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Genes and Genealogy Project at Spelman

Spelman College Students Explore Genetics

Spelman College is a part of a companion program to the "Finding Your Roots" curriculum based on Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s acclaimed PBS documentary series of the same name. The college-level component, "Personalized Genetics and Genealogy Exercises to Enhance Introductory Biology Courses," funded with a $304,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, launched in 2015.

The innovative research-based program is led by Aditi Pai, Ph.D., associate professor of biology and co-director of the Teaching Resource and Research Center; and it is conducted at Spelman in association with Wallace Sharif, Ph.D., assistant biology professor at Morehouse College, and Joseph Graves, Ph.D., associate dean for research at North Carolina A & T State University.

"The project aims to promote science education through an interdisciplinary approach of using genealogy, and for learners to engage in biology concepts through exploring their personal DNA," explained Dr. Pai.

"Students will be taught the basics of genetics and evolution by exploring their own DNA with a genetic testing kit, and ways to investigate their family history using the genetics and DNA tools of biology as well as the tools of history.”

blue-quote-leftThe most exciting aspect of this project is that first-year biology majors will be initiated into the discipline through a very personal, interdisciplinary, and relevant exploration of their own DNA," blue-quote-rightshe said. "Whereas we teach students evolution, natural selection, population genetics, migration, etc., with textbook examples – in this new approach their own DNA will be the script they read.

A Valuable Learning Experience

Through the program, students are introduced to key concepts in biology and evolution, human variation and health, through hands-on measurement and quantitative analysis and the visual display of their personal information. Dr. Pai will invite noted experts on race, genetics and identity to speak on campus, and include both a two-day workshop and a symposium open to the Atlanta University Center.

Committed Faculty Mentors

In addition to Pai, six Spelman faculty have also committed to the project:
Yonas Tekle, Ph.D., associate professor, biology
Jennifer Kovacs, Ph.D., assistant professor, biology
Anna Powolny, Ph.D., lecturer, biology
Shannon Sung, Ph.D., assistant professor, education
Gene McGinnis, Ph.D., associate professor, biology
Mark Lee, Ph.D., associate professor, biology.

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