The Esprit de Femme award recognizing exceptional efforts toward the advancement of women in Louisiana will be presented to eight women during a LSU Women's Center Women's History Month event at 8 a.m. Thursday, March 28, at the Renaissance Baton Rouge Hotel, 7000 Bluebonnet Blvd.

Tickets to the Esprit de Femme Awards Sunrise Celebration are $50 at

The Esprit de Femme award honors people who elevate the status of women in the community through their contributions to the arts, education, health care, business and industry, charity and civic engagement, according to a news release.

The 2019 recipients are: 

  • Alyssa Carson, 17, is a graduate of Advanced Space Academy, National Flight Academy, Virginia Space Flight Academy, Cosmosphere and Euro Space Academy. In October 2016, she was the youngest to be accepted and graduate the NASA Advanced PoSSUM Academy, and youngest to be an astronaut trainee.
  • Leah S. Cullins is an assistant professor and family nurse practitioner at the Southern University School of Nursing. 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 L. Gates is a pediatric specialist, social justice advocate and community servant.
  • 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 Louisiana for 13 years.
  • 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 Sciences Center in Shreveport and postdoctoral training at the University of California, Berkeley, she served on the faculty at the University of Tennessee from 1992 to 2014.
  • April Rush Ruffolo’s day job at Louisiana Culinary Institute and ownership responsibilities at BRQ Seafood and Barbeque keep her busy, but she is committed to bettering the community through her work as a founding member of the nonprofit Baton Rouge Emergency Aid Coalition and a trustee for the LCI Foundation.
  • Tiffany Stewart is the Dudley and 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 Garner Walters, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, 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 the Department of Children and Family Services) and director of the Western and Pacific Child Welfare Implementation Center.