Dr. Marilee Benore- Living and Loving Science
Science and Dr. Marilee Benore are synonymous.
She referred to the book “A Wrinkle in Time” as she was fascinated that the mother in the book was a scientist and did experiments in the kitchen.
“In 6th grade, I told my Godmother I was going to be a scientist,” she said. “I really like science; it’s what I think about all the time.”
Benore received her PhD in Chemistry, her research focuses on vitamins, and she has taught at the University of Michigan-Dearborn for many years in the Natural Science Department, relishing in the impact she has on her students, and grateful to work with colleagues who love to teach.
In addition to science though, Benore is intrigued by Women’s and Gender studies issues, recalling that “Nuns and Girl Scouts were very important to me because I saw them as strong women.”
It’s not surprising that the declining number of women who pursue or remain in the S.T.E.M. fields concerns Benore, as she believes women have much to offer to the field of science.
Looking the Part
“I have an off-beat sense of humor and like to have fun and joke. So people are often surprised I’m a scientist,” she said.
Women believing that they don’t “look” like scientists is only one reason they choose to not pursue it, or leave the field of science. Other reasons include: parenting small children, while keeping up with the demands of the job, the time itself that the job requires, and lack of support from supervisors or colleagues.
Benore is well aware of the “leaky pipeline” in science, knowing that 25% of women leave the STEM field after having their first child. As a professor, Benore makes sure not to perpetuate this issue primarily by encouraging her students at every opportunity she has.
“I try to reach out to students because I want them to know they are very good,” she said. “Women, especially, are often less likely to believe they have the confidence to do something.”
In the class Gender in Science and Engineering that Benore team-taught with Dr. Sheila Smith, students each created a poster board of a female scientist or engineer by means of a grant from the Women’s and Gender Studies program. Many of these boards have been on display. Benore shared a poster board of her favorite woman in science Alice Hamilton, M.D., who is known as the “Mother of Industrial Health.”
Awhile back, Benore attended a conference in Paris, France where it was highlighted that the number of women in STEM fields vary from country to country. Interestingly, it was noted that countries that have more oppression of women tend to see more women entering in the STEM fields.
From August to the end of November 2019, Benore returned to France with the aim to interview as many female scientists and engineers as she could to ask them a simple question: “Why do you persist?”
She settled in an apartment in Versailles, France, did surveys, interviewed engineers, astrophysicists and the like, listening and watching this oral history project come to life.
Aside from her research, Benore was able to explore the Catacombs, take a cooking class, walk through gardens, attend meetups of women who were practicing English and French, and accept any invitation of hospitality she received.
Since returning to campus this semester, Benore’s priorities include doing experiments, working on a book project on her work with a collaboration from Jordan, and deciding how to organize her interviewee’s footage from France. Benore feels an eager sense of responsibility to share the stories of these women and others, to add to the narrative of women in STEM.
“[Books and movies like] ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and Hidden Figures brought out that there are women in STEM and history that we have ignored, she said. “We need more stories like that.”
Article by Leah Olajide