four under 40

Navigating their lives, despite obstacles in their way and unexpected interruptions, hiccups and detours, these young professionals are showing their Cougar pride throughout the city and the world. Imagine a world where education is a human right — Nancy Adossi does. She’s doing something about it too. Or picture a world where arts education and self-care are the mandate among hospital-bound populations — Zachary Gresham and Caroline Docwra are working to make sure that Houston hospitals incorporate art into their healing processes. And think of what we could accomplish if young lawyers from UH made sure that 100 percent of their fellow alumni gave back to the school that provided them with a top-notch education. David Rusk is working on real estate law while serving as a role model for his fellow law alumni.

Learn more about their incredible journeys through UH and their stellar career choices in this “Four Under 40” feature — and let their grit and determination inspire you to ponder, “How did UH help me navigate my life?”

Nancy Adossi

“The hustle in me is stronger than the struggle around me.”

Nancy Adossi (UHD ’11, M.A. ’13, Ed.D. ’17)

Between 2011 and 2017, Nancy Adossi was getting a maximum of four hours of sleep per night. Paying her way through undergraduate and graduate school at UH, Adossi worked three to four jobs — as a waitress in a Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Houston, a Gallup pollster and a stylist. While arduous at times, Adossi’s perseverance has paid off in more ways than one. Now, data analytics, population research, communication plans and comprehensive consulting for governments across the globe occupy her time.

Adossi started Adossi Consulting, serving as principal investigator and working with various nonprofits, startups and governmental systems. She is even a consulting delegate for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Not surprisingly, Adossi advocates for education as a human right.

Adossi is originally from Togo, West Africa. As a black, undocumented female during her years at UH, Adossi developed a niche specialty helping those who are also undocumented — especially those of African descent, who are often overlooked. She also studies doctors who migrate from their respective countries to practice in the Texas Medical Center in Houston. The most interesting aspect of her career is something Adossi cites as “minute,” but is actually a big deal. She speaks six languages, and some days, she uses four of those to communicate with clients!

“Nothing is impossible. Keep going and keep trying,” is Adossi’s advice for UH students. This sentiment echoes Adossi’s motto: “The hustle in me is stronger than the struggle around me.” The hard work was worth it in Adossi’s estimation, and she is proud of the value and prestige that is attached to her UH degrees.

Adossi’s mentor, John Linantud, Ph.D., a political science professor at University of Houston – Downtown, says: “Nancy has always expected a lot from herself, her professors and the people around her. By doing so, she has already had a tremendous impact on Houston, and I look forward to her future endeavors.”

David Rusk

George Butler Research Professor of Law at UHCL

“David was a student who stood out from his peers since the very first day of law school.”

David Rusk (’11, J.D. ’14)

When David Rusk visits a popular Houston Tex-Mex restaurant, he recalls working on the lease that allowed the restaurant to acquire the space. “I love how tangible real estate law is,” Rusk remarks. “It’s very rewarding to be able to work on a project and go out and see it!”

Rusk is a part of the real estate and banking group at Thompson & Knight L.L.P. The summa cum laude graduate of University of Houston’s Law Center says he always knew that he wanted to be a lawyer, even as a child. “I think I was too young to really know what being a lawyer was,” he admits. “But over time, I really grew into the idea.”

Rusk ended up going the route of real estate law instead of that of a trial lawyer, and he says the transactional nature of the job is a good fit for him. Next up — Rusk plans to expand his real estate practice and advance up the ranks at his firm. He also wants to get more involved with various charities, such as the Houston Food Bank.

Rusk worked part time at Sonic Drive-In during his undergraduate career at UH — no, he didn’t wear roller skates! — studying political science with professors such as Jerry Jackson and Christina Hughes.

During his college career, Rusk became involved with student organizations, sporting events and “bought into” the University of Houston. Rusk advises UH students to participate as much as possible. “Enjoy college!” he insists.

“David was a student who stood out from his peers since the very first day of law school. He is such an intelligent and genuine person. His love of learning the law was evident,” says Meredith Duncan, the George Butler Research Professor of Law at the UHLC. “I had no doubt whatsoever that he would move on to be a very successful attorney — or anything else he chose to be.”

Rusk credits his mother with teaching him to work hard and respect everyone. “My mom raised me single-handedly while working full time as a software analyst,” he says. “She never complained or even seemed stressed.”

Rusk was the co-chair of the UH Law Center 100 Percent Challenge in 2018, a fundraising drive aimed at achieving 100 percent alumni participation at Houston law firms and companies. He feels extremely honored to be among the Four Under 40 and hopes to enhance his relationship with UH Law Center Young Alumni Association.

zachary gresham

Fleurette Fernando Professor at UH

“Zackary Gresham was a leader among leaders”

Zachary Gresham (M.A., M.Ed. ’15)

“Zachary Gresham was a leader among leaders, even while a student in our program,” says Fleurette Fernando, the director of the M.A. in Arts Leadership Program and one of Gresham’s former professors at the University of Houston. “He managed to keep a full-time job while completing both an M.A. in arts leadership and an M.Ed. in art education, while also maintaining a 4.0 GPA.”

