Bio

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I’ve had many days that ended up changing my life forever. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I lived one of those on a rainy summer day the year I turned 13. Stuck inside, I started searching through old boxes in my parents’ home office. While most contained boring papers, I did find a piece of treasure: an old camera, complete with leather carrying case, lenses, and flash. Because of the common point and shoot cameras of the time, I had never seen a camera with manual adjustments or changeable lenses. My Dad, who bought the camera for a class in college, taught me how to use it and I began capturing the world from my point of view.

In order to take photography at Calallen High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, you first had to take journalism 101, which I did my freshman year. I may have come to learn about photojournalism, but it was something else that kept me riveted. I had never really written creatively before – most of my writing had been academic, such as research papers, how-to’s or explanatory essays for science or history. But here I found other ways to write altogether, not just news writing but feature writing and editorial writing. Once I started writing creatively, I couldn’t stop.

And so I worked for the school newspaper for the next three years and even ran things as editor my senior year. I learned not just to write and take pictures, but to edit and design too. I started competing in UIL writing competitions, and for three years in a row I won first place at district competitions in feature writing. I even went all the way to the state competition in feature writing my junior and senior years. But it wasn’t the awards that made me sure this was the life for me. You see, I went to the typical Texas high school where football was king (it replaced cotton somewhere along the way). As such, the head football coach was the most powerful person in our school district. And since he didn’t think swimming counted as a sport, the school swim team did not get class credit for their time and efforts, even though they met for a full class period and the coach was also a teacher. So I wrote an opinion piece about it, not expecting any of the other 1,200 students besides the swim team to notice. To my surprise, at the next school board meeting, the board voted to offer school credit to the swim team as an athletic class. I went home and picked up the newspaper still sitting on my dresser, smelling the dried ink on the thin grey paper as it stained my fingers, a smell I will always associate with a new kind of success – justice.

I went to the University of North Texas because I felt the professors there had the most real-world experience and the program was the most hands-on out of the journalism schools in the state. Plus, Denton was a pretty awesome place in the early 2000s for us artsy types – live music, local art galleries, quirky coffee shops, and plenty of dance and theatre performances. During the summers when I was in college, I interned to get more experience. I worked as a graphic designer for the now defunct Covenant Media Ministries, designing and editing a local newspapers, community guides and brochures. The next summer I worked as a press assistant for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s public affairs office in Washington, D.C., where I mostly wrote press releases for the Web site. Finally, I wrote for the Waco Tribune-Herald in almost every section. Back at school, I had started working at the school newspaper, the North Texas Daily, my second year. By the end of my first semester there, the editor of the news section promoted me from working for free to part-time and then to full-time (four articles a week). I worked as the second-in-command, managing editor, at the beginning of my senior year and ended my time at UNT as editor-in-chief of a 50-person staff and a 11,000-circulation paper. I learned that I preferred managing computers to managing people. I graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism writing and minors in Spanish and social sciences.

My first real job was at the Victoria Advocate, a mid-sized newspaper pushing into the digital age. I wrote for the health beat and the editor, Chris Cobler, chose me as one of the first ranging reporters, a version of roving reporters or mobile journalists who upload writing, photos and video straight to the Web from a field location. It was pretty much what I imagined my life in the real world would be: I had a new townhouse, my own dog, a rewarding job, and great coworkers, many of whom I still call friends.

I may have been the youngest reporter in the newsroom, but that December I aged decades, as I began to deal with inexplicable signs of arthritis and anxiety. After a year of worsening pain and fatigue, discovering the culprit – a treatable but incurable autoimmune disease – was both a blessing and a curse. While my diagnosis meant that I could no longer fulfill my dream of being an international reporter, a window opened when that door shut. I had loved reporting on health and medicine in Victoria, and I had certainly read plenty of health articles during that year. Now, I had a unique perspective of what it’s like to be the one in the white backless gown, waiting on the sterile bed of a hospital or clinic. I understand a health article’s audience – patients – because I am one, and I felt confused, unsure, frustrated, afraid, anxious, insecure, angry, defeated, and alone in that role. So I turned my focus in that direction, like a lighthouse scanning choppy waters for the welcome sight of a once-lost ship.

I  moved to Alexandria, Virginia, to study at The Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C., in 2009. I also worked part-time as an English tutor during that time. I taught students from second grade through college in reading, writing, vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and SAT writing. After five semesters there, and one in Florence, Italy, I graduated with my Master of Arts degree in medical-science writing. A collection of essays and articles written during those two years comprised my thesis, one of my most prized possessions. I got to work with some amazing science writers (David Everett, Mary Knudson, Nancy Shute, Helen Fields, Melissa Hendricks) while I studied there, not to mention I had access to the university’s prestigious hospital for story ideas and sources. One thing I learned was how to take my health experiences and turn them into something worth reading.  I have continued this habit and hope to turn it into a memoir someday.

Now, I have returned to the Lone Star State stronger and healthier than I was three years ago. Since fall 2011, I have been an adjunct professor in the English department of San Jacinto College, where I teach introductory composition (ENGL 1301) and literature (ENGL 1302) classes, with the occasional sophomore-level literature or creative writing course. The next year, I began teaching creative writing to three third grade classes of children at a Title I Houston ISD school with Writers in the Schools. I also assist with a course at the University of Texas – Medical Branch called Scientific Medical Writing for the Media (MICU 4005) that teaches third- and fourth-year students in the medical school and graduate school of biomedical sciences to communicate newsworthy medical topics to a general audience. Although I teach to a wide range of students, I love sharing my passion with all of them, especially when I see them improve over the semester as they each discover a voice of their own through writing.

When I’m not teaching, I edit articles for the biomedical news service Medical Discovery News, which began distributing weekly articles to Texas newspapers in November 2011. This new endeavor in print news mirrors the weekly radio segments that are already broadcast by 150 radio stations in the United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico, England, and Africa. David Niesel and Norbert Herzog, the two biomedical scientists and professors who started the news service, wanted to get the word out about medical research and studies that have the potential to affect the lives of many people. Many of these findings don’t show up in conventional media sources, perhaps due to the very technical langua
ge of medical documents and the challenge of explaining these complicated and specialized concepts to a general audience, which is what we aim to do.

Comments

  1. Just saw your LiveLeak interview…. You don’t know how well you disarmed that “interviewer” who was waiting to sabotage you in ways you can’t even imagine… Very impressive and best of luck in your career(s)

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