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Leading, Learning, Teaching – An Educator Comes Full Circle

nancy guillet

WHEN NANCY GUILLET came to the United States to visit family in the summer of 2005, she intended to stay only a few months and then return to her life as a physician in her native Nicaragua. Life, however, had other plans for her. Instead, that visit turned into an extended stay in the Longhorn family.

Back in Nicaragua, Guillet was the director of a community health program, Promotores de Salud in the rural town of Malpaisillo. She led a community training program designed to promote understanding of health issues and preventative medicine among local residents. She found her career immensely rewarding. However, after visiting the U.S., she realized the United States held better opportunities for her family. As a result, she gave up the profession she loved and decided to start life all over again in a new country.

The UT International Office helped Guillet every step of the way. International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) helped her with the immigration paperwork she needed to extend her stay in the U.S. Shannon Kawa, now a Senior International Faculty & Scholar Advisor in ISSS, remembers being inspired by Guillet and her journey. Not only was Guillet building a new life in a country, a culture, and a language different from her own, she always had an upbeat attitude, regardless of the challenges she faced.

While Guillet had studied English in Nicaragua, once she arrived in the U.S., she realized that her English language skills were not as strong as she thought. She enrolled in English classes through the UT International Office’s ESL Services. For the first time in years, Guillet found herself in a classroom setting with much younger peers. However, she was quickly impressed with the caliber of the student-centered ESL program and its faculty. In fact, she cites ESL faculty member Meghan Ackley as her all-time favorite teacher, not just from her time in ESL, but from her entire education - from kindergarten through medical school. In the end, Guillet’s ESL studies taught her more than just English. “It’s not just learning a new language, but learning about other cultures because you have so many people from other countries coming [to the program]. In a small setting you can get to learn a lot about the world.”

As Guillet advanced in the ESL program, her classmates were applying to college and graduate school. Guillet thought perhaps she should apply to school, too – but she had no desire to return to medical school, “Going to medical school once is crazy enough.” Instead, she found the ideal match for her current interests in the UT School of Nursing’s Public Health Nursing program.  It was a natural transition from her work in Nicaragua. More importantly, it focused on the part she liked most about her work, illness prevention and health education. “If I have to choose, I want people not to get sick and to do my part, even if it is a little part, to prevent them from having [an illness].”

During her graduate studies, Guillet had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant and then an instructor. With these new roles, Guillet found a love for teaching in the university setting. She enjoyed helping students learn how to go into communities to teach others and knew she wanted to stay in the university environment after graduating.

After leaving a career she loved in Nicaragua, then finding a new one in Austin that built on her nursing expertise and her passion for helping others, Guillet is now an instructor in clinical nursing at UT. In this role she enjoys sharing her knowledge with students, as well as advocating for public health issues in the Austin community. Ultimately, Guillet believes in the transformative nature of education, especially at The University of Texas at Austin. “I want to stress that there’s opportunity for students from any background at this university. I really like the statement, ‘What starts here changes the world.’ I really believe so because with education you’re transformed. You see things differently. You learn that something is not for your own benefit. You cannot hold it to yourself. You have to pass it on and benefit others. So I think if we are privileged to have education we need to make that something that goes farther than your doors and share those blessings with others. I think we all need to do that.” So far, Nancy Guillet has set the perfect example.

Story by Margaret Y. Luévano
Photograph by Darcy McGillicuddy

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