2019 Food for Thought Table Hosts

1. John S. Adams, investigative journalist

Can nonprofit news fill the gap left by the evolving role of traditional newspapers?
What is nonprofit news? Can nonprofit news do investigative reporting, cover statehouse issues, and keep a community informed? What about the critical role of watchdog reporting, a role traditionally filled by newspapers?

Bio: John is an award-winning investigative journalist and founded Montana Free Press in 2016. He was previously statehouse bureau chief for the Great Falls Tribune, where his reporting led to the film “Dark Money” about Montana politics. He has also been a correspondent for USA Today.


2. Deborah Agnew, M.D. MMM, physician

What’s behind the Anti-Vaxxer Movement?
Health and medical scholars have described vaccination as one of the top ten achievements of Public Health in the 20th century. Yet, opposition to these lifesaving interventions continues to flourish, despite consistent evidence demonstrating that vaccines are among the safest medical treatments in the world. Why? Is it ignorance or are the concerns legitimate? How can well-meaning parents place their children at risk for potentially lethal infections? Today, as we confront increasing outbreaks caused by the re-emergence of vaccine preventable diseases, what should the dialogue be or, is there even room for discussion?

Bio: Deb is a Pediatrician and the Medical Director of Regional Initiatives at Billings Clinic.


3. Scott Anderson, educator

Is it time to revolutionize high school education?
How are high schools meeting the dynamic needs of educating our children? How do we as parents help our teenage student? How do we move schools from “seat time to hands-on and critical thinking time?” Most important, are we preparing students to meet the future working world?

Bio: C. Scott Anderson is the Principal and Director of the Billings Public Schools Career Center. He received his Masters in Educational Leadership from the University of Montana, and a Bachelors of Secondary Education in English from Northern Montana College. He has been in education for 29 years and an administrator in Billings for the past 19 years.




4. Patrick Barkey, Ph.D., economist

Legalizing recreational marijuana: How would it affect Montana’s economy?
Join us to discuss the impact of legalizing marijuana from an economic—not moral—point of view. How will permitting the recreational use of marijuana impact the state economy, specifically, the state government’s revenue? Join us to explore all the ways legalization would affect the economy, both intended and unintended. This discussion will focus on “what might happen” as opposed to “what should happen”. 

Bio: Patrick is Director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at University of Montana. He has done public and private sector economic forecasting and policy research for more than 30 years. He holds a B.A. and Ph.D in Economics from the University of Michigan.



5. Bob Brown, retired history teacher and elected official

The Civil War: Are its echoes still with us today?
Do the Civil War’s roots, Reconstruction, and the KKK still resonate today, more than 150 years later? What role did Montana play? Are they still shaping the America of today and tomorrow? Does it really matter, and if so, why?

Bio: A lover of history, Bob began reading about the Civil War growing up on a remote Montana ranch and has taught Civil War classes at high schools, Flathead Valley Community College and University of Montana. Bob served 26 years in the Montana Legislature and 4 years as Montana Secretary of State.





6. Sarah Calhoun, entrepreneur

Buying Local, Supporting Community: Can we rebuild Montana?
What does it take to conceive and build a women’s wear business in a small, rural Montana community, and what is the motivation? How does a huge music festival engage a community? Why do family farms and ranches, rural communities, and women’s leadership matter in Montana today? Can one person change a community?

Bio: Sarah is the owner of Red Ants Pants in White Sulphur Springs, the Executive Director of the Red Ants Pants Foundation, and the producer of the Red Ants Pants Music Festival.




7. Reno Charette, professor

Who me, discriminate?
Is it values, norms or experiences that define how we discriminate? What are microaggressions? How has the #MeToo movement changed our view? Can there be a “good” discrimination? How exactly should I act and when does common sense become involved?

Bio: Reno is the Director of American Indian Outreach at Montana State University–Billings. She holds a MA in History with a specialty in the American West. Raised on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, she is a member of the Ties-In-Bundle clan of the Crow Nation and a descendent of the Pembina band of Turtle Mountain Chippewa.


