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SLPS Presenter Biographies
  • Joe Higgs

    Joe Higgs is the Executive Director of Institute for Public Leadership and organizer for Omaha Together One Community (OTOC). Joe has worked as an organizer for nearly 30 years in Texas and more recently in Nebraska with several different coalitions of congregations and community organizations. Joe worked with OTOC and Sierra Club leaders as they pushed the OPPD Board to adopt a long-term plan to increase energy from sustainable sources. Rep. Don Bacon joined the bi-partisan Climate Solutions Caucus at the request of OTOC which is educating legislators about promising strategies like Carbon Fee and Dividend to address climate change. Locally, OTOC leaders are working to shape the City of Omaha 10-year garbage contract to minimize the impact that it will have on our environment.

    Daniel Lawse March 2018 speaker

    Daniel Lawse is the Chief Century Thinker and co-owner of Verdis Group, a sustainability consulting firm based in Omaha. He has undergone his own journey of finding personal sustainability while being a sustainability leader. He has journeyed through varying degrees of community engagement and burnout to a dynamic ebb and flow of personal, family and community thriving.

    Under Daniel’s leadership, Verdis earned the Greater Omaha Chamber’s 2015 Small Business of the Year award and is working with some of Nebraska’s largest employers, including the Omaha Public Schools, The Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, and Methodist Health Systems.

    He is a husband and father of two daughters and one son, an active commuter, meditator and graduate from Creighton University. He thrives in the wilderness, where he has completed two vision quests. He serves on a handful of community boards and committees, including as the Board Chair for Omaha’s bus system, Metro Transit. He earned a Ten Outstanding Young Omahans award in 2010 and was recognized as an Aspen Institute Environment Scholar in 2012.

    Daniel’s passion is cultivating adaptive and resilient solutions for communities and organizations to flourish now, and for generations to come. His Gallup Strengths are Restorative, Connectedness, Belief, Achiever and Communication. Mostly though, he is a human being, trying to live as authentically as possible.

    Jeff Berggren

    Jeff has worked in the renewable energy field since 2007 when he founded Husker Wind Power. With his construction and agricultural background, Jeff has managed multi-million-dollar energy efficiency projects for counties, school districts, and municipalities across Nebraska while working as Project Manager for a large-scale Energy Service Organization.

     Jeff currently manages GenPro Energy Solutions projects in Nebraska from Grand Island, Nebraska.  Jeff oversees the turn-key development of projects from design through construction and commissioning.  Community projects to date include Lexington, Gothenburg, Aurora, Central City, and Fremont.

    Jeff holds an Bachelor of Arts from Hastings College, and an MBA from Marylhurst University in Marylhurst, Oregon with concentrations in Renewable Energy and Sustainability. Jeff is a Nebraska native and a lifelong Husker fan.

    Cecil StewardW. Cecil Steward, FAIA, DPACSA, is founder, President and CEO of the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities.  A world expert on sustainable development and sustainable design, he is Dean Emeritus and Emeritus Professor of Architecture and Planning at the University of Nebraska College of Architecture in Lincoln. Steward, a past president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), has served on the boards of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, the AIA and on the charter board of the Architectural Research Centers Consortium. He served on the boards of directors of the Asia/Pacific Center for Architecture, the national Design Futures Council, and the steering committee of the United Nations Center for Human Settlements Best Practices Network and its international Dubai Award for Best Practices in Sustainable Development, among others. Steward is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Downtown Lincoln Association, the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission, and the Lincoln Children’s Museum Board of Directors. He started the Nebraska Center for Sustainable Construction, which operates Nebraska EcoStores, a recycled building materials store in Lincoln, Nebraska. He has been a member of the Nebraska Capitol Environs Commission where he assisted in the writing of the first design guidelines for urban protection of the Nebraska Capitol building. His initiatives in Nebraska's two largest cities established the Green Omaha Coalition and Lincoln Green by Design, aimed at fostering sustainability policies and practices in city government. During the Obama Administration, Steward served on the national Peer Review Committee for design reviews of selected General Services Administration projects, including buildings within the U.S. Capitol complex, and as a member of the Pennsylvania Avenue Design Charrette Team in Washington, D.C. At the international level he served as a member of the National Committee on U.S./China Relations, and the UNESCO-sponsored design charrette team for the international Memorial to West African Slave Trade, Dakar, Senegal. Since 1984, he has served as a consultant to the Peoples Republic of China in establishing accreditation and licensing for architects. He is involved in several more groups working to promote sustainable development in urban areas throughout the world.

