Marilyn Miller Freeman has been named the first Michael E. 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, NH, in order to create a prestigious faculty chair and attract individuals representing the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
The Jesanis Chair recognizes Freeman for her scholarly achievements and contributions to her profession and society at large.
“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.
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.
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 before congressional subcommittees several times during her tenure.
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 responsible for deciding 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 overcame dyslexia as a child and excelled in school through hard work. Se 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.
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 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.”