Real people, real jobs: Louisiana graduates share their stories

Staja Booker

Meet three Louisiana college graduates, who tell us about the work they do and how they got there. Staja Booker is a nurse researcher; Leah Porche, a dietitian and business owner; and K Renee Horton, a lead metallic and weld engineer on the Space Launch System for NASA.



Name: Staja “Star” Booker (above)

Hometown: Jonesboro, Louisiana 

High school: Jonesboro High 

College: Grambling State University/Penn State/University of Iowa 

Degree/major: Nursing, also has earned Ph.D.

Employers: University of Florida, Northwestern State University and University of Iowa 

Age: 29

What she does: “I am a nurse researcher. Right now I am trying to put together my next research project. Last year I was out in the community doing research, talking to people for my dissertation and trying to understand what African American older adults do to self-manage osteoarthritis pain. I was doing a lot of traveling to Shreveport and around the north Louisiana area talking to different people and doing interviews. Now that I’ve moved to Florida, I am getting my research started here [as a postdoctoral fellow at University of Florida]. I am also doing some adjunct teaching for Northwestern and University of Iowa.” 

On education: “It was one of the best decisions I could have made. My intention was to go to ULM (University of Louisiana at Monroe), but I also applied to Grambling. I visited and started talking to some people, and the financial aid was a better deal. I don’t think I would be where I am in my career if I hadn’t gone to Grambling. Participating in some of their programs, like an internship at Penn State, really pivoted my career path. Had I not been given the opportunity to do that internship, there’s no way I would be a nurse researcher today. I liked the overall atmosphere of being in an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and could connect with so many different people because we share some of the same cultural values and traditions. It was just the best experience of my life.”

On work: “I like the flexibility and the ability to ask questions and go out and find different answers. The opportunity to use my degree in so many different ways—nurses can almost kind of do anything, which is awesome. Having a degree and a Ph.D. gives me the immense opportunity to craft my own career and try to find answers about how to help older adults with pain.”



Name: Leah Porche

Hometown: Somers, Connecticut

High school: GED

College: Nicholls State University

Degree/major: Bachelor of science in dietetics

Business: Root2Rise,
Houma, Louisiana

Age: 35

What she does: “My title at Root2Rise is owner/dietitian, but that does little to describe what I do. My business partner and I are 50:50, in both ownership and work; we work together to manage our employees, finances, social media and all other tasks required to do business as a yoga studio and juice bar. A typical day for me is never the same, but it may include teaching a yoga class, then doing the bank deposit, paying bills, taking inventory and making orders. I may also help in the kitchen or juice bar, create an Instagram and Facebook post, and check emails. I do my best to find time to read, research and write (usually about food and nutrition), and maybe even take a yoga class myself!”

On education: “I obtained my undergraduate degree at Nicholls State, and I do remember it being difficult at the time, but I definitely thrived on the challenge. My favorite classes were food science and meal management. I then completed an internship at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge. This portion of my education was even more challenging, but mostly because I commuted from Houma five days a week for 10 months! My favorite rotations were WIC and food service; however, I did develop an unexpected enjoyment for clinical dietetics.”

On work: “I chose this career because I have always loved food and was intrigued by the impact diet can have on health and wellness. What I like about dietetics is that it is grounded in science, but is always evolving based on new studies and discoveries. The best feeling for me is creating a bridge between the science of nutrition and the simplicity of food.”



Renee HortonName: K Renee Horton 

Hometown: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

High school: McKinley High School

College: LSU/University of Alabama 

Degree/major: Electrical engineering/material science with a concentration in physics 

Employer: NASA 

Age: 45

What she does: “Currently, I serve as the lead metallic and weld engineer for the Space Launch System in the residential office located at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. A typical day consists of four to six meetings and working with space hardware dealing with nonconformances related to the metals or welding of the rocket we are currently building. Recent duties added consist of monitoring and facilitating priority materials laboratory testing through the facility lab.”

On education: “My college experience was split in two. The first time around I started at 16 and dropped out at 18. My second time around, I was older with three kids. I was more focused and determined to get my degree. I loved being back on track and pursuing my original goals of a degree. I also liked having the kids, because it exposed them to something that was completely different than what they had already experienced.”

On work: “I started dreaming about outer space and other dimensions as a child. To get there, I felt I needed to be an astronaut. A hearing disability sidelined me from being an astronaut. Going back to school helped me realize that if I couldn’t go to space, I could send others to space. I chose my career of working at NASA because I want to be a part of a team conquering the beyond. I like that every day we move forward, I am a part of space history.” 

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