8. Keith Edgerton, Ph.D., professor

What is the lingering Impact of Copper and its Kings on Montana’s Modern History?
The vast copper mining of the 19th century and the power accumulated by those few Copper “Kings” who controlled the industry, continue to cast a wide shadow over Montana’s modern history. This roundtable will focus on how past events, attitudes, and personalities, while colorful and fascinating, still continue to influence Montana’s present.

Bio: Keith Edgerton is a professor at Montana State University-Billings where he teaches history. Currently he is at work on a biography of one of the Copper Kings, William A. Clark.




9. Ray Ekness, producer and director

Discovering the Backroads of Montana: Is it the people or the places that make it special?
As the producer of the award-winning Montana PBS program, “Backroads of Montana”, Ray has traveled most of our state. What draws us to follow these backroads? Who were the people that settled these small towns? What traditions do they still celebrate and why is it important to understand their history? What is your favorite backroad?

Bio: Ray is the Director and General Manager of Montana Public Radio and MTPBS-Missoula at the University of Montana Broadcast Media Center. In addition to “Backroads of Montana”, he has produced many popular MTPBS programs including the popular “Remembering the Columbia Gardens”, “To Helena and Back: the First Special Service Force”, and “Building Bridges: Back to Ireland”.



10. Jim Foley, wine enthusiast

Wine 101: Where do I begin if I want to get started?
The aromas, textures, and flavors of wine number in the thousands. And, the number of grape varietals and wine styles are endless. So, how do you figure out what types of wines you like and don’t like? And, what wines, from what regions should you try? How can you make your wine journey a fun one?

Bio: Jim is a self-proclaimed wine geek --- his fascination with wine started many years ago after his first trip to Napa Valley. And, after tasting hundreds of wines, reading many books, and conducting numerous blind tastings, his appreciation of wine continues to elevate.




11. Paul Milan Foster, Ph.D., professor

Russia: The Bogeyman of the West?
It is becoming increasingly common for U.S. media to blame Russia and Vladimir Putin for any number of serious transgressions of international law and the established world order. Putin has been blamed or credited with the election of Donald Trump, the defeat of Hillary Clinton, Brexit, weakening of the EU, the assassination of Russians abroad, military interference in Syria, Venezuela, etc. Can a single individual really be credited with such wrongdoings or are Putin and Russia being made a scapegoat for these major disruptions in the post-Cold War international order? Has the “Second Cold War” begun?

Bio: Paul is the Executive Director of the Office of International Studies and Outreach, Montana State University - Billings. A Billings native, he holds a Ph.D. in Slavic Philology from Columbia University and has researched, published and taught in countries that no longer exist (USSR, Yugoslavia) and countries that have re-emerged on the world stage (Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia). He is also the Chair of Study Montana, a consortium of all Montana colleges and universities interested in increasing their international enrollments.


12. Teresa Gunn, Ph.D., geneticist

Genetic advancements: Are there limits to scientific understanding or do we want to know?
With more opportunities available for research, the advancements in immunotherapy, CRISPR and stem cell research seem almost nonstop. New and exciting progress in the fight against disease is being made almost every day. Will these innovative scientific advances change lives, or collide with ethical and religious issues? Join this stimulating conversation of science vs ideology.

Bio: Teresa is a geneticist at McLaughlin Research Institute. Her research focuses on understanding what goes wrong in the brain to cause different forms of neurodegenerative and neurologic disease. She uses cutting edge technologies such as CRISPR-mediated genome editing in her research.


13. Jason Heath, branch manager

What should I be recycling and why?
Over the past several years, Americans have developed an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude in regard to their recyclable waste. However, the global recycling landscape has changed and consumers are faced with challenges such as economic feasibility and environmental stewardship. What is our responsibility for a cleaner world and how are we willing to make that happen? The recycling industry is now tasked with the unique challenges of balancing sustainability, transformation, and profitability.