Gresham won’t brag about this incredible feat, despite the fact he pioneered the dual M.A. and M.Ed. degrees by navigating the programs efficiently and asking a lot of questions. Gresham originally started school as a music major, but later he earned his bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in art history. He still plays the cello with the Symphony of Southeast Texas in Beaumont. Gresham’s education would eventually lead him to a career as the program manager for Arts in Medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital.

Gresham’s number one priority in his newest position is connecting patients and their families to arts activities within the hospital. He thinks of what it’s like when a child is having a bad day during treatment. He may do something like orchestrate a private concert for the child with the help of a community arts partner. Suddenly, the child is sitting upright in bed, clapping and singing along with the musician. These are the connections Gresham feels are the most worthwhile and what makes for a successful and rewarding career.

Gresham’s advice for UH students is to meet people who are doing the job you want to do one day. He can’t oversell the concept of connecting with others — “Life is about making strong, authentic, genuine relationships with people.”

“I’m very proud of all he continues to accomplish in our community and even prouder to say he is an alumni of our program,” says Fernando.

caroline docwra

“Patience is a virtue”

Caroline Docwra (’07, M.A. ’17)

Can you make a plan for change when things don’t go as planned? That was the question Caroline Docwra asked herself over and over as life changes sent her on a very different path than she anticipated. Unfortunately, it just so happened that during her master’s degree education a family emergency forced her to reprioritize her life. It was during this experience that Docwra learned how to manage change and remain resilient. This resolve has aided her career as an arts administrator, curator and writer in the arts field.

Docwra started out as a biology undergraduate student at UH, wishing to become a doctor. Then, she minored in art history, which put her on a new trajectory. Docwra began to see how the arts integrated into broader roles of the world. After working at the Houston Center for Photography and Houston Arts Alliance, she now serves as project specialist in the visual arts for the Center for Performing Arts at Houston Methodist. “Arts administrators help artists’ visions come to life. It’s so rewarding to work on a show and bring about work an artist has so painstakingly created.”

Docwra says her grandmother always proclaimed the old adage, “Patience is a virtue.” Her former professor, Fleurette Fernando at the University of Houston says, “Caroline possesses patience, empathy and the critical skills required to be a hugely successful arts leader.”

Docwra is tasked with curating visual arts experiences for Houston Methodist. Most recently, she has worked on visual arts classes for employees that focus on how the arts can lead to resiliency — and the fact that self-expression is a form of self-care. This embodies Houston Methodist’s I CARE values. “It is so rewarding bringing my experience to these classes and allowing staff a space for exploring their creativity. We have so many talented artists at Houston Methodist,” Docwra says. The artists are featured each year in the Healing Arts Exhibition, open to employees, physicians and volunteers.

In one word, Docwra maintains she is “amazed” by UH’s ambitious goal to open the first medical school in Houston since the 1970s. She is especially thankful for the scholarships that were provided for the first cohort of 30 students – she hopes it will revitalize health care in Houston. As an arts administrator who “recognizes how arts and design can contribute to a healing environment,” Docwra is hopeful for the best for UH and Houston.

When do these busy young professionals ever have a moment to themselves? Even while excelling in their respective fields, these go-getters still know how to unwind and have a great time! You might find Rusk playing “Hotel California” on his guitar. In fact, he recalls being young and thinking the Eagles were pretty lame — what he liked to tell his mother was “old person music.” Then one day, he heard a song on the radio he really liked. “You know what that is, don’t you?” his mother asked him. “That’s a band playing an Eagles cover.” Ever since, he’s been hooked. Gresham used to run a lot of marathons during his master’s degree work, but nowadays, it’s more likely he’s found playing his cello in the Symphony of Southeast Texas, out of Beaumont, Texas — his hometown. But come evenings in the autumn, he enjoys teaching UH students enrolled in the master’s program for arts leadership in addition to his day job. He says the syllabus is very open ended and allows painters, dancers and visual artists to explore the world of arts administration and technology. The ladies enjoy their free time as well. Adossi still acts as a stylist for friends and family, “I still braid my mom’s hair from time to time, and I braid my own. And even though I travel for work a lot, I do travel for my other hobby, which is photography. I also paint and draw for fun!” she says. “I enjoy making jewelry,” says Docwra. She and a close-knit group of high school friends from Alief ISD Hastings High School like to keep in touch and even went on a recent trip to New Orleans together!