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Illinois IGB

Honoring their walk of life through fellowships in genomic biology

February 4, 2020
By: Alisa King

For Martha Loustaunau, the University of Illinois will always be known as a stop on her walk of life where she met late husband Joaquin Loustaunau, with whom she later shared an interest in genomic biology.

Beginning in the spring, the Drs. Martha Oehmke Loustaunau and Joaquin O. Loustaunau Graduate Travel Fellowship for Computational Genomics will provide professional development support to graduate students in the areas of computational genomics, systems biology, genome technology, and metabolic engineering.

Drs. Martha Oehmke Loustaunau and Joaquin O. Loustaunau
Drs. Martha Oehmke Loustaunau and Joaquin O. Loustaunau

“I found an opportunity for research in genetics in the Carl R. Woese Institute of Genomic Biology,” said Loustaunau. “This fellowship seemed to be the answer to a legacy that would be a real contribution to the future. For both of us.”

Growing up in the small rural town of Monticello, Illinois, Loustaunau began her studies at the University of Illinois, receiving her BA in Latin American Studies and later a MS in Journalism. Loustaunau had attended summer school in Guadalajara, Mexico the previous summer and was therefore interested in connecting with Latin American students at the U of I. It was there that she met Joaquin, who was pursuing a PhD in mathematics.

After they both graduated and got married, they moved to New Mexico State University (NMSU), where Joaquin held a teaching position in the mathematics department. Loustaunau obtained her PhD in Ibero-American studies and Sociology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where Joaquin conducted research during his sabbatical, joining the sociology department at NMSU soon after.

Later on, the Loustaunau’s interests in genomic biology stemmed from a passion for horses.

“I had an interest in horses, having had six of my own, and participated in numerous shows and rodeos,” said Loustaunau. “Joaquin also became interested and with his background in applied mathematics, we focused on horse racing. As a result, we spent time at the races at Sunland Park near El Paso, Texas.”

After retirement, Joaquin expanded his interest in horse racing by studying equine genetics, with emphasis on breeding for optimal speed and stamina.

“His interest in genetics grew and expanded to animal and human genetics, and he told me that if he had it all do over again, he would become a geneticist,” said Loustaunau.

After Joaquin’s passing in 2002, Loustaunau started an academic graduate scholarship in Joaquin’s name at NMSU geared towards underrepresented minority students from the departments of mathematics, biology, and sociology, with a focus on genetics. Throughout the years, winners spanning all three departments were provided with a monetary gift for books, tuition, or other academic needs. Thereafter, Loustaunau established a similar scholarship at the U of I.

“I chose graduate students because they are the most underfunded and are more committed to pursuing their academic interests,” said Loustaunau. “I look for students with talent and strong interests in contributing to building a better world.”

Alongside other pavers that comprise the IGB Walk of Life, one can find the words “In gratitude that our walk of life brought us together, Drs. Joaquin and Martha Loustaunau” inscribed on her paver. This paver represented the Loustaunau’s lasting connection to the U of I, both sharing a strong desire to contribute what they could for the benefit of others and ultimately, to making the world a better place.

“I felt I had to say a lot in very few words,” said Loustaunau. “The word “Gratitude” expresses the way I feel for my life. For whatever reasons, my own “walk of life” took me to the University of Illinois where I met my husband, to Mexico where I became fluent in Spanish, and New Mexico where we both had our teaching careers. And so, it all came together and for that, I am immensely and eternally grateful.”

Students interested in the Drs. Martha Oehmke Loustaunau and Joaquin O. Loustaunau Graduate Travel Fellowship for Computational Genomics can apply here.


February 4, 2020
By: Alisa King
Photos By: Dr. Martha Oehmke Loustaunau