In the mid 1970s, Rene Hernandez was working as an undersea scuba diver on the research vessel, NOAA Oceanographer, cruising out of the Seattle Marine Center to the equatorial Pacific Ocean. An oceanographic technician, Rene assisted scientists in carrying out deep ocean mining studies.
She liked the job well enough, but she also yearned to do more than just collect seawater and bottom samples and operate a winch. “I wanted to be one of those researchers,” she says. “They were doing all the cool stuff, all the science.” To join their ranks, she found, would require an advanced degree.
Using the money she’d saved up from her job on the ship, she enrolled in the BA program in biology at MUM (then MIU), and after that went on to earn a PhD in neuroscience at MUM as well, opting not to attend a larger, more well-known university that had offered her a full PhD scholarship. “I wanted a more personal, hands-on educational experience that a only smaller school could offer,” she says. “At MUM we had easy access to faculty and weren’t just a number. It was a good fit for me.”
In 1984, she traveled to Newport, Rhode Island to attend her sister’s graduation ceremony at Navy Officer Candidate School. Finding herself in the midst of the military world, things suddenly clicked into place. “It was so orderly and organized. You understood exactly what was expected of you,” she says. “I found that quite charming. I wanted it. But I didn’t know if they took scientists.”
They most certainly did. Rene enlisted in the Navy for four years as a commissioned officer. Finding it to her liking, she signed up for four more years. Now, 25 years later, she’s still signing up for more. And still loving it.
Rene is a research physiologist who studies combat causalities. An expert in traumatic brain injury and PTSD, she is responsible for insuring that correct protocol is followed by Navy medical researchers. She’s the person who insures that studies are moving forward, often helping scientists to clarify and develop their ideas, and giving support in any way she can. She has editorial control and final say on the content of published research. “I’m the Navy voice for medical research in combat casualty care programs,” she says.
Because she often works with the written word, Rene says that learning how to write well was one of her most valuable take-aways from her time at MUM.
“During our core courses we had to write a paper every week,” she says. “We got a topic on Monday, submitted our paper on Wednesday, got it back corrected, then did a rewrite by Friday. It was an incredible, formative experience. It’s made all the difference in my work today.”
In her spare time, Rene helps ailing children and the families of injured soldiers. She’s ridden her Virago 750 many times in the annual Ride for Kids motorcycle ride to raise money for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. As a volunteer for Marine Parents, she brings dinners to the parents of wounded warriors receiving care at the National Naval Medical Center hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, near Washington, D.C.
Interestingly, TM is showing up more and more in the U.S. military setting. The U.S. Department of Defense awarded MUM a $2.4 million grant in 2012 to study stress reduction in veterans. And the nation’s oldest military college, Norwich University, has adopted the TM program in their curriculum.
Rene learned TM when she was 16 and has practiced it ever since, even during her two years at sea. “I started young,” she says. “It’s all I know.”
Written by Warren Goldie
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