Hamil R. HarrisLocal

HU Scientist Teams with D.C. High School for Genome Awareness Project

After serving Howard University for more than four decades, Georgia Dunston, founding director of National Human Center, retired from her teaching and research duties on campus and at the medical school.

But as she fielded questions recently from a group of students at Archbishop Carroll High School for an upcoming television program, it was clear that Dunston hadn’t lost her passion for talking about her groundbreaking efforts to teach people of color the importance of unlocking genetic code.

“I am excited about engaging the community, especially the schools as part of the community,” Dunston said. “A lot of science has focused very narrowly especially STEM, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, that’s solid but at Howard, as we look at the genome, we are conscious of the arts and the creative aspects of our inheritance, that has not been part of the main stream of study. We need the natural creativity of our people to be part of the study of genome.”

Archbishop Carroll High School students hold a discussion with retired Howard University professor Georgia Dunston. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)
Archbishop Carroll High School students hold a discussion with retired Howard University professor Georgia Dunston. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)

Born in 1944 in Norfolk, Virginia, Dunston earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Norfolk State University In 1965. She went on to Tuskegee University, where she received a master’s degree in biology in 1967 before heading to the University of Michigan to earn her doctorate in human genetics in 1972.

In 1975, Dunston continued her postdoctoral work at the National Cancer Institute in tumor immunology. For the past 40 years, she has served in various capacities at Howard, including her work in the Department of Microbiology and Howard University College of Medicine.

Dunston also served as interim chair from 1994-98 and chair from 1998-2004 of the National Human Genome Center at Howard University.

Cherie Ward, a fellow Howard graduate and director of Archbishop Carroll’s Vance Scholars program, invited Dunston to the school, where her students now are working on a film project with Dunston and on recent they peppered with many questions.

Ward was also executive director of TEDxLeDroitPark 2019, a Feb. 27 event that brought people from the community to Howard’s Cramton Auditorium to take part in an “imaginative mental journey,” diverse talks, perspectives and live performances.

Speakers included John Carpten, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, Jarita Holbrook, an astronomer, anthropologist, educator and filmmaker, and Gary L. Harris, former dean of the Howard University Graduate School and director of Howard’s Nanoscale Science and Engineering facility.

“My vision is that STEM is now beyond science, technology, engineering and math because it incorporates all of the literacies, reading and the arts,” Ward said. “I look at STEM as a stream of consciousness that incorporates science, technology, engineering, reading and literacy.”

Ethan Arnheim, president of the LeDroit Park Civic Association, said in a statement on the eve of the TED Talk project that it “is a wonderful opportunity for positive exposure and a chance to come together to experience local, national and global perspectives in our community.”

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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