Team

Fostering unique and memorable experiences in every corner of the globe is what Xsense founder, Uta Birkmayer, is all about. She and her cross-disciplinary, global team of researchers, writers, ethnographers, audio-video documentarians and design thinkers work with equal aplomb in boardroom and the field. They pride themselves on their open mindedness, their cultural sensitivity, their passion for meaning. They’re a dogged and determined bunch — and they’ve delivered unparalleled results for their clients around the world.

The Xsense Core Team

Uta Birkmayer
Executive Director & Founder

For over two decades Uta Birkmayer, Executive Director & Founder of Xsense authentic places, has been creating client experiences for hotels, resorts, cruise ships, community developers and corporations all over the world. In every case, her focus was to connect to the authentic roots of a place (a free and abundant resource), and connect team members to this information in meaningful and engaging ways. “A meaningful connection to what and who is authentic and real – such treasures are often hidden from daily life – create deeply meaningful customer experiences. Such experiences leave us transformed and connected to the place and its people; they create and sustain the real estate and operational value of any project without adding cost,” says Uta. Holding a masters degree in Hospitality from Cornell University, she has a well-earned reputation for successfully bringing her unique visionary skills to the aid of businesses seeking to provide authenticity and extraordinary experiences of place to owners, investors, operators, sales and marketing all of which translate to the client base. Since 1984, her own work experience has included an active participation in corporate and developmental operations from the USA to Central America, Europe, Africa and Asia. uta@xsenseauthenticplaces.com


The Xsense core team consists of various subject experts and a talented group of anthropological researchers.

Our Experts

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Françoise Nieto-Fong – Video Documentarian & Culinary Expert

Françoise Nieto-Fong is a graduate of the Cornell Hotel School where she earned her BS and focused on Food & Beverage Operations. She is also a yoga instructor of the Satyananda Tradition affiliated with the Bihar School of Yoga in India. After Cornell she returned to Colombia where she was F&B director for Hotel Hacienda Royal, with Leading Hotels of the World. Here besides running the operations and creating F&B concepts, her most exciting project was training the staff in multicultural service: learning English, trying different foods and beverages to be better able to suggest and guide the customer experience, as well as understanding guests from different countries. Following her entrepreneurial instinct she opened La Cúpula an upscale restaurant innovating the scene with Latin American fusion: creating new dishes rooted in traditional Latin and Central American ingredients and techniques. In Bogota she also opened Calcutta a traditional Indian restaurant serving mainly diplomats, ex-patriots and those craving spicy food. In addition Françoise hosted a daily live TV show on wellness and cooking for City TV Colombia. Parallel to her Food and Beverage interests, Françoise has worked producing and directing documentaries all over Latin America and the Caribbean. Her films relating to cultural traditions, food and music as well as social and environmental issues, spirituality and current affairs have been broadcast in different continents by National Geographic, HBO, Aljazeera, MTV, and TF1. Her language skills have been instrumental in allowing her to travel extensively and delve into local cultures. She is fluent in English, Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese.


Deni Ruggeri – Social Factors Expert

Dr. Deni Ruggeri is Assistant Professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Oregon. Dr. Ruggeri is trained as an architect, landscape architect and urban designer. He holds a Ph.D. in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning from the University of California, Berkeley, Masters of Landscape Architecture and City and Regional Planning from Cornell University, and a Laurea in Architettura from the School of Architecture of Milan’s Polytechnic in Italy. Dr. Ruggeri’s research focuses on the interface between physical environment and human behavior. His research investigates the influence that urban design and landscape architecture have on people’s place identity and attachment to everyday neighborhood landscapes. Additional research interests include social factors in urban design, specifically community participation methodologies to be applied in the design process, and the investigation of the role that landscape architecture played in the planning and design of European and American new towns. He is the co-editor of a spring, 2007 issue of the Journal “Places,” and the author of various articles published in books, academic journals and conference proceedings. Deni has consulted on a variety of projects, from community engagement processes in Europe and the United States, to a recent European Union funded effort to develop a methodology for the identification, evaluation and preservation of culturally and environmentally valuables landscapes in cities and regions of 9 european countries. He has also served as a consultant in the New Medina project, a EU collaboration with north African states for the planning of New Towns. He is part of a small team of sociologists, designers, planners, and community representatives for the re-qualification of the community of Zingonia, Italy, a 1960s New Town currently engaged in developing action steps toward its regeneration. Deni’s expertise is in the master planning and sustainable development of new communities around the world. Deni is also principal investigator on a grant funded by the Oregon Department of Transportation to develop an audit methodology to assess, evaluate and prioritize livability improvement to the public realm of cities and neighborhoods.


