What Makes Me Texan by Nature: Carolyn Cooper

My family’s Texas story begins at the Sunshine Ranch in the Panhandle, where members of my family still farm today. While I was born and raised in downtown Houston, our Texas farming roots were a regular topic of conversation at our weekly family dinners.

My great-grandparents, grandma (on the left), and her siblings at Sunshine Ranch in the 1940s

My first real experiences with nature were at camp in Hunt, Texas. At camp, I swam and canoed in the Guadalupe River, rode horses in the hills, and slept under the beautiful Hill Country night sky. Trips with my family, friends, and Girl Scout troop to other classic Houston-area spots like Quintana Beach, Camp Agnes Arnold, and Camp Misty Meadows firmly cemented my love of the outdoors.

I made it almost two miles down the road when I started college at Rice University. Through my coursework in chemical engineering and anthropology, I developed an appreciation for applying engineering approaches and community-based knowledge to solve complex problems. I was lucky to meet my future husband, Dennis, on my first day at Rice. Together, we developed a love of travel and adventure. One of my favorite college trips included camping in Big Bend National Park and touring The Chinati Foundation in Marfa.

After college, I accepted a position at an oil and gas company in Houston. At work, I enjoyed finding efficient engineering solutions and working on projects around the state. I developed such an appreciation for the diversity and beauty of Texas driving to sites in South and West Texas. Outside work, we added a rambunctious rescue Texas Heeler, Bluebell, to the family. Her never-ending energy kept us constantly outdoors and on the move. We spent many evenings walking Hermann Park and Buffalo Bayou and weekends at the beach in Galveston.

Bluebonnets with Bluebell

However, the more of Texas I saw the more I wanted to contribute to environmental efforts within the state. We moved to Austin, and I started an MS/PhD in Civil Engineering focusing on water quality and treatment at the University of Texas. During graduate school, I learned about water, climate change, and the environment and how science-based approaches could tackle issues in these spaces. I also married Dennis at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center with Tex-Mex, margaritas, and a Tres Leches cake.

Our wedding. Photo Credit: Leah Muse Photography

These days you’ll find me hiking, kayaking, and eating my way through Texas. Texas is my home. I have never left for long, and I never plan to. My roots and experiences have solidified my desire to support environmental efforts here. This drive and passion to contribute is what makes me Texan by Nature.

Kayaking at Inks Lake State Park