Thursday, January 6, 2011

SRM Spotlight: Marilyn Samuel, Florida Section

By Julia Workman, SRM Outreach Intern

Marilyn Samuel of the Florida Section has a unique claim to fame: she was the first woman elected to SRM’s Board of Directors, in 1987. A retired botanist, Marilyn has seen SRM and rangeland management come a long way since the days when she was often mistaken for “someone’s wife” at Society events.

Marilyn grew up in California and in high school moved to Wyoming, where she graduated from Cheyenne High School. She then attended the University of Wyoming in Laramie for her Bachelor’s degree in Zoology and her Master’s in Botany. She spent some time after graduation at the High Plains Grasslands Research Station breeding strawberries and tomatoes and doing other botanical work. In 1974, she says, she “fell into” a new direction more suited to her degree when the Field Station changed its mission to focus on grasslands research. Marilyn took a few plant identification classes to learn the native species and began her career in rangelands. Before long, she was monitoring plant responses to animal grazing with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Joining SRM, Marilyn says, “was the thing to do after I joined range research.” When she did so, around 1975, she was one of few woman professionals at the meetings, although there were quite a few female students. After getting involved in publicity for the 1979 Annual Meeting in Casper, Wyoming, she says, “things seemed to snowball along.” She was also involved with publicity for the 1986 Annual Meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and served as the Chair of the SRM Information and Education Committee.

Marilyn attributes her election to the parent Society Board of Directors to name recognition. In her role with publicity, she says, she was “in everyone’s face for awhile,” plus known for being one of the few professional women in the Society. After being defeated once, she ran again for the Board with her supervisor’s support (“The upper level told me, ‘You will run again,’” she laughs). This time, she was elected to a role that she enjoyed very much. Marilyn says it was a lot of work and a lot of reading, but it was rewarding to be involved in making big decisions for SRM.

Marilyn is now retired and resides in Florida, where she serves as the Florida Section Newsletter Editor and Section Webmaster. She has some interesting insights on how rangeland management has changed since the seventies. Marilyn says that women have been acknowledged for what they can bring to SRM. She references the way she finally “divorced herself from her boss” at professional meetings so people would stop assuming that the two were a married couple.

As women became bigger players in the Society, Marilyn recalls, there was an emphasis on programs specifically for the ladies. Eventually, men were incorporated into these so that there is no longer the male versus female setup. Men and women still have different needs, she acknowledges, but programs are now geared toward being applicable to both sexes.

Marilyn says the best thing about the Society for her career was that it gave her the ability to make connections with researchers whose work she had read. That ability to talk to them and even grow close to some was all a part of the Society’s close-knit, family feeling.

Marilyn believes that SRM will continue to grow by maintaining its diversity and catering to diverse interests. She also advises young members to get involved by volunteering for committees “at whatever level they’re comfortable,” whether the chapter, section, or parent Society level.

No comments: