Marlene Goldman ’70: Opening the Door for Women in STEM

For Marlene Goldman ’70, the path to becoming a doctor in the 1970s wasn’t an easy one. However, the support of mentors and academic institutions including Colby set her up for a successful career in medicine. 

Goldman recently documented a $500,000 bequest to Colby to establish the Dr. Marlene B. Goldman Financial Aid Fund, which will create an endowed fund to provide financial aid for women from underrepresented groups pursuing STEM majors. Goldman, who was a financial aid recipient herself, says promoting women in STEM remains her primary focus.

“I have mentored many young women during my career, and I love meeting them, the passion they bring. I really want to support women in STEM majors at Colby as a way for me to continue mentoring young women after I’m gone,” Goldman said of her planned gift, which bridges the gap between the past and future of the College. Gifts by will, or other estate planning techniques, are a cornerstone of Colby’s future endowment growth. “I’m very happy knowing that my husband and I can make a difference in the next generation of women scientists.”

Goldman is a reproductive epidemiologist and emerita professor at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine where she specializes in research and teaching related to women’s health. Goldman’s program has been awarded multiple grants for various research projects on optimal infertility treatments and premature birth. In addition, Goldman is senior editor of Women & Health, a comprehensive reference textbook for researchers, teaching faculty, and clinicians.

Prior to joining Dartmouth, Goldman served as an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at Harvard Medical School. Previously she spent 16 years at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health as a research associate, assistant professor, and associate professor.

We caught up with Goldman to learn more about her pathway, this transformative gift, and the lasting impact her legacy will have on women in STEM. 

Why did you choose to attend Colby?

I came from a working-class family, nobody had been to a four-year college and it was really stepping out of my upbringing, especially as a girl. I applied and was accepted to three colleges. When we drove to Colby one night, we hit Johnson Pond and the lights were on, and it just took our breath away. The campus was so beautiful. 

I really didn’t think I could afford to go to private college. I was really very fortunate, because after my first year, Colby provided financial support. It was a combination of wanting to be at Colby and Colby making it possible for me.

At a time when fewer women were stepping into medical careers, you chose to major in biology at Colby and then went on to earn a master’s and doctor of science degree in epidemiology from Harvard. Why did you choose this field of study? 

I was always interested in biology, I had a great teacher in high school and loved taking his classes. I had always been interested in medicine, I knew it was for me. I remember as a child getting a nurse’s kit as a gift, and my brother got a doctor’s kit, and it made me so angry because I wanted to be a doctor. I had a subscription to Scientific American when I was in junior high, it was just always what I was interested in. 

Can you describe the challenges you faced while pursuing an education in medicine? What progress has been made?

One thing that really came through for me while I was studying was just how hard it was for women to achieve in academia at that time, especially in the medical area. That was one of the places I saw Colby really improve over the years. There were several women in the biology program, but there were no women faculty at that time. [Today, approximately half of the Colby biology faculty are women.] 

During the late 1960s and early ’70s it was very difficult to advance in the male medical establishment. It was the blossoming of the women’s movement that got me thinking that I could do this. I spent a couple years after college teaching math and science to junior high schoolers before I applied to master’s programs. I got a job at Harvard while I was applying there. It wasn’t easy, there wasn’t a whole lot of support, but eventually I worked my way into the master’s program while I worked full time and was then accepted into the doctoral program. 

As with everyone’s career, I had some people who were my champions who believed in me. There were people who made it possible just like I’m trying to make it possible now for other young women who may be coming from backgrounds like mine. 

Your recent bequest gift provides financial aid for women who are pursuing STEM majors. What inspired you to make such a specific and long-lasting gift to Colby and its students?

When choosing which academic institutions to support in our estate planning, my husband and I had many options, but for me, it was always Colby. Colby made it possible for me to begin thinking about a career. I didn’t have home support. I want to make that kind of opportunity—a Colby education—possible for other young women who might need support like I got, particularly in the sciences. 

I’m very proud that Colby has made great strides since I was in college. I want to continue that; I want to support and reward it. I want to make it easier for women who may not have the network or resources.

There is no limit to the amount of support that helps young women advance in traditionally male environments. That really inspires me to want to make STEM careers more possible for women.

Any advice for women who are pursuing STEM careers today?

One of the most important things you can do is reach out early to find and develop mentorships. I have learned that no one person can be your complete mentor, you take what you can from one person, say a thesis adviser; then another, your significant other; then another, your department chair; and yet another person, the woman who was in the class ahead of you. I have had the opportunity to teach and mentor many women who have gone on to have illustrious careers, which has been one of the high points of my whole career.

You remain connected to Colby today, serving in several roles from planned giving chair on the 50th Reunion Executive Committee to being a DavisConnects mentor and volunteer. Why is maintaining these ties important to you?

I have been a strong supporter of Colby during my alumni years, working on reunions and gift committees and raising funds. I’ve always had the wish to change things from the inside—teaching young women, creating a textbook, putting it all together and dedicating it to my niece and youngest step-daughter, making sure their careers have taken off. I think the same way about Colby; being involved helps improve, it can only do good. I love when I meet the undergraduates now, and I’m so blown away by how talented they are. That keeps me interested and invested.