Meet Luana Maroja: Evolutionary Biology SpecialistJuly 17, 2009
Ever wonder how kids whose moms are biologists pass the time? According to Luana Maroja, 2007–08 American Fellow, hiking in the forest collecting animals is how. Although once an avid camper, biker, climber, and kayaker, Luana now takes time to pass on her science knowledge through educational activities with her two daughters. Currently, Luana is living in a small village in Panama near the canal where she sees a wealth of biodiversity. “We have different wild animals at our door every day.”
Luana first became interested in biology while growing up in Rio de Janeiro surrounded by a vanishing tropical rainforest. “I was always concerned with extinction and deforestation and, early in my life, I decided on biology,” she explained. Luana pursued her doctorate at Cornell University with the help of an AAUW fellowship that allowed her to finish her research and write up the findings. At the time, Luana was pregnant with her second daughter and admits that if she had had to teach on top of analyzing data and writing, she never would have finished. “I am really thankful for the AAUW American Fellowship,” Luana said.
After earning her doctorate, Luana and her family moved to England where she planned to study butterflies and the story they can tell about evolution; however, “it was difficult to raise tropical butterflies in the rather ‘untropical’ climate of England.” Now, in a much warmer climate, Luana is studying the wing color patterns of the Heliconius butterflies to understand how evolutionary processes generate diversity.
For women interested in STEM today, Luana highlights the importance of persistence, which she applies to her own goal of returning to the United States to teach. “I persist in the hope of someday having a job where I can contribute to the education of other young people, especially of other Hispanic women who might feel it’s too difficult to follow a career in science.”