Spring 2012 Issue | By Emily Frandsen
Well-Rounded just Begins to touch the Surface
Dr. Laura Vailas knows what it is like to be a student. For nine years, she and her husband, Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas, lived in University of Iowa student housing while the couple went to graduate school and he completed a three-year postdoctoral fellowship.
"The first few years were very tough," she said. "Newly married, we had relocated far from our New England-based families, and were living on student loans and our graduate stipends. After I accepted my first job offer at the University of Iowa Lipid Research Clinic, things became a bit easier. But at the same time, I began working on my masters degree - so there was little time for us to spend together."
Since then, the registered dietitian with a Ph.D. in nutritional sciences from University of Wisconsin-Madison has created an impressive career. She conducted and led federally and privately funded clinical lipid research in the University of Southern California School of Medicine and the University of Wisconsin Medical School. While at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she earned her Ph.D. in nutritional sciences, and a certificate in gerontology. After relocating to Houston and doing a year of post-doctoral research, she became assistant director of the University of Houston Institute for Molecular Design, and later, associate dean for advancement in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Houston, and taught courses in nutrition and biochemistry.
Her accomplishments include the authorship of grant proposals totaling more than $9 million to increase the number of minority students receiving degrees in STEM disciplines, and peer-reviewed publications on the subjects of diet and atherosclerosis and risk for malnutrition in older adults. In recognition of her work in lipid research and cardiovascular disease, she was named Fellow of the American Heart Association.
Throughout her academic career, however, she has remembered the challenges of student life, and has worked hard to help the next generation in academia.
Every shift and change has helped her to learn something new. When the Vailases moved to Idaho State University six years ago, her role changed again. Today, you will find Vailas working with fundraising and marketing at the University, along with helping several student groups. She is also active in the community, having served on the governing board of Portneuf Medical Center and on the fundraising committee of the Idaho Foodbank Pocatello Warehouse. She especially enjoys being a member of the Pocatello Rotary Club.
Her motto, from the age of 25, has been "Bloom where you are planted." With each of the couple's five relocations, Vailas landed on her feet, reestablishing herself professionally. She and President Vailas became parents while living in Los Angeles, and Alexandra, now 27, knows what it is like having a working mom.
Laura's career has been an important part of her life. Idaho law prohibits her from working at the University as an employee, but she can usually be found on campus, lending her expertise to many projects, from the remodeling of the Pond Student Union to marketing efforts. Some of her favorite projects involve students.
"When Art says 'students come first,' that is true for both of us," she said. Vailas is especially impressed when she sees students working to help each other. She is actively involved in the Veterans' Sanctuary, an Idaho State University program designed to help veterans succeed in school, and to provide a community for veteran students. In the Sanctuary, veterans have access to county services and University services in one location. Vailas says she and the employees of the Sanctuary, along with students, strive to make the area comfortable. There is always a pot of coffee brewing, and often someone to chat with.
Vailas also focuses on working with friends of the University, developing relationships and collaborating on projects to benefit ISU. She is currently involved in campus beautification planning made possible by Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley, who have committed a generous sum for the next five years for beautification projects on Idaho State University's campus. "I am extremely impressed with Mr. Wheatley's knowledge of landscape design. We're all very grateful, and looking forward to enjoying the results of our collaboration."