Meet Margaret Conover: Botanist and Chia Enthusiast

December 14, 2011

Margaret Conover, a 1978–79 AAUW American Fellow, a 2000–01 AAUW Community Action Grantee, and a Fulbright Scholar, has had an exciting career as a researcher, botanist, science educator, and advocate for small museums. She found this path during her AAUW fellowship year in Australia, where she studied 13 rare plant species. During her stay, she also traveled to New Zealand, New Guinea, and Malaysia, collecting living species and bringing them back to a greenhouse.

Conover has spent most of her career in museum administration and science education. She started the Long Island Science Center, which served as an outlet for her creative and nurturing talents, and served as a director for leadership for smaller science centers under the Association of Science Centers. With her AAUW Community Action Grant, Conover helped form E-Girls — a collaboration between AAUW of New York and the science and technology museums of New York — to develop education programs and activities for girls. The grant bridged her passion for botany, science education, and science and technology museums.

Outside of her role at the Long Island Science Center, Conover spent time exploring different avenues in her botany career. Her passion in botany emerged after reading Chia: The Lost Plant of the Aztecs. Over the past few years, she has developed a body of knowledge on the plant and has used what she learned as an education tool for children. She designed experiments with chia, such as growing the plants in sponges, providing students opportunities to interact with plants and learn about botany. As a mentor to volunteers and children, Conover did much more than research could have afforded her. She helped them find their callings at the museum.

Conover has written articles such as “Ch-ch-ch-Chia Seeds for Inquiry” for Science Scope and “Cha-cha-cha-Chia! An Ancient American Herb” for The Herbarist, and she has contributed experiments to the magazine of the National Science Teachers Association. Fully immersed in her passion for chia, Conover also writes a blog that is both entertaining and educational — she calls herself the “Johnny Appleseed of chia.” Her blog features recipes ranging from chia energy chews to a strawberry, basil, and chia seed mojito as well as book reviews, the historical background of chia plants, and various videos. Now retired, Conover spends her time collecting old botany textbooks, and she recently took a course on the history of science education to gain more knowledge about these books.

Conover, a modest woman, claims she has not “made it” in the botany research realm but attests that she has always followed her interests. Her interest in botany originated with her family’s background in farming, and today she shares her professional connection with her daughter, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago. Conover encourages her daughter to make career decisions based on a personal mission statement of strengths, her own interests, and what she can contribute. Conover believes that knowing your abilities and talents is key. “Be careful not to be too idealist[ic], and work hard. Things will follow naturally,” she says.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Elyssa Shildneck.

By:   |   December 14, 2011

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