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Marilyn Miller Freeman named Jesanis Endowed Chair at Clarkson

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POTSDAM - Marilyn Miller Freeman has been named the first Michael E. ’78 and Janet D. Jesanis Endowed Chair at Clarkson University.

The Jesanis Chair was established by a donation from Michael E. Jesanis, Clarkson class of 1978, and his wife, Janet D. Jesanis, of Sunapee, N.H., in order to create a faculty chair and attract individuals representing STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields. The Jesanis Chair recognizes Freeman for her scholarly achievements and contributions to her profession and society at large. Freeman is serving as a member of the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering faculty.

“Janet and I are thrilled that Dr. Marilyn Freeman has been appointed as the first holder of the Jesanis Chair at Clarkson,” said Michael Jesanis. “She has amassed a superlative track record during her outstanding career and we’re sure she will make a major contribution to the University’s academic quality and research program.”

Growing up in rural Ohio, Marilyn Miller Freeman didn’t expect her career would lead to managing a multi-billion-dollar budget in the Department of Defense. Nor did she think she’d end up at Clarkson as the Jesanis Chair.

Instead, Freeman based her life on two principles: her desire to answer burning questions she had about science, which eventually led to a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, and her commitment to seize opportunities as they presented themselves.

The rest worked itself out. Freeman capped off over three decades as a defense department researcher and administrator in 2012. She was deputy assistant secretary for research and technology for the last two of those years, managing a more than $2 billion annual budget.

In that role, she was in charge of 21 laboratories and research, development and engineering centers, with more than 10,000 scientists and engineers dedicated to protecting soldiers. She testified to a Congressional subcommittee several times during her tenure.

For years, Freeman escaped from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan Washington, D.C., with her husband to a Thousand Islands summer home. She was planning to retire from the defense department and enter academia, so when the opportunity arose to work at Clarkson, she jumped at the chance to return to a region she loved.

“I was so impressed with Clarkson when I came to visit,” Freeman said, “I was impressed with the academic programs, with the quality of the professors and the progressiveness of the administration. I was amazed that they saw something in me that they thought they could use.”

“Marilyn Miller Freeman embodies Clarkson’s evolution to excellence and the aspirations we have for building an exciting vision from a foundation of strength and stability,” said Clarkson President Tony Collins. “She is not only an outstanding scholar aligned to the research pursuits of our faculty, but also a faculty mentor who embraces the roles of service to profession and inspiration to students that distinguish Clarkson faculty in the higher education community.”

As the Jesanis Chair, Freeman will work to grow Clarkson’s materials science program. She will also mentor young faculty who are applying for research funding. Her experience as a government official who decided where to allocate funding will help her guide faculty in their grant writing skills.

“Part of the problem we have is that different communities talk different languages,” she said of the difference between the academic and government sectors. “I’ve got experience across all those disciplines and can translate among those and make those connections stronger.”

Freeman received her bachelor of science degree in physical science from the University of Dayton and a master of science in materials science from the Stevens Institute of Technology.

She overcame dyslexia as a child and excelled in school through hard work. Her Ph.D. research involved studying why some capacitors fail and others do not, while her career at the defense department included stints researching and developing capacitors, electric guns and hybrid military vehicles.

“I got to do what I had a passion for,” said Freeman. “The answer to an awful lot of the problems we see every day and in particular the problems in the Department of Defense come down to materials science.”

Freeman also plans to teach classes in future semesters. She began her career as a high school mathematics teacher in 1975 in Englewood, Ohio, and views her return to education as her career coming full circle.

Freeman grew up in an era where many girls her age planned to be a nurse, a teacher or a homemaker. But she picked up a children’s science book in the third grade that interested her and never looked back; she credits her passion for finding out answers to her scientific questions with propelling her career.

“Those burning questions keep moving you forward,” she said. “Having a passion for something that truly interests you gives you that drive.”

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