This is the third of three veteran profiles the Gateway is featuring in honor of Veterans Day.
“I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up,” Thomas Chavez jokes. Even if that’s true, Thomas has followed a path that’s given him a wealth of knowledge and skills.
It started simply enough. After two years in community college, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do in life, so he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force to help pay for school and, hopefully, find direction. It was the right move. His first job was as an administrator in a research laboratory, coordinating paperwork, working with the Surgeon General, and ensuring everything for the research trials was approved. “We’d do different experiments, testing out military products that assisted with everything from newborn intubation to products like Quick Clot.” It was important work and required hours upon hours of training.
But there was something that caught Thomas’s attention more than the actual research being conducted. “I remember, in the corner (where we did research), there was a statistician, Jeannie. She would come in once a week with all this knowledge that just seemed to spew from her! Telling everyone things like, ‘your sample sizes are wrong, you need to do this, you do you need to do that.’ And I was always fascinated. I was like – look at the statistician who is so smart,” he recalls.
Thomas continued his military career, receiving his bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration before being deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 and given a post as an aeromedical evacuation technician in which he created patient histories and physicals, picking up patients, and bringing them to the hospital for examination, ensuring they got the care they needed. He remembers it being incredibly tough, grueling even, to be deployed to Afghanistan, but it taught him life lessons he’ll never forget. During this time, Thomas learned about being a team member and knowing when to lead versus when to follow. “From basic military training to deployments, the concept of a wingman is vital. You cannot take on the world alone; you certainly have a better chance with your team,” he says.
After leaving the military, Thomas enrolled at USC and received his master’s degree in bio stats and epidemiology. He then, after recalling the position that always seemed to stand out in his mind, became a statistician at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. This lasted a few more years until he found a position as a statistician at USC, working in the Madres cohort, helping expose trends in diabetes and obesity in mothers and children.
“The military prepared me for not only my job at USC as a statistician but life in general,” Thomas says. It’s not just the lessons he learned from the military that overflow into his work at USC, it’s the notion of family. “I know this is cliche, but the military was a big family, and I brought that with me wherever I go, including USC.”
USC is proud to have Thomas as part of the Trojan Family!
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