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The Genetics and Genealogy Curriculum Working Group and the Finding Your Roots Curriculum Project

Group photo

The “G&G” working group has been in the process of assembling since 2008, and now comprises over 30 scholars, educators, and professionals. The members of the working group share a commitment to advance the education of underrepresented minorities and underserved groups in the sciences and scientific professions. The group consists of many kinds of natural and social scientists -- including human geneticists, anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, and sociologists – along with educators, historians, bioethicists, teachers, genealogists, lawyers, and an artist. The group is distinguished by an unusual camaraderie and unity of purpose. We have fun working together toward goals that are big and important.

Our group came together as the result of a convergence of two major forces. The first force was Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of Harvard University. Professor Gates recognized that the introduction of a “G&G” approach in schools – like the one he had taken in his widely acclaimed PBS programs like African American Lives and Finding Your Roots – could enhance tremendously the education of America’s youth, especially of African Americans and Latinos. The second force was Nina Jablonski of Penn State and several of her colleagues in biological anthropology, including Mark Weiss from NSF. They recognized that the American scientific workforce needed more African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, and that previous efforts to encourage youth to pursue careers in science, and especially in the evolutionary and health sciences, had not been successful. When Gates and Jablonski came together, a natural synergy emerged because their interests and goals were clearly complementary. The gist of their approach emerged effortlessly from this synergy: Get kids to be more interested in science by having them study themselves and their place in nature and history. Our first steps involved gathering a working group together to consider what this curriculum might really look like.

Thanks to the support of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) – an NSF-funded center to support research on evolution and to promote evolution education – the working group met for an initial catalysis meeting in early 2012, and a series of workshops in 2012-2014. These were exciting and important meetings. We realized early on that “the curriculum” was not one but a series of educational projects, which would begin in early childhood contexts, and progress through middle school, high school, and college. Because we couldn’t do everything, we concentrated on two groups: middle school youth and freshmen college students. Thanks to the phenomenal support of NESCent, we held four working group meetings at their headquarters and wrote key parts of several grant proposals. We finally succeeded in funding pilot projects for the curriculum in 2015, with support of grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Hutchins Center for African and African American Studies at Harvard.

Overall Project Development

 

HL Gates headshot

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. – Harvard University

Alphonse Fletcher University Professor of African American Studies
Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research
Email: gates@harvard.edu

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic, and institution builder, Professor Gates has authored or co-authored twenty books and created fourteen documentary films, including Wonders of the African World, African American Lives, Faces of America, Black in Latin America, and Finding Your Roots, his groundbreaking genealogy series that returns to PBS for a third season in January 2016.

His six-part PBS documentary series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013), which he wrote, executive produced, and hosted, earned the Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Program—Long Form, as well as the Peabody Award, Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, and NAACP Image Award. Having written for such leading publications as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Time, Professor Gates now serves as chairman of TheRoot.com, a daily online magazine he co-founded in 2008, while overseeing the Oxford African American Studies Center, the first comprehensive scholarly online resource in the field. He has also received grant funding to develop a Finding Your Roots curriculum to teach students science through genetics and genealogy. In 2012, The Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Reader, a collection of his writings edited by Abby Wolf, was published. His next film is the four-hour documentary series, And Still I Rise: Black America since MLK, airing on PBS in April 2016; a companion book, which he co-authored with Kevin M. Burke, was published by Ecco/HarperCollins in 2015.

 

Nina Jablonski headshot

Nina Jablonski – Penn State University

Evan Pugh University Professor of Anthropology
Director of the Center for Human Evolution and Diversity
Email: ngj2@psu.edu

Nina G. Jablonski is Evan Pugh University Professor of Anthropology at The Pennsylvania State University.  A biological anthropologist and paleobiologist, she studies the evolution of adaptations to the environment in Old World primates including humans.

Her research program is focused in two major areas.  Her paleoanthropological research concerns the evolutionary history of Old World monkeys, and currently includes an active field project in China.  Her research on the evolution of human adaptations to the environment centers on the evolution of human skin and skin pigmentation, and includes an active field project examining the relationship between skin pigmentation and vitamin D production.

Jablonski is currently collaborating on the development of new approaches to science education in the United States.  These approaches have the dual aims of improving the understanding of evolution and human diversity, and stimulating interest among students in pursuing STEM courses and careers.

Curriculum Development & Project Management

 

Elizabeth Wright headshot

Elizabeth ‘Biz’ Wright – Penn State University

Postdoctoral Researcher, Center for Human Evolution and Diversity
Email: eaw24@psu.edu

Biz recently completed her PhD in Curriculum & Instruction in Science Education at the University of Washington. Prior to her graduate work, Biz taught middle school science in the Boston area for seven years.  Her research focuses, in part, on the ways that science teachers make science more accessible for their students, particularly for students who have been marginalized in science classrooms like students of color, students who speak a language other than English at home, students with special needs, and girls. A lot of her research has looked at how students collaborate in problem-based science classrooms.

Biz looks at designing this camp as an opportunity to think about ways to make science appealing, accessible and meaningful for historically underrepresented minorities, as doers and consumers of science.

 

Tess Wilson headshot

Tess Wilson – Penn State University

Sr. Research Technologist, Center for Human Evolution and Diversity
Email tmw119@psu.edu

Tess Wilson, MSLS Clarion University, serves as Nina Jablonski’s primary research and administrative assistant.  Under the research umbrella, Tess conducts in-depth literature reviews, data collection, and analysis for all of Dr. Jablonski’s research programs.  In her other key role, she assists with publications and outreach, and oversees daily operations of the Jablonski Paleoanthropology Lab and Center for Human Evolution and Diversity.  As Project Manager for the Finding Your Roots summer camp project, Tess assists with grant administration, research protections, and curriculum development.

Science Camp Directors

 

Bert Ely headshot

Bert Ely – University of South Carolina

Professor of Biological Sciences, Director of the Center for Science Education
Email: ely@sc.edu

Dr. Bert Ely is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina and the Director of the USC Center for Science Education. He teaches Introductory Biology, Genetics, and Biotechnology courses on a regular basis and works with K-12 teachers to help them use more hands-on, inquiry-based instruction in their classrooms. He is the author of more than 100 scientific papers and his laboratory currently studies bacterial and bacteriophage genome evolution.

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