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From single mom to medical scientist

Editor’s note: This is Teri Jo Slack’s story of how getting an education is helping her create a better life for her children and for herself. Now married and living in Montana, Teri Jo Lanoue is the recipient of the William and Thelma Walker Scholarship from the University of Montana, aiding students with financial need who have demonstrated high academic performance and community service.

To achieve her goals, Lanoue is balancing her family, a full-time credit load and a research position in the university’s chemistry department. She plans to pursue a doctorate. Lanoue is the daughter of Terry and Frankie Slack of Grass Valley.

I was born and raised in Grass Valley. I got pregnant when I was 17 and briefly attended Silver Springs High School in Grass Valley, which was a school for pregnant and parenting teens then. I went for a while, but finished school early with a GED so I could get a full-time job.



I left Grass Valley when I was 20 in search of a better life for my son. I did not realize that I was pregnant with my second child when I left.

An aunt and uncle were running a little hotel in Stevensville, Mont., and that’s where I stayed until I got on my feet. I spent several years living in a trailer park and working in restaurants.




I met my husband, Greg Lanoue; we built a family together and had another child. We were happy living and working in Stevensville, but I wanted something more for my children. I wanted to offer them a brighter future.

In 2005, I enrolled at the University of Montana in Missoula as a psychology major. I made the dean’s list the first two semesters and earned a scholarship for the following year. I was ecstatic – filled with a love of learning. I also developed an interest in mathematics and science and added a second major in chemistry.

My husband was inspired to further his education, too. He’s studying business marketing and nonprofit administration.

Now, we both attend school full-time, work on campus and live in the married student housing several blocks away. My husband teaches billiards at the university, and I do chemical research.

My three children are Joseph, 13, David, 10, and Frankie, 5 – a girl. She’s our little princess.

I am 31 now and a senior, but I will not be graduating this year; I still have more learning to do, graduating in May 2012.

In the meantime, I will be studying for my GRE exams and preparing to apply to graduate schools. I plan to enter a Ph.D. program in medicinal chemistry. I would love to stay in Montana, but California offers some great graduate programs, so I don’t want to limit myself.

Medicinal chemistry interests me because the need for new antibiotics is so great. Antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains are an increasing public health problem.

Currently, I am continuing my research synthesizing a new class of polyacetylene compounds. These compounds have been shown to have biological activity, and they are good candidates for antibiotics.

Recently, I traveled to Boston to attend the national American Chemical Society conference and presented my research there.

At this point in my life, I feel amazing. I am learning something interesting every day. I live in one of the most beautiful places in the country, have three wonderful children and a great husband.

When a little bit of luck meets hard work and determination, great things are bound to happen.

Now, I have no doubt that I can offer my children a better future, and while seeking a better life for them, I found one for myself.

So, looking back on my journey I do have some thoughts to share:

• Don’t let fear rule your life. Don’t be afraid to step out of your box and try something new. Go for what you want and grab it. You’re going to have some fear, that’s natural, but don’t let it stop you.

• Don’t be afraid to fail; it’s bound to happen. Embrace it. You will always learn more from your failures than you will from your successes.

College has changed my life so much. It changed how I think about the world, how I see the world and how the world sees me.

Teri Jo Lanoue is a Grass Valley native living in Montana.


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