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Teresa Owens was stuck. After completing training on some medical skills at 18, she was still three years away from being legally allowed to give injections to patients. She also tried her hand as a nurse’s assistant in a convalescent home for a few months. When that brought no satisfaction, she decided to enroll in college, which is where she fell in love and married.
Teresa knew she didn’t want to float aimlessly from one job to the next. She needed a career. So in 1974, after her husband joined the U.S. Army, she enlisted as well.
While Teresa was excited to have found a career path, it didn’t come without its share of obstacles – the first of which was being stationed 3,000 miles away from her family in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. A self-described homebody, Teresa had never left California!
Joining the army led to quite a few other firsts: the first time on an airplane, the first time leaving her mom and dad, the first time she had to depend on herself and her own judgment in decision-making. “Being away from my family was the biggest challenge. As a young lady in my 20s, it was a big shock and a big responsibility,” she notes. “I had lived a relatively sheltered life to that point. I had to grow up quick.” This challenge, however, was the foundation of everything she learned in the army: once you start something, you finish it. “Just because the job you take is tough and is not as glamorous as you thought it would be doesn’t give you the right to stop doing it. You must see it through to the end. Anything worth having is worth sacrificing for,” Teresa says. “It is the team effort that shines through.”
Teresa’s diligence paid off as she received the Army Commendation Award for excellence and competency in the SIDPERS administration, a binary, pencil coded method of personnel accountability used in the 70s. “It was number two pencils and filling in bubbles. Quite a task to undertake,” she says.
The Army also taught Teresa what it takes to get a good job and keep it by continuing to do her very best. “The Army was an excellent training ground,” she says – and notes that it also taught her both that she needed to complete her college education, and apply stamina to see it through.
As a clinical laboratory scientist, Teresa says the biggest similarity between working at USC and being in the Army is, quite simply, the integrity. “It’s all service,” she says. “One service is to the American people, the other is to our patients.”
Teresa takes great pride in that integrity, and USC takes great pride in Teresa!