Marylou Behnke is honored for her lifetime achievement

A professor emeritus of pediatrics in neonatology in the College of Medicine was honored for her lifetime achievement in research, education and leadership at the University of Florida. Marylou Behnke, M.D., who helped to create a center for excellence in early childhood studies at UF, was recognized for more than 35 years of exemplary service at the UF College of Medicine’s awards ceremony in early April.

A founding faculty member of the center, first established in 2010, Behnke continues to serve on the leadership team for the growing Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies, which is administratively housed in the UF College of Education.

Patricia Snyder, Ph.D., a professor and director of the interdisciplinary center focused on early development and learning from birth to age 5, initiated collaboration with Behnke and her colleague Fonda Davis Eyler, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist, in 2007. Together, their work engaged the knowledge and recommended practices in education and medicine in an early intervention study for children with disabilities. As former Medical Director of North Central Early Steps, a part of Florida’s early intervention program, Behnke’s alliance with Eyler and Snyder was among the early partnerships that helped establish a foundation for the Anita Zucker Center that would attract other disciplines across campus to work in partnership and within the community.

After earning an M.D. at UF in 1976, Behnke completed a four-year residency in pediatrics, followed by a two-year fellowship in neonatology. Her research interest and practice with newborns led to a concern over the rise in addictive cocaine use during pregnancy in the mid-1980s. She hoped to establish data that would show how effects during prenatal development could set the earliest trajectory for newborns into later childhood. Her 17-year longitudinal study investigated the short- and long-term effects of prenatal exposure to cocaine and what that meant through the school years.

Behnke’s contributions extend from Gainesville, Florida to Africa, where she spends time each year bringing interdisciplinary care and support to those with significant needs. She has been a collaborative partner and valued advisor as the work and support of the Anita Zucker Center continued to grow over the past five years, said Snyder, who was named David Lawrence Jr Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Studies in 2007.

“Dr. Behnke’s life’s work reaches beyond her medical practice in pediatrics and in neonatal care,” Snyder said. “What is most remarkable are her sustained and holistic contributions as a physician, scientist, and role model for women.”

As a core faculty member for the UF Post-Doctoral Research Training Fellowship in Early Intervention and Early Learning in Special Education, Behnke also supports the Anita Zucker Center’s postdoctoral fellows. Through her expertise, fellows gain greater understanding about the neonatal experiences of young children. They also learn features of effective follow-up programs and early interventions that support the development and learning of infants and toddlers, at risk or with disabilities, and their families.