Aditi Pai

Spelman College will be part of a companion program to the new “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, will launch in fall 2016. It will be led by Spelman biologist Aditi Pai, Ph.D., and 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, associate professor of biology and co-director of the Teaching Resources and Research Center. “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.”

Dr. Pai was included in a think tank of more than a dozen scholars in different disciplines that began meeting in 2012 at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina, to explore ways to engage disadvantaged and minority middle school students in the sciences.

Through the program, students will be 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. “The 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,” she 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.”

Another new approach includes the use of a mobile app. Lynn Fellman, a multimedia artist and designer of science visualizations and member of the “Finding Your Roots” team, has developed an app through which students can create an artistic version of the students’ DNA profile.

In addition to Pai, six Spelman faculty have also committed to the project: Yonas Tekle, Ph.D., assistant professor, biology; Jennifer Kovacs, Ph.D., assistant professor, biology; Anna Powolny, Ph.D., lecturer, biology; Hong Qin, Ph.D., assistant professor, biology; Shannon Sung, Ph.D., assistant professor, education studies; and Mark Lee, Ph.D., chair of the biology department and associate professor, biology.

The main project, “Finding Your Roots,” which received $355,000 in funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is spearheaded and led by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Ph.D., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard, and Nina Jablonski, the Evan Pugh Professor of Anthropology at Pennsylvania State University. It focuses on developing middle school curriculum through summer camps at Pennsylvania State University, the University of South Carolina and the American Museum of Natural History. Campers will explore their own genomes and heritage. Through videos and direct video links, campers will also be exposed to scientists working in STEM fields who will serve as role models.

Another long-term goal of the project is to make the entire curriculum – detailed lesson plans, links to content videos and digital templates – free and available to teachers and educational administrators through a special web site. With these resources, schools and communities will be able to set up their own “Finding Your Roots” summer camps and after-school programs.

International Education Week

Spelman College is going global, Nov. 16-20.

From a “Parade of Nations” to two Spelman alumnae sharing their study abroad and international travel experiences, the College will celebrate International Education Week, which spotlights the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide.

Held in collaboration with Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, IEW will feature opening remarks from Dimeji Togunde, Ph.D., associate provost for global education and professor of international studies, as well as talks from guest speaker and Fulbright Fellow Clarissa M. Davis, C’2008, on “Reflections of Lessons I Learned Abroad,” and Ouleye Ndoye, C’2007, who will discuss the importance of gaining valuable work experience, exploring the world, and finding the right fellowship to pay for it.

Dr. Togunde said Spelman is proud to be among many colleges and universities in the nation celebrating the benefits of receiving international students and sending students abroad.

“The celebration reaffirms our commitment to engage students with many cultures of the world,” Dr. Togunde said. “One of our early students, Nora Gordon, studied in Congo in 1888, while Flora Zeto came from Congo as an international student to study at Spelman in 1915. The legacy of these two women serves as the bedrock for the College’s sustained interest to expand its global outreach.”

A Bevvy of International Activities

During International Education Week, the Spelman community can also look forward to viewing a variety of foreign movies during the 2015 International Film Festival. Held in conjunction with IEW and sponsored by the Department of World Languages and Literature in collaboration with the Gordon-Zeto Center for Global Education, the festival will feature films spanning the globe from China, Belgium and Morocco, to the Dominican Republic.

Other activities include a “Taste of Nations” food sampling, study travel fair, and traditional Japanese dance performance. There will also be a workshop on Portuguese language and culture through song, IEW fashion show, International Games Day, and an Atlanta University Center “Family Feud”-style game designed to expose and mitigate cross-cultural differences.

International Studies major Joy Ikekhua said she looks forward to celebrating International Education Week. Last spring, she and a group of Spelman students traveled to Seoul, South Korea, through the CIEE-Spelman Intercultural Engagement Program since its inception during the 2014-2015 academic year. In addition to immersing themselves in the Korean culture, students also visited landmarks, climbed Inwagsan Mountain, and participated in a scavenger hunt around Seoul.

“Going to Korea made me realize how much I need to explore new places for myself,” Ikekhua said. “Being in Seoul taught me the importance of cultural competency and engaging with the local people in order to really experience a new culture.”

A joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education, IEW is part of the efforts to promote programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences in the United States.



Tarshia Stanley, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of English, is experiencing a banner academic year. Earlier this fall, she was selected to the Executive Council of the Association of Departments of English, and most recently became a Governor’s Teaching Fellow. She is one of 12 faculty members from institutions of higher education across Georgia selected for the program.

A Spelman College faculty member since 1999, Dr. Stanley teaches courses in film and media studies particularly as it pertains to images of women of African descent. She has authored several articles critiquing Black women in African, African-American, and Caribbean cinema as well as Black female iconography in American popular culture. As a fellow, she will attend several symposia held over the course of the academic year at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education. While there, she will connect with faculty across the state in an environment dedicated to raising the level of expectation and expertise of professors.

In recognition of her award, Dr. Stanley recently shared with Inside Spelman some of her upcoming teaching projects, plans to integrate new teaching models into classroom learning, and vision on how Spelman students will ultimately benefit from her participation in the fellowship program.

Inside Spelman: To what do you attribute the recognition you’ve received?

Dr. Stanley: I think I’ve been the beneficiary of some excellent work that went on before me. Spelman’s reputation is stellar, so that opened doors for me. My work ethic, my commitment to my students, my research, and my department made it possible for me to walk through those doors and take a seat at the table.

Inside Spelman: How were you selected as a 2015-2016 Governor’s Teaching Fellow? What was the criteria for receiving the fellowship?

Dr. Stanley: There is an application process which includes a letter of support from your institution’s president. I actually found out about the fellows program very late and wasn’t at all sure my application would receive full consideration. When I met the director of the GTF Program, she told me that after reading my application and the letter from Spelman’s former president, Dr. Tatum, the committee wanted me to participate. They wanted to know me.

Inside Spelman: As a fellow, how do you envision the fellowship will help you develop important teaching skills and impart knowledge to your students?

Dr. Stanley: The 21st century challenge in higher education is to meet our students where they are and provide the means for them to get to where they want to be. That means we have to use every tool at our disposal. GTF allows me to access the best practices and best tools for college teaching. I’ve already introduced my students to websites which allow them to use their phones to take quizzes and surveys. Their phones work like clickers, which saves time and money, and gives them an additional way of interacting with the material. Also, I’ve been introduced to practical techniques to make classroom learning more dynamic. As a result, I am restructuring assignments, paying more attention to the way my students learn, as well as what they are learning.

Inside Spelman: How will students ultimately benefit from this fellowship? Do you hope it will help you become a better professor as you work to improve the student intellectual community?

Dr. Stanley: I will definitely be a better professor. I think I’m going to write an article about the need for dedicated space and time for professional development. As hard as it has been to get away, just having three days a month to think only about teaching has renewed my energy and my creativity. My continuing to learn, grow, and innovate as a professor directly and exponentially benefits our students.

Inside Spelman: How do you plan to incorporate what you are learning and translate it into the classroom, especially as it involves your focus on images of women as depicted in all forms of media?

Dr. Stanley: I’m really excited about creating an e-book particularly with my Images of Women in the Media students. For 13 years, our culminating event has been to share what we’ve learned about images with the community via a daylong symposium. My goal at GTF is to develop a platform for my students to create this e-book. It will have interactive digital material that allows us to interact with the community on a daily basis. We’ll make it available for download to the public at the end of our semester.

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