Kristen Rainey – Wine Expert

As a freelance consultant, Kristen Rainey advises food, beverage, hotel, and spa companies on sustainability strategies, strategic planning, marketing, and business development. Within food and beverage, her client list includes Casella Wines, Lemelson Vineyards, Organic Valley, and Ithaca Fine Chocolates. Within hospitality, she has worked with Banyan Tree Spa, Starwood, and HEI Hotels. She has also worked for a range of clients overseas: for Winrock International in Indonesia, a non-profit organization funded by USAID, she participated in managing a cold chain agricultural project that allowed farmers and fishermen to extend the distribution of their products. Kristen also advised The United Nations World Food Program in Bhutan. Her most recent full-time position was Executive VP to the CEO at Los Senderos, a sustainable resort in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Kristen earned an MBA as a Park Leadership Fellow at the Johnson School of Management at Cornell University, where she focused on sustainability for the hospitality industry. She spent her last semester in Milan, Italy, completing coursework in a food and beverage Masters program at SDA Bocconi. Kristen also holds a Masters in International Affairs from The Fletcher School at Tufts University and a Bachelor of Arts from Princeton University. Her graduate thesis at Fletcher addressed the Triple Bottom Line in the food industry.


Dan Krieger – History Expert

Professor of History, Emeritus, at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California, since 1971, Dan Krieger is a NWH Fellow of the Newberry Library in state, regional, and family history. For the past 24 years he has authored a weekly column on local history for the San Luis Obispo County Tribune. Author of Looking Backward into the Middle Kingdom: An Illustrated History of San Luis Obispo County (Windsor, 1988, REV) and co-author of War Comes to the Middle Kingdom: A History of the Central Coast, 1940 – 1943, Dr. Krieger recently completed a modern history of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Serving as historical consultant and expert witness for the US Attorney General’s Office as well as for the State of California, the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads, a variety of Central Coast vineyards, UNOCAL, CALTRANS, and a wide variety of California professional and governmental offices, Dr. Krieger serves as Chair of the Centennial Committee for California, California Polytechnic State University.


Sharon Norling, MD – Wellness & Medical Expert

Sharon Norling, MD, MBA, and Xsense integrative medicine expert, is the only physician in the USA known to be nationally board-certified in OB/GYN, Integrative/Holistic Medicine and Medical Acupuncture. Having appeared before White House Commission on Complementary Alternative Medicine as an expert witness, Dr. Norling is highly regarded as a nationally recognized speaker and educator regarding the effective combination of traditional and integrative medicine for lifestyle wellness and health, world-wide. Possessing an unparalleled grasp of the power of combining Western allopathic medical practices with those of more traditionally integrated cultures of both East and West, Dr. Norling has an established reputation for distilling the wisdom and effective practice of healing from all viable cultural disciplines. Her expertise in spa and business-related implementation of wellness programs covers the full spectrum of human wellness.


Tom Neuhaus – Food Culture & History Expert

Co-founder and chocolatier of Mama Ganache Organic Chocolates, Inc. Tom Neuhaus began his culinary explorations at Oberlin College, where a term project involving the interpretation of a hundred-year-old French culinary science textbook sparked his passion for haute cuisine Française. Realizing that he had found his métier, Tom began writing query letters to dozens of French restaurants, in hopes that one of them would find a place for him. His wishes were granted when Hotel-des-Bains in Aix-Les-Bains, France, took him on as a cook’s assistant in 1969. His new career took him back and forth, from the United States to Europe, where he continued to study and develop his unique approach to food chemistry. Stints at a number of distinguished restaurants in France, Austria, New York, and Washington, D.C., as well as the writing of food columns for the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner brought Tom back into the world of academia, where he developed one of the first food and beverage study software programs, gained a Masters in Food Science from Oberlin University, a Doctorate in Sensory Psychology with an emphasis on the role of moods in food selection behavior, and developed his current teaching program at California Polytechnic University, where he offers the only college-level French-language-based course on cooking French cuisine in the United States. Tom’s current passion is the international politics of food production, and the evolution of Fair Trade business practices, which have taken him to South America and to West Africa, where he currently focuses his efforts on behalf of local cocoa farming villages who supply Mama Ganache Organic Chocolates with the raw materials for the creation of Tom’s award-winning line of chocolate products.


