environmental Resources & Policy at Southern Illinois University (SIU) where his research focused broadly on working solutions to water resources issues in Louisiana and beyond. Drawn to Louisiana through work in the Atchafalaya River Basin as part of a National Science Foundation IGERT Fellowship in Watershed Science and Policy, he moved with his wife to Baton Rouge where he dabbled in stay-at-home husbanding and housekeeping on a shoestring before being hired by the Center for Planning Excellence.

As a member of CPEX’s Planning + Implementation team, Justin is currently researching climate change adaptation as it pertains to coastal Louisiana.

Justin’s personal life revolves around spending quality time with a 15-year old Chihuahua named Mr. Man, basking in the tranquility of not having any children, and assisting his wife in her academic endeavors as she works towards a Master’s of Architecture at Louisiana State University.

Expertise: Natural resource management and restoration, Ecosystem services, Coupled natural and human systems, Environmental policy

 
 

Camille Manning-Broome

SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT

With experience in both social and natural sciences, Camille has developed and oversees multi-disciplinary statewide resiliency and planning efforts that leverage funding, provide technical assistance and model land use tools to communities across the state. Camille has spearheaded and directed cross-agency projects, publishing documents such as the Louisiana Land Use Toolkit, Coastal Best Practices Manual, View From the Coast, and has worked on Comprehensive Plans in more than 30 communities.

Prior to working at CPEX, Camille gained both private-sector and government experience working on a host of issues from strategic planning to hazard mitigation. She first worked for the Federal government creating recovery plans for all the communities impacted from Katrina and later worked at the Shaw Group where she worked on Louisiana’s first Coastal Master Plan. Camille has been an invited guest and participant on Congressional delegation trips to the Netherlands and Japan to study water and disaster management, both led by U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu.  Most recently, she become a Mentor for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, where she is part of an international effort educating individuals on climate change. A native of Baton Rouge, Camille earned her bachelor’s degree at LSU, and later, working under a National Science Foundation grant and assistantship, she received a M.S. in Environmental Sciences with an emphasis on Disaster Science. Her thesis research focused on risk perceptions and adaptation strategies for coastal fishing communities. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Sciences at LSU with her research focusing on climate change adaptation in South Louisiana.  

In addition to her work at CPEX, Camille and her husband, Devin, purchase and revitalize blighted properties. Camille enjoys being a mother to her sons Isaac and Emerson, world travel, reading, yoga, and occasionally scuba diving.

Expertise: Business Development, Planning, Implementation, Disaster and Resiliency Planning, Environmental Management, Facilitation, Strategic Planning

 
 

Lauren Marschall, AICP

project manager

Lauren is a Project Manager with CPEX’s Planning and Implementation team, facilitating comprehensive planning and code writing in communities around Louisiana. She has worked with communities including the City of Gonzales, City of Thibodaux, and Vernon Parish on comprehensive planning, public outreach and meeting facilitation and contributes to many other CPEX projects, including neighborhood transportation planning and streetscape demonstration projects. Lauren also brings several years of experience with Geographic Information Systems to CPEX.

Lauren holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Louisiana State University in her hometown of Baton Rouge, and a Master of Science in Community and Regional Planning from The University of Texas at Austin. Lauren is a member of the American Planning Association and currently serves as Treasurer for the Capital Section of APA’s Louisiana Chapter.

Expertise: Code Development, GIS Mapping, Land Use Planning, Community Outreach

 
 

Janet Tharp

Director of planning

Janet has over 30 years of planning experience, specializing in project management, comprehensive and special district planning, ordinance drafting, implementation and public outreach and values research. Janet has practiced in both the public and private sectors, and has experience directing large and mid-sized city planning departments. She has prepared comprehensive and special area plans and development ordinances throughout the country, and was a project manager for the East Baton Rouge Parish Comprehensive Plan.

When working with Louisiana communities and parishes, Janet focuses on understanding residents’ and stakeholders’ values, needs and goals and incorporating them into the community’s planning efforts. Janet has led plans in the City of Gonzales, as well as in Lafourche, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, and Point Coupee Parishes. She has prepared ordinance amendments in East Baton Rouge and Vernon parishes and for the City of Gonzales. She recently managed a city-wide Complete Streets initiative and a worked on a neighborhood and housing plan for the City of Dallas.

Janet serves as a smart growth instructor for the National Association of Realtors, and teaches classes throughout the US.

Expertise: Community Planning and Visioning, Land Use Strategies, Ordinance Development, Implementation, Market Research, Economic Development Strategies

 
 

Elizabeth "Boo" Thomas, FASLA

president/ceo

Well-versed in community-driven land use planning and implementation, Thomas has led successful revitalization efforts across the region since obtaining her Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from LSU. As the former head of Plan Baton Rouge and the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance, Thomas has been an advocate for smart growth in Louisiana throughout her career.

While Thomas’ work at Plan Baton Rouge focused on the revitalization of the downtown area, in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, she led CPEX in facilitating the Louisiana Speaks recovery process, which was the largest planning effort ever undertaken in Louisiana and set national records for public participation. The process resulted in the Louisiana Speaks Regional Plan, a comprehensive plan created through the participation of over 27,000 South Louisiana residents. Thomas has continued to build on that plan, overseeing CPEX’s planning efforts in communities and parishes across the state.

In recognition of her outstanding contributions to Louisiana, Thomas has been honored by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, the YMCA, the Baton Rouge Business Report, LSU, Forum 35 and the Louisiana Architecture Foundation. In September 2009, Thomas and CPEX were awarded the Olmsted Medal by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) for “incredible leadership and set the standard for bringing community members and leaders together to work toward a shared vision for future growth and development.” One year later, Thomas became the second woman in Louisiana named to the ASLA National Council of Fellows, one of the highest honors the organization can bestow on an individual. She also received the John W. Barton Excellence in Nonprofit Management Award from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.

Expertise: Strategic Visioning, Planning, Landscape Architecture, Public-Private Partnerships, Facilitation, Coalition Building, Public Engagement