New Orleans teen makes Forbes list for STEM innovation
6th February 2017 · 0 Comments
By Tia Alphonse
New Orleans native Keiana Cavé, at the age of 18, is one of the youngest Americans named in Forbes’ 2017 annual 30 Under 30 “Energy” List, a distinction created for young innovators. The college freshman developed a molecule for dispersing oil, which she currently manufactures through her company Mare.
“I was generally just really excited, and it’s just been excitement ever since,” Cavé said about her initial reaction to making the list.Forbes released its annual 30 Under 30 lists on January 3, 2017. With 20 different categories ranging from music to law and policy, in each area, Forbes selected 30 up-and-coming pioneers to watch. The selection process is fairly intense with less than four percent of nominees being selected, according to Forbes.
Cavé is relatively much younger than those selected to her category, but this by no means discounts her exceptional ability. The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor freshmen is the third youngest member of her group in the energy category of the Forbes Under 30 lists. To see her daughter’s name on the list, Vanessa Cavé-Herazo was surprised, but said she knew it was coming because “Keiana has always been destined for great things,” Cavé-Herazo said.
“It just came a lot sooner than I expected,” Cavé-Herazo said of her daughter’s accomplishment.
After learning about the negative effects of an oil dispersant used in the Gulf Coast during the B.P. oil spill cleanup, Cavé decided to create her own dispersant. Cavé raised $1.2 million in funding from Chevron to develop her molecule in 2016.
“It targets certain toxins in the sea water, and it neutralizes them into water,” she said of her dispersant. “It is one of the few legal oil dispersants,” Cavé adds.
Although her work may have only recently gained recognition by Forbes in their annual list, she is no stranger to seeing reward for her hard work and perseverance. She has an asteroid named after her by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Her accomplishments in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) have led to her participation in a live webinar in Washington D.C. for Black History Month in 2016, which reached thousands of people. She earned a first-place United States Air Force Certificate of Achievement and a first-place U.S. Navy/U.S. Marine Corps Office of Naval Research Scholarship as well.
Despite this feat, Cavé believes she has not quite yet reached success. She defines success as the amount of impact she has made on the community and the world. The creation of the molecule is an accomplishment, but she believes seeing her work being put to use will truly be her success.
“I’ll really feel like I’ll actually have done something when the molecule is in action,” Cavé said.
Cavé credits New Orleans for putting her on the path she is currently pursuing as a chemical engineering major. Through New Orleans’ entrepreneurial spirit and friendly community, Cavé has made connections through her research at the University of New Orleans, Tulane University’s Van Bael lab, and a summer program at the University of Massachusetts. Cavé said she hopes to give back to the same community that helped her along the way.
“When I had a research idea that could end up changing the lifestyles in New Orleans, I really wanted to jump on it,” Cavé said about creating the molecule.
Through the list, Forbes created a unique opportunity for Cavé. She said she does not see this as simply an opportunity for publicity. She now has the platform to promote her interests and ideas on a national and international scale, Cavé said.
While Cavé may have made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list early in her career, she is making no plans to slow down. She plans to continue developing her company Mare, which is dedicated to developing molecules to solve major social issues.
“I will definitely continue to develop my company. Right now, it consists of this one molecule that I hope to expand and live up to the Forbes name,” Cavé said about her plans for the future.
While Cavé is making a name for herself in STEM, she has established a good rapport in New Orleans, particularly at her alma mater Lusher Charter School. Faculty, students, and staff exhibited their excitement about Cavé’s accomplishments.
“It was quite the celebration,” said Kathy Riedlinger, Lusher’s chief executive officer.
Lusher Charter school has four core values it teaches its students: kindness, respect, responsibility, and hard work. Riedlinger said Cavé is known to be able to bring people together—to help them find common ground. Her ability to work well with people and her kindness serve her best, she said of Cavé.
“She is an amazing young woman,” Riedlinger added.
This article originally published in the February 6, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.