Bio: Jason is the Branch Manager for Pacific Recycling in Billings. He has 12 years of experience in the recycling industry in Idaho, Washington, and Montana. Jason enjoys the challenges of the recycling industry and looks forward to helping facilitate awareness of its efforts in Billings and the surrounding communities.




14. Melissa Holmes, professor

Artificial Intelligence: What compromises are we willing to make for convenience?
As technology becomes more “friendly”, how do we as consumers navigate all the conveniences now available to us? From smart phones to smart homes, we’ll soon be living like the cartoon characters from the Jetsons. But what about the ethical issues of privacy and security? Will AI enhance our lives, or will it be our demise?

Bio: Melissa is a professor of Computer Science at Rocky Mountain College and is the department chair and has worked in computing since 1993.  Her professional interests include computer science education, user interaction design and technology ethics.


15. Lenette Kosovich, CEO

Navigating the maze of addiction: Is there a road map for help?
What are the reasons why drug abuse and addiction have become so pervasive? Is it access, money, or culture? How does mental health, stress or loneliness play a role? What are the emotional and economic issues of addiction and does finding help have to be so bewildering?

Bio: Lenette has over 25 years of senior management experience in healthcare administration, and is CEO of Rimrock, a Substance Use and Mental Health Treatment Center. She is a Registered Nurse and has a Masters in Healthcare Administration.



16. Tim Lehman, Ph.D., professor

The Battle of the Little Bighorn: Mystery and controversy.
How has new evidence from archaeology and Native accounts changed our view of what happened? How did the battle figure in the struggle for control of the Great Plains? Why does the battle still mean so much in our time?

Bio: Tim teaches courses on American, Western, and environmental history at Rocky Mountain College. He is the author of three books including Bloodshed at Little Bighorn: Sitting Bull, Custer, and the Destinies of Nations.






17. Jim Messina, CEO, political strategist

What is the future of politics?
With the current political climate so polarized, what can we anticipate for the coming 2020 election or even future elections? It’s no secret that this is the biggest primary race we’ve seen in decades, so what kind of candidate will the Democrats charge to defeat Donald Trump? What are the greater trends emerging across the United States and internationally that will shape the next decade of politics?

Bio: Jim is a University of Montana graduate, former Chief of Staff for Max Baucus, and past White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations under President Barack Obama. Jim served as the campaign manager for Obama's successful 2012 re-election campaign as well as campaigns for British, Spanish and Italian Prime Minister Candidates. Jim is now the CEO of The Messina Group, a strategic consulting firm for businesses and political campaigns around the world.


18. Brian Murnion, film maker

Mainstream, Independent and In Between: Why have Indie films filled the gap?
Recently, we have been provided access to more and more wonderful independent films – what are the reasons for this trend? Is it better films, more screens, streaming access, or financial support for production? Why do these small gems make such a large impact? Can Montana’s film industry be part of this growing economy?

Bio: Brian is the Executive Director of the Montana International Film Festival (MINT).
Through MINT, Brian is actively developing and promoting film production in eastern Montana and creating a film industry presence in the state. Brian spends his free time writing, directing, and producing narrative films.


19. Aaron Parrett, author

Are we experiencing a “Second Gutenberg Revolution?”
How has the shift from the printed word to the digital internet world changed everything from education to literature to journalism to politics?  How has this change affected the way we think to the way we interact with people?

Bio: Aaron is a lifelong Montanan, and has written many books and articles on Montana topics.  He is a professor of English at University of Providence, Executive Director of Drumlummon Institute (educational nonprofit), and letterpress operator at Territorial Press. His book Maple & Lead was the 2018 High Plains Book Award winner for Short Stories.


20. Kevin Red Star, artist

Fostering the creative spirit or harnessing the genius?
How does one nurture the creative spirit? Are you born with the ability to create or is it instilled through experiences and environment? How does an artist choose their creative path and have the drive to continue? How do you seek out the “new” yet stay true to oneself? What fills an artist soul?

Bio: Kevin Red Star’s art is honored throughout Native America for its authenticity. It presents a shining vision of centuries-old Crow (Apsaalooka) culture through the eyes of a thoroughly contemporary consciousness. In the world of museums and private collections, he is equally respected for the content of his unique imagery, for his artistic productivity, and for the enduring value of his work.

