With an adventurous heart, a brave spirit and a little help from Richland College, Mouna Taroua is living her dreams. A Richland College alumna, Taroua is a lead anatomy engineer at Lazarus 3D, a startup company in Houston, TX. While people may see Taroua as an accomplished biomedical engineer, working on medical training simulators, presenting at conferences and regularly speaking up in board meetings, many would never know that when she first moved to Dallas from Casablanca, Morocco, in 2010, she did not know how to speak English.
Taroua moved to the U.S. as an 18-year-old college graduate. “It was a scary and exciting adventure at the same time–I didn’t know anyone here, and I wasn’t speaking English either. I spent my first year taking English for Speakers of Other Languages classes at Richland College and the following years getting my associate degree in science and fulfilling all the prerequisites for biomedical engineering.”
Taroua made lifelong memories at Richland. She had her first driving lessons in the Richland College parking lot. She met “life-changing” people while waiting at the bus station and practicing her English. She played golf for the first time during a P.E. class here. She worked her first ever job at the Richland College bookstore, starting as a temporary associate before working her way up to the team lead of floor operation. Taroua also loved the annual Multicultural Festival, looking forward to exploring different cultures and trying delicious food at the annual spring event.
“The campus is gorgeous,” said Taroua. “I loved walking around, especially in the early morning by the lake and looking at the geese and ducks. All the professors were always so helpful inside and outside the classroom. Also, it was very nice having a small number of students in each class; it made it easier to connect and meet with everyone. Easy access to tutoring for different subjects was also a huge plus. In addition, the STEM advisors were so great guiding me on my professional path. I always knew I wanted to pursue engineering, but I didn’t really know which field. I remember Mrs. Teresa Lynd walking me through each program along with each degree plan and answering all my questions until I made a final decision.”
One of the instructors who stood out the most to Taroua while at Richland College was Jennifer Millspaugh Gray, who teaches speech communication. After finishing her ESOL classes, Taroua took a speech class from Gray. It was a time during which Taroua didn’t feel very articulate or expressive with speaking English. “Jennifer Millspaugh Gray helped me overcome my fear of public speaking,” said Taroua. “I used to have extreme anxiety before each presentation–especially knowing that I would be talking in front of native speakers. I think she noticed my struggle, since I began every speech with, ‘I am sorry, English is not my primary language.’ After every speech, she would congratulate me and other international students on how well we did. Her encouragement and advice helped boost my self-esteem and made me want to speak and share my ideas with others, without feeling apologetic about my speaking mistakes.”
Gray fondly remembers Taroua as well. “I was just thinking about Mouna because I came across her LinkedIn profile, and I was stunned at how accomplished she’s become in such a short time,” said Gray. “I shouldn’t be surprised though–she really was a standout student. I have a traditional Moroccan plate in my office that she brought me as a gift, and she inspired me to travel to Morrocco several years ago. To this day, Mouna remains one of my most memorable and impressive students. She was–and still is–a confident and competent leader among her peers, an extremely determined student, and a compassionate, kind-hearted person. Thanks to technology, I can still keep in touch with Mouna, and I burst with pride every time I see her progress in her life and career. I am so honored to have been a part of her journey!”
In 2014, Taroua was among 18 Dallas County Community College students who were selected to be part of the Transition Summer Program at UNT Howard Hughes Medical Institute Program. The group spent five weeks performing genetic analysis on the genome sequence of different phages. In addition, she helped work on isolating bacteriophages from soil.
After earning her associate degree, Taroua transferred to the University of Texas at Dallas, where she graduated with a bachelor degree in biomedical engineering in 2017. At her job with Lazarus 3D, she works with 3D printing to create copies of extreme medical cases of patients’ organs so surgeons can prepare for upcoming operations. She also helps make medical training simulators that feel like real human tissue and mimic the mechanical properties of real anatomy. “Our products are different than the ones on the market because they are made of soft material instead of plastic; they can bleed, suture and be cut,” explained Taroua. “Doctors today practice on fruits and vegetables, which are very different from our anatomy, to learn how to perform many procedures. To decrease medical errors, we come up with suitable training models so doctors can operate with confidence.”
While the science classes Taroua took at Richland College helped her prepare for her future career, she didn’t realize until after she began working in the real-world how important her non-science classes were as well.
“The diverse classes that I took, such as public speaking, psychology, sociology and art, helped me develop my soft skills and my general knowledge, which are indispensable to the technical skills,” explained Taroua. “In sociology for example, we learned how to deal with and manage social conflict, which is common in my field. My public speaking class helped me overcome my fear of speaking in front of a big crowd, which is important when I am representing my company at conferences and when I express my professional opinion freely during a board meeting.”
Taroua’s best advice for international students at Richland College is to keep focusing on their goals, even if a million challenges come their way. “Moving to another country for college is a big step full of hiccups; however, it is a well-worth it experience, especially at Richland College where you will get all the support you need to succeed personally and professionally.”