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Alumni Spotlight: Abbey Hotard

Ogden Honors College and Louisiana Service and Leadership (LASAL) graduate, Abbey Hotard, returned to campus this week to reflect on her career path and plans with current students.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Policy Fellow Abbey Hotard, a 2017 Ogden Honors College and Louisiana Service and Leadership (LASAL) graduate returned to campus this week to reflect on her career path and plans with current students.  After receiving a master’s degree at Texas A&M Galveston, she now works at the EPA Gulf of Mexico Division in Gulfport, MS. 

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Hotard told the current group of freshman and sophomore LASAL Scholars. What did she mean by this? Well, working to solve complex issues at the intersections of environmental sustainability and poverty was a dream unrealized for Hotard when she began her journey at LSU. She came into her freshman year determined to become a chemical engineer. She also applied to the LASAL program that year, a decision she said altered the trajectory of her academic and professional endeavors.

The LASAL Scholars program sets out to prepare honors students for leadership roles and to find solutions to social, economic, and environmental issues that disproportionately affect Louisiana. Exposure to these topics helped Hotard discover her passion for the problems plaguing the coastal wetlands of Louisiana and its impacts on the people living in those communities. This newfound passion led her to change her major from chemical engineering to costal environmental science— a field of study she didn’t know existed.

“Our program is specifically preparing students to have a direct and long-term impact on Louisiana, and Hotard is a great example of the program’s commitment to problem-solving, independent research, community service, and social justice,” says OHC Associate Dean Granger Babcock, co-director of the LASAL program. 

Hotard noted how the LASAL program pushed her and prepared her in ways she didn’t even realize. Juniors in the program are expected to complete an internship to help them gain real world experience. Hotard accepted an internship with The Water Institute of the Gulf. “I was so uncomfortable because I never felt like I knew what I was doing. Looking back, I realize that I was learning a lot that would be applicable to me in the future. I was fumbling through software like ArcGIS, and now I use it almost every single day.”

After graduating from LSU Hotard attended Texas A&M at Galveston to work on her master’s in Marine Resource Management. Her career took another unexpected turn when Hurricane Harvey struck Galveston just a month after she moved to the island to start her master’s program.  

In the aftermath of the storm, Hotard participated in research on the rural communities that, unlike Houston and other major cities, are often forgotten about by the rest of the world. “LASAL changed my world view,” she said. “It did develop me into a leader. Not because I have leadership title or because everyone is pointing at me and saying I’m the leader, but because I am able to figure out where there’s a need, be present for the problem, give it my full attention, and sometimes my physical labor in an effort to address the problem.” Her thesis, Relocation Considerations of Gulf Coast Residents Following the 2017 Hurricane Season for Hazard Risk Reduction, shines a light on attitudes toward relocation and buy-in for migration policy interventions as low-lying coastal communities around the Gulf of Mexico may need to relocate due to sea level rise.

Hotard’s current role with the EPA allows her to learn about how federal agencies can support local initiatives for a healthy environment and resilient communities. She does plan to move back to Louisiana one day to pursue her dream of helping coastal communities adapt to sea level rise due to climate change and coastal land loss.