Tell us about your work / research. What kinds of things do you do?
I run a dynamic Marine Science Program on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for Saint Stanislaus High School. I also teach Marine Science, Field Studies and Biology. Our location on the Gulf Coast and the resources within our program allow our students to gain valuable hands on experience in the field and in the lab. Our students not only learn within the "normal" structured environment of the classroom but they also learn how to use seine nets, cast nets, yabbi pumps and sieves to collect, observe and identify marine organisms and sediment samples. They also learn how to use modern technologies to collect and monitor water quality in our area. Additionally, our students collect water and marine specimens to bring back into our lab for observation throughout the year.
What sparked your initial interest in your career?
I have always been fascinated with the ocean, and I knew since the third grade that I wanted to pursue Marine Biology. After completing my Master's degree in Marine and Environmental Biology and working in the real world for a few years, I knew that the greatest way I could impact this field was by becoming a teacher and sharing my curiosity and passion with young minds.
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
Honestly, it was my personal drive and interest at a young age with the support from my family that encouraged me to pursue Marine Science. Then it was my professors at Nicholls State University, specifically Dr. Earl Melancon, Dr. Raj Boopathy, Dr. Quenton Fontenot and Dr. Gary Lafleur. Now it's the support from my husband and fellow colleagues and the curiosity of my students at Saint Stanislaus that are my driving forces.
What element of your work / study do you think is the most fascinating?
The most fascinating thing is when I realize that I have significantly impacted a young person in a positive way. And when that influence happens to be in Marine Science, that's just a bonus!
What other jobs led you to your current career?
I finished graduate school in Marine and Environmental Biology at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, right after Hurricane Katrina hit. I had planned on doing coastal restoration work for the state, but after the storm, our state was in a hiring freeze. So, my plan B was to help the Gulf Coast recover. And that's exactly what I did. Immediately after graduating I began working for FEMA as an Environmental Specialist. I worked in Baton Rouge, LA, New Orleans, LA and eventually Biloxi, MS doing environmental assessments to assist in the recovery. Long story short, my experiences helping the Mississippi Gulf Coast recover led me to where I am at today. I am teaching at one of the schools that took the brunt of Hurricane Katrina.
What are your degrees and certifications?
Bachelor of Science in Environmental Biology - Nicholls State University 2003; Master of Science in Marine and Environmental Biology - Nicholls State University 2005.
What are your hobbies?
I love spending time with my husband and our 2 year old son. We love the New Orleans Saint's, SCUBA diving, traveling and being in nature.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career like yours?
Marine science is a fascinating world. If you are remotely interested in it, try it out. There is something in this field for everyone. And if teaching is something you are considering, make sure you are teaching what you love and that you love where you are doing it at!
How did you get involved in the Nautilus Exploration Program? How did you get on the ship?
It started in 2012 when the Okeanos Explorer was in the Gulf of Mexico and I streamed the ROV footage into my classroom every chance I got. I'll never forget how my 7th graders reacted to the live footage of the archaeology, geology and biology in the depths of our ocean. This fed into my obsession with deep water ocean exploration and I made this an emphasis in my classes. During my research I learned about the Nautilus and have since followed them on all of their expeditions throughout the world, in my classroom as well as at home. I'll never forget the ROV footage from when the sperm whale came to visit the Nautilus on their expedition in the Gulf of Mexico in 2015! I am completely enthralled with deep water ocean exploration. Even my husband and 2 year old ask to watch ROV footage of marine life and geology! Thanks to Dr. William Burnett, Deputy Commander/Technical Director of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, I am joining the Nautilus on this leg of their expedition.
Letha participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions: