Women’s History Month Q&A: Get to know Marwa Abdel Latif

Women’s History Month Q&A: Get to know Marwa Abdel Latif

March is Women’s History Month and to recognize that, Detroit Mercy’s Marketing & Communications department is introducing you to a few interesting women on the McNichols Campus throughout the month. MarCom student intern Hisham Almadani spoke to Marwa Abdel Latif, assistant professor of Chemistry, for a Q&A. Her responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.  

Marwa Abdel Latif headshotMarwa Abdel Latif 
Position: Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Years at UDM: Four

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?   

That is a loaded question for me, because as a woman, particularly right now seeing how much women struggle in the world in war zones and seeing the role of women. I’m Palestinian-Lebanese and seeing the unfortunate events that are happening in the Middle East right now and how the women are rising to save children and families and so on makes me think about my role as a whole of what I can do.

When I think about women’s history month, I don’t know why they [only] have a month. They’re there every day, right? All I can think about this particular year is the sacrifices that women have to endure in this current environment, global environment and how we can be of support to them. That’s all I can think of as a woman supporting their initiatives, so I recall having to go and look for fundraising events, for instance, for the crisis that’s going on right now in Palestine and trying to get some funding going on so they can help support the food and many other things. I have thought about it before in previous years, but this year it has a special flavor for me. Looking at the role of women right now in conflict and how they are leading fundraising, leading storytelling, leading nursing and sacrificing their life to help others. 

Who is your female role model? 

I don’t have one. Women have so many identities and it is very difficult to have one role model because of our multiple identities.

If I wanted to be a giving person, there’s probably going to be a woman in my life that is known to be very giving?  Like my mom, she is extremely selfless, she’s always giving and helping even at the expense of her own well-being. But if I think about it academically, I have a lot of women models.I have my advisor. A lot of times you want to think about role models as someone who won a Nobel Prize, but sometimes these role models are the people that you interact with day-to-day that really impact your life. One of them is Dr. Karen Brewer – she was one of the strongest academic women I have seen in my life. She was at Virginia Tech and she was leading these multi-million dollar grants. She would always offer assistance to me when I was completing my Ph.D. and she would always come to me and say “Ask for help, this is how we grow.” 

The other role model was Amanda Morris, and she continues to be a role model. She’s now an assistant chair and she’s leading a lot of positive change that is needed to be a more inclusive environment. So, I cannot choose one role model. Every time I pass through my career, there’s a new role model. I see an aspect in this faculty or in this member in the community that is very comforting at a certain level. It could be academic, it could be emotional, it could be from a service perspective.

How do you strive to be a mentor to other women? 

I try to be a role model to all. I come from a family of seven kids, and I have three brothers and three sisters. Being in that type of family, I could already see that there are certain aspects that you need to assist and be a mentor for women that are not present in men, but there’s also certain ways to be a mentor for men that are not present in women. I strive to be a mentor to all, because if you strive to be a mentor to all, you’re going to be able to address all of the diversity. 

What challenges have you faced as a woman in your field and how have you overcome them? 

One of the major challenges I have faced was the expectations of a woman. For instance, I’ve led many events as a student, and if we’re having an event, I was expected to do more of the “important” duties, but not the academic ones. I would have to think about going and buying groceries and thinking about the food and the setup. 

Small things like this tells you that you have to be so vocal. So when I was an undergrad, I recognized if I want something to be delivered, I needed to be vocal about it and send it across in a very legit (and respectful) manner. I think it was until the last year of college that I actually started thinking, if I were to do this over again, I will make sure that I’m vocal, that I will look for resources, that I will ask for resources in leading many of the events and changes that I would like to see. So when I went to graduate school, the moment I went in, I started getting involved in clubs, making sure that my ideas were heard and delivered appropriately and circled myself with people who see the same vision as I do. I liked the fact that there were many people with different visions, but if you want to get something through, you have to have a community around you. So I recognize having a voice is very important. But more importantly, having people who believe in you and believe in that same vision to support you through the way is also important. 

Why were you interested in becoming a professor? 

I wasn’t – teaching is difficult and is really challenging. You can master something but teaching it is a whole different level. I always loved chemistry. I’ve always thought I’m gonna go to pharmaceutical companies to use my chem skills and just be a businesswoman one day. But then as I went through my journey for the Ph.D., I became involved in a lot other than research. I was involved a lot in teaching, too.

Things developed really quickly and then one day I got several emails from faculty from the department. They were all “we want to recommend you for the academic excellence teaching award,” which is the highest honor for any teacher assistant.  I was like, “you must be joking.” There’s three top awards – one was on research, one on teaching excellence, and the third one was service and leadership excellence – I was nominated for two out of three in the same year.

That’s when I thought, “can I be a faculty?” It was really others’ encouragement to go into teaching; it was not something that I had in mind.

What is your advice for young women? 

I would say your power is beyond measures. Seek opportunities and be very aggressive in getting into your opportunities, because it is very common that women get halted from higher leadership positions.

One of the things that we notice in women and this is something that is happening in many of our careers, I have so many female friends that have to make a decision to stop their career in order to pursue being a mother – and the other way around, too, they have to to give up being a mom at a certain age just so they can pursue their career. That commitment even until today is not present as a challenge for men.

Be creative, be aggressive and make the change that needs to be made for yourself. Be be the creative change that you want to see in order to make sure that women are able to get where they need to be.