Michael Neuman – Sustainability Expert

Principal of the Michael Neuman Consultancy, Dr. Neuman is an international expert in sustainable urban development,  planning and design. He specializes in developing and managing multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder planning and design processes for resorts, new towns, development projects and infrastructure. He also consults on strategy, management, and design for sustainability in cities, regions, and states. His recent projects include coastal towns in Texas and Costa Rica, post-Katrina recovery for New Orleans and Southern Louisiana, urban redevelopment in the US and Sydney, the urban mega-region Texas Urban Triangle, and sustainability recommendations for Tampa and Hillsborough County, Florida. As Professor of Sustainable Urbanism at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, and previously as founding Chair of the Sustainable Urbanism program at Texas A&M University, his current graduate seminars include Sustainable Urbanism, Sustainable Infrastructure, Urban Structure and Function, and Governance. In collaboration with others, Dr. Neuman has led the development of such ground-breaking concepts and practices as regional design, institutional design, life-cycle infrastructure planning, and the development of a quantitative basis to measure and achieve sustainably built environments of all types. The only scholar whose writings have won Best Article Awards in the Journal of the American Planning Association, the journal European Planning Studies, and Town Planning Review, Professor Neuman’s works have been translated to seven languages. He has been awarded grants from agencies and foundations ranging from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the states of California and New Jersey, to the Spanish and Catalan governments. He is the author of numerous publications on city planning, infrastructure, sustainability, institutions, and governance; his book The Imaginative Institution was published in 2010, and his book The Futures of City Regions is published in 2011. Both a Fulbright Fellow and a Regents Fellow, Dr. Neuman has lectured and consulted widely in Europe as well as throughout North, Central and South America and Australasai.

Anthropological Researchers


Alison Edwards – Anthropological Researcher

In 2007 Alison Edwards received her Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cal Poly, with Minors in Sustainable Environments and City and Regional Planning. Her passion for history also directed her studies to the areas of Historical Preservation as well as Anthropology. Upon graduation Alison pursued her career in Architecture. While initially fulfilling, she realized her affinity for history, desire to identify a sense of place, and wish to acknowledge a larger context was largely being ignored. As a researcher for Xsense, Alison feels she is able to make this critical contribution. She is aggressive and thorough in her research, yet is able to identify the nuances that make a place unique. Alison was born in Canada, and then at age nine her family moved to Hawaii where she lived for fifteen years. Alison is currently very happy to call the Central Coast her home, having moved to California in 2000 to attend University. She finds the climate, terrain, and general atmosphere to be a perfect happy-medium from her former locals. Alison enjoys hiking, yoga, meditation, and simply sitting outside enjoying the sunshine, the sound of the birds, and watching the hawks soaring overhead.


Morgana Matus - Anthropological Researcher

As an environmental scientist and performer, Morgana possesses an honors degree in Environmental Studies, a Fulbright Hays research Award in Environmental Ethics, and performance training from the San Francisco Clown Conservatory. From sustainable design and community planning in Costa Rica, writing and implementing outdoor education curriculum in Hawaii and California, to investigating the implications of religion on environmental legislation in Norway, Morgana’s passion for social justice and ecology has allowed her to explore the world across diverse cultural and physical terrains. Through her studies in vocal performance, acrobatics and clown, Morgana continues to examine methods of communication to a wide variety of audiences through direct participation in the arts. She has received a California Arts Scholarship as well as a Sacramento Bee Elly Award for her work in musical theater. With hospitality training from the French Laundry Restaurant and experience with holding wine, beer and olive oil tastings, Morgana enjoys blending her love for nature through sharing food and drink. Currently, Morgana is engaged in efforts that promote the performing arts as a means of teaching environmental education. She also continues to train as a singer and physical comedian. When not writing articles on sustainability she can be found tumbling, making terrible puns in casual conversation, cooking, hiking, and taking photographs of nearly everything. Morgana holds a conversational understanding of Spanish and enough Norwegian to be somewhat interesting at a cocktail party.


Amber Wright - Anthropological Researcher

Amber’s desire to learn about the world and those who inhabit it stemmed from her childhood. With a father as a professor of history, she spent summers with her family in Germany and Austria so her father could further his research. The opportunity to travel and experience other cultures enabled her to understand the importance of connecting with and learning from her fellow human-beings. With that understanding, she found herself drawn to anthropology as a young adult. From there she pursued a degree in that field, receiving her BA in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Minnesota in 2006. Amber’s holistic approach to research stems from the belief that a culture can be properly understood if all elements are uncovered, thus allowing one to see how they function as a complete and complex system. The overall enjoyment of engaging with and learning from others- through research or personal experience- make up not only her professional life, but her personal one as well. In her free-time, Amber can be found pursuing her passions for traveling, photography and connecting to her natural surroundings– whether it be hiking to the nearest mountain top or a grounding yoga session on the beach.

Colin Tucker - Anthropological Researcher

Colin is a recent graduate with honors from the Environmental Design department at Art Center College of Design, spatial and graphic identities having been his concentration while there. Early in his studies, Colin came to the conclusion that the most powerful and positive spatial experiences we can have happen in places designed with a deep and authentic respect for geographical, social, and historical context. Consequently, he found the most fulfilling parts of the design process to be research and ideation–and now, having spent a few years focusing his attention in this way, is getting pretty good at it. Although new to the professional world, he has already spent time in multiple vanward studios, such as Lab Holding LLC, Commune design, and the non-profit experimental public arts and architecture group Materials & Applications. He is thus no stranger to charrettes and cherishes the collaborative process. He plans on being a developer of sorts himself one day, and is ergo very enthusiastic to be a part of the Xsense team.

In addition to all that, he is fluent in both Brazilian Portuguese and Capoeira.