Golomb Receives Inaugural Faculty Achievement Award in Diversity
March 20, 2012
Miriam Golomb, associate professor of biological sciences, is one of three MU faculty awarded the inaugural 2012 MU Faculty Achievement Award in Diversity. The award recognizes Golomb’s efforts to elevate diversity and inclusion at MU.
Golomb joined the faculty of the Division of Biological Sciences in 1979. Her research explores the evolution and mechanisms of Haemophilus influenzae, a bacterium that causes many respiratory infections including those that complicate cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In addition to her research, Golomb teaches two courses, mentors Mizzou students in various undergraduate research programs, and participates in Missouri high school outreach initiatives. Golomb is also a recipient of the 2011 Alumnae Anniversary Award for her contributions to the education of women.
To learn more about her endeavors in diversity, the Division of Biological Sciences asked Golomb several questions about her background and interests.
Describe a little about your background or what inspired you to become a scientist.
When I was a kid, I loved to explore the outdoors and was fascinated by plants, animals, and fossils. My mom read avidly about science and encouraged my curiosity about living things and evolution. At age eleven, I read Isaac Asimov’s book on Mendelian genetics for beginners. Captivated by its simple logic, I decided I wanted to do genetics. In high school, I visited Seymour Benzer’s lab at Purdue and heard young scientists describe their latest discoveries, a heady experience. Purdue had a strong undergraduate research program, and I worked in a developmental biology lab for a couple of years, scared and excited in equal measure. In grad school at Berkeley, I had the good fortune to wind up in the lab of Michael Chamberlin, the most inspiring mentor imaginable. Not all molecular biology labs were friendly to women researchers in those days, so I was lucky to land in a warm and challenging lab environment. I loved my project and the opportunity to discover new things. It still seems incredible that you can ask questions of nature and get answers back.
What are some of the diversity activities that have led you to receive this award?
In “Genetics and Society,” a writing intensive course for biology majors, discussions of diversity (race, gender, LGBTQ issues, international issues, disability) emerge naturally from the intersection of biomedical science and social concerns. To make sense of these controversies and to prepare our students for today’s world, it’s vital to understand the science and the human context. I’m a graduate of the wonderful MU Difficult Dialogues Program, part of the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative, which trains faculty in facilitating classroom discussions. In my lab, I’ve also mentored many talented students in undergraduate research programs, including the EXPRESS Program and National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates, both of which seek to increase minority representation in research fields. Through different outreach programs, I’ve worked with teachers and high schools all over Missouri, especially high needs urban and rural schools.
What first got you interested in promoting diversity initiatives?
I come from an ethnically and religiously diverse family. My dad was a Polish-German Jew who fled Nazi Germany for the former Yugoslavia, where he met my mother, from a Croatian Catholic family. My dad’s sister married an Afghan medical student in Berlin and immigrated to Afghanistan during World War II, where she was sheltered by his large, traditionally Muslim family. Most of my father’s family did not survive the Holocaust. After the war, my Afghan relatives immigrated to the United States and moved in with us in Indiana; we remain a close-knit extended family. My earliest memories are of hearing a bewildering mix of German, Serbo-Croatian, Farsi, and English all spoken in our home. (At present our family represents over ten countries and most continents.) From family stories, I was made aware of a wider world and also of the need to resist racism. This awareness deepened during the Civil Rights Movement and the protests against the Vietnam conflict. I became a student activist while at Berkeley. These experiences gave me a lifelong commitment to issues of diversity and social justice.
What kind of high school outreach programs are you involved with?
I’ve participated in many high school science outreach programs funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, No Child Left Behind, and other sources. Missouri teachers attend summer institutes, at which I help to teach them how to incorporate hands-on genetics investigations into their biology classes. We supply all the reagents and equipment (including PCR machines) to the schools on a rotating basis. A network of amazing teachers continues to develop these approaches and mentor new teachers.
The news release on the 2012 MU Faculty Achievement Award in Diversity is available from the MU News Bureau.
Written by: Emily Haghighi
Questions answered by: Miriam Golomb
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