    Ben VogtBenjamin Vogt has a PhD in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His writing and photography have appeared in over 60 publications from journals and magazines to anthologies. Benjamin writes a native plant gardening column at and speaks nationally on sustainable and wildlife landscapes. He owns Monarch Gardens LLC, a prairie garden design firm, and lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.

    Rachel AndersonRachel Anderson works in Lincoln, Nebraska as the Community Landscape Specialist of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. Rachel holds a Master of Landscape Architecture from Iowa State University and a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is passionate about how ecological garden design can connect people to the outdoors while protecting our wildlife, water and soil.

    Dan Gompert

    Daniel Gompert is an Information Technology and Systems Instructor at Central Community College – Hastings.  Daniel has been involved in the Information Technology(IT) Industry as an Instructor and Consultant for the past 25 years. Daniel has been a member of the Environmental Sustainability Across the Curriculum Committee at Central Community College as well as being involved in the development of the E-Badge Award Program and other sustainability initiatives.  In addition, Daniel has developed and taught courses in Green Technology, Wind Energy Fundamentals, Wind Turbines and Solar Energy. Currently, Daniel is involved in developing sustainability awareness in students at Central Community College in various career fields. Daniel has earned Associate of Science degrees from Central Community College in Computers and Automation and Electronics Technology.  He also has a B.S. in Business Information Systems from Bellevue University of Omaha.  Daniel is currently a certified Cisco Networking Academy Instructor, VMware Academy Instructor and EMC Academy Instructor.

    Michael HelgersonMichael Helgerson is Transportation & Data Manager at the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA)– the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Omaha-Council Bluffs region. In this role, Michael leads the transportation planning process for the three-county MPO region that includes Douglas, Sarpy and the urbanized portion of Pottawattamie Counties. Michael is currently leading the development of MAPA’s 2050 Long Range Transportation Plan, an effort that is tying the Heartland 2050 Regional Vision to the region’s transportation planning process. In addition to these roles at MAPA, Michael has served as the Regional Active Transportation Coordinator for the City of Omaha, advising on the development of the Complete Streets Design Manual and the incorporation of recommendations from MAPA’s Regional Bicycle-Pedestrian Master Plan.  Michael received his Bachelor of Science in Community & Regional Planning from Iowa State University in Ames, IA, and his Master of Public Administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

    Greg NorrisDr. Gregory Norris is an internationally acclaimed Life Cycle Analysis expert. In addition to serving as the Institute’s Chief Scientist, Gregory is the co-director of the Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise within the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health. He has taught Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) at HSPH since the late 1990s. Gregory is also the founder of New Earth, a non-profit institute developing technologies that enable people across the globe to drive sustainable development “from the bottom up.” Its projects include Earthster, an open source platform for product-level sustainability assessment, Handprinter, which helps people take actions at home and work that more than compensate for their environmental and social “footprints,” and the Social Hot Spots Database, a transparent data source on supply chain impacts and opportunities for improving human rights, working conditions, community and other social impacts.

    Dr ShresthaDr. Shrestha is UNL's first full time employee dedicated to sustainability affairs. Hired soon after his graduation with a PhD in Human Dimensions of Natural Resource Sciences in the School of Natural Resources at UNL, Dr. Shrestha has been instrumental in setting up UNL's first Office of Sustainability and leading efforts to lower UNL's carbon footprint. Since his tenure UNL: has gained "Silver" rating in its sustainability affairs from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education; has made it to the Princeton Review's "Guide to 353 Green Colleges"; and Sierra Magazine's list of Top Cool Schools 2016. Under his leadership, UNL has seen remarkable progress in its sustainability operations, planning, academics and engagement.