Oujesky, Helen Virginia Matusevich (1930–2010)

By: Diana Heredia-López

Type: Biography

Published: April 14, 2022

Updated: April 14, 2022

Helen Virginia Matusevich Oujesky, microbiologist, professor, and women’s education advocate, was born on August 14, 1930, in Fort Worth, Texas, to Stefan “Steve” Matusevich and Lillie (Krivanek) Matusevich. Both of her parents migrated to America from Europe in the early twentieth century —her father was born in Minsk and her mother was born in Moravia.

She obtained bachelors of science and of arts from Texas State College for Women (later Texas Woman’s University) in 1951. After graduating, she married Frank Peter Oujesky on December 27, 1951. From 1951 to 1963 she taught at Green B. Trimble Technical High School (then known first as R. L. Paschal High School and then as Fort Worth Technical High School) in Fort Worth. During this time, Oujesky’s three sons —Michael Jerome, David Franklin, and Christopher Aaron— were born. In 1963 she chose to return to school and pursued a master’s degree at Texas Christian University, where she specialized in radiobiology and held a laboratory instructorship and a teaching assistantship sponsored by the National Science Foundation. She graduated in 1965 with a thesis that focused on the accumulation of Calcium-45 radioisotopes in different fish groups. Oujesky returned to Texas Woman’s University to complete her Ph.D. in microbiology and earned her degree in 1968. For her doctoral dissertation, she applied radiobiology techniques to observe alterations in DNA replication caused by atmospheric gases. Oujesky held an assistant professorship at Texas Woman’s University from 1968 to 1973. Throughout her career, she pursued research focusing on the environmental factors that regulate microbial metabolism, particularly as they related to the pollution of land and soil by toxic wastes.

In 1973 Oujesky became an associate professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). That same year, she was granted use of a research facility at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace and Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base. The following year, she sponsored the creation of the Beta Upsilon chapter of the Phi Sigma Society, an international biological sciences honor society, at UTSA. During her time at UTSA, Oujesky received various grants and distinctions from the National Science Foundation, including five awards from the Student Science Training Programs for High School Students, three awards for Minority Research Programs for Minority High School Students, and one award for an Intervention Model Program for Girls Using Laboratory Activities in Science, Math and Engineering. She was also a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Society for Microbiology; was on the education committee for the Society for Industrial Microbiology; and was president of the Alamo chapter of Sigma Xi, a scientific research honor society.

In 1980 Oujesky became president of the Altrusa Club of San Antonio. She was president of the San Antonio branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) from 1985 to 1987 and president of the Texas division of the AAUW from 1994 to 1996. In 1988 Oujesky filed a lawsuit against UTSA for sex and age discrimination. She spoke openly about sexual harassment against women in schools and of the differential treatment girls received in schools and how they were discouraged from pursuing careers in math and science fields. In 1997 she coordinated an Expanding Your Horizons conference which encouraged intermediate to high school-aged girls to take courses in science and math and organized workshops with women professionals working in these fields. That same year she was selected as an inductee for the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.

Oujesky was also a collegiate academy counselor for the Texas Academy of Science from 1980 to 1994. In 1980 she became professor and acting division director of Allied Health and life sciences at UTSA. She retired in 2003 after thirty years of teaching, mentoring, and researching in this university. Helen Oujesky passed away on February 1, 2010. She was interred at Mount Olive Cemetery in Fort Worth.

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Katherine H. Nemeh, ed., American Men & Women of Science: A Biographical Directory of Today’s Leaders in Physical, Biological, and Related Sciences, 23rd ed., vol. 5 (Detroit: Thomas Gale, 2007).  Seguin Gazette-Enterprise, November 1, 1992; December 29, 1996. San Antonio Light, July 27, 1980. Texas Women’s Hall of Fame: Helen Matusevich Oujesky, Texas Woman’s University (https://twu.edu/twhf/honorees/helen-matusevich-oujesky), accessed April 4, 2022.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Diana Heredia-López, “Oujesky, Helen Virginia Matusevich,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/oujesky-helen-virginia-matusevich.

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April 14, 2022
April 14, 2022

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