Shaunna Huston | A life-changing opportunity

Shaunna Huston never looks at a job as Monday to Friday 9-5 p.m.

Author

Caitlyn MacDonald, for Cumming School of Medicine

Shaunna Huston never looks at a job as Monday to Friday 9-5 p.m. She’s a small town girl who truly puts her heart and soul into everything she does. Growing up, she always kept herself busy and one thing was always true — she knew she wanted to make a difference in health. This is what prompted her to become a registered trauma nurse.

“I absolutely loved being a nurse. The nursing field was demanding, both emotionally and physically, but the benefits and rewards far outweighed the challenges,” she says.

Shaunna says that being on the frontline in a profession where you can actually make a difference was her calling.

“My patients truly inspired me every day,” she adds.

Shaunna says nursing also made her so much more aware of medical research and got her thinking about ways she can do more.

“I started becoming more conscious of the importance of the research side and this motivated me to want to make more of a global contribution to health. I realized quickly that the major cause of death of trauma patients was through infections, and I noticed that over time we weren’t making as much progress as we should be.”

Shaunna decided that she wanted to expand her knowledge and started by completing  her PhD at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) with Dr. Chris Mody. During her doctorate, she specialized in host pathogen interactions encompassing both microbiology and immunology.

While working as a registered trauma nurse, Shaunna owned and operated three companies – the first being an oil and gas environmental startup company; the second, an agriculture company; and third, a retail store, which all gave her a unique sense of accomplishment.

“I knew after the success of the companies, I wanted to be a part of something bigger and felt confident that I could pursue more challenging goals — my PhD was exactly that.”

Upon completion of her PhD in immunology, her main goal was to bring the clinical side of health together with the research aspect, although she didn’t have a vision of what exactly that would look like in the end.

“Finishing my PhD was new territory — it’s a long road getting to a completion with an unclear picture of what’s to come next.”

That’s when what Shaunna calls a “life-changing” opportunity arose. Her nursing background, paired with her diverse business experience, and her recently completed PhD in immunology, set her up for one of her most challenging positions yet.

Shaunna is now the director of business and operations for the new International Microbiome Centre (IMC) as well as the Infections, Inflammation and Chronic Diseases (IICD) in the Changing Environment university-wide research strategy.

The IMC, which opens today, is a translational research centre designed to investigate and drive discoveries in the area of the microbiome of plants, animals and the physical environment. This state-of-the-art centre is also home to the world’s largest germ-free lab dedicated to studying the microbiome’s role in immunity and disease. 

Shaunna has been instrumental in the building, construction, management, directing and full development of the IMC ever since she helped lead the grant that received funding to build this centre over two years ago. She’s at the forefront and drives the IICD strategy, leading the strategic partnerships with industry and government, running finances, and also working hard to engage the powerful coalition of researchers from across campus and internationally.

Shaunna says her vast clinical background, her research experience, and her involvement on the business front, translates directly into her every day job at the CSM. Whether it’s supporting researchers and students, building technologies and platforms, or driving forward new and fresh ideas, Shaunna has truly made her mark at the CSM. 

“My passion for my role at the University of Calgary stems from the drive I have developed over my life in the various opportunities I’ve had the privilege to be a part of — to me, there’s no better opportunity and fit than the one I was given at the CSM.”

Tidbits from Shaunna:

Loves most about living in Calgary: “I love that there’s a transition between prairie, foothills and the mountains within an hour. It’s amazing! You can go anywhere in the world and few places with that type of transition exist!”

Main influences growing up: “My parents and family definitely. They always taught me that my choices are always mine, but supported me in whatever crazy thing I decided to do next. I like to think I instill that same mindset with my daughter.”

What the future looks like: “I can see myself here at UCalgary. I’m very passionate about what’s going on in research and the opportunity that was given to me. It’s so exciting to know that investigators from across the world will be interested in coming to our IMC and that we’ll be positioned to make significant impacts in the area of the microbiome. I can’t wait to see what comes next!”