Kevin Red Star grew up on the Crow reservation in southern Montana, a member of a highly creative family. He was known as the go-to artist for all school projects. He was chosen to be in the first group of students at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe in the late sixties, when the founders personally visited Native villages and reservations nationwide and recruited the most talented youngsters from each. The school provided a learning environment of tribal tradition, world art history, and current trends. Open studios, well stocked with supplies, encouraged individual experimentation and collaboration. Students mined their ancient customs for content, and then created exciting new forms to provide current relevance. Red Star and some of his friends in their graduating class continued their studies at the San Francisco Art Institute before embarking on their careers. They attracted immediate notice in New York and Paris, as well as established art centers throughout the United States. And they went on to change the face of modern Indian art.

In the decades that followed, each artist pursued an individual path. Some rose steadily, some erratically. Some sank into oblivion, and some passed on. Always, Kevin Red Star continued to paint. Year after year, through difficulty and triumph, grief and joy, he has created through his art an indelible expression of his tribal legacy. His fame has grown along with the increasing clarity and complexity of his paintings. He is known for his attention to historical detail in his depictions of warriors, ceremonies, costumes, and tipis. Each element, no matter how small, has specific meaning and significance within the context of tradition.

Above and beyond accuracy, Kevin Red Star’s deep experience is expressed in the color and composition of image after image. Each one is a complete statement in itself; each remains in the mind’s eye long after viewing it. Tipis cluster in close community, their long, graceful poles fanning out to catch the stars and sunbeams. Women gather for ceremonies in richly ornamented clothing. Warriors go forth on proud Appaloosa ponies, their bows and shields at the ready to protect their encampments. In every painting, the subject springs vividly to life, reflecting the mastery of style and technique he has gained over the course of the years.



21. Stacey Robinson, landscape architect, community planner

 From Bees to Boardwalks, the changing landscape of our Community: What is the future of Billings as we continue growing as a community? 
From large scale community planning to my home, how can I make a difference? How do native plants and bees impact our community? How can a progressive community planning and landscape design enhance our lives and wellbeing? What is ‘Top-Down Design’ and how is it changing community expectations?
Bio: Stacey was born and raised in Billings and is committed to making it a great place to live.  Following college, he relocated back to Billings with his wife to raise their family.  He is the founder of Land Design, Inc., a community planning and design firm and owner of Canyon Creek Nursery. His firm are currently involved in several large scale community projects including the Billings City Reservoir on Billings’ Westend and the Atlantic Richfield remediation in Butte.


22. Jillien Streit, fourth-generation farm wife

What drives the Montana farmer?
Agriculture is the largest sector of Montana’s economy. How must Montana farmers adapt to changing consumer preferences while providing the world with Montana’s many high quality agricultural products? How are economic, climate and political factors influencing the farmer’s bottom line?

Bio: Jillien was born and raised in North Central Montana. She is the proud wife of a fourth-generation Montana farmer, and is active in both transparent food production systems and Farm-to-Table agriculture.





23. Robert Struckman, labor leader

How can Billings create and maintain jobs and opportunities, and what role should public investments, businesses and worker organizations play?
What does “investment” in a city look like? Who should shoulder the risks and who should reap the rewards? Do we need new buildings, new businesses, new people? What should be Billings’ first priority? Do the costs outweigh the returns or do we roll the dice? Who do we need to have at the table to move Billings forward?

Bio: Robert, a Montanan, has recently moved back from Washington DC. He is the AFL-CIO representative for the Northern Rockies and Alaska.


24. Zack Terakedis, art gallery owner

Is art a luxury or a necessity?
A great society has been measured through its culture. Does a city become great because of the art it supports or does art make a city flourish? How does art illicit emotion? What makes art “art” and who decides?

Bio: Zack is the owner of Terakedis Fine Art Gallery. He a strong believer in community and the role art plays in our daily lives.