The 2007 Genetics Society of America Award for Excellence in Education: Elizabeth Jones

By Wright, Robin | Genetics, February 2007 | Go to article overview
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The 2007 Genetics Society of America Award for Excellence in Education: Elizabeth Jones


Wright, Robin, Genetics


UPON recommendation of the Education Committee, the Genetics Society of America Board of Directors has approved a new award for excellence in education. The award recognizes individuals or groups who have had a significant, sustained impact on genetics education at any level, from K-12 through graduate school and beyond. Recipients of the GSA Award for Excellence in Education will have promoted greater exposure to and deeper understanding of genetics through distinguished teaching or mentoring, development of innovative pedagogical approaches or tools, design of new courses or curricula, national leadership, and/or public engagement and outreach. Elizabeth Jones is the inaugural recipient of this award.

Elizabeth (Beth) Jones earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington in 1960, a time when being a female with interests in hard science was poorly supported and few role models existed. Luckily, during her sophomore year, she took a job washing glassware in Herschel Roman's lab. Roman had recently given up hopes of pursuing corn genetics in rainy, short-summered Seattle and was developing yeast as a viable model organism to pursue genetics. Under the continued mentorship of Roman and only 4 years after earning her B.S. degree, Beth became one of the first recipients of a Ph.D. in genetics from the newly minted Department of Genetics at the University of Washington. Following postdoctoral training with BorisMagasanik, she worked as an instructor at MIT, setting the foundation for her life-long interest in genetics education.

Beth's first faculty appointment was in the Microbiology Department at Case Western Reserve University. In 1974, Carnegie Mellon University recruited her to the Biological Sciences Department, where she has pursued the rest of her distinguished career, becoming one of the premier geneticists of our era. She currently holds positions as the Dr. Frederick A. Schwertz Distinguished Professor of Life Sciences, University Professor, and Head of the Department of Biological Sciences. Among her many honors and accomplishments, she is a Fellow of the American Academy of Sciences and recipient of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Professorship, which is designed to support highly productive research faculty to work with undergraduates to convey "the excitement and values of scientific research to undergraduate education" (see http://www.hhmi.org/grants/pdf/comp_annc/2006prof.pdf). She has held a variety of offices in the Genetics Society of America, including president, and has been the editor-in-chief of GENETICS since 1997. During this time, she has encouraged publication of articles related to science education, recruiting Patricia Pukkila, Professor of Biology at the University of North Carolina, to serve as special editor.

Elizabeth Jones' entire 40-year research career at the interface of genetics, biochemistry, and cell biology has been characterized by integration of research and teaching. In the past 5 years alone, she has mentored 29 undergraduates in her laboratory. For these students, who now are so numerous that they refer to themselves as "Jones' Undergrad Army," the experience was life changing. For example, Aaron Mitchell, now a Professor of Molecular Pathogenesis at Columbia University, says, "Undergraduate life in the Jones lab remains one of the high points of my training. She encouraged us to think on our own about experimental design and interpretation. She never discouraged an idea, but urged us to develop clear predictions and extensions." David Kirkpatrick, now Associate Professor of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development at the University of Minnesota, says, "I am a geneticist because of the lucky happenstance of meeting and working for Beth Jones. . . . Beth instilled in her undergraduates a love of genetics." Roy Parker, Professor and HHMI Investigator at the University of Arizona, says he can trace the beginning of his evolution from a premed to a practicing scientist to Beth's influence: "A turning point in mycareer was taking Beth's undergraduate genetics course as an undergraduate, which led to working in her lab, and eventually a career in science.

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