City of residence: Galveston
Current title: Instructional associate professor
Place of business: Texas A&M University at Galveston
Education: I’m grateful that I’ve been able to take advantage of so many educational opportunities on the island. I earned my bachelor’s (’02) and master’s (’10) from Texas A&M University at Galveston, and I got my EMT certification at Galveston College. Currently I’m in my second year of a PhD in Population Health Sciences at UTMB, and my research focus is on the impact of natural disasters on health outcomes.
Family: Patrick Louchouarn and I married one year ago on the tall ship Elissa, and we have two shepherd rescues, Cleopatra Pamplemousse and Primrose Everdeen. I’m a stepmom to three brilliant young adults, Naomi, Noah and Teva. My dad is an immigrant from Australia (he came over to marry my mom), and my husband finally made it to Texas after immigrating from France and living in Mexico and Canada, so most of my family is now in Sydney, France and Texas. We love the blend of cultures and languages in our home, so much so that the dogs speak French.
Professional responsibilities: For the past several years, I’ve coordinated the diving program at Texas A&M Galveston, which is one of seven academic scuba diving programs in the nation. The Galveston dive faculty that I mentor train about 300 students each year, and the dive minor is the second largest on our campus. Several of the students from the program have gone on to use diving in their careers or graduate work. I focus on developing transferable leadership skills from field experiences, and recently found that 50 percent of our program’s 4,000 annual dives (in both national and international waters) were planned and coordinated by students. I’ve guided students and scientists on research dives with NOAA in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world in my opinion. We’ve had surprise encounters with turtles, hammerheads, tiger sharks and manta rays, and I consider diving there to be a once in a lifetime opportunity, even though I’ve been on multiple trips out there in the past 15 years. I also teach courses in health science with a focus on social determinants of health and human performance. I’m currently working on a few initiatives to involve students in the Galveston community through service-learning projects because I think it’s a critical component of developing leaders that can solve complex problems.
Accomplishments/honors: I was honored with the Association of Former Students of Texas A&M University Distinguished Achievement Award for Teaching early in my career in 2013, which was very meaningful to me because I’m highly invested in my students’ success, both in and out of the classroom. Along with several other Galveston Island Beach Patrol lifeguards, I was recognized in 2010 for my service to Galveston after Hurricane Ike with the United States Lifesaving Association Heroic Act Award. I also finished my first full IronMan triathlon race (140.6 miles in 13.5 hours!) in 2017, which is such an empowering experience because you learn that you can endure, both physically and mentally. I now support a local coaching business, Fit Tri Run, with swim coaching for local athletes of all ages and abilities.
Community involvement: The aspect of this island community that is most near and dear to my heart is water safety. This summer will be my 19th year as a lifeguard at Galveston Island Beach Patrol, and while it is not my “day job,” I do consider it in many ways to be a vocation, or “calling.” For almost two decades, I’ve had the opportunity to help train rookies and junior lifeguards, and educate the public about water safety, coastal environments, and even the best places to eat on the island! I’ve traveled to Mexico to work with lifeguards in Acapulco, and attended conferences and competitions with beach lifeguards from all over the country. The lessons I’ve learned from this organization have shaped me in ways I’m still discovering, and I guess it’s in my blood because my dad was a lifeguard in Australia. I take great pride in being a public servant as both an educator at a land grant university and as part of a team that is committed to creating a safer and more enjoyable beach experience for millions of tourists in Galveston. However, the ocean has a way of keeping you humble. Serving Galveston as a first responder immediately after Hurricane Ike struck our coast was one of the most impactful experiences of my life. It is the reason I find myself pursuing further education through a PhD so I can contribute new knowledge and service to the development of resilient communities and improving health outcomes following natural disasters.
Why did you go into your particular field?
Twelve years ago, I was recruited from NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory into a faculty position at Texas A&M University at Galveston to support and build the dive program, which has grown dramatically in the last decade. I started out as a practitioner, focused on teaching scuba diving and physical activity courses, with an emphasis on the health of the body and mind. The post-Hurricane Ike recovery work that I performed during my master’s degree influenced me greatly, and I began focusing more on the connectivity between human health and the natural and social environment. I then transitioned into population health and social epidemiology because this field combines so many of my research interests and addresses such complex issues.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was interested in the life sciences from a very young age, and was always outside catching or observing some creature. By the time I was 12, I was pretty set on becoming a marine biologist because it was a combination of my two great passions in my youth: water and nature.
What was your first job?
I became a lifeguard as soon as I was eligible at age 16, and started guarding and teaching swimming lessons at a local pool right away. It’s crazy to think that there hasn’t been a summer since that I haven’t been on the water in some way, either guarding, coaching swimming or diving. Water safety and hazard mitigation has definitely been a continuous thread throughout my life.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Imagine the worst it could be. Imagine the best it could be. Now understand it will probably be in between." A very wise woman, Marilee Garza, shared this with me in college, and it has stuck with me as a way to remember that life is unfolding exactly as it should. We waste so much time worrying about how poorly something might go, or setting ourselves up for disappointment by expecting only the best, but few things are as bad as we imagine them to be, and learning to be content in the moment allows you to be pleasantly surprised by life.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
Teaching and mentoring brings me great satisfaction because I get to assist my students as they grow in understanding and confidence. I especially love working with college students because they often change dramatically in a few short years to become graduates who are eager to contribute their skills and expertise to organizations, communities and society. Some of the most poignant life moments I've ever experienced occur when a former student reaches out to me to let me know that I made a difference in their life. This always catches me by surprise, and it's an honor to be even a small part of their journey.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I wish I knew from the start that it is 100 percent OK to take the non-traditional path. I definitely took an atypical path that led me to where I am today, but early on, it was very challenging to go against the flow of what most people thought you were "supposed" to do. Now I realize that diverse experiences (working with Burmese refugees in Thailand, training lifeguards in Galveston and Mexico, interning at a research facility in the Bahamas, etc) shaped my perspective and skills as I settled in to my current field. It took me some time to realize this, because one of the big challenges of a non-traditional path is translating your expertise to others, but I’m convinced that it all comes together for a purpose.
Who do you consider to be your greatest mentor and why?
I have had several great mentors, including Ian Hufton, Jan Baldwin, Christi Atkinson and John Prochaska. What they all share in common is they have supported and encouraged me to pursue my passions and interests. They have given me honest feedback but always with respect and confidence in my abilities. I am so thankful to have been surrounded throughout my career by people who genuinely desire to see me succeed.
When you’re not at work, what do you do to relax?
Practicing my faith, swimming, running and paddling at the beach are my favorite non-work activities. I find it very relaxing to be in Galveston. To me, you get the best of both worlds by living in a tight-knit community that also has lots of festivals and events. I also watch British shows like "Victoria," "Downton Abby," "The Crown" and, of course "Game of Thrones." Most importantly, my husband is a great cook, so winding down in the evenings around food is an important part of our day.
What is something about you that most people don’t know?
While it takes me awhile to get into fictional movies or books, I love reading or watching almost anything based on a true story. There are so many interesting people and stories to be heard from across the globe. My favorite period to study is World War II because it affected so many people and shaped history so dramatically.
How do you hope to grow in your career?
In the next few years, I expect to see a new aspect of my career bloom, which is exciting to me. I will be working closely with my mentor and collaborators to develop my area of research in social capital in natural disaster settings. I'd like to incorporate my expertise in public health into the Oceans and One Health degree at TAMUG. I am also developing courses and opportunities that help students practice service learning by partnering with organizations in the Galveston community.
If you couldn’t do what you’re doing now, what would you be doing?
Honestly, I can't imagine doing anything else right now because I am enjoying this stage of my life so much. I think some form of teaching, public service and the pursuit of health will always be part of what I do, because these define a successful life to me. I think I could be happy doing almost anything as long as I am still in touch with these priorities.