DR. mARIE LEONARD
Learning Abroad Director University of Houston
Former Assistant Professor of Sociology and Women's & Gender Studies Program Coordinator USMGC
What has your scientific journey been like?
My scientific journey started in France as a grad student. I got my Masters in Cultural Anthropology
from the Universite' of Lyon, France. My anthropology professor said anyone in the social sciences
should really travel because the whole point is to study societies in general. He suggested that I do my
PhD somewhere else. I had contacts in Texas so I did my PhD at Texas A&M University. I moved to a
new country and I moved to a new discipline, sociology. That was very interesting and fascinating. There
was a definite culture shock from both changes. At the end of my PhD, I worked a bit with international
programs, but my passion was doing research and teaching. I took a position at USMGC to be an
Assistant Professor of Sociology. Much of my research was actually related to social movements in
Europe. I became more interested in racial politics - race and ethnicity...looking at how racial politics are
different between the United States and Europe, but also how they are similar. My most recent interest
has been in gender dynamics, particularly in the science fields. There is already research out there on
the role of women in science, but I have gotten more and more interested in how, in 2016, we still see
too few women in the science fields.
What are the biggest issues women in science are facing?
The answer is two-fold. First, it's entering the STEM fields. This goes back to how girls in elementary
school are not always encouraged to go into those fields. Young women are pushed toward fields that are
not considered scientific, for example, majoring in English or History. When women decide to go into the
STEM disciplines, we see something that happens often...they go to college and they start their PhD, but
they don't finish it. There are so many micro-level barriers that are not necessarily visible. For example, if
you are in civil or nuclear engineering, you will be one of the two women in the room of one hundred
students. Right there, this will leave an impression on you so that you are not going to experience the
classroom in the same way. Studies have shown that, regardless of their gender, professors will tend to
focus more on the male students than the female students. For example, in classroom interactions,
female students are less likely to be included in classroom discussions. Less female students get
invited to conferences, and then when they do, the male students are the ones who get invited to go
for post-conference drinks which is where informal networking takes place. Women drop out of these
programs due to the lack of encouragement, and support (mentoring) may not be non-existent, but not
as supportive as they would be with a male student.
And second, even when women make it through somehow, finish their PhD, and go on to become a
research scientist or professor, there are added barriers there due to their everyday experiences. There
is a big difference in how careers are being thought of for women as opposed to men. For example, not
all universities have child care options or adequate family-friendly policies. Not all universities have
specific policies or guidelines for tenure-track eligibility offering a stop-the-clock option (for tenure and
promotion) for women and men with small children. This would not just be beneficial for women, but for
men as well. Without such measures in place, women decide to focus instead on family, this is known
as the "mommy track"...because there is no support or structures in place, they take non-tenure track
positions. As some would have us believe, you can't just do everything and be everything magically by
your own will power.
Policy changes are tangible options that would make it easier for the culture to change. Nordic
countries such as Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark, are a great example of this. They are
making substantial changes in regard to gender equity. They have better childcare policies and childbirth
accommodations, etc. in place which apply to the whole family, not just women. What that does is it shifts
the conversation and the way to think about what family is. For example, more men will take family leave
because it's available and it's not regarded as something negative for them. It changes the culture and
encourages men to think differently about their own work, family balance, and pay equity. That kind of
change is going to be slow for the rest of us.
who has influenced your career the most?
I have had three mentors that have supported, encouraged, and inspired me along the way. I wouldn't
have made it without their help and friendship. Dr. Casey Maugh Funderburk, Associate Provost and
Associate Professor of Communication Studies at USMGC, has been a mentor and best friend with whom
I can confide about professional or personal problems and get her valuable perspective about them.
Dr. David Embrick, Associate Professor of Sociology at Loyola University in Chicago, is a friend from
graduate school. He has put me in touch with many professional networks and is always there to remind
me that my research is important, and always gets me inspired to continue. Dr. Ed Murguia, Professor of
Sociology at Texas A&M University, has given me great advice with regards to the publishing process. He
always believes in me and my research, and reminds me that my research/work as a sociologist isn't just
about being a professor, it's larger than that. It's so helpful to have several mentors who fulfill various
functions and bring different things to my attention. A good mentor(s) can make a big difference in one's
career. In a society where we are made to believe that accomplishments are “self-made” (culture of the
“self-made man/person”), the reality is that accomplishments are the result of a collective process, not
an individual one. If we did pay attention to the biography of successful or accomplished scientists, we
would probably find that they had/have great mentors surrounding them.
what projects have you been working on?
I have two projects coming out Fall 2016. The first is a book chapter I wrote for an edited volume. The
book is titled "Challenging the Status Quo: Diversity, Democracy, and Equality in the 21st Century" and
my chapter is "Diversity in STEM: How Gendered Structures Affect Women's Participation in Science".
This book is for college level scholars and students. The second is a volume in a book series about
democratic structures. The volume I wrote is about gender rights and targeted at high school level
students, which I think is great because I don't think those class discussions happen very often.
[Click HERE for information on Dr. Leonard's published works]
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THE FUTURE?
I would like to extend more of the mentoring that I have received to others. Speaking as a sociologist,
a lot of what we do is constrained by what is expected in the circle of academia...you have to publish, you
have to do conferences, and you have to do the tenure thing. Sociology, the field of social science, is a
little different for me anyway. I feel that we should be more out there. We are talking about gender and
race inequality and I would like to do a lot more of what I think a sociologist should be, a public intellectual.
Public sociology is my next big goal. I want the knowledge about the issues of inequality and justice to get
out there beyond the circles of academia. Soon I will be creating a website/blog where I will present those
ideas. We need to stop being sheltered, "ivory tower" scientists and go beyond getting another grant or
being nominated for an award. Is that really the ultimate goal? I have come to realize, from my students,
that this knowledge should be displayed more publicly, hence the notion of public sociology.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?
Sociologists need to address social issues and be full participants. For me, it is about our world,
our context, our society...I don't want to be the person who just writes it, analyzes it, and teaches it. I
want to be part of the social change. I want to engage in discussions with my students and keep that
engagement going outside the classroom. Success for me would be a student in my class questioning
the status quo.
Dr. Leonard's presentation at USMGC on policing protests.
Dr. Leonard with Jack Covarrubias and Dr. Constance Bailey at a conference at USMGC.
"WE NEED TO STOP BEING SHELTERED, "IVORY TOWER" SCIENTISTS AND GO BEYOND GETTING ANOTHER GRANT OR BEING NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD ."