LSU Women’s Center Announces 2019 Esprit de Femme Award Recipients

Esprit de Femme

During the Sunrise Celebration on March 28, each honree will be given an Esprit de Femme pendant. 

Photo: LSU Women's Center

BATON ROUGE – The LSU Women’s Center will honor Women’s History Month at 8 a.m. on Thursday, March 28, at the Seventh Annual Esprit de Femme Sunrise Celebration. This year’s awards ceremony will be held at the Renaissance Baton Rouge Hotel. All proceeds will support the mission and initiatives of the LSU Women’s Center.

Established in 2009, the Esprit de Femme award is an annual acknowledgement of a person who has made exceptional efforts toward the advancement of women in Louisiana. This award honors individuals who elevate the status of women in the community through their contributions to the arts, education, healthcare, business and industry, charity and civic engagement.

This year also marks the fourth year that the Esprit de Femme Student Leadership Award will be given. This award will honor and recognize LSU students who exemplify the ideals and principles of the Esprit de Femme Award. Esprit de Femme Student Award recipients will receive financial support to further their academic pursuits. The award recipients will be selected in February and will be recognized at the Sunrise Celebration.

“We are excited about all of our honorees and look forward to the opportunity to recognize their phenomenal contributions at the Seventh Annual Esprit de Femme Sunrise Celebration,” said Summer Steib, LSU Women’s Center director. “These women have made lasting impacts on the lives of countless women in our state and blazed trails for other women. Our 2019 honorees represent diverse backgrounds and accomplishments—our honorees are leaders and trail-blazers in government, the arts, the business sector, nonprofits, academics and civic engagement.”

In 2019, the Esprit de Femme award will be presented to eight deserving women. The honorees are:

Alyssa Carson
Ever since she was a little girl, Alyssa Carson had her heart set on the stars. At just 17 years old, she is a graduate of Advance Space Academy, National Flight Academy, VA Flight Academy, Cosmosphere and Euro Space Academy. In October of 2016, she was the youngest to be accepted and graduate the NASA Advanced PoSSUM Academy, and youngest to be an astronaut trainee.

Leah Cullins
Leah S. Cullins, FNP-BC is an assistant professor/family nurse practitioner at Southern University School of Nursing where she teaches nursing students. She maintains weekly faculty practice at the newly opened Louisiana Healthcare Services where she is the Founder and owner. She also serves as an Ambassador for the Black Women’s Health Institute.

L'Issa Gates
L’Issa L. Gates is a celebrated pediatric specialist, social justice advocate and community servant whose influence is highly visible throughout the community. Her most endearing quality is the high degree of passion she exudes when advocating for what is in the best interests of children and their wellbeing.

Brianne Joseph
Brianne Joseph is an award-winning entrepreneur, private investigator, best-selling author, keynote speaker and breast cancer survivor. She is the owner and head investigator at Sly Fox Investigations – an all-female, six-figure detective agency. She has been a Licensed Private Investigator in the state of Louisiana for 13 years.

Cynthia Peterson
Cynthia Peterson became dean of the LSU College of Science in 2014. She is a biochemist who has a passion for science and advocacy. After Ph.D. studies at the LSU Health Science Center, Shreveport, and postdoctoral training at UC Berkeley, she served on the faculty at the University of Tennessee from 1992-2014.

April Ruffolo
While April Rush Ruffolo’s day job at Louisiana Culinary Institute and ownership responsibilities at BRQ Seafood and Barbeque (both locations) keep her busy, she is committed to bettering the community through her work as a founding member of the non-profit, Baton Rouge Emergency Aid Coalition, and a trustee for the LCI Foundation.

Tiffany Stewart
Stewart is the Dudley & Beverly Coates endowed professor and Director of the Behavior Technology Laboratory at LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center. For more than 20 years, she has dedicated her scientific career to pioneering evidence-based programs and technologies for body image, eating disorders, and obesity for women, including athletes and U.S. Soldiers.

Marketa Walters
DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters has dedicated her career to improving the lives of children and families. Prior to her appointment as secretary, Walters served as president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana, assistant secretary for the Louisiana Department of Social Services (now DCFS) and director of the Western and Pacific Child Welfare Implementation Center.

Online registration for the Seventh Annual Esprit de Femme Sunrise Celebration is now available at Tickets, tables, sponsorships and honoree recognitions can be secured through the registration portal.

The LSU Women’s Center is part of the Office of Diversity and provides support, referral and information to students, faculty and staff on issues and concerns related to women. The center also promotes the advancement of gender equity issues and wellbeing through its services, educational programs and advocacy efforts. For additional information about the programs and initiatives of the Women’s Center, visit




Contact Summer Steib
LSU Women’s Center


Ernie Ballard
LSU Media Relations