Environmental Factor, December 2008, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Disability Awareness Program Showcases Campus Talent
By Eddy Ball
NIEHS concluded its observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) with an afternoon of events on October 28. The highlights included a book reading in Rodbell Auditorium by EPA Environmental Engineer and novelist Marc Yves Menetrez, Ph.D., and a reception in the NIEHS cafeteria following the reading. Both events were sponsored by the Diversity Council's Disability Advocacy Committee (DAC) and drew fans of homegrown talent from both sides of the lake.
As people entered Rodbell Auditorium, they were greeted with piano music by DAC member Jennie Foushee and a slide show produced by DAC Chair Alicia Moore highlighting famous people with disabilities. Following a welcome by DAC member Molly Vallant and an introduction by his long-time EPA associate and friend, NIEHS Deputy Associate Director for Management Chris Long, Menetrez spoke to the audience about his novel, The Scent of Wildflowers, and read excerpts from the story.
Like the protagonist of the story, Trey Barbette, Menetrez was injured in an accident that left him wheelchair bound and facing life on much different terms. In the saga that unfolds in Menetrez's story, Trey encounters and overcomes the deep despair of his loss as he works with his family and physical therapist, Raney Currin. The two help each other with their individual disabilities - in Raney's case a psychological trauma from her past - and fall in love.
Menetrez described writing his first novel as a "catharsis" and conceded that, like most first novels, "this one has autobiographical elements." Asked about his experience as a prolific author of scientific articles writing a novel, Menetrez said that he felt liberated and "inebriated by the emotion" of creating a fictional world - a marked contrast to his feelings when he writes about his research on radioactivity and biological contaminants.
The program concluded with remarks by NIEHS Acting Clinical Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D. Zeldin described Menetrez as an embodiment of the theme of NDEAM -"America's People... America's Talent... America's Strength" - and offered to help the author share his experiences as a recuperating patient with medical students at UNC and Duke, where Zeldin holds adjunct appointments.
Moore returned to the NDEAM theme as she gave Menetrez a special thanks for sharing his book. She also referred to theme as she served as mistress of ceremony during the reception program that followed. Moore introduced the musical entertainment, gave an inspirational reading of her own about living with a disability and welcomed EPA chemist Elin Ulrich, Ph.D., who talked enthusiastically about the rewards of her volunteer work as a walker for guide dogs in training, such as her companion, Lucky, a seven-month-old Golden Labrador Retriever.