A belated Happy New Year, folks! May 2012 bring you high yields, great happiness, and good health.
Museum Director Dr. Betsy Bennett was named Tar Heel of the Year by the Research Triangle area newspaper, the Raleigh News & Observer. Bennett was recognized for her leadership and transformation of what has become the largest museum of its kind in the southeastern United States.
Since being appointed as director in 1990, Betsy has led two major expansions of the Museum from its humble home in the state agricultural building. N&O reporter Jane Stancill did superb work on this feature which graced page one of our Sunday paper. Betsy’s life story starts as does so many of ours in biology and chemistry, with a love of nature and how it works. I can’t do justice to Stancill’s writing – I absolutely love the imagery and metaphor of this concise thesis of her feature:
“Bennett’s skills developed on a natural path, a trail that meandered through science, education and politics.”
But I’m not telling you all of this to suck up to the new boss. Yes, yes, she’s a truly remarkable person and unmatched in her ambassadorship of the state’s central institution for science education. What I want to stress is that scientists are central to the daily life of citizens and should be recognized for these efforts as much as any sports figure, business leader, or politician.
Tar Heel of the Year
The state capital’s newspaper has been recognizing local community leaders, and raising awareness about unsung heroes, since starting the Tar Heel of the Week feature in 1950. Anyone Although “Tar Heel” is most often associated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, especially if you’re a college basketball fan, the name refers to all North Carolina citizens.
(The colorful history of the name dates back to its use as a term of derision owing to the dirty work of turpentine and pitch production from the state’s rich conifer resources. A surprisingly scholarly Wikipedia entry details several explanations of the term’s conversion to one of pride near or at the end of the Civil War.)
In 1997 the paper began celebrating area citizens who were especially noteworthy for their reach and contributions to the entire state. Awardees spanned from civil rights legend and scholar John Hope Franklin to SAS founder and CEO, Jim Goodnight, and his wife, Ann.
Scientists *are* community and business leaders
But only once since then has a scientist been selected: UNC chemist Joe DeSimone in 2008.
And this is the primary reason I’m writing this post.
You see these kinds of awards all over your local and regional media. Do you know how people get these awards?
Yes, yes, they have to do great work. But someone has to nominate them.
When you see some sort of call for nominations for a business or community service award, how many of you consider putting up the name of a scientific colleague?
I contend that scientists – even those in academia – are just as much of a contributor to local business, community, and culture as any businessperson, community leader, or artist. In fact, that’s the reason that I nominated my then-RTI colleague, chemist Nick Oberlies, for the Triangle Business Journal 40 Under 40 Award a few years ago (he’s now over 40, heh).
When you bring in several hundred thousand dollars of grants to train students and make discoveries or use your industrial position to show minority students the opportunities in our disciplines, you are contributing to the community.
So while athletes, politicians, and big-money folks get local recognition, don’t forget about your fellow scientists. One of the most powerful ways for folks to learn about our value is for them to read about our value – especially on the front page of a major regional newspaper.
Congratulations to Betsy, thanks to all who supported her nomination for this award, and kudos to N&O writer Jane Stancill for doing a great job